A Fire and a Freehike

I promised myself no more long blog posts. And then I went ahead and did this! I must be an addict. Slightly NSFW ahead. Click any image for a larger version.

Tuesday was a hot day at home (105+) so I headed back up to Lieber Mountain area for some more freehiking. About 90 there at 3 pm, the upper limit of my hiking comfort zone. It has occurred to me to have as a personal project to hike as much of the PCT naked as I can manage in little bites. I can do this solo in a series of out and back trips.

Longer bits would require assistance. A conspirator to drop me off and pick me up or a co-hiker so we could leave a car at each end of the trip.

Like most of my ideas, it will probably die on the vine.

This is a continuation of my Sandberg trail hike, going east. The red dashed line is the path. Black dashed lines are dirt trails. 7N23 is Lieber Mountain Road and the rest are unnamed 4WD tracks. Maybe once a day during the week, you’ll see a car on 7N23 but these side trails – like the foot trail – only see traffic on the weekend.

I didn’t just stick to the trail. That little nob at 5600+ ft. is marked on some maps as Sandberg Mountain. I can’t resist an easy peak. I went up to a very mighty oak and then down and out to a prominent outlook and zig-zagged around cross country. The terrain was easy enough I didn’t bother with a pack. I tanked up on Gatorade and just went.

In freehiking circles this is called “flying without a parachute,” where you abandon your clothes. I don’t do it unless the topography is easy, the climate is good, and the risk of random textile encounters is close to zero.

Short grass makes for safe and easy cross country.

I don’t know how to express this. There is something about wandering naked thru wide open spaces – on top of a mountain no less – that is exhilarating. Different from a forested trail or a beach. It isn’t adrenaline from the risk of being seen, although I’m sure that is a factor for some. With timing and reconnaissance I work to zero that risk out. To me, risk equals stress.

To me, it hits all the psychological notes for freedom. Being completely alone adds zest to this mix. Even if they were a completely accepting batch of nudists I would prefer to be alone. Humans would only break the reverie.

I use the term naked intentionally. In nudist circles, to be nude is a kind of armor. You’re clothed with intent. A model for an art class is always nude, never naked. To be naked is to be vulnerable, whether to the judgment of the textile public or to the forces of nature. Lovers are always naked and never nude. I actively desire this sense of physical vulnerability to bugs and bears and plants and the environment in general.

And maybe I am nature’s lover while I am there.

This is the oak savanna. That is Lieber Mountain to the right. As you drop off the high points into more sheltered areas, it becomes a forest. It is home to coyotes and bears and mountain lions. Those oaks produce a prodigious volume of acorns on which a large population of deer and squirrels depend. At one time it would have been grazing for a large ranch. This particular area is technically a private inholding within the Angeles National Forest (see map above) but it does not appear to be used for anything and there are no restrictions to access.

A massive oak, high atop Sandberg Mountain. Do you notice the small piles of brush? During the 2020 fires, the fire crews cleared out all the underbrush around it. Oaks don’t burn easily. If a fire came through here, at most a few lower leaves might get singed.

There’s no cairn on top of this hill, so this tree will do for my summit photo. It was a perfect tree for climbing, with massive low branches in all directions. (There were also a few ants… 🙂 )

High overhead a hawk flies, looking for an unwary meal in the short grass and brush.

Up ahead is that promontory I hiked out to. There’s a 270 degree panoramic view for 30 miles. You get a true feeling of exposure. 🙂

I drop off the mountain to follow the trail further east. This is the oak forest. Notice how the firefighters have cleared out the brush and even pruned off the lower branches. These oaks would likely survive a fire. More shade but less breeze means cooler but more bugs..

I pass thru the forest. As I emerge, there’s a brief view of the road, perhaps a mile away. The air is phenomenally clear. Not to worry. This is a telephoto shot and then cropped. To someone on that road, I’m not even a pink speck.

The trail somewhat parallels the road here. I could walk uphill 50 yards and be on it yet I am invisible to it. Notice how the trail is narrow and deep? That is typical of trails heavily used by bicycles. They cut a particularly deep rut on curves. No recent bike tracks but I saw what looked like a track by a child’s bare foot. A closer examination showed it was the rear paw of a small bear. Probably the same juvenile I saw on an earlier hike near here. The more I looked, the more I saw. Little Boo-Boo must have passed this way recently.

I decided I’d dropped enough elevation. It was hot, even up here. So I headed back to my car. I’d drive to the next point I wanted to explore. Nude driving isn’t as fun as naked hiking but I’m not going to dress if I don’t need to.

Atmore Meadows is a flat area in a deep valley that has a small campsite. It takes good ground clearance to drive the spur road and it was an area I had never gotten around to visit despite all the time I’ve spent up here.

In 2002, it was the site of the Atmore fire which did not burn hot, nor did it burn a large area. However, in 2020 the Lake Fire came thru here which burned 31,000 acres. On my earlier hikes through the PCT up here you saw damage from the Lake Fire and that was 5 miles east of here.

The area surrounding the meadow is burned utterly barren. The meadow itself fared better. The low-lying area had just enough additional moisture to keep it from burning intensely. The minor Atmore Fire of 2002 cleared out some of the brush. Trees in areas without dense understory survived. Three seasonal creeks intersect here meaning there was subsurface water. In the winter since then, the place has started to green up again. Most of the green visible now is from bracken ferns which only grow where there is moisture

Some of the damaged oak may yet sprout some green. I’ve seen oaks that were little more than charred stumps grow green twigs. There will also be new growth from the root crown. In the back, you can see Jeffrey pines, their trunks burned but a green crown still intact.

Left and center are poodle dog bush and right is stinging nettles.

There are certain species that thrive in a destroyed landscape. They are known as ruderal species. This specimen is “poodle dog bush.” It is extremely toxic. Think of it as poison oak on steroids. People wade thru it or collect the pretty flowers and end up in the hospital.

The same first aid applies as with poison oak. Wash with soap and water thoroughly. Apply cortisone or Benedryl cream and take antihistamines if symptoms appear. It is possible to walk away from an encounter unscathed if you take action. And, like poison oak, you can catch it from pets and unwashed clothing.

There is another ruderal species to be concerned about, stinging nettles. One specimen is to the left of the poodle dog bush flower stalk. A better photo from Wikimedia is the rightmost image. When you first brush up against the nettles it will feel like hundreds of tiny pinpricks. These pricks will coalesce into a generalized burning feeling. It isn’t excruciating (at least not to me) but would be really unpleasant if it covered a large area of your body.

The leaves are covered with fine hairs that shed and act like hypodermic needles. They inject formic acid and histamine into your skin. First aid is again, a good soapy wash right away. If you can find it, crushed Jewell weed will calm the sensation. Failing that, a baking soda poultice will do the same thing. Follow it up with an antihistamine cream.

The good news is that if you do nothing at all, mild burning will subside to tingling which will subside to an itching sensation. In a few hours, you’ll be as good as new. You can also eat the stuff if you boil it first. Our desert tortoise loves it raw.

Despite my best efforts, I did brush against some nettles with my left forearm. That’s what I get for crawling thru the brush to chase down photos of nasty flora for the blog. Stick to the trail and I’d have been fine. I ignored it as a minor irritation. It went away before I went to bed.

Do you see what I mean when I say that to be naked is to be vulnerable? You must walk the path mindfully and if you do not, you can only blame yourself.

It was time to go home. Back in the car and back the way I came. Panoramas of charred foliage stretch before me. but in even the most intensely burned areas, life rebounded. Green twigs sprouted from carbonized stumps. The large root system of the burned shrub or tree will support the new growth well and it will grow fast. Carpenter ants will dine on the deadwood.

There was one last thing in store for me. Is that smoke? Turned off the road and got out. As I look to the north, the Antelope Valley spread out before me, yup, there is smoke. Given the direction and my location, had to be somewhere around Tehachapi. This is a big one with smoke roughly in the shape of a mushroom cloud, a wild guess of 20-30,000 ft. high. Wind blowing the smoke east.

I had a sinking feeling. I later pulled up Cal Topo at home, clicked the “Fire activity” box, and looked at the area I believed the fire to be. It is in the Sequoia National Forest a little over a mile from our 5 acres with a travel trailer on it. Fortunately, the winds are blowing the fire away from it. At least for now. The winds can change.

That did it for me. Got dressed before I hit pavement and went home. I really wish this car had air conditioning. Driving in this heat is more tiring than hiking.

That blue trailer at the bottom belongs to us. Fat end of the wind lines indicate direction.


The fire has now gotten a name. It is the Peak Fire, near Paiute Mountain. Two thousand acres and only ten percent contained. Made the national news. Here’s the latest news:

Peak Fire in Isabella Grows


  1. Martha Kennedy

    Beautiful hike. Very sad about the fire — all the fires. Sometimes I want to come back to CA and I actually find houses I could afford and most of them are around Lancaster or in the woods or up north around Lassen. I guess I’ll have to make do with Heaven.

    Liked by 1 person

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