Posted by: James Wapotich | October 13, 2014

Trail Quest: Xtreme Hike to Little Pine Mountain

Sometimes it is easy to forget how fortunate we are, to not only have all these great trails nearby, but for many us to also be able to physically hike them.

Each year Cystic Fibrosis Foundation organizes and hosts Xtreme Hikes around the country to help raise funds and awareness for cystic fibrosis. And this year was the first time a hike was offered that made use of the trails in Los Padres National Forest.

The idea of the hike is to give the participants a challenge physically and philanthropically to help find a cure for cystic fibrosis.

Hiking backpacking Xtreme Hike Little Pine Santa Barbara Los Padres National Forest Santa Cruz Trail

Hikers returning from Santa Cruz Station

“It’s really about digging deep and challenging oneself.” Cole Jacobson, Assistant Executive Director, Orange County Chapter, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation told the News-Press. “When you push hard, you not only have a sense of accomplishment, but you’re able to get back to just enjoying the simplicities of life and the camaraderie of the people around you.”

Xtreme Hikes grew out of Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s Great Strides event, which is the organization’s largest annual fundraising event, drawing in over a 100,000 participants through hundreds of walks across the country. Last year Great Strides raised over $43 million.

The Xtreme Hike to Little Pine Mountain was organized and hosted by the Orange County Chapter of Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. And was the first time the chapter put on such an event.

On Sunday, September 21st, 33 hikers met at dawn at Upper Oso Campground to begin the hike to the top of Little Pine Mountain and beyond. For the event there were two hike lengths and destinations to choose from. Hikers could either make the 12 mile roundtrip hike to Little Pine Mountain, or from Alexander Saddle continue down to Santa Cruz Camp for the longer hike of about 21.5 miles roundtrip.

Santa Cruz Trail Los Padre National Forest Xtreme Hike Santa Barbara

Hikers making their way towards Alexander Saddle

The day started out well with early morning fog, and lower temperatures than those experienced during the weeks leading up to the event. The hikers followed the Buckhorn-Camuesa Road to the beginning of Santa Cruz Trail, and continued along the trail to the turnoff to Nineteen Oaks.

Past the turnoff to Nineteen Oaks, the hike becomes more challenging as the trail gains 2,200 feet over the next 3.5 miles, before arriving at Alexander Saddle. The trail also has its rewards, from the saddle the views stretch south across the Santa Ynez Valley and north towards the San Rafael Mountains.

At Alexander Saddle, hikers were met by volunteers from Los Padres Forest Association (LPFA) who provided water and directions for the different hike options.

From the saddle, hikers either continued another half mile east towards Little Pine Mountain where they were met by another group of volunteers from LPFA, or they continued down the backside of Little Pine Mountain towards Santa Cruz Camp for the longer hike.

The hike down to Santa Cruz Camp was aided by cool breezes, and as hikers arrived at Santa Cruz Camp they were greeted by volunteers from LPFA who provided water and cold watermelon.

Xtreme Hike Los Padres National Forest hiking Santa Barbara Santa Cruz Trail

A group of Xtreme Hikers on their way back from Santa Cruz Station

Hikers for this event also participated in four monthly training hikes starting back in May. The first hike was along the San Gabriel River near Azusa to what’s referred to as the Bridge to Nowhere; a hike of about 10 miles roundtrip. The next one was a 9-mile loop hike at Crystal Cove State Park in Laguna Beach. The third was a challenging 14-mile hike to the top of Mount Wilson. And the last one was a 12-mile hike to the top of Mount Baldy.

Of the 33 participants for the Little Pine hike, 12 hikers completed the hike to Little Pine Mountain and back, and 21 completed the hike down to Santa Cruz Camp and back. The hikers, along with a number of other contributors, were able to raise close to $60,000 towards finding a cure for cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening genetic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system. There are an estimated 30,000 people in the United States that are affected by the disease. In the 1950s, few children with cystic fibrosis lived to attend elementary school. Since then, a great deal of progress has been made in understanding and treating the disease. That success has significantly increased both the length and quality of life for those with cystic fibrosis.

Among the participants on the Little Pine hike were two people with cystic fibrosis. Wes Parsel, who completed the longer hike down to Santa Cruz Camp and back, and Aimee Lecointre, who completed the shorter hike to Little Pine Mountain and back.

As Mr. Parsel, 26, explained, the disease affects patients to different degrees. For example he shared that he has about 75% of normal lung capacity while some patients with cystic fibrosis have 50% or less, and are more physically challenged by the disease.

“I’m fortunate, in being healthy and being able to do things like this.” Mr. Parsel shared. “There are many people with cystic fibrosis, who are in bed, or tied to oxygen, who wish they could have an experience like this. And so, it’s not lost on me how lucky I am to be out there hiking.” In preparation for the hike Mr. Parcel increased his treatment regimen and paid close attention to his diet.

Xtreme Hike Los Padres National Forest hiking Santa Barbara

Hikers near Little Pine Spring on their return from Santa Cruz Station

Established in 1955, Cystic Fibrosis Foundation has about 70 chapters and branches throughout the country. The foundation is actively working to find a cure for the disease and has taken an innovative approach that can best be described as venture philanthropy.

“The foundation provides seed money for treatments that we feel will positively benefit patients with cystic fibrosis.” Mr. Jacobson explained. “In the US we’ve been able to raise money and leverage it by directly funding pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs and therapies.” It’s a model that has proven very successful, and has many associated with cystic fibrosis optimistic that a cure can be found.

In addition to the volunteers and supporters who donated and participated in the Little Pine hike, the group was also supported locally by LPFA and outdoor retailer REI. LPFA helped design the route, clearing brush and removing downed trees along the trail, and also provided volunteers to staff the aid stations. REI helped spread the word about the hike, as well as the four training hikes leading up to the event.

The next Xtreme Hike for the Orange County Chapter will be in September 2015. For more information about the hike contact Shaina Flesser, And for information about Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and getting involved go to

Map Little Pine Mountain Xtreme Hike Santa Cruz Trail Los Padres National Forest

Map courtesy

This article originally appeared in section A of October 13th, 2014 edition of Santa Barbara News-Press.

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