Highpoint Fire Tower Hike

Over the weekend, I decided to hike a trail that I’ve been on countless times over the past three years. This was my first time hiking it, though.

The trail is a rutted, partially graded truck trail that leads to Highpoint Fire Tower, which stands at the highest point on Palomar Mountain (elevation 6,140 feet). Most of the trail is located on property owned by the California Institute of Technology and travels east, past the Palomar Observatory. It’s accessible to fire agencies, the US Forest Service, and fire tower lookouts. I fall into the last category of people as a fire lookout volunteer.

View of Palomar Observatory from the trail.

The fire tower is currently closed up since fire season won’t start until May, but I figured I would hike to the tower since I’ve only ever gone up in a vehicle. I’ve always been told the trail is about nine miles, round trip, which is also what I calculated with my mapping app. It turned out to be about 6.5 miles.

A view of Highpoint Fire Tower from the trail below. It’s much taller in person.

Since the trail isn’t open to the public, I had it all to myself until I got to the top. Not long after I made it to the tower, two hikers who used the much longer, public trail, appeared. We chatted about gear while I ate my lunch. Nice people.

A closer look at Highpoint Fire Tower. In 1964, this tower replaced the original, which was built in 1935. It is about 70 feet high, and there are 92 steps to the cab (the box-like structure on top). I love this tower! Working in it is one of my favorite ways to spend my time.

The breeze at Highpoint was refreshing after my warm trek up, and the view was amazing, as always, so I stayed for about a half hour before heading back down the trail. Getting back to the fire station, where I parked my car, was much faster than going up. This had a lot to do with gravity, of course, but I also felt highly motivated after determining the animal tracks I had been seeing on my way up looked like they were left by a mountain lion.

It’s difficult to tell, though… maybe they were canine prints. Sometimes the people who work and live onsite at CalTech use the trail for hiking, so I’m hoping someone went for a walk with their friendly, smiling, tail-wagging Golden Retriever earlier that morning.

The “TrailBuddy” logo on my trekking pole is about 2.5 inches, making the print in the photo about 3.5 inches long.

Despite the missing miles and mysterious animal tracks, the hike was good. It was interesting to see the trail from a different perspective. It also gave me a chance to check on the state of the road after all the rain we had, giving me a duty-related reason to use the trail.

Here are some more photos from my hike.

Mendenhall Valley below, the Cuyamacas in the distance (at the left of the photo).
Looking southeast toward Warner Springs and Santa Ysabel. The PCT is somewhere down there.
This is what’s left of the fire lookout’s house.

This is what the residence looked like in the 1930s. So bare! We have a photo that was taken later… the trees are there, but they are still small.


A view of the old foundation from the back.

Heading back down. One thing I love about Palomar Mountain is the ever-changing terrain and the many different types of trees and shrubs that inhabit the area.
Nom, nom, nom… watch out for hungry trees!
Back at the fire station. This is my husband’s cute little car. He had to use mine, so I got to drive this up the mountain. This is a fun car, but my dream car is a Subaru.



F is for Freedom

Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary’s first listed definition of the word FREEDOM is: the quality or state of being free… the quality or state of not being coerced or constrained by fate, necessity, or circumstances in one’s choices or actions

Some of the synonyms Merriam-Webster lists are: autonomy, independence, independency, liberty, self-determination, self-governance

Freedom. Wars have been, and still are, waged to gain it. People have, and still do, sacrifice everything to keep it… to give their children and grandchildren the gift of it. Freedom means different things to different people. It can be as huge as a country and as tiny as a baby’s first step. For some, freedom lies on the other side a distant border, while others find it behind the wheel of a car. It can be as meaningful as worshiping without fear of violence or loving someone without suffering the sting of hate and prejudice. It can also be as petty as a teenager’s argument to stay out until two in the morning.

What does all of this have to do with hiking? Everything.

I hike because I am free to do so. I am blessed to reap the benefits of living where I do, and I thank God every day for this privilege. But I also hike to be free. Not everyone understands this, but those who hike probably do. There is a freedom on the trail… a moving forward, propelled by the power of my own two legs. Hiking offers an escape from the demands of life. Instead, there is peace and contentment in nature. To me, hiking and surrounding myself with nature is like coming home, going back to the person I was created to be.

I love Nature partly because she is not man, but a retreat from him. None of his institutions control or pervade her. There a different kind of right prevails. In her midst I can be glad with an entire gladness. If this world were all man, I could not stretch myself, I should lose all hope. He is constraint, she is freedom to me. He makes me wish for another world. She makes me content with this.

Henry David Thoreau

One morning, not too long ago, I opened CalTopo on my phone. This is an app that allows its users to view and map trails. I found the beginning of the Pacific Crest Trail, which is about 50 miles south of where I live and watched the entire trail slowly load as I scrolled out.

It was fascinating to see the red line that represents the PCT spread further and further north. When it finally stopped at the Canadian border, I took it all in and my heart leapt as one word flashed in my mind—a single word that sums up how I view the PCT.


The PCT represents freedom to me. For more than a year, I’ve dreamed of hiking the length of this trail, but until that moment, I didn’t know why. Then I thought about my ancestors, and how I come from a long line of people who traveled the world. My earliest ancestors I can trace were Vikings. Later, they were Pilgrims who came to the New World for religious freedom and/or financial gain. After that, they were homesteaders who braved the unknown of the territories.

This is the DNA that built me. I don’t feel the urge to conquer and pillage. I also don’t need to find a new home halfway across the world… or across the country. But maybe I’m drawn, in part, to the freedom of the trail because of all those who came before me.

“Every book is a quotation; and every house is a quotation of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation of his ancestors.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Someday, I will hike the PCT, though it will likely be in sections. Maybe I’ll even take on the Appalachian Trail when I retire. In the meantime and in between, there are a lot of trails I am free to travel, and there is a lot of freedom to find on each trail I traverse.

I’ll take small bites of freedom wherever I can find it.


E is for Edmonton

One week from today, I will be boarding a plane in San Diego and stepping off in Edmonton, Alberta, to spend my spring break visiting my mom and sister. I’ll be in Alberta a little over a week, and I can’t wait!

One thing I’m going to have to figure out is how to get my hiking in while I’m there. I’m not going to be close enough to the AMAZING Canadian Rockies to hit the trails there. I’m guessing they’ll still be covered in snow, anyway.

Edmonton has a lot of trails along the North Saskatchewan River, so there are options within the city. If we get out of the city, however, there will be more options. We have family we plan to visit about an hour south of Edmonton, so I might be able to convince my sister to swing by Miquelon Lake Provincial Park on the way. There is a six-mile loop trail there that looks promising.

Elk Island National Park isn’t too far out of Edmonton for that to be an option, either. There is a wide range of trail distances and difficulty levels here, and it’s not uncommon to see bison, elk, and beavers. Sounds fun to me!

I’ll be hashtagging the places mentioned above, so if you come across my blog before I leave and are familiar with the area, please let me know of any recommendations.

NOT a mountain lion.

Photo attribution: Steve from washington, dc, usa [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D


D is for Decisions

When I began training for the San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon, years ago, I had nothing a runner needs to train for a long-distance race. So even before the ink was dry on my entry form, my friend and I went to the nearest Road Runner Sports. I remember being overwhelmed by the massive store and all the options in front of me.

This venture into serious hiking and backpacking feels the same way. But the financial stakes are higher. I thought running was expensive—and it was. That was due, in part, to making decisions without doing my research first. I purchased things I didn’t need, and I want to be careful this time.

There are a lot of items a backpacker needs to purchase before heading out on the trail for the first overnight trip. At the bare minimum, I will need to purchase some kind of shelter, a backpack, sleeping bag, and food. Of course, I’ll need water, but water is free, which is why it’s not included in my list of items to purchase.

But if I want to have water, I’ll need a way to transport it. I already have a decent CamelBak bladder, but I really don’t like drinking out of those tubes. Blech. Maybe I’ll see what my options are. In case I need to scavenge water along the trail, I’ll some kind of filtration system, so there’s another water-related purchase I’ll need to decide on.

I know there are a lot of other things I’ll need. Off the top of my head, those items include a first aid kit, boots that don’t hurt my feet after eight miles of hiking, proper clothing, a sleeping pad, a way to heat food (and make coffee), and good socks.

I’m focusing on the big things first.


For my birthday, I ordered a used Osprey Viva 50 from Amazon. I decided to return it, though, when I saw a brand-new Viva 65 on the Osprey website for the same price as the smaller, used one. Buying a pack without trying it on first might not be the best way to go about it, but I’m willing to take the chance… especially knowing I can return it. It comes today, so I’m anxious to get home and try it on. I love the green color.


I’ve heard great things about Altra trail running shoes, and at under $60, these will likely be my second “big” purchase. The 3.5 is last year’s style, which is why they’re about half of what they were selling for at REI before the 4.0 style came out.

My feet are happiest in light, bendy shoes, and based on reviews, these seem like a good option. I’ll be getting them from Amazon, so I won’t know until I buy them and try them on.


Soon, I will have to decide on a tent, but first I want to sell a road bike I haven’t used in a few years. I also have an exercise bike I bought off a friend. Like a lot of the world’s exercise bike population, it spends its time gathering dust. I’m hoping that between the two, I’ll make enough to purchase an inexpensive one-person tent. I’m looking at these:

Kelty Gunnison 1 Tent with Footprint

There aren’t a lot of reviews, which makes me wary, but I like that it comes with a footprint. Also, it’s pretty.

REI Co-op Passage 1 Tent

This doesn’t come with a footprint, and it’s not as pretty, but it’s less expensive and about a pound lighter than the Kelty. Most importantly, it has a lot of reviews, and the majority of them speak highly of the tent. This is probably the one I’ll decide to get.

At this point, I’m not concerned about getting the best and the latest backpacking equipment. Keeping this new obsession budget-friendly is a priority. My objective is to get out there, enjoy nature, be healthy, and have fun. If backpacking becomes a regular part of my life, I will be able to upgrade and decide on equipment as I learn what works for me.