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Mount Emma, Old Mount Emma

8 March 2003

By: Karen Isaacson Leverich

Leaders: Wolf & Karen Leverich
Young Emma, Middle-aged Emma, Old Emma

Mars Bonfire started a hiking series last summer, Easy Peaks of the San Gabriels. The notion was to introduce people who like being outdoors (not necessarily hikers) (yet!) to the wonder and beauty of our local mountains. Some of whom will simply have a nice time, others of whom will become hopelessly obsessed and not rest until they have Finished The List. No, no, wait!, that's not quite it!

But anyhow (envision one of those movie moments where the pages are flying off the calendar and -- this being very much an Environmentally Correct group -- into a nearby recycling bin) it's now 2003, and Wolf and I seem to have somehow inherited the series. My impression last year was that we were actually attracting hikers (not simply people who like to be outside) who were capable of reaching higher goals than Barley Flats, but who weren't quite confident yet about their ability to zip up Gorgonio. So when we submitted some hikes for Schedule 292, we were maybe a bit ambitious for our newcomers -- we promised them Emma and Old Emma, a relaxed pace, and a welcome for newcomers.

I had scheduled Emma in spring of '02 as my backup "O" provisional, and nary a soul showed up. (Well, my co-leader came, but you know what I mean.) So Wolf and I were pleasantly astonished to find 18 people gathered in Sylmar yesterday morning, with only two of the "usual suspects" that we already knew well from countless past HPS hikes. Those two, Doris Duval and Pat Arredondo, we of course immediately tapped to help out. We had hikers nearing their 100 peaks (who "needed" the Emmas), hikers nearing 25 and their coveted status as HPS members, a 77 year old gentleman from Hong Kong and his wife (Ping would be tall if stood next to Mrs. Lee), and a sweet young thing on her very first hike, ever. Wolf immediately propagandized them all with sample copies of THE LOOKOUT and the pretty Three Peaks Section brochure. (I mean SPS, HPS, and DPS, and NOT a truncated HPS with only three peaks!)

We fairly efficiently consolidated into fewer cars and headed up the Antelope Valley freeway to Angeles Forest Highway and then Mt Emma Road, setting up a simple car shuttle. It was a pleasant day, not too warm, a light breeze, a light haze (well, you can't win them all). I was hoping for flowers, but no joy. There ARE some exquisite poppies abloom further north, so maybe the timing was wrong. Still, the beginning of the hike up Emma, a trail through a juniper/piñon woodland, is very attractive. I was sweep, and pedagogically pointed out to my comrades the trees, explaining that they're the type of pine responsible for those trendy pine nuts finding their way into salads all across the Westside.

All good things must end. We emerged onto the fire road, and carefully pointed out how to find the way back to the cars, in case someone was having second thoughts about our adventure. These were no takers. (And since this is not a Hollywood cliffhanger, let me share the not-so-surprising ending: all 20 made the full hike, and all seemed to have a fine time, even the woman who was on what was probably her first and last ever hike.)

"Is that the peak?" asked the septuagenarian Mr. Lee, pointing to one of those inevitable false summits we seem to specialize in here at HPS.

"Uh, no. Though I think when we get there, we'll almost be able to see it." Am I inspirational or what?

Up we went, pausing in strategic bits of shade to catch our breath. Mrs. Lee shared a tremendously sweet grapefruit. As we went up one steep rocky bit, a new hiker asked, with some concern, whether we'd have to go back down that way. "No, no, we'll go along an easy ridge to Old Emma, we won't have to go down this." Little realizing quite how STEEP the Emma-Old Emma ridge is in places.

Before noon, we were all gathered on Emma, admiring the views, having a good snack in the shade. Those new to peak bagging were fascinated with the register, and with all the other peaks we could see and (sort of) identify. (The latter exercise would have been a tad more convincing if we had agreed on the names of anything other than Cole Point and Old Emma, oops...) Old Emma looked like an easy stroll, slightly downhill along a gentle ridge. Nice!

Well, not quite. Beginning hikers (and experienced ones, too) blanched at some of the less gentle "slopes" we encountered. Pairs of trekking poles were split up so everyone who wanted one had a prop. We in the rearguard called these bits "cliffs" and were grateful to Mrs. Lee, who used her Hong Kong hiking experience to route pick a more surefooted line of descent than the unstable motorcycle track. Hikers who had yearned for the uphill to be replaced by downhill suddenly discovered the charms of going up.

We did some of that, too. Eventually arriving on top of a bump we called "Middle-aged Emma." We decided she'd started out young, but was old by the time she had transited this ridge.

As we went up the final ridge to Old Emma, I pointed to a firebreak on the next mountain over to the east. "That's where we go next!" I chirped. I'm lucky to still be alive, let me tell you!

From Old Emma, we worked our way cautiously down the motorcycle track. This is hard on the knees and a certain amount of analgesic ("We're doing drugs!") was consumed. The road got closer and closer, and soon we descended a cross-country ridge into a garbage-strewn wash. (Civilization!?!) Thence a short stint on an almost flat road (no one could believe it: normal walking!) and the car.

Most of us relaxed on the shoulder while the drivers untangled the cars. Everyone seemed to have had a good time, even she who probably won't be hiking with us again (bad knees). Though there was some concern: if there were the EASY peaks, then what are our other peaks like? Not to worry, team: you did the Emmas with such flair and elan, you'll do fine on the remaining 274 peaks on the HPS list. Trust me! Starting with that firebreak over there up yonder mountain...

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