Cooper Canyon Falls Trail

With our shake-down camp behind us, we were finally ready to go on a real backpacking trip. I found a short loop on the Pacific Crest Trail in the Angeles National Forest that happened to be very close to our place and quite accessible, the Cooper Canyon Falls Trail Camp and Burkhart Trail loop. We were so excited to actually spend a night on the PCT!

Adventure pass!
National Forest Adventure Pass

The drive up was so quick! It took us about an hour and half to get to Cloudburst Summit from our place in MDR, including a very slow, winding trip climbing 5,000 feet up the 2 highway. When we arrived at the trailhead – simply a turnout with a tiny sign at mile marker 57.21 – we pulled over, hung our brand-new annual Forest Adventure Pass on the mirror and started getting re-combobulated.

Jerry and Peggy, cyclist adventurers on their way to Mexico

A couple of cyclists we had seen riding their bikes up the hill stopped to say hello. They had been working on traveling from Canada to Mexico over the past few summers, chipping away a bit at a time. They were on one of their last legs and they seemed exhilarated. They called us ‘fellow adventurers’ which made me really happy. Here’s their site.

Gabriel had a little play in the car and a quick feed while we set up all our stuff and we set off to do our first real backpacking trip as a family on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Quick feed before we head off
Quick bite to eat
The PCT!
On the trail!
On the trail!

Our spirits were very high as we walked the few miles through beautiful scenery towards the trail camp. We were so thrilled to be on this trail which runs the entire length of the country, and I was really happy with the hiking shirt I just completed sewing out of Under Armor Heat-Gear material. We were so surprised that such a beautiful forest is so close to the smoggy city of Los Angeles and wondered why we’d never come before. Seeing me with my $2.59 bamboo garden-store ‘trekking pole’, Gabriel decided he needed a stick and commandeered his mum’s.

Hiking stick
Hiking stick

The hike to camp was very quick, even with Gabriel walking a large part of the way himself, looking at every stick, rock and pine-cone. He was just so engaged with the trail and excited by every object he saw – really cute, and really slow! It got a bit tough for Jess who was uncomfortable with her pack weight (a few adjustments and she felt more comfortable).

Swinging his arms

Which reminds me – since one of us (me) needs to carry Gabriel, we need to pack light – the other person must carry almost everything else. Our goal is to get our base pack weight (everything except consumables) around 10-15 pounds (5-7kg) for Jess, and I carry Gabriel plus whatever else fits in the baby backpack. We are pretty close with the base weight but definitely not there yet. In sewing our own tarp, netting and quilt we have cut many pounds from the typical backpack equipment, but even so, Jessica’s pack ended up being about 35 lb (including consumables) and mine was almost 42 (including 25lb baby and his clothing). We were carrying almost 5 liters of water (1.25 gallons) which is 10 lbs (5kg) right there. Also food for three, and a (stupid, in hindsight, but still enjoyable) bottle of wine.

Chilling out
Chilling out

To make this work we really need to cut more pounds. If Jess can shave 10 lbs off her weight she would be very comfortable – after we had consumed all our water and food, she was fine.

Anyway, once we got to camp we set about picking a campsite. Cooper Canyon Trail Camp is set up in two groups, an upper group with about four sites, and a lower, more private hidden site next to a creek. The creek was dry this late in summer but in spring it would have been running, and quite beautiful (except for the inevitable bugs). We chose to camp down next to the dry creek, and I helped Gabriel set up the tarp and netting. He was really stoked with the tarp setup, running backwards and forwards inside it and playing peekaboo.

Helping Dad with the tarp
Helping Dad with the tarp

Each campsite has stoves and fire-pits and so we started a fire which enthralled Gabriel – his first fire! He was captivated. Jess rehydrated a vegetable curry she had made – delicious. This home-dehydrated food thing is fantastic. Delicious, nutritious food, cheap, quick and easy. Sounds like a commercial.

Curry rehydrating

Looking around our campsite we discovered some kind of lean-to or den. We wondered who (or what) had created it and scared ourselves shitless.

Who or what made this den? Spoooooky

We retired to sleep. Boy did we have a fitful night’s rest! We were both up all night wondering if every crack, buzz, swish and whir was a bear footstep – or worse! Then it became quite cold. With Jess having to nurse Gabriel, it’s tough to get completely covered by the quilt. We seemed to be warm enough from about our feet to our waist, but Jess had to have her shoulders and arms exposed so she wasn’t able to get warm. Also, the majority our clothing is all cotton, which isn’t too good for camping. Warmer clothes would have made everything a whole lot better.

Time to wake up
Time to wake up!

But we were all smiles in the morning after our freezing night of terror! We slurped down some oatmeal and green tea and packed up camp. Gabriel was happy to get walking again and we warmed up as the sun rose over the beautiful forest hillside, and after he had his fill of hiking he climbed back into the carrier with a slice of dried mango.

Let’s hike!
Gabriel being called to hike

We walked to the Cooper Canyon Falls. To get to them you have to climb down a steep rocky wall, using a rope. It was great fun. The falls were very pretty and there was a crystal clear pool at the base, but not much water was flowing. We climbed back up and left the PCT for the Burkhart Trail to Buckhorn Campground. The walk back was quite steep and Jess was racing along, it was hard for me to keep up. It was 100% beautiful. Would recommend!

Climbing down the flimsy rope
At the base of the falls

Originally we had planned to drop our packs at the campground and I would run the roughly two miles back to the car and drive down to pick everyone up, but since Gabriel was happy in the back carrier we decided to all press on. Boy was the highway steep! We were so excited to get back to the car to our water and food cache, to turn on the radio and reminisce about our awesome trip.

Steep highway!
Steep highway!

When we finally got to our car, it was covered in glass. Some lowlifes had broken into our car, and felt it necessary to shower the whole interior with the glass from both the driver and passenger side windows. They took the crappy junk we had in the car (a Beck CD, a window-shade, a 1/8th inch audio wire) while we were camping! I cleaned most of the glass off our seats and Gabriel’s baby seat and we left. I’m not shocked that our car was burglarized, but I was really disappointed that someone would do such a crappy job of it, especially since we have a baby (evidenced by our baby seat) and were obviously out hiking since we had the Adventure Pass on the mirror (which they took too!). We had run out of water in our packs and there was no cell-phone reception. Asshats. There have got to be more professional ways to break into a 2005 VW Beetle.


But – our water and food was still there, the car still worked and while they took a couple hundred dollars of junk, they left the $400 baby-seat, so we had a lot to be grateful for. We decided to enjoy the beautiful breeze on the freeway through our open windows! On the way down we saw a highway patrolman, we pulled up and he said, “Oh, you guys got your car! We saw it this morning and filed all the reports, it wasn’t stolen or parked illegally so we left it. Wait – did you do that trip with a baby? Wow, that’s great!”. We had a good chat and away we went.

What a trip!

Enjoying the fresh air!
Officer Percival