Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Echo Mountain: The "Haunted Forest" to the White City...

Yes, here are your two adventurers. Here's the story. Altadena, California, is the home of Echo Mountain, atop of which there used to be a giant resort: a chalet, a 70-room hotel, casino, zoo, all the fix'ns. There were two fires up there, in 1900 and 1905, which pretty much destroyed the place. However, the ruins are still accessible. The place is called "the White City". I've been looking into cool stuff to do around here, so when I read about the White City it seemed great to go check out. There's some urban legend crap about the forest at the base of the mountain being haunted. Even better. We decided to go up there.

I was excited and wanted to get started around noon, but Lance warned me that the sun would be really hot at that time of day and we should wait. I was irritated by this. I'd read that the hike was 2.5 miles to the top - how bad could that be? Finally we headed out and drove to Altadena, which was maybe a half hour away from Lance's place.
I started to worry as we approached the mountain range. I'd anticipated a hike, sure; but this was looking a bit menacing. We'd picked up two litres of water, though - it would be just fine. Eventually we finally arrived at the end of Lake Road, which is where the trail begins.
This is the beginning of the trail: the gates of the old Cobb Estate. Apparently beyond these gates lays the HAUNTED FOREST.
HERE IT IS! BOO!... yeah, it wasn't scary. It was damn hot though. First we'd have to walk past where the ol' Cobb Estate used to be, to get to the Sam Merrill Trail - the trail that would take us to the White City.
As we passed the overgrown field where the good ol' Cobb place used to be, there were helpful plaques to tell us the history of the site. Luckily for us, some kind vandals totally destroyed that information with their ridiculous and indecipherable tagging. Thanks, guys; who cares about history? You just saved me from wasting five minutes I'd never get back!
At the beginning of the trail, there was a small box with a log book. Lance signed us in: 3:53 PM. There were houses just over the fence and I noticed a giant crocheted blanket in many colours hanging on the clothesline. The presence of veriegated yarn made me shudder, but I took this as a good omen for the trip ahead. We started walking.
Here's Lance, standing in a shady spot about thirty seconds into the hike. Notice the content look on his face. Notice the orange fruits on the cacti. I wonder if these fruits would have water in them? We proceeded up the trail and started to ascend. It became evident that this was going to be a very, very hot hike, but we took a break and drank a shit-ton of our water. I mean, haw haw; how far could it possibly be to the top?
Higher and higher we went, pausing here and there in shady spots to take short breaks. The sun was high and hot, despite its being late afternoon, and we began to sweat. We'd gone quite a way and were still feeling optimistic, and encountered a descending couple. We asked them how much farther; surely we were halfway to the ruins at this point? Nope. The man told us that the halfway mark is a set of electrical towers, and we still had quite a ways to go. We continued up.
Here's an odd fenced-in structure. It looked like it was an underground building. Notice the carved-out steps in the mountain beside it. I think it was around this point that I was sweating so much I got sunscreen in my eyes, as it rolled down my forehead. My eyes watered and burned. It sucked. We kept stopping for water. It was hard to catch our breath at times. Walking uphill in that blazing, blasting heat was nasty. You'd think that there would be more shady spots to rest than there actually were.
Finally we reached the "halfway mark". Both of us at this point were pretty miserable. We were actually worried about running out of water, like a pure survival scenario. Which is ridiculous in retrospect, but at the time, I mean, it was hideous heat and we couldn't breathe, it was dusty and we had no idea how much farther the stupid White City was. Plus now we had to conserve our water.
I was very unhappy at this point, and tried to document it, but I don't feel this picture does our discomfort justice. Now, I am not an old woman, and neither is Lance, but this sucked. If it was this bad in late afternoon, I can't imagine how crap it would have been in HIGH NOON HEAT.
Yay, the two-mile marker! I have to say, there was some amazing, gorgeous scenery going on all around us. It was really beautiful. But all we could do is stagger from switchback to switchback, our backs bent with pain, sand up our noses, pausing in the pathetic shadows of CACTI to drink the dregs of our warm water. I'm being melodramatic, but that's how it felt. I was wheezing. We even entertained the notion of turning back. It was that draining. We were taking breaks every time there was even the tiniest spot that had shade. Ugh.
AT LAST! We encountered FLAT LAND and plaques! It made us feel refreshed to just stop with that awful uphill walk. The path in this picture behind Lance would lead us to the fabled White City. And we still had water left! It had taken us an hour and forty-five minutes to get up here.
I guess the guests at the old resort came up here on some kind of incline railway. Here's one of the plaques at the head of this path.
There was a little picnic area off to the left of the path. Not that we'd brought refreshments, bwa-ha! Pretty though.
Some sort of gear-thing. Heh, I have no idea. Something to do with the old railroad? I guess I shouldn't document what I don't understand.
Okay, look how high we are! We were definitely feeling better at this point. That's not a fake smile. It sucks how photos can never accurately translate how amazing scenery is. It was *beautiful* up there, and I have so many crap pictures that absolutely FAIL to convey it. Note the lack of railings everywhere. I was slightly nervous.
Old stairway. Again, gorgeous and you can't tell. But anyways. There was some hiker guy sitting by himself up here. Pleasant enough chap, but since I am always on red-alert for psychopaths, I was wary of him. The good news is, the higher we got on the mountain, the less garbage and graffiti were around. Why? Because NO ONE is going to hike up there unless they're DEAD SERIOUS about hiking. Clowns with spray paint aren't going to traverse through that heat! You can rob and kill just as easily underneath a shady train bridge as you can on top of a mountain!
The ruins of the area where the lower-floor guest rooms were.
AHA! Fooled ya! See, no matter where, no matter how high or hot or historical, someone's gonna ruin it! Wandering around up here, we found this hidden bench. And someone's ruined it! At least it says "Love Bench". There are many other things it could say that would make it so much worse.
Echo Phone! You cup your hands around it, and yell through it. It worked amazingly, echoing multiple times through the valley beyond. Someone somewhere in the mountains yelled back, too, which was kind of creepy and kind of comforting at the same time. I have a video of this which I'll try to post another time. (I don't know how posting video works and I am dead tired.)
More ruins. The whole spot had a really cool, mysterious atmosphere to it. You knew that this was an expensive, celebrated, high-class place at one time. I imagine it was amazing, especially with the surrounding scenery and dangerous cliff-drops. The thought of a fire destroying this place is really sad. But it was a very peaceful vibe.
This was the old resevoir. You can see this if you zoom in on this area in Google Maps. It was bigger than I thought it would be. We had a good time walking up here, it was fun to explore and rest and relax and everything - but we knew that we still had the walk down to dread. Lance's legs were really hurting him. We wanted to get down as quickly as possible.
I just had to stop real quick and pump some iron. Derr-herrr! Real funny.
Down we went! Lance trailblazed. This time we had gravity on our side, plus it was cooler out now, so we really motored. Look how dangerous, with the cliff both above and below the path. I'd be terrified to walk here at night.
Ka-blam! Here we are, approaching the half-way mark already! I like this picture.
Look how insignificant we are in comparison to the size of the mountains. Going back, I definitely had a chance to look around and appreciate where we were, as opposed to the hunchback-shuffle going up. Plus I could see this time; I didn't have sunscreen sweat burning my eyes. It was weird though. I'd look down, out off the path and my body would almost steer itself into walking OFF THE CLIFF. A weird vertigo. I'm not afraid of heights but this whole hike, up, down and at the top, made me nervous. Dangerous stuff. Not a railing in sight. The sun was going down at this point too. We really wanted to be down and out before it got dark.
The sunset was beautiful. But it was very odd. As we were descending, hurrying down, people were still climbing UP. A female jogger, alone; some guys on bikes (one from Canada, hurrah); a family with a little kid; some teenagers; an old couple. As we reached the bottom, the sun was almost gone, and I found it a little creepy that there were still so many people on the mountain.

Lance signed us out: 7:28 PM. It had taken us one hour to come back down - with gravity on our side. We didn't even take a break! Proud of ourselves, we limped back to the car. We drove back to Lance's neighborhood, got a frozen pizza and came home. Now I'm writing this and Lance is knitting baby booties for his friend.

I am tired. As last time, I've saved my best picture for tomorrow! So you have to come back!

My arms taste like salt. I am filthy. Shower time, then bed.

****EDITED ON WEDNESDAY: So I Googled this hike and someone who hiked it two days ago saw TWO TARANTULAS. UGGGHHHH! Also, apparently it is common knowledge that there is no shade during the afternoon on the trail, and that afternoon in the summer is the worst time to climb the mountain. Good to know that me and Lance picked the worst season, at the worst time of day, to do this hike. Oh well - it's good to know that others have suffered on this hike in the blazing summer heat, and the reason we sucked so bad isn't because we're morons, it's just because most people FINISH this hike by 11 AM. It's even classified as an intermediate level like - which kind of makes me feel better because I am not a hiker at all. And at this point I'm just sweaty-palmed thankful we didn't see any god-damn TARANTULAS. I feel sick just thinking about it.


Jenn said...

I know this is an old blog, but thanks for the detail. I have been intrigued of this place ever since a bunch of crazy friends and I went ghost hunting here years ago. I would love to explore this during the day but looks like it would be tough for my amateur butt. What I could have sworn is that I saw an abandoned house when we visited almost 10 years ago...Strange, maybe it was just my imagination...

Anonymous said...

It would benefit you to do some of this trail at night. Then you'll know exactly how it got its name.

Anonymous said...

Also, there WAS an abandoned house there. That would be Cobb Estate.

Frank said...

This is so COOL ! I've been there at night and seen some wierd stuff While walking a trail that runs along a high cliff, I saw below a single file line of 7-8 people in white robes at the bottom of a cliff. I did'nt go any further.