Leaders: Wolf & Karen Leverich
Young Emma, Middle-aged Emma, Old Emma
Mars Bonfire started a hiking series last summer, Easy Peaks of the
San Gabriels. The notion was to introduce people who like being
outdoors (not necessarily hikers) (yet!) to the wonder and beauty of
our local mountains. Some of whom will simply have a nice time, others
of whom will become hopelessly obsessed and not rest until they have
Finished The List. No, no, wait!, that's not quite it!
But anyhow (envision one of those movie moments where the pages are
flying off the calendar and -- this being very much an Environmentally
Correct group -- into a nearby recycling bin) it's now 2003, and Wolf
and I seem to have somehow inherited the series. My impression last
year was that we were actually attracting hikers (not simply people
who like to be outside) who were capable of reaching higher goals than
Barley Flats, but who weren't quite confident yet about their ability
to zip up Gorgonio. So when we submitted some hikes for Schedule 292,
we were maybe a bit ambitious for our newcomers -- we promised them
Emma and Old Emma, a relaxed pace, and a welcome for newcomers.
I had scheduled Emma in spring of '02 as my backup "O" provisional,
and nary a soul showed up. (Well, my co-leader came, but you know
what I mean.) So Wolf and I were pleasantly astonished to find 18 people
gathered in Sylmar yesterday morning, with only two of the "usual suspects"
that we already knew well from countless past HPS hikes. Those two,
Doris Duval and Pat Arredondo, we of course immediately tapped to help out.
We had hikers nearing their 100 peaks (who "needed" the Emmas), hikers
nearing 25 and their coveted status as HPS members, a 77 year old gentleman
from Hong Kong and his wife (Ping would be tall if stood next to Mrs. Lee),
and a sweet young thing on her very first hike, ever. Wolf immediately
propagandized them all with sample copies of THE LOOKOUT and the
pretty Three Peaks Section brochure. (I mean SPS, HPS, and DPS, and
NOT a truncated HPS with only three peaks!)
We fairly efficiently consolidated into fewer cars and headed up the
Antelope Valley freeway to Angeles Forest Highway and then Mt Emma
Road, setting up a simple car shuttle. It was a pleasant day, not too
warm, a light breeze, a light haze (well, you can't win them all). I
was hoping for flowers, but no joy. There ARE some exquisite poppies
abloom further north, so maybe the timing was wrong. Still, the
beginning of the hike up Emma, a trail through a juniper/piñon
woodland, is very attractive. I was sweep, and pedagogically pointed
out to my comrades the trees, explaining that they're the type of pine
responsible for those trendy pine nuts finding their way into salads
all across the Westside.
All good things must end. We emerged onto the fire road, and carefully
pointed out how to find the way back to the cars, in case someone was
having second thoughts about our adventure. These were no takers. (And since
this is not a Hollywood cliffhanger, let me share the not-so-surprising
ending: all 20 made the full hike, and all seemed to have a fine time,
even the woman who was on what was probably her first and last ever
"Is that the peak?" asked the septuagenarian Mr. Lee, pointing to
one of those inevitable false summits we seem to specialize in here at
"Uh, no. Though I think when we get there, we'll almost be able to see it."
Am I inspirational or what?
Up we went, pausing in strategic bits of shade to catch our breath.
Mrs. Lee shared a tremendously sweet grapefruit. As we went up one steep
rocky bit, a new hiker asked, with some concern, whether we'd have to go
back down that way. "No, no, we'll go along an easy ridge to Old
Emma, we won't have to go down this." Little realizing quite how
STEEP the Emma-Old Emma ridge is in places.
Before noon, we were all gathered on Emma, admiring the views, having
a good snack in the shade. Those new to peak bagging were fascinated
with the register, and with all the other peaks we could see and
(sort of) identify. (The latter exercise would have been a tad more
convincing if we had agreed on the names of anything other than
Cole Point and Old Emma, oops...) Old Emma looked like an easy
stroll, slightly downhill along a gentle ridge. Nice!
Well, not quite. Beginning hikers (and experienced ones, too) blanched
at some of the less gentle "slopes" we encountered. Pairs of trekking
poles were split up so everyone who wanted one had a prop. We in the
rearguard called these bits "cliffs" and were grateful to Mrs. Lee,
who used her Hong Kong hiking experience to route pick a more
surefooted line of descent than the unstable motorcycle track. Hikers
who had yearned for the uphill to be replaced by downhill suddenly
discovered the charms of going up.
We did some of that, too. Eventually arriving on top of a bump we
called "Middle-aged Emma." We decided she'd started out young, but was
old by the time she had transited this ridge.
As we went up the final ridge to Old Emma, I pointed to a firebreak on
the next mountain over to the east. "That's where we go next!" I
chirped. I'm lucky to still be alive, let me tell you!
From Old Emma, we worked our way cautiously down the motorcycle
track. This is hard on the knees and a certain amount of analgesic
("We're doing drugs!") was consumed. The road got closer and closer,
and soon we descended a cross-country ridge into a garbage-strewn
wash. (Civilization!?!) Thence a short stint on an almost flat road
(no one could believe it: normal walking!) and the car.
Most of us relaxed on the shoulder while the drivers untangled the
cars. Everyone seemed to have had a good time, even she who probably
won't be hiking with us again (bad knees). Though there was some
concern: if there were the EASY peaks, then what are our other peaks
like? Not to worry, team: you did the Emmas with such flair and elan,
you'll do fine on the remaining 274 peaks on the HPS list. Trust me!
Starting with that firebreak over there up yonder mountain...