Where to hike in L.A.'s secret mountains

Ski resorts are gearing up.
(photo by Lee Stockwell; illustration by Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

By Mary Forgione
Design and illustrations by Micah Fluellen

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Readers of The Wild, it’s snow time.

Recent snowfall in the Sierra and Southern California is more important than ever in a year marked by an escalating COVID-19 pandemic and epic wildfires near and far. Snow holds the promise of more things we can do during the pandemic. I’m already dreaming about full-moon snowshoe tours at Tamarack Cross-Country Ski Center in Mammoth Lakes ($65 per person; reservations may go quickly).


All ski resorts say the same thing: Plan ahead, especially if you’re thinking of spending Thanksgiving on the slopes. You can expect to be asked to wear masks in common areas on the slopes, queue up in maze-like lift lines, and social distance in outdoor eating areas. Don’t count on dropping in for a bite; most restaurants will have limited seating that may be fully booked. No walk-up tickets this year; make sure you order your lift tickets online before you go.

Resorts are transparent about COVID-19 protocols and rules on their websites; read carefully so you know what to expect and what to bring (lip balm, tissues and other amenities may not be available at the usual mountain spots). Here are dates when Sierra resorts hope to open, providing the weather cooperates:

Mammoth Mountain, Friday, with five lifts running
Royal Gorge Cross-Country Ski Resort, Nov. 20
Northstar California, Nov. 20
Borreal Mountain, Nov. 23
Squaw Valley/Alpine, Nov. 25
Sugar Bowl, Nov. 27
Homewood Mountain Resort, Dec. 11
June Mountain, Dec. 19

Local resorts that received a foot or more of snow in the recent storm have fired up the snow-making guns. Mountain High near Wrightwood was supposed to open Friday but postponed after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus, according to its Twitter feed. Big Bear Mountain Resort (Bear Mountain and Snow Summit) plans to open Nov. 18. And Snow Valley Mountain Resort in Running Springs is getting ready too.

3 things to do this week

Horse riding in Griffith Park.
(Micah Fluellen / Los Angeles Times)

1. Horseback ride in Griffith Park. Riding a horse can remind you of the cowboy days when it was the only way to get around L.A. Don’t have a horse? Sunset Ranch Hollywood on the west side of the park is happy to rent you one with a guide ($50 to $95 per person). You ride your way to Mt. Hollywood, day or evening, and marvel at the sun setting over the Hollywood sign. On the east side, LA Horse Rentals in Glendale, which limits groups to four people because of COVID-19, offers guided rides in the park too ($40 to $80 per person).

The Beaudry Loop, Glendale.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

2. Hike or bike the Beaudry Loop in the Verdugo Mountains. The Verdugo Mountains are one of L.A.'s less-known hiking areas, often overshadowed by the taller, more rugged San Gabriel Mountains to the north. Locals use paths in the somewhat secret mountains for good workouts with wonderful views. Check out the Beaudry Loop, a brisk, heart-pumping roughly 6-mile route to a ridge and Tongva Peak that offer clear winter views of L.A. and beyond. This is a popular route, especially with dog walkers, so go early morning and midweek to avoid crowds. Trails are wide enough to safely social distance too. Start at the end of Beaudry Boulevard in Glendale and make a loop by taking the south and then north Beaudry Motorway to the top. Click here for trail description and map of the route.

“Rabbit,” a ceramic sculpture by Janell Lewis.
(California Botanic Garden)

3. Six things plant lovers can do in L.A. right now. Whether you visit local gardens or garden in your backyard, here are six must-dos for November that will feed your passion for plants. Check out the sculpture show “Clayfornia” at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont and a virtual five-day L.A. Biodiversity Symposium about plants and wildlife in the urban core. Put these events on your calendar.

The must-read

El Capitan, Yosemite National Park.
(George Rose)

A remarkable woman made history last week. Emily Harrington broke an open-air glass ceiling on the face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park when she became the first woman to free-climb the tough Golden Gate route in a single day. Three others, all men, have conquered the route.

The 34-year-old five-time U.S. sport-climbing champ nailed the route on the 3,000-foot granite face in 21 hours, 13 minutes and 51 seconds. Most of us can’t imagine such a feat, but let’s try. What would you do if your foot slipped, you fell sideways and bashed your head on the granite wall? That happened to Emily during her ascent on Nov. 6. She took a break, treated a deep gash on her face and thought about giving up (which would have been my first choice). But she didn’t.

Photos show ropes, which Emily used for safety and not as a climbing aid. In her post-climb Instagram post, she thanked others who helped her train, including free-climbing rock star Alex Honnold, whose record-setting El Cap feat was documented in the Oscar-winning film “Free Solo.”

Emily is the fourth female free-climber to master the rock face, joining Lynn Hill, who in 1992 was the first woman to free climb the rock face in 24 hours, Beth Rodden and Steph Davis. “I never believed I could actually free climb El Cap in a day when I first set the goal for myself,” she wrote on Instagram. “It didn’t seem like a realistic objective for me. I didn’t have the skills, fitness, or risk profile to move so quickly over such a large piece of stone. But I chose it exactly for that reason. Impossible dreams challenge us to rise above who we are now to see if we can become better versions of ourselves.” Read the full story here.

Wild things

Deer in Nara, Japan
Deer in Nara, Japan.
(Hannares/Getty Images; Yoshiyuki Kaneko / EyeEm/Getty Images)

The deer of Nara, Japan, are considered sacred ever since a deity is said to have ridden one from Kashima Shrine to the town north of Kyoto in the 8th century. Nara honors the tradition by allowing about 1,000 deer to roam freely — and tourists love them, sometimes feeding them inappropriate snacks. The town responded with “deer crackers” made of wheat flour and rice bran, which visitors could give the deer without harming them.

Last year some deer died after ingesting plastic bags. Local businessman Hidetoshi Matsukawa heard what happened and worked with others to create “deer paper,” an edible bag made from rice paper and milk cartons. “We do not have the data to back up that this paper is not harmful to deer, but I believe this is safe for them as well as for human beings,” Matsukawa told CNN. The Todaiji Temple, the most popular attraction in town, is using the bags instead of plastic ones as part of a pilot program.

Cool gear

Kula Cloth's stylish pee wipes
Kula Cloth’s stylish pee wipes.
(Kula Cloth)

One novel item for women: pee cloths. Stop laughing. This is a good way to reduce the use of toilet paper in the outdoors. They’re pretty too, in the shape of a pot holder. Use the antimicrobial side to wipe, then snap it onto your pack to let it air dry. It’s no harder to use than that. Kula Cloth was started by a former park ranger and backpacking instructor who got sick of seeing bits of TP in alpine areas. It’s a good zero-waste gift to the planet, and that’s nothing to laugh at. Info: Kula Cloth

Have a look at our L.A. Times Holiday Gift Guide for hundreds of items under $100, including some for people who love the outdoors.

Insider tip

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah.
(Westend61 / Getty Images)

America the Beautiful passes allow you unlimited entry to national parks, forests and other public lands across the country. The pass costs $80 a year, but some of you may qualify for freebies. Active members of the military and their families have been eligible for free passes for awhile. As of Wednesday, U.S. military veterans and Gold Star Families now qualify too.

Also, Kids in Parks has been giving fourth-graders and their families a free pass to explore nature since 2015. Many parks closed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant some kids missed out. These now-fifth-graders may use their free tickets until Aug. 31.

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Click here to view the web version of this newsletter and share with others. I’m Mary Forgione and I write The Wild. I’ve been exploring trails and open spaces in Southern California for four decades.

Mary Forgione