Friday, February 1, 2013

Of Trees and Trails: Hellman Wilderness Park

I haven't done a post on one of our hikes in quite a while.
Since we go on 3 or 4 hikes a month, I have quite a few I'd like to share with you.
I like these posts to be a place where I can capture my favorite moments and memories from the day, but also share my impressions of the trail itself, and give notes to any other people out there looking to hike a trail with kids.
I read lots and lots of trail reviews, but most don't give much info, or any, regarding kids on the trails.
Since I do almost all my hikes with my kids, that information is important to me.
And since I have little hikers ranging in age from 8 to 19 months, there is a pretty good chance I've got a little hiker close in age or ability to yours.
If you search "hikes and nature trails" in the "Posts By Subject" box on my side bar, you'll find other hikes we've done.
I haven't updated it in a long time, but there are still some good ones from times past.
And like I said, I have a lot of hikes to share with you--so let's get started!
This was a new hike to me and almost everyone in my group and we all loved it.
I'll give you the stats first:
Hellman Wilderness Park in Whittier.  (link here)
There is a very small parking lot at the trail head, but you can park on the street if the lot is full.
There is no fee for parking.
We hiked a 2.9 mile loop that had a 600 ft elevation gain. (*for a description of the trail, go below to the pictures)
It's pretty much a continuous ascent to the top.
Once you reach the top, there are lots of other trails to take to add mileage to the hike.
All the way up the hill, and certainly once you reach the top, the views are spectacular.
We enjoyed seeing the ocean, downtown LA, the Hollywood sign, Palos Verdes, and much of Orange County.
This trail is not stroller friendly--not even your super tough jog stroller.
We saw some hikers using hiking poles, but our group of little hikers, as well as moms with babies on their backs were able to manage the trail just fine without any poles.
There is very limited shade.
There are no bathrooms, or drinking fountains.
We saw lots of birds, lizards and deer.
I read reviews stating that in warmer months there are a lot of snakes, but it was too cold for snakes when we were there.
I highly recommend this hike in cooler months.
I think it would be brutal in the heat.
Also the hillsides are green and lovely from winter rains, and in spring I am sure the wildflowers are beautiful.
If your kids are up to the challenge of the climb, I highly recommend it.
My kids all complained at various points on the ascent, but once we reached the top, they were really proud of their accomplishment.
On the way home, and in the days since we did the hike, all my kids have mentioned what a great hike it was, how much fun they had, and how excited they are to try it again.
Here is our hike in pictures.
We took the Hellman Park Trial, to the left of the trail head.
You walk past a covered reservoir, and at first the trail does not look too promising.
But the trail quickly opens up into this little canyon and all the sights of the city are left behind you.
Almost as soon as the trail started we saw wild gourds growing alongside the trail.
There were also wild cucumber vines, large tonyon bushes, and lots of different types of chaparral.
Before long, you reach a short staircase and then the ascent begins.
There is a long set of steep switchbacks, and you feel like you are just hiking up and up into the sky.

Once switchbacks end, you are still climbing, but the turns are a little more gradual.
Around each corner, the views open up and become more and more amazing.
After the switchbacks, the trails flattens for a bit.
It's deceptive.
It's a very short bit of flat.
Soon you are heading up a very steep incline.
It's a rough trail at this point, not slippery, but rocky and uneven.
It's also one of the steepest points on the trail.
The kids all leaned way into it as they climbed up.
And once we made it past the steepest part, they all flopped down in the shade of one tiny little tree.
They were quite spent.
I have all my kids carry a backpack with our various hiking supplies in them.
Lilly carries a small water bottle and our picnic sheet--a sheet is lighter than a blanket.
William carries 3 water bottles.
James carries everyone's lunch.
He asked me that morning if he could just carry his own "provisions" for the hike.
As you can see from the picture, carrying everyone's provisions can be a bit taxing.
As you can also see from the picture, I still make him do it.
As I mentioned before, there is little shade on this hike.
But our kids are climbers, and so if there is a tree--or overgrown bush--they will climb it.
The next section of the trail is rocky and steep again, but a bit more gradual than the previous bit.
I was able to run it with Davy on my back.
When I run, it distracts him a bit from the fact that he is stuck on my back for hours at a time.
He'd much rather run.
Once we reached this point of the trail, we settled down on the grass for our picnic lunch.
The views were amazing.
Mt. Baldy was in the distance, it's peak all covered with snow, and just across from us this Buddhist Memorial Columbarium at Rose Hills Memorial Park.
The combination of the two had us feeling like we were hiking in the mountains of Tibet.
Not a bad spot for a picnic lunch.

I used lunch time as an opportunity to let David run around.
Mostly that meant running away from us.
The boy is a natural explorer.
He'd be a really great hiker right now, he can go and go, but he hates to hold hands, and steep, narrow trails are not good for babies who don't hold hands.
So I let him run on the wide parts.

And he gets carried back by his brother and friends when he strays too far.
He's my first child who doesn't like to hold hands.
Detests it might be a more apt description.
I admit it is a pain, but I still win the battle of the wills--if you won't hold my hand, you get carried.
Or strapped on my back in this case.
After lunch we headed up the steepest part of the hike.
When the Hellman Park Trail ends at the fire road, you can head left or right. 
We chose right.
If you want a challenge, you can climb up a very steep, small trail--it's actually a fire break, not a real trail--or you can just follow the fire road around the steep hill.
Most of us chose the fire break.
It felt like we were climbing into the sky.
This part of the trail was so steep that I had to lean forward to counterbalance the weight of Davy on my back.
While I huffed and puffed up the trail, Davy cried and yelled in protest of being back in his prison.
He was done.
I felt pretty good when I got to the top.
And glad that it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be.
All those days running the bleacher and Signal Hill are paying off.
We did have a water break.
Even David.
Screaming and crying can make a guy thirsty.
Here is the view looking back down the fire break and the fire road.
Coming down the fire break is very steep and slippery, but we made it without mishap.
We took the Mariposa trail down.
It is a bit more shady and very green.
It's also quite narrow with a steep drop off the side.
Which can make Mommies nervous when they're kids want to run down the trail!
But again, we made it without mishap.
The nice thing about hiking this trail in winter, besides cool temperatures, is the carpet of green covering the hills.
It's all so beautiful.
On our way down, we were thrilled to spot 3 deer feeding on the hillside below us.
They were far away, but it didn't dampen our enthusiasm.
While we were watching the deer, we heard the song of a hummingbird right overhead.
We looked up and saw this little guy.
He stayed still for a bit and let us admire him.
Isn't he a beauty?

All tiredness felt earlier as we climbed the trail straight up was forgotten once we reached the fire road again and we let the kids run down with reckless abandon.
It was another great day of hiking and exploring nature with our group of little hikers.

Hope this inspires you to get you and your littles out on a trail, either this one, or one near you.
Happy hiking!
Love from,

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