My soul was seriously thirsty for some fresh air in my lungs and dirt under my feet. You see, I’m currently in Orange County, CA about to approach one of the hardest weekends of my life. This weekend we’ll say “goodbye” to my mom at her funeral followed by the burial on Catalina Island.

A little less than a month ago, she lost her courageous and gracious fight against cancer. For seven years, she battled hard and was an inspiration to everyone she met. We traveled to amazing places, she saw me marry the love of my life and my brother meet his future wife, and she lived every day with so much love for life and everyone around her.

The past few weeks have been more challenging than I could have ever imagined and I know that the days to come will present even more emotions. In the future, I’m sure I’ll post on how her death has changed my life forever, but for now, it’s all about one foot in front of the other and hitting the trails for therapy.

Aliso Peak Hike at a Glance

  • Trailhead – Seaview Park, Laguna Niguel, CA
  • Round trip distance – 1.6 miles
  • Time – 1 hour
  • Difficulty – easy to moderate
  • Elevation gain – 533 feet (most of it is on the way back)
  • Summit elevation – 683 feet
  • Pet friendly – yes

My parents’ house is relatively close to the trailhead, so I made the trek from their house. If you don’t live in the area, take Pacific Island to the west end of Seaview Park in Laguna Niguel. There is a lot of free parking on the street here.

From the grass of Seaview Park, walk to the west end, toward the gated community. The grass turns to dirt here and you’ll see some drinking fountains along with a picnic table.

After following the dirt trail for about a quarter of a mile, you’ll reach a great lookout that sits on a concrete slab and has a great picnic table. This is a wonderful spot to view Laguna Beach and Catalina on a clear day.

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View of Aliso Peak in the distance. You can also see Catalina Island on the horizon.

Continue on past the concrete and you will immediately start a steep descent down a washed out trail. The trail is loose in some areas and requires a little bit of fancy footwork to make sure you don’t slip. This section does not last very long and the trail soon levels out past some house where the poor people live (*sarcasm*) and the descends again for a bit before climbing toward the summit. The trail is very well marked as you can see in the picture below.

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Trail marker for Aliso Peak Summit.

The actual ascent to the summit is not long or steep, but you will be rewarded with amazing views of Laguna. There is a bench you can sit on at the top and it’s a great spot for some whale watching during peak months as well. While I was up there, I could see a pod of dolphins in the distance just off shore.

Aliso Summit Marker

Aliso Peak summit marker

The most strenuous part of this hike is making your way back to Seaview park view the steep trail. Although this is a relatively short trail, it will still make you suck some serious wind! There are a lot of great spots to continue to enjoy the view (aka catch your breath).

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Beginning the descent down Aliso Peak. You can see the trail back up to Seaview park on the left.

If you’re in the South Orange County area and looking for a quick hike to take in the fresh air and views, then this is the one for you. It was just what I needed on this particular day to fuel my soul.

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Scout Lookout and Angels Landing boast some of the most picturesque views of Zion Canyon in the whole park. With sweeping 360 degree vistas, you can easily understand why this is one of the more popular hikes in the park. There are no permits required for this trail, and in the summer, you can see lines of hikers dotting the cliffside. We hiked the trail in the middle of January during a short three-day road trip. While the crowds weren’t as bad as they are in the summer months, there were still a fair amount of other hikers when we started at 1:30 pm.

The trail starts at the West Rim Trailhead across from the Grotto. Because the Zion Scenic Drive to the trailhead is open to cars in the off-season, December through February (the rest of the year you have to take a shuttle into the park), the trailhead parking can fill up fast. On the day we hiked, they closed the road just past the Zion Lodge around noon, which meant we had to park there and add another mile to get to the trailhead.

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First part of the trail along the Virgin River.

Once you get to the West Rim Trailhead, cross the Virgin River footbridge, hang a right, and follow the river upstream for about a half a mile until it begins to ascend up a paved path. It gradually gets steeper and turns into the first set of switchbacks that are etched into the cliff. It is amazing to think of how they built that trail!

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The first set of switchbacks on the West Rim Trail.

After a few of these switchbacks, the trail enters Refrigerator Canyon, named for being mostly shaded and relatively cool year-round. After a gradual grade through the hanging canyon, the trail soon turns and starts up the famous Walters Wiggles. These are a series of  20 short switchbacks that bring you up the rock face. The switchbacks are named after Walter Ruesch, who was Zion’s first superintendent. He was determined to create a trail up to Angels Landing, and after seeing what he accomplished, you’d be surprised to hear that he didn’t have any prior engineering experience.

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Entering Refrigerator Canyon.

On the day that we hiked, a lot of these switchbacks were covered in ice. It would have been wise to have crampons like a few other hikers we passed, but we made our way carefully and despite a few “oh shit” moments, didn’t end up on our butts or flailing down the side of the cliff.

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Walters Wiggles covered in ice and everyone trying not to fall.

At the top of the Wiggles, you will be rewarded with beautiful views of the canyon and Angels Landing is so close it might as well hit you in the face. You can stop here and enjoy the scenery from Scout Lookout, or if you’re up for an adventure, continue on for another .6 miles to the top of Angels Landing. Because of all the ice on the trail the day we hiked, we decided we valued our lives too much to attempt making it to the top of Angels Landing. With sections that are only a couple of feet wide, and a lot of people that looked like they had no business hiking to the top in Tevas, we safely enjoyed the view from Scout Lookout.

We can’t wait to go back though, and hopefully, make it all the way to the top. We’ll just make sure that there is no chance of ice and get a really early start to avoid the crowds of hikers all vying for that deadly picture perfect selfie at the top.

Have you hiked Angels Landing in Zion? What was your experience? Leave a comment below!

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Beautiful view of Zion Canyon from the trail.

 

Utah is an amazingly beautiful state from north, south, east, and west. With a state that has so much to explore, we had no shortage of things to do in our three short days spent in southwestern Utah. The hardest part of our brief trip was narrowing it down to a few key things and deciding what we would have to wait and do until our next trip. Another factor at play was the weather since it is the middle of January. Luckily, we had some nice days, but there was a fair amount of snow and ice to contend with from a previous storm.

All-in-all, our three days in Utah could not have worked out better. Some of our adventures were: hiking to Scout Lookout and Angels Landing, wading through the Narrows, exploring Belly of the Dragon, playing on the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, scrambling up to (and down from) the Kanab Sand Caves, viewing Bryce Canyon at sunrise, and wandering through Snow Canyon.

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With winter quickly approaching, I was glad to be able to get in one last backpacking trip before the snow flies in Lake Tahoe. Temperatures are already pretty chilly in the Sierra, so we headed to Point Reyes National Seashore. Point Reyes is a beautiful stretch of protected land approximately 1 hour north of San Francisco. The beaches are pristine, the bluffs impressive, and the views extensive. It is definitely a beautiful place to visit whether you are backpacking or just exploring for a day. We were also blessed to experience beautiful weather for mid-November.

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Guess what?! On August 17, 2019, Brian and I did a thing! We got married! After getting engaged on Mt. Whitney last summer and a year of planning, we had the most amazing wedding in Crystal Cove, CA. I’ll write another post on that after I have wedding pictures, but in the meantime, I have to share how amazing our honeymoon was in Fiji!

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The Sierra Nevada mountains have always had piece of my heart… and now, more than ever. Since I was a child, I’ve called these majestic mountains home. I grew up in Lake Tahoe, nestled in the northern part of the Sierra Nevada range. I’ve covered countless trails, explored many peaks, and camped under the stars. However, it wasn’t until I hiked the High Sierra Trail (HST) that I truly had an appreciation for everything that makes these mountains so magical. Not to mention, I promised the love of my life my hand in marriage from the top of the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States, Mount Whitney, at the end of our trip!

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Last weekend, I had the wonderful opportunity to explore Yosemite with Brian and a few of our friends. I had driven through Yosemite before, but had never hiked here, which was something truly humbling. We hiked the Half Dome trail, which was about 15 miles with 4,000 feet of vertical gain. The trail climbs past Vernal and Nevada Falls, meanders past the beautiful Merced river, and then makes the final ascent toward Half Dome. It was definitely one of the most demanding hikes I have ever done.

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I’m still on a high from my backpacking trip on the Lost Coast Trail this past week. You can read about that adventure here. One of the things that I didn’t include in my original post is what I ate, but it is definitely not something to be overlooked. Finding delicious ways to stay fueled on the trail can be tricky, but with a simple dehydrator, you can make some awesome recipes, like the one below.

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The Lost Coast Trail stretches a rugged section of the Northern California coastline where the redwoods meet the sea. It begins at the mouth of the Mattole River and travels south to Usal Beach. There are two sections of the trail. The north section is 25 miles and follows the beach from the Mattole trailhead to Black Sands Beach.  The south section begins at Hidden Valley and travels 29 miles south atop the ocean cliffs and redwood forests. This past week, I had the opportunity to backpack the northern section with one of my closest girlfriends. What follows is a video of our trip and a written summary with some tips and learnings from our journey.

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For the longest time I have dreamed of exploring the Oregon coast and Redwood National Park in Northern California. This past weekend, we made a quick trip, but were sure to get in every ounce of adventure we could in the short amount of time we had. We were also able to get in a precious visit with one of my longest and closest friends who just had a baby. Below are some of the highlights from our trip. I can’t wait to go back!

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There’s no better compliment from Brian than, “this is blog worthy,” when I am experimenting with a new recipe. The inspiration for this recipe originally came from a Cooking Light email that landed in my inbox, but there was one thing wrong. It called for an InstaPot. I haven’t quite jumped on the InstaPot bandwagon yet, but this recipe still sounded like I needed to give it a try. It was a cold winter night and I needed a fiesta in my mouth!

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Have you ever stuck your hand out with a few seeds on it, only to have a cute little chickadee land on your fingers and pluck that morsel off of your palm? No? If this sounds fun and you want to channel your inner Snow White, Chickadee Ridge is your place to go for an experience like no other.

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Whenever I try to follow a paleo lifestyle, or at least reduce the amount of inflammatory grains in my diet from things like bread, pasta, and rice, I always turn to sweet potatoes. They are so satisfying, provide a wonderful source of carbs, and are full of nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, copper, potassium, and much, much more. Here’s a few of my favorite sweet potato recipes I’ve made over the years:

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It’s that time of year again. The time of year where it seems like every person who has a blog or social media presence is posting about one of two things: 1) a review of the previous year, or 2) what their goals are for the coming year. While cliche, I do think that reflection and goal-setting are an important part of personal development. I also believe that there is something to be said about making those things public. If you’ve announced the ways you plan to grow and develop to the entire world, you’re that much more likely to do it, right? It’s worth a try.

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I can’t believe it. My little girl turned 11 today. Over the past 11 years, she has taught me patience and responsibility, but most importantly, unconditional love. Roxanne has been by my side through ups and downs, and always, always, loves me no matter what. There really is something to be said about the loyalty and comfort that dogs can provide.

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Cast Iron Potatoes au Gratin

Over the past year, we’ve really started experimenting with new recipes in our cast iron dutch oven every time we go camping. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into at first, but I have come to absolutely love it. It’s probably because I just put the stuff in the dutch oven and then Brian does all the hard work—moving it around, putting coals on top, making sure it is the right temperature—but between the two of us, I think we have a pretty good thing going.

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I can’t believe it’s taken me two months to write about my awesome trip to Kauai, but better late than never? This was my fourth (or fifth??) time visiting this amazing island and it did not disappoint.

If you’ve ever heard the term “island time,” you know it refers to a slower than average pace. Like a really slow pace. I only wish that vacation went by in “island time” speed. Instead, it seems more like time is on steroids and goes by way too fast. There is just never enough of it. We definitely made the best of our time though and I’ve put together all the highlights of each day.

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If there is one place I can never get enough of in the Lake Tahoe area, it is Desolation Wilderness. The 63,000 acre area with endless trail systems and lakes has a solid permit system that keeps it from being overcrowded. Although this sometimes works to your disadvantage if you can’t secure a permit, it is worth the solitude. Every time I go, it is a different experience with memories to cherish for a lifetime. This past weekend with Brian and our fur babies was no different.

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I have been toying with the idea of dehydrating my own backpacking food for quite some time . Sure, I love Mountain House, Ramen, and oatmeal, but I really wanted to find a way to make delicious backpacking meals that didn’t make you question what you were really eating. The only problem was, I wasn’t sure where to start. I love cooking, but dehydrating can be a little intimidating in that it requires special knowledge and equipment.

Don’t fret! I’ve put lots of hours into researching and experimenting for you, and have to say that my first finished product turned out better than any prepackaged meal I’ve had. A couple of things before I get to that recipe. To start, you’ll need a few things:

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I am so excited that I got my first girls’ backpacking trip in this summer! Several summers ago my friends, Lisa and Jenn, became my wilderness soul sisters. We backpacked together four times that summer (Desolation Wilderness, Grouse Ridge, Bear Lake, and Star Lake) and haven’t done it since. We made a point to get out the other weekend to somewhere new and beautiful, Loch Leven Lakes.

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