February 28, 2014

Photo Essay: Overlooking Old Hollywoodland from the Letters That Once Spelled It

Why do I always seem to get sick at the most inopportune times? I had a stomach bug for my first Atlas Obscura excursion as field agent (to the St. Francis Dam disaster site), and then I caught a cold just in time for my second, a hike up to the Hollywood Sign.

Fortunately, I knew my group would not consist of hardcore hikers, since there are plenty of MeetUps that go up Mt. Lee if you just wanted to do it for fitness. Hopefully my slow pace (about the same speed as during my scouting mission a month before, still reeling from my New Year's sinus disaster) would make the short-but-steep mountain climb less daunting for those not-so-used to being in the sun, in midday, for that long.

In typical fashion, I agonized over what to wear. Without an Atlas Obscura t-shirt (which I don't have, and as far as I know, doesn't exist), I rifled through piles of $5 tees in every souvenir shop along Hollywood Boulevard until I found the right one: just white letters on a black background, spelling out the word "HOLLYWOOD."

I envisioned myself a beacon, not unlike the Sign itself.

Everyone would know they were in the right place. Everyone would know who to follow.

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

Quite frankly, the other considered option was an evening gown or at least a shiny cocktail dress - it being Awards Season and all - but I decided to limit my glamour to a pair of star-shaped silver earrings and my sparkly Converse.

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

You might as well make hiking fun. Especially for those who are not very used to it. I might've scared off my group had I shown up in full athletic gear - hiking boots, trekking poles, running pants, the works. Instead, I wore a skirt and leggings. And all black.

We met at the Old Hollywoodland Gate, one of the first landmarks I hunted down during my first trips to LA. Normally I look for opportunities to do something new, but these field agent excursions give me the opportunity to share places I love with others, and you just can't beat that.

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

All it takes is a sell-out tour to make you feel like you're not alone in this world.

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

And once the general business is done - checking people in, making sure they have plenty of water, sending them to the restroom, letting them borrow sunscreen, providing safety advisories and monitoring for health issues and injuries - the fun can begin.

We walk, spotting horses returning to Sunset Ranch from a morning journey.

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

We point out the sights - Griffith Observatory across the park, the LA Basin below -

...and we stop at every vista point and scenic overlook (of which there are many).

Our plodding pace comes to a quick pause at the marker for Cahuenga Peak, the neighboring parcel of land that was saved from private development in 2010. This marks the juncture of Mt. Lee and the trail to Cahuenga Peak and the Wisdom Tree, and the gateway to the Sign.

Though I've been to the Sign three times now, standing so close to it - separated only by a chainlink fence - still takes my breath away. When I'm up there, I just can't believe it.

People are inclined to hop the fence, but even if you touch the fence, an automated recorded warning message blares and an alarm sounds, and if you don't relent, the helicopters come.

Instead, it's better to walk past the radio towers atop Mt. Lee and climb a knoll behind the Sign, from which you can look down upon it.

Up there is an overlook devoted to Hugh Hefner, who has donated his own money and rallied his friends to save the Hollywood Sign and Cahuenga Peak, both in the 1970s and in 2010.

Although more chainlink fence prevents you from getting too close to the letters... can scramble along the relatively new Aileen Getty Ridge Trail which leads to Cahuenga Peak.

(I'd tried to find all of these markers when I hiked Cahuenga Peak last year, to no avail, but now I realize they are connected by a narrow, rugged, single track trail which is so daunting, it's hard to even spot it.)

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

For me, I kind of just like to hang out by the Sign for a while, looking down on the Valley on one side and at Lake Hollywood on the other, feeling like I'm on top of the world. Even while sneezing and nose-blowing and muscle-aching and eyes blearing, even though I've been there before, this is a magical spot. And there are people who have lived in LA for decades that have never been here, that don't even know how to get here.

I'm glad I could show my little group. It wasn't easy for everybody, and some people struggled with the heat and the sun and the elevation change, lagging behind even our slow group (which took lots of rests). But everybody made it to the top. And now they know how to get there on their own, if they want to.

Sometimes, though, it's more fun with a group.

More photos at the official event recap on Atlas Obscura.

Related Posts:
EVENT: Behind the Hollywood Sign, with Obscura Society LA
Photo Essay: The Found Trail to Cahuenga Peak
Photo Essay: Climbing Hollywoodland

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