Friday, December 25, 2009

Go Tell It On The Mountain: The Militant's Mt. Hollywood Christmas Hike

First off, the Militant wishes you all a very Militant Christmas! There's nothing like Christmas in Los Angeles; the sky is clear, the air is clean, traffic is flowing and most transplants are out of town! It's rare days like this when the true Angelenos can have the City all to themselves!

The Militant has a holiday tradition of climbing Mt. Hollywood (and by meaning "holiday," it's not just the multireligious/multicultural confluence of feast days around year's end; the Militant has done this on other legal holidays, such as the 4th of July and New Year's Day). The peak is the highest publicly-accessible point in Central Los Angeles, roughly 600 feet higher than our USBank Tower and about the same height as Shanghai's World Financial Center (the world's 3rd tallest building).

The Militant decided to take a Christmas Day sunset hike up Mt. Hollywood, taking the drive up, up, up and up Vermont, parking in the Griffith Observatory parking lot (since the domes were closed today, everyone was there for the view). Within a few yards, he entered the Charlie Turner Trailhead for the hike up the mountain.

For those of you on street level, Mt. Hollywood's peak looks like an easy climb. But lurking behind the Berlin Forest (named after Los Angeles' Sister City 5,795 miles to the east; pictured right), is a winding, 1.5-mile trail that takes from 40 to 90 minutes to traverse, depending on your pace.

The Militant wasn't alone, as dozens of other Angelenos of all ages decided to make this their own Holiday tradition, some accompanied by their own canine companions.

As the Militant ascended, the sun descended, offering a free show for many who paused to watch the dusk (pictured left). Too bad the marine layer in the horizon muted the sunset in the distance somewhat, marring what could have been a clean orange disc lowering itself over the Pacific. But still a decent sunset nonetheless.

Almost halfway through, the Militant found a dirt ravine, of which he could possibly circumvent the half-mile of path towards the west slope of the mountain. So he did a little rock climbing.

Okay, it was kind of embarrassing, the Militant forgot to wear his boots and was wearing his sneaks at the time - which is fine for the trail path, but lacked enough tread for his little climb. So he made the 100-foot ascent making careful steps, getting his hands dirty, grabbing onto bushes and roots, and improvising stakes out of tree branches. But he made it, without succumbing to gravity and taking a shameful tumble.

Halfway up his shortcut climb, the Militant was reminded of the 2007 conflagration that charred this very hillside. But the natural growth within the past two years made it not-so-obvious; a lone burnt tree trunk (pictured right) became one of the few visible monuments of the brushfire.

The final 1/3rd of the hike presents one with the proverbial fork-in-the road: take the eastern path and you get up to the peak faster, or take the more lengthy western route and you enjoy the simultaneous view of Hollywood, the Westside, Mt. Lee and the Hollywood Sign and the San Fernando Valley.

Since it was already past dusk, the Militant wanted to just get the heck up there.

Walking along the eastern flank of the mount, the Militant found a nice view of the San Gabriels in the distance, Glendale down below and the DWP Holiday Light Festival - appearing as a glowing purple line from hundreds of feet up (pictured left).

Finally, he sees it - a sloping plain of bare dirt, bearing recent erosion channels from the recent rainstorms, and a small promontory with a few picnic tables, wooden railing and an elevation marker, indicating its 1,619 feet height above sea level.

It was already night, with only the faint orange glowing remnant of daylight looming towards the west. Before the Militant lay some 26 miles urban expanse. It was a perfect view for Christmas. Why settle for a light display made up of mere hundreds of lights when you can gawk at millions? What else could a Militant Angeleno do up there but pause, reflect, enjoy...and snap some pictures?

Aside from the muffled rumble of the city below, it was a perfectly "Silent Night" up there, but for the sound of the crisp, cold wind roaring occasionally.

It's a unique place in Los Angeles - where else can you look down on the Downtown skyline? Where else can you see Hollywood and Ventura boulevards from the same view?

There were a few people up there: A Korean couple pointing down towards Koreatown, a young boy using his dad's iPhone letting his mom know they've made it up the peak, a young woman on a solo hike, taking her own time to reflect about life from above the din of the City.

Though this is perhaps the fourth or fifth time for the Militant to ascend Mt. Hollywood, the wonders of the view never cease. He could stay up there forever if he could (of course, his blog entries wouldn't be as interesting...)

Then it was time to leave.

Though it was dark, the gridded glow of city lights below and the half moon shining above were enough illumination for the Militant. And what a juxtaposition of man-made and the natural: The Militant was treated to the sounds of a solitary owl, coyotes howling in the distance and the constant chorus of crickets.

It was only about 6 p.m., but the shade of night kept most people away. On his way down, only one ascending hiker passed the Militant. After the Militant passed the location of his 100-foot shortcut climb, he opted to just stick to the path on the way down. In retrospect, he probably didn't really shave off that much time. But hey, it was all about the experience, the experience...

After crossing through the wooded corridor that was the Berlin Forest, the Militant made it back to the Observatory parking lot, and back to the creature comforts of his car.

Once he was back on Vermont near Hollywood, the Militant reflected on being "back up there" and realizing he was now "down here." It helps to see the bigger picture. Your world can only be so small.

Since Los Angeles doesn't have an observation deck on it's highest structure, this is probably the equivalent. And best of all, it's free. And maybe it's the perfect allegory for Los Angeles life: Where in other cities one can take a quick, but pricey elevator ride to the grand view, it takes a little time, patience and work to get up to our promontory. No one's entitled to an easy break.

But when you do get there, the reward is breathtakingly priceless.

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