Friday, June 12, 2015

Hello Hollywood! (Hiking to the Hollywood Sign)

"Welcome to Hollywood! What's your dream? 
Everybody comes here - this is Hollywood, the land of dreams!
Some dreams come true; some don't - but keep on dreaming'! 
Always time to dream, so keep on dreaming'" 
--- Pretty Woman

I have been completely fascinated with the Hollywood sign and Griffith Park since moving out here to California over three years ago. Although I had visited Los Angeles dozens of times before, I had never actually seen the Hollywood sign up close and knew nothing about its origins. I have never had a desire to be famous - I don't want my picture taken, and I don't care to be an actress, model, or singer. All this being said... Hollywood (especially old Hollywood) has always fascinated me! When I learned that you could get this close to the Hollywood sign from a fellow blogger, I was super excited and quickly headed out to visit the location with my dog, Diego! We met some fun people while we were there, including one guy that told me how cool it was to hike up to the sign. Yes, YOU CAN HIKE TO THE SIGN! I figured all of that was private property, so it never occurred to me that you could hike to it. Since that fateful encounter, I have been a bit obsessed with hiking Mount Lee, eager to get my own close-up view of the infamous landmark.

There are three unofficial hikes to the Hollywood sign that I'm aware of: a relatively easy hike up from Beechwood Canyon, a more challenging, moderate hike from Canyon Blvd near Camp Hollywoodland and the Bronson Caves, and the challenging Wonder View Dr hike over Cahuenga Peak (you can read about these hikes on the Hollywood Sign website here).  I knew I wasn't quite ready to tackle the Cahuenga Peak trail, and didn't feel like dealing with the NIMBYs in Beechwood Canyon, so I elected to hike the Canyon Blvd Trail. I was able to get my friend Emily and her friend Ryan to join me without too much prodding, so off we went to hike the trail last Saturday! Note that while this trail is fairly wide and maintained, it is still in fairly rugged terrain. Wear appropriate footwear (flip-flops will do nothing to protect you from snakes like the one I snapped on our hike above), bring plenty of water, and wear your sunscreen!

The 6.5 mile trail (roundtrip) is deceptively difficult. Long, winding curves and a relatively flat and wide appearing trail make you forget how quickly you are gaining altitude. The first mile or so is probably the most difficult, with hikers climbing close to 60% of the total altitude within that span. You get some pretty interesting views of the Hollywood Sign as you climb, and you encounter a lot of fellow hikers and their dogs.

You level out quite considerably for the next mile or so. It's such a welcome reprieve! There's a nice bench overlooking the canyon at this point, and you'll notice that quite a few people use the opportunity to take pictures and stretch their legs out a bit. Emily and I took the opportunity to do just that :)

You continue west on this much flatter, albeit winding, dirt trail for about a mile until you encounter the paved service road for the antennas on top of the peak. Both the Hollywood Sign and the antenna seem huge from here! At this point, you have a choice: you can stay to the left on the paved road, and get an amazing view of the sign from directly below it, OR you can bear to the right and begin your ascent to the top of Mount Lee - getting an amazing view of the city from behind the Hollywood Sign. This was a no-brainer for me, and so my friends and I turned to the right to make our way to the top!

As you near the finish line, your trail meets up with the more challenging and newer Cahuenga Peak trail. (You'll watch in awe at the hikers climbing this path, and you'll be immediately thankful that your occasionally fit behind decided to take the moderate route). The above plaque commemorates this location, thanking the generous sponsors who donated the money to save this part of Griffith Park from luxury real estate development. It's amazing to think that the Cahuenga Peak area was barely added to the park in 2010 - before that, it was private land. So glad so many people in California cared enough to keep this area public. (It's funny to read this plaque, with donors including Steven Speilberg, Hugh Heffner, several film studios, and Tiffany & Co! Sooooo Hollywood!)

Immediately around the corner from the Cahuenga Peak plaque, you'll encounter the large fence that surrounds the Hollywood Sign. I wish I could explain how much larger these letters are than I imagined they were. I thought there were probably 20 feet or so high, but later discovered that they're actually 45 feet tall! It's very, very difficult to get a good picture of the sign from this viewpoint, so you must continue up to the peak itself.

Tad-a!!! This is the view you just worked so hard for, hiking a little over 3 miles and over 1,000 feet up in two hours time.  Everyone at the peak was happy and friendly. I overheard so many conversations from others about their journey to this viewpoint, and shared with my friends how long I had dreamed of this myself. The view is spectacular, and I'm saying this even though we visited during June gloom. I can only imagine how much better it could be on a clear day. You can easily see Griffith Observatory and Lake Hollywood from here, along with hazy views of downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood. A fellow hiker's phone started playing Drake's "Started From the Bottom," which garnered a quick laugh. I am so happy to have made it here!

The 3 mile hike down the hill goes by much quicker - we completed the roundtrip hike in a little over 3 hours, which is what several websites warn that this hike will take you. This hike is much more challenging than I expected it to be - although I attempted to do the same last year, I honestly am not sure I could have in the condition I was at this time last year. I'm so grateful for the renewed energy I have had to improve my health and fitness in these last several months, and I cannot wait to do this hike again. The only things I will change next time? I definitely need to stretch before and after this hike - my legs were sore for days afterwards! And I need to bring more water - a liter isn't enough! My friend Emily would likely want me to remind everyone of the importance of sunscreen, even on one of those June gloomy-ish days. Poor thing burnt to a crisp on our hike, and I probably should have reapplied myself at the midpoint. 

Hopefully the weather will cooperate next time Natasha visits, and we can attempt this hike again someday! I can't wait to challenge other friends to this and other hikes in California. Hiking is something I missed the most for the six years I lived in Houston and New Orleans, so I want to make sure I take advantage of living where I can hike again now that I live here. Well, I'm off to bed my friends. Until next time...



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