Monday, September 26, 2011

La Jolla Valley to Sandstone Peak

I decided to change the trip for this weekend to something a bit more local and with less altitude gain. My buddy who was supposed to go with me broke his finger a couple of days ago so this also served as my first solo backpacking trip. For a first solo trip this was a perfect choice. Not too secluded, yet secluded enough to get away. 

The reports from the rangers was that there was no water at all so I had to pack in all my water. I carried 4 Platypus bottles at 1L each and 2 1.5L Camelbak bladders. This made my starting pack weight 45 pounds which is heavier than I like. Considering almost 16 pounds of that was water and almost 4 pounds was food I am pretty happy.

I started at Thornhill Broom Trailhead in Pt Mugu State Park and took the La Jolla Canyon Trail. The trail climbed steadily up the canyon for a couple of miles to La Jolla Valley. I spoke with some day hikers on the way up who were fascinated by my pack. They did not know there was camping back in the valley. I arrived in La Jolla Valley after an hour or so and made my way to Upper La Jolla Trail camp. I went back to camp 9 which I had heard was really nice and secluded. The site was perfect! It had a little flat space under an oak tree for a tent, and a picnic table to cook on. I could see that someone had a fire here before, but everything I read said no campfires so I broke the ring. 

I set up my tent and unpacked my backpack. My tent was easy to set up, I had never set it up before and it only took a few minutes. I realized that my sleeping pad had been ripped on a branch or something on my hike to the site. I did not bring the repair kit on this trip so I had to deal with it. This taught me to always have the repair kit with me and to consider a non-inflatable pad instead. I could also keep it in my pack if needed as well. These lessons are exactly why I am doing these trips. I went through my stuff and re packed anything I needed for a day hike. It was a little after noon at this point and the marine layer had not burned off yet. I figured it would make the hike easier so I took of to La Jolla Peak. I took the fire road toward the peak and climbed steadily up along the hillside. It was really misty out which gave the mountains a very mystical feel.

Once I reached the junction I realized that the path I wanted to go on was very rough. I started down for a few, but soon decided that this was no longer intended to be used as a trail. I figured I had enough for the day and went back to camp. I estimate about 6 miles today, maybe a bit less. Back at camp I organized my things and changed into warmer clothes. The clouds never let up today so I expected a misty night. I ate dinner and cleaned up by six and just relaxed for an hour or so. I could hear a few day hikers here and there, but it was very peaceful. I decided to call it a night around eight so I could get an early start the next day. 

Losing my pad made a difference, but I managed to get a decent nights sleep. When I woke up I could tell it had been a wet night. The inside of my tend had some condensation from me breathing, but the outside was soaked. I dressed in all my warm clothes and got everything out of my tent. There was a light mist falling and I suspect in drizzled a bit in the night. I ate some oatmeal and used my towel to dry the tent as best as I could. After ringing it out 4 or 5 times I figured it was as dry as I was getting it today. I packed everything up and took off down the trail.

I took the backbone trail which descends into Sycamore Canyon on a gradual trail. The mist was heavy still and a bit chilly. I was glad I had decided to stay in my long sleeves for the time being. I got to the canyon floor after a bit and immediately saw a few groups of bikers and runners on Big Sycamore Trail. I hurried to the next junction to get away from the crowds faster. I took Old Boney Trail after less than a mile. This trail was very under maintained, but not unmanageable. It climbs immediately up the hillside and never really stops climbing. The thick brush encroaching on the trail had tons of dew on it so my pants were soaked, but I was not wet or cold at all. The pants I got work very well. I changed into my short sleeves as my body heat went up due to excursion. 

I met with the Backbone trail eventually and continued to climb. The trail opened up often to what I am sure is a beautiful view, but with the mist it was a a peaceful view of a mountainside with mist creeping along it. I really felt like I could be in the middle of a rainforest at that moment. As a continued to climb I started to wonder if the mist would relent. Was I hiking to a high peak to see mist? I figured it didn't matter, it was the nearly 3000 feet of elevation gain I was after anyway. The trail went trough many "tunnels" of trees that had a creepy look to them with the fog. Shortly after taking notice of a huge spider, I took a web to the face on the trail. I'm sure if anyone saw me dancing around to make sure there was not a spider on me, they'll remember it for a while.

After even more climbing I broke through the mist into a high valley. I took the trail to Tri peaks and was amazed at the view. The valley I was in appeared to be an island in the clouds. The mist would waft up from below and recede back down like waves. I didn't stay long because it was already after 2 and I still wanted to get to Sandstone Peak and down to the trailhead. A short hike across the valley took me to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. I sat up there an and ate the rest of my food while looking out at the ocean of clouds. I signed the register and sent my wife the pick me up message with my SPOT.

From there it was a mile and a half of downhill hiking to the trailhead. I waited at the table for Caryn for maybe ten minutes before she pulled up with a Dr. Pepper and a Snickers bar. I enjoyed this weekend very much. I plan on doing this hike again when I can soak in the views a bit more, although this was a unique trip with the mist. I enjoyed the solo aspect of the trip as well and no longer feel I can only go backpacking when I can find another person to go with me.

My SPOT Adventure link:

La Jolla Valley and Sandstone Peak

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Wildwood Park, Paradise Falls and Lizard Rock

Today I took a hike in Wildwood Park. I started at the main parking lot and took the trail east to Indian Creek Trail. The first part of the hike descended quickly into the canyon with sporadic cover from Oak and Sycamore trees. Once I reached the bottom I crossed the creek and continued along the flat trail to the Nature Center. I took the Wildwood Canyon Trail from there to the Teepee Trail. I took the Teepee Trail because I knew the majority of the loop I wanted to take was flat and I wanted to get some more uphill hiking in. 

I rested at the Teepee for a few minutes and had a snack. I went to the edge of the canyon to see if Paradise Falls was in sight, but I could only see the pool of water it falls into. I continued down the Teepee trail to where it meets with the Paradise Falls Trail. Here there is a decent view of the waterfall from above. I heard two women saying that they just saw a snake so I was extra watchful on the way down. 

I rested at the base of Paradise Falls for a few and took in the sound of the water. I continued down the trail from there towards Lizard Rock. The trail was fairly flat, crossing the stream a few times. I walked through a few nice picnic areas down there with many tables and BBQ pits. Soon after that I could hear trucks from the water treatment plant at the end of the canyon. The trail ascended at the plant around a hill and up a few switchbacks. I stayed focused on my breathing on the way up and tried to ignore the sights and sounds of the plant. 

Once on top of the switchbacks I decided to take the trail to the top of Lizard Rock. I sat on the peak for a bit and looked back on where I had been. It was pretty hazy so I could not see the mountains very well. From there the trail dropped fast at first and then leveled off on a wide, dusty trail (Mesa Trail) that leads directly to the parking lot.

I was happy with the way my feet felt at the end of today, I think the thicker socks are working well. I still am going to get better insoles soon though because the stock ones are paper thin where I step the hardest. I used my Ospry Dayite pack and loved it. I took one 1.5L Camelbak hydration bladder and 2 One Litre Platypus bottles. I emptied the bladder and only busted into the bottle at the parking lot. I also brought my light jacket but didn't need it. There was plenty of extra space in the pack so It will work for longer day hikes as well.

I focused on three things today on the trail:

1. Breathing. I was taking smooth, deep breaths in rhythm with my pace.
2. Trekking Poles. I was trying to make them feel as natural as possible.
3. Looking up. I was trying not to look at my feet.

I want these to be second nature to be by the time I hike the JMT, so focusing on them now is really important. I was very pleased with how natural these things came today.

All in all I hiked around 4 miles in around 2 hours, and I definitely was not pushing myself.

Wildwood Park, Paradise Falls and Lizard Rock

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Monday, September 12, 2011

San Gorgonio Mountain

My next overnight trip is planned for 9-24&25. It is a trek up to the summit of the highest peak in Southern California at around 11,500 feet. I had came up with the plans late for this hike and was unable to get the campsite I wanted at High Creek which is around 5 miles into the hike, and 3 miles from the Summit. The options that were left over were Summit Camp and Halfway camp. Halfway camp is much less than half of the way up, and Summit Camp is... you guessed it, on the summit. Summit Camp has no water, so all water will have to be carried from High Creek to our site on the Summit.

I am considering changing plans for this hike and coming back next year when I can get the camp I am looking for. I want to go farther than Halfway Camp on the first night, but not to the Summit. I am concerned about the sudden increase in altitude. I live at around 700 feet and the hike starts at around 6000 feet. Altitude has never really effected me in a bad way, but going from 700 feet to 11,500 in a single day concerns me a little. I mad the reservation for Summit camp, but I am thinking I am going to change it to Halfway Camp at the very least if not change the trip altogether.

This is a good practice hike to take, due to the altitude increase. I have heard that many people will do this hike in a day as a practice for hiking Mt. Whitney. I will make my final decision about the trip within a few days so I can prepare for the replacement trip.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Itinerary

I have read many trail journals and blogs. Some choose a nice and easy pace that takes up to 4 weeks. Some UL backpackers will go the distance in just over a week. I am by no means an UL backpacker, and have no desire to run through this experience. On the other hand, the longer you take, the more food you have to carry. I plan on resupplying at every place I can. (Tuolumne Meadows, Reds Meadow, Vermillion Valley Resort, and Muir Trail Ranch) The idea is to keep my pack as light as possible, especially for the first part when I am still getting acclimated to the altitude.

I have 2 good guide books on the JMT, one is John Muir Trail: The essential guide to hiking America's most famous trail from the Wilderness Press. The other is The John Muir Trail: Through the Californian Sierra Nevada a Cicerone Guide. The latter is written by an English author so It gives some info that is irrelevant to me (i.e., passport and flying into the states), but I like the itinerary that he lays out in the book. I have made some slight modifications to this book's schedule for my own hiking plan.

I am open to changing this itinerary as the trip gets closer, or even on the trail itself. You can't count on everything going according to the way you planned it. My schedule gives me 25 nights, I plan on getting a permit for 27 or 28. This way extra rest days or shorter days can be taken if needed, also I am not opposed to the idea of going farther in a day then planned as well. If I get to a planned site earlier than expected, with plenty of energy I will continue. I look at this a a guideline more then a set schedule.


1/Sunrise Creek/12.3/side trip: Half Dome Summit
2/Sunrise High Sierra Camp/7.6
3/Tuolumne Meadows/11.4/Cathedral Pass and resupply
4/Upper Lyell Canyon/9.5
5/Thousand Island Lake/9.7/Donohue and Island Passes
6/Shadow Lake/6.2
7/Reds Meadow Resort/10/resupply
9/Deer Creek/9
10/Tully Hole/12.3
11/Vermillion Valley Resort/11.8/Silver Pass on resupply
13/Rosemarie Meadow/12.3
14/Muir Trail Ranch/9.5/Selden Pass and resupply (final resupply)
15/McClure Meadow/10.6
16/Unnamed Lake NW of Helen Lake/12.2/Muir Pass
17/Deer Meadow/11.3
18/South Fork Kings River/12/Mather Pass
19/Woods Creek Bridge/11.6/Pinchot Pass
20/Rae Lakes/5.6
22/Vidette Meadow/7.6/Glen Pass
23/Tyndall Creek/12/Forester Pass
24/Guitar Lake/12.1
25/Trail Camp/10/Mt. Whitney and Trail Crest

As I said, this schedule is a guideline and may change up to and during the trip. I was even thinking of changes to make to it while I was typing it out. (i.e., eliminating the Rest day at Rae Lakes due to short milage the day before and after) I will be updating any changes I decide on before the trip here. My goal start date is Wednesday, August 7, 2013. I feel this schedule gives me a nice and easy pace. I want to enjoy the scenery each day and not feel under the gun to make certain times and camps.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Morning Hike on the Los Robles Trail

Today I took a nice long hike in the morning starting at the end of Moorpark Road. I met up with the Los Robles Trail and took it East (left). The trail climbs steadily for a while on a wide dirt trail. I didn't realize it was climbing as high as it was until I turned around and saw the valley below. I reached a picnic bench and followed the sign to the right. The trail climbs steeper than before and continues up to the top of the mountain. I took the scenic loop and stopped at a bench to take in the view of Thousand Oaks. After a few minutes I moved along the trail. I diverted once more to the top of another peak for another view. The view of the valley behind the mountain is wonderful here. There are some open fields with an occasional lone oak tree. Eventually I stopped at a nice bench under an oak and ate some snacks. After a little rest I went along the trail to a junction with an unmaintained trail. The map showed this to connect back with the LRT after a little more than a mile. The climb back to the LRT was hot and steep, but was over quickly. I followed my original route back to the trailhead, skipping the scenic loop this time.

I borrowed my brother's large hydration backpack for this hike and was very pleased with the way it worked out. It held 4 liters of water (2 in the bladder and 2 of my Platypus bottles), a jacket, and the snacks I needed. I was glad to be able to utilize the trekking poles more than on the Big Sycamore Trail. I found it easy to get into a rythem with them. My boots did not give me any issues today. I was carrying far less weight, was on dirt, and had my thicker socks on. I am sure using the trekking poles helped too. I still think I'll end up replacing the stock insoles for my boots eventually. 

According to the trail map, I hiked around 7 miles today. The SPOT page shows it as fewer, but is is counting miles as the crow flies between waypoints, not trail miles. I felt good after the hike, I could have gone a few more miles, but I needed to get home. I am going to try and start earlier for my next long hike and try and get around 10 miles in. I think a through hike of the LRT should be in the plans as well. You can follow the widgets to see the hike with my SPOT.

Los Robles Trail East

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Tuesday, September 6, 2011


I am fortunate enough to live in California, therefore most of my backpacking has been and will be in California. The best maps you can get, in my opinion, are Tom Harrison Maps. These are AWESOME!!! They are waterproof, tear resistant, have all the info you need and none you don't. I have found them to be extremely accurate when estimating distance and elevation. I have many other maps for out of state places and NONE of them compare to Mr. Harrison's maps.

They have a wide variety of scales, in many cases there are multiple maps of the same location at different scales. (i.e, Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park map, Kearsarge Pass/Rae lakes, Kings Canyon High Country, Mt Whitney High Country, Mt. Whitney Zone, Mono Divide High Country, Mineral king) Not to mention that they have the best JMT map set that you could possibly want. It is a 13 map set (8x10 each) that easily can be put into your pocket and referenced. I have had lots of fun clearing out the living room and setting the maps on top of each other to see the entire trail.

Even on the shortest hikes I try to carry a map of where I am on me. Partly so I can detour if needed and partly because I love maps. I love checking it on breaks to see if i can pinpoint my location and mentally prepare for the next segment. I do need more experience with a map and compass but I know it is not mandatory on a well marked trail, but just in case I need it I would like to know how.

Tom Harrison Maps I have:

JMT Map Pack
Pt. Mugu State Park
Malibu Creek State Park
Topanga Canyon State Park
Zuma-Trancas Canyons
San Jacinto Wilderness
San Gorgonio Wilderness
Half Dome Trail map
Mt. Whitney High Country
Kearsarge Pass/Rae Lakes Loop
Mammoth High Country
Sequoia & Kings Canyon national parks

Ones I still want:

Yosemite High Country
Mono Divide High Country
Kings Canyon High Country
Golden Trout Wilderness
Yosemite National Park
Sespe Wilderness
Angeles Front Country
Angeles High Country
Joshua Tree National

(I know a few of these are redundant to what I have, but I love maps and a little redundancy in this area is OK by me. I only bring necessary ones on the trail (sometimes I bring another area's map as reading material) These maps are a bit expensive, but as I said they are the best you can get and are well worth the extra couple of bucks. I encourage you to check out his website and see if you can use any of these. A map is one of your most important tools, be sure to get a good one.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Training Trips

My experience with backpacking isn't extensive at this point. I have been on 3 trips so far.

I went on an overnight trip to Mt Baldy in the AZ White Mountains when I first got my gear. I found the trip in Backpacking AZ from the Wilderness Press. It was a long drive there so we did not get started until late. We were even later because a swarm of bees decided to attack the car on the way to the trailhead. The first day was mild, not much elevation gain or loss. We had driven from 1200 feet up to 8000 feet I believe (it may be 9000 I don't have the book with me now) so it was slightly harder than it should have been. But altitude has never bothered me much so it wasn't a big issue. The next day saw a lot of climb and the summit itself is off limits as it is on a reservation so we didn't get a "climax" at the top. We rested up and on the way down stumbled across a very nice view slightly off trail and that was what we were looking for. The trail was poorly maintained at points, there were downed trees to hop over or duck under. Looking back, we brought WAY too much stuff for a one nighter. My pack was probably 35 to 40 pounds and Caryn's was around 25-30. I'll get more into equipment I have lightened up on and eliminated in another post sometime.

My second trip was the Rae Lakes Loop which we did not complete due to Caryn getting ill (she blames GU) and again heavy packs. More details on that trip are in an earlier post.

The third trip I went on was from Olmstead Point in Yosemite to Yosemite Falls and down to the valley floor. That trip went much better than the other two. There wasn't too much up hill (although there was plenty), but the down hill hike from Yosemite Falls is Brutal. I went on that trip with my siblings and we were able to split the load pretty well. We brought some "luxuries" even and my pack was 30 pounds for a 3 day trip.

Other than those overnights I have hiked to the top of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls from the valley floor. Both hikes were tough, but I managed both of them as good as anyone else. I know this isn't enough experience to go out and attempt the JMT, that's why I am giving myself 2 years of training hikes and trips. I have 12 backpacking trips planned out from now until JMT, and I plan on doing a few others when the opportunity arrises. (Overnights in Sespe and the Santa Monica Mtns for example) The dates are loose, but I am going to stick to them as much as possible. Most of these trips I found in Backpacking CA from the Wilderness Press.


1) 9/24-25 - 1 night to the top of San Gorgonio Mt via the Vivian Creek Trail. This will be a good one for uphill training and altitude training.


2) 2/18-19 - Devil's Canyon in the San Gabriel Wilderness. A winter appropriate trip.

3) 4/1-4 - 3 nights in the Sespe Wilderness, this is local and I can bring my dog.

4) 5/12-14 - San Bernardino Traverse. 21 miles across the San Bernardino Mtns. Good for the distance I want to cover on the trail.

5) 6/22-27 - The San Jacinto Traverse. 55 miles of the PCT, this is a hard one, but who ever said I was doing this because it was easy.

6) 8/9-18 - The High Sierra Trail. 68 miles across the Sierra Nevada West to East. part of this is the end of JMT as well.

7) 11/10-12 -Angeles Crest. 2 nights on the PCT.


8) 1/12-15 - Joshua Tree National Park. Another winter appropriate location, this may change to an AZ desert hike.

9) 2/11-12 - Big Santa Anita Loop. An overnighter nearby.

10) 4/6-8 - Sespe once again.

11) 5/6-7 - East Fork of the San Gabriel River

12) 6/20-26 -Rae Lakes Loop. This is the direct warm up hike to JMT.

13) 8/7-9/4 - John Muir Trail (exact date is subject to permits)

As I said these dates may change to accommodate schedules, but all these trips will be taken around their scheduled times. These are a mix of easy overnighters to refine gear selection and camp skills. I am not a moron when it comes to the outdoors by any means, but learning what I use and don't use will help to keep my overall pack weight down.

Along with these overnight trips I will be hiking mainly the Santa Monica Mountains in day hikes because they are close. I plan on taking my pack most of the time so the weight becomes a part of me. There are endless trails in the Santa Monica Mountains so I can really hike any distance I choose. As my planned pace for JMT is going to be relatively slow (8-12 miles a day [itinerary to come later]) I am going to shoot for getting used to 15-20 miles out here on day hikes.

I feel that this schedule will get me through the trail. When my Mom decided she wanted to hike Mt Whitney she made a plan and stuck to it. She succeeded. This is my plan and I am sticking to it.

Big Sycamore with Ella

Yesterday I took a nice hike with my daughter Ella. She is only 10 months at this point so I brought her backpack carrier and used it to carry her with. It mimicked the weight of a pack. I have the Kid Comfort II by Deuter, it is a very nice pack for hiking around with the baby. It fits really well and has lots of extra storage space for food and baby gear. I have not hiked Sycamore Canyon in years and either forgot it was paved or they paved it over the years. I was disappointed about the asphalt, but tried to stay right off the path when I could, where there was dirt and rocks. I was using my Black Diamond Trail Shock Trekking Poles, but not on the asphalt due to the fact that they did not come with rubber tips. I'll need those for granite surfaces on JMT.

When we got most of the way to the bottom of the canyon I realized my right boot was a bit loose and the ball of that foot felt "blistery." I tightened up my boot and the problem never got any worse, but never got better throughout the hike. I am not sure what the cause is, so more trial and error is required. The boots have not given me issues yet, they are still relatively new, but not brand new. They are a pair of Vasque Bitterroots that I have loved from the moment I put them on. I sat at REI for an hour and tried on different boots. I love the way these feel! They may be heavier than some people may like, but personally I need support and grip, and these deliver. My guess is that the problem is either the boot being slightly loose, or the asphalt I ended hp "hiking" on.

The scenery is very nice, a little exposed on the way down but nice cover on the canyon floor. We stopped at a picnic bench and I fed Ella her pouch of food and gave her some water. After a little rest and a diaper change I set out to go a bit farther down the trail where I could link up with a dirt trail named "trail sin nombre" which is a paradox. Once I got to the dirt, Ella decided she'd had it with hiking and the backpack and let me know by crying and kicking the whole way back. (Who can really blame her, it had been a couple of hours at this point and it was getting hot)

So the way back was slow, I stopped quite a few times to let Ella out of the pack so she'd calm down a bit. I ended up carrying her the final mile which was tiring, yet fun. I think I'm going to take Ella on shorter shadier hikes for a while.

I also was trying out my new SPOT Personal Tracker, this is a handy device to have. I had it send 3 OK messages, but only the first one was done right. I did not realize that the SPOT could not send OK messages in track mode so 2 of the OK's were not sent at all. The tracking mode works fine, I forgot to turn it on right away so it didn't pick me up until I had been on the trail for almost an hour. I was able to see my trip online when I got back home and it was amazing how accurate it was. Here is a link to the SPOT Adventures page. This will be fun to use with a camera and have my trips logged by GPS on computer. It's extra weight, but it's worth it in my opinion. (I will get into my ultra light vs traditional backpacking in another blog post.)

All in all this was a good hike. I'm going to pamper my feet today and get on another hike tomorrow evening.

Have a good day on the trails!


Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Dream and How it Started

One day I was hiking with my family in the Sierras, I remember a man walking by with a huge backpack on. Being a curious child I asked my parents why that man had such a huge pack. When they told me about how people hike for many days in the mountains I was fascinated. I had endless questions for them about how people could carry all they need for days in a backpack. Then on the way home they told me about the John Muir Trail and how it took almost a month to complete (this was long before the days of ultralight backpacking and 7-10 day journeys along the trail). The idea of spending that much time hiking was amazing to me. I told myself then that one day I would go backpacking along the JMT.

Many years went by and my love of the outdoors never wavered.  The logistics of backpacking never fell into place for me. I had other interests that I invested time and money in and didn't have any friends that were all that interested in going as well. The desire was still there but the opportunity was not.

One year I took my buddy Chris to Kings Canyon because he had never been. He showed me Yosemite for the first time so I decided to return the favor. We did some day hiking, but quickly ran out of things to do. We started talking about how much back country there was and how we had been car camping for many years in a row now. We decided that the following summer we would go on a backpacking trip rather than car camp. We got equipment, read a bunch on backpacking,  I went on an overnight trip,and we talked about where we were going to go. We decided on the Rae Lakes Loop in Kings Canyon National Park. When the time came Caryn (who was my fiance at the time and was meeting my friends and family for the first time), My Brother Michael, Chris, and I set out on the Rae Lakes Loop. We made it 2 days in and Caryn got sick and the rest of us realized we were in over our heads. We rested a day and turned back. I hiked more the following year and was able to do a moderate trip with my Siblings in 2010.

Now as I get older I realize that if this childhood dream is to be reached it needs to be done soon. I have laid out the goals that need to be reached to achieve the ultimate goal. In this blog I am going to share my journey to and through the John Muir Trail. I have a SPOT GPS and I will be logging my prep hikes and treks with it and sharing the links here. I will talk about equipment, skills, philosophy, approach, ultralight vs midweight vs heavy packs, and anything else I feel pertains to the trip.

The Countdown to August 2013 begins now.......