Winter wilderness of wonder beckons

Winter wilderness of wonder beckons
  1. Winter wilderness of wonder beckons
    If you like your hikes a little wet and very wild, this is the best time in years to venture into the outdoors. Making my way past a locked steel gate and fording a shallow stream, I slog up Trabuco Creek Road in the Holy Jim Canyon area of…

If you like your hikes a little wet and very wild, this is the best time in years to venture into the outdoors.

Making my way past a locked steel gate and fording a shallow stream, I slog up Trabuco Creek Road in the Holy Jim Canyon area of the Cleveland National Forest. Suddenly, I confront a massive mudslide.

Make that a debris flow.

Where there once was a dirt road – albeit a very bumpy dirt road with potholes the size of tires – there now is a river of mud, rocks and chunks of trees.

Fires in the past few years have laid bare parts of these foothills that reach some 5,500 feet to the top of Saddleback mountain. When water cascades from the sky like a waterfall, these areas can be dangerous, even deadly.

What’s both good and bad is that on Friday, Cleveland National Forest officials reported that nearly all forest roads were closed to vehicles through this week.

For hikers, that means peace and quiet. But it also means taking extra care.

With caution, careful attention to weather reports and the right gear, a romp in our winter wilderness can be the stuff of adventure.

Along with words of caution, here are my top five hikes:

Safety first

With some overkill depending on where you go, here are the do’s:

1. Start early; allow plenty of time to return.

2. Keep an eye on the kids and don’t overtax them.

3. Carry water, food, map, compass, suitable clothing.

4. Consider adding a headlamp and trekking poles.

5. Make sure creek levels have dropped after a storm.

6. Check weather reports and trail closures.

If you tackle something like Saddleback, keep in mind that elevation means changes in wind speed, rainfall and temperature. Waterproof clothing and layers can save your life.

Here are the don’ts:

1. Cross a stream above your knees.

2. Venture out during or immediately after a storm when streams are still rising.

3. Rely on cellphones or GPS.

4. Go off trail.

Aliso Woods

What:3,900 acres, numerous trails, some terrific views.

Who:Hikers, runners, mountain bikers, equestrians. Closed to off-highway vehicles.

Where: Main entrance, 8373 Alicia Parkway, Laguna Niguel.

More: 949-923-2200,

Facilities:Available at main parking lot, Wood Canyon trailhead, Top of the World.

Note:This is a popular park. That means following right-of-way trail rules. Mountain bikers need to stop or slow for everyone.

Special tip:Check out Dripping Cave. It’s marked by a trail with the same name and is big enough for a family.

Bolsa Chica Wetlands

What:An interpretive center and trails winding through coastal grasses and marshy areas.

Who:Hikers, trail runners, bird watchers.

Tip:Continue south far enough to walk across the wooden bridge for fun and photos.

When:Mornings and evenings are best for birding as well as for finding parking.

Where:3842 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach.

Harding Truck Trail

What:With 9.3 miles and 4,000 feet of elevation gain (you can turn around any time), you’ve missed out on Orange County’s best gym if you haven’t hiked the Harding Truck Trail.

Caution:The higher you go, the colder it gets. A few years ago during a cold storm, a mountain biker died of exposure.

Where:Take Santiago Canyon Road – a treat by itself – to Modjeska Canyon Road. Drive slowly to the end – slowly because of the speed limit but also because the road offers a rare glimpse of canyon life.

Note to hikers: The fire road is closed to vehicles.

Tip: The best, and I mean the best, views in Orange County. At a spot called the Goat Shack, you’ll find a picnic table and canyons that drop hundreds of feet. A little…

Tags: #Ford
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