Mount Baldy and Wildlife Sighting

It was the perfect day for a Baldy hike. Not too warm or too cold, but just right. Since we got such a late start at 11am, we took the ski lift up to the Notch and hiked from there to the summit and took the lift back down. Even though this is considered the “gentler” route, it’s still pretty brutal when you’re out of shape and haven’t been hiking at altitude very much. It’s hard to admit that I’ve grown a bit lazy in terms of hiking, but I have. Part of it has to do with the DVT I had back in 2015. Some have noticed that I’ve dialed it down quite a bit since then and haven’t been going on the big adventures I used to do.

As many of my hiking friends can attest, once you stop hiking, even for a little while, your body reverts back to its pre-conditioned state. Beginning again is almost like completely starting over, which is discouraging because you put in so much work to get to where you were. Now you have to push through all the pain and resistance in your body once again to help it reacclimatize. That’s how I felt on this hike, as well as on my last two high altitude outings.

The hardest part of this hike is always the first mile or so, and this time it seemed ten times harder. Taking the ski lift up probably didn’t do me any favors besides shortening the distance because my body didn’t have a chance to acclimate before beginning the hike at 7,800’ elevation. It’s almost like taking the tram up from Palm Springs to hike Mt. San Jacinto.

My heart started racing the minute I stepped off the ski lift, and with each step after that, so I stopped frequently to let it slow down. My pack was pretty heavy since it held three liters of water, plus an additional 20 oz bottle of Oxigen water which I received at the recent Climb for Heroes event. I also carried food. To lighten some of the load, my partner offered to take the water bottle and carry it in his pack, which helped, but I still struggled and took a break in every piece of shade I could find along the way.

After huffing and puffing uphill for a while, I finally gave in and decided to drink the Oxigen water, along with the tube of saline solution meant to go with it, and have a little snack (some almond butter.) According to the information on the bottle, this Oxigen water contains the O4 molecule rather than the O2 molecule, which means the oxygen stays in the bottle after you open it. I had never heard of that, but with my free bottles, I tested it out on two recent high altitude hikes.

On the Anderson Peak hike, I didn’t feel a difference at all. On this hike, I was able to hike a lot stronger after drinking the saline and chasing it down with the water. I don’t know if I can attribute my second wind to the Oxigen water and I’ve now used up my freebies. At $3/bottle, I don’t think it’s worth further testing when I already know Trader Joe’s Electrolyte Enhanced Water does the trick at a much cheaper cost. I just didn’t have any this time.

When I reached the saddle between Mt. Harwood and Mt. Baldy, I noticed about five bighorn sheep grazing on the western slope of Mt. Harwood. I had seen bighorn sheep near the ski hut before, but never on this side of the mountain. Of course this happened the one time I decided to leave my big camera behind and use my phone for pics. Needless to say, I was kicking myself, yet still happy to be able to see those beautiful creatures enjoying their habitat.

When we reached the summit of Baldy, we were shocked to see that, in the middle of the day, there were so few people up there. It was in stark contrast to the last time I hiked Baldy last month. Granted, that was a special event that draws in thousands of hikers annually, but on a typical day on the mountain, you can see scores of people milling about on its barren summit. A wave of people showed up about ten minutes before we left, so our timing was perfect.

After spending about an hour on the summit snacking and comparing our O2 levels with my oximeter, we descended Baldy’s rocky, scree-laden eastern slope, said our goodbyes to a lone bighorn sheep on the side of Mt. Harwood and made our way to the Devil’s Backbone Trail. I didn’t get an altitude headache this time and traipsed down the trail feeling pretty good.

Hike on!

~J

What’s in a Name?

In this video, I share my personal story and unveil a new name with a new logo. Please forgive the technical glitch on the title slide in the beginning. I was just made aware of that when this finished uploading to YouTube. Also, there is a bit of wind noise coming through the microphone. I was testing out a new Rode mic for the first time and will probably return it for a better one. Take a look at what’s on the horizon for this series.

Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc Express – Day 2 (Video)

On this leg of the hike, we trekked from Les Contamines up the Chemin Roman and through the Contamines Montjoie Nature Reserve to the Col du Bonhomme. At an elevation of 7,641 ft, it’s still not the highest point on this route. However, the steep, rugged climb provided us with sweeping vistas of high peaks and beautiful landscapes.

After reaching the Col du Bonhomme, we were only about halfway done with the hike. Since our destination for the day was the Refuge des Mottets, we had to traverse across more rough and rocky ground to reach the Col de la Croix du Bonhomme. After that, it was on to the highest point on the Tour du Mont Blanc, the Col des Fours at an elevation of 8,750 ft.

Instead of this being an 11-mile hike as we had anticipated, the route ended up being more like 15-20 miles. I almost gave up completing the tour after this, but some encouragement from my friends helped me to keep going.

Hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc Express (Video)

In August, my friends and I fulfilled a big dream together and hiked the world famous Tour du Mont Blanc. This trek had been on my to-do list for a while and I was scoping it out with REI Adventures when a friend suggested that I join their group. They were doing the express version of the hike in 6 days, so their trip was more budget-friendly.

REI’s trip was 13 days, so it was nearly double the price of what we paid, and that didn’t even include airfare. It’s a little bit crazy to take on this level of a hike in such a short period of time, but entirely doable. We saw a video of a couple that did it in the same amount of time, so that gave us more confidence.

The trip wasn’t without its challenges, though. However, this first day of the journey was relatively mellow and provided a good warmup for the rest of the trip. On this first day, we hiked from Les Houches, France via Col de Tricot and Le Truc into Les Contamines, France where we spent the night. It was a total of 11 miles with 4,728 ft elevation gain and 4,144 ft elevation loss.

Tour du Mont Blanc on a Budget

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Photo Credit: National Geographic Expeditions

Whether you’re young, old, or in-between, chances are you’ve created a “bucket list” or some other type of list of things to do, places to see, etc. Maybe you’ve got a ton of things on your list, consisting mainly of things you know you won’t have the time, energy or money to do in your lifetime. Or maybe you’ve got a more practical short list of things that are attainable where you can actually envision checking things off one by one and being able to pat yourself on the back with a sense of accomplishment. Maybe you don’t have a list at all, but a dream that one day you will do X, Y, or Z. Whatever the case is for you, just know that it’s not impossible.

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

-Susan Sontag

I have so many places on my list that I don’t think I’ll even get to put a dent in it before I “kick the bucket”. But I’ve decided to take it one destination at a time and see how far I can get. I have been wanting to visit Italy for at least the past fifteen years or so and year after year, I have purposed to do it, but a plan never fully came together. I saw a really great Italy adventure package offered by REI and set my sights on doing that someday. It’s expensive, but it’s REI, so I know it’s a quality experience. Their trips also don’t include airfare.

While perusing the REI adventure trips, I came across another trip to put on my list: the Tour du Mont Blanc. On this trip, I found that I could visit Italy, France and Switzerland all in one trip as I completed the trek around the base of the Mont Blanc. How exciting! Except that the trip costs more than $5,000 not including airfare. I decided I would need to put this one on my list for a couple of years or so down the road while I saved the money and vacation time needed for the 13-day trek.

I was so excited about adding this new trip to my ever-growing list that I shared the link to my Facebook page. A friend saw it and told me that he and a group of other friends were planning the trip for this year and he was going to add me to the group so I could get all the information. I was blown away when I saw that they were doing the same trip for a fraction of what the REI version was listed at. I read through all the details and then quickly signed up and paid my deposit. I couldn’t miss out on such a great deal and on the opportunity to share such a fun experience with amazing friends.

Many people end up with these extravagant bucket lists of places they’ll never go for one main reason. They think they can’t afford to travel. I used to believe that, too, and then a wonderful opportunity fell right into my lap. The best part of all is that it’s not going to break the bank.

Book Early

For a popular trip like Mont Blanc, it’s best to book at least a year in advance. The hotels and auberges along the route fill up quickly and late summer is their peak time, so to ensure that you can get all your accommodations, jump on it a year in advance. Also, tour companies have lower prices the farther out you book, so be sure to inquire about deadlines and deposits.

Be Low Maintenance

As opposed to taking a tour led by a guide, my friends and I are doing the self-guided tour offered by Macs Adventure. Self-guided basically means you’re on your own during the trek, but the company books all of your accommodations and luggage transfers in advance. All we have to do is take what we need for our day hike to the next village and our luggage (up to 30 lbs) will be waiting for us at each stop. Because we are doing the express version of this trek, we will accomplish in eight days what the REI trip and other trips do in 13 or more days. Yes, we’ll be hiking quite a few miles each day. The base cost for our tour is $1,245, plus $200 for a single supplement.

Sign Up for Flight Alerts

Once you’ve booked the tour itself, you’re over halfway there. Unfortunately, this isn’t an all-inclusive package (which would cost more) so you will need to shop for the best prices on flights. You can book flights a year in advance and there are advantages to doing that. You will most likely get your first choice of flight times and you won’t have to worry about trying to book later. The thing is, airline prices go up and down and are unpredictable. I wasn’t able to book my flights when the rest of the group did, so I signed up for Google Flight Alerts where I would receive alerts anytime there was a change in price for my selected flights. Due to a flight alert, I was able to book my round-trip flight to Switzerland from LAX for a total of $700. It was a steal! While I didn’t get the exact same flights as my friends booked, I did book on the same airline with a flight that arrives in Switzerland thirty minutes behind them. I will also be on the same return flight for one leg of the trip from Switzerland to Paris, France.

Those are just a few tidbits on how to cross a big trip off your list if you really want to make it happen. Don’t let financial limitations stop you from doing something extraordinary. Pay your bills and then do your research to determine what it will take to get one thing at a time crossed off your list. Be on the lookout for opportunities that may fall into your lap. Those things do exist, just look what happened to me. I’m able to do what I’m doing because an opportunity presented itself.

The next thing to work on is the physical preparation necessary to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, which I’ll share more about later. 🙂

Hike on!

~J

Traveling. It leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

-IBN Battuta

Hiking Through Grief

angels-landing-1September 2015 was one of the most devastating months of my life. First, I was hospitalized with a DVT in my leg, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse that month, the bottom completely fell out as the shocking news of a tragedy involving some of my most treasured hiking companions unfolded.

I was at work going about my usual daily routine when a strange email came in from one of the hiking group co-organizers asking for details of who was on a Zion trip. Apparently, a small segment of the main group got together and planned a trip to Zion National Park in Utah, a trip I wasn’t aware of, so the email took me by surprise.

Figuring something must have happened back at home, I dismissed the message and went about my day. Then, various reports started coming in regarding flash floods in Utah and at Zion National Park and it all began to make sense. I wondered if some of my friends may have been caught in some type of peril. Whatever happened, I knew they would all come out on top of it, because that’s just who they were. Because that sort of thing just didn’t happen to adventurers like them.

By the next day, I knew who was on that Zion trip. Five of them were my friends, including the main group leader. Two of them were friends I had not yet met. Later that afternoon and evening, there were reports of casualties being pulled from the flood waters at Keyhole Canyon. At that time, names had not been confirmed, but from the description of the people in the group rescuers were searching for, it was either one big coincidence that a group of the same size and description were in the same canyon at the same time, or these were really my friends being pulled out of those murky waters.

By Thursday, it was confirmed that all seven friends from the hiking group that inspired most of my hiking adventures had perished in the flash flood at Zion National Park. It was the most horrific thing I could have ever imagined. My hiking world was shaken to its core and I didn’t know how it could ever be set right again. One thing was certain: the trails would never be the same.

When you’ve shared the trails and so many of your life’s most memorable experiences with dear friends who departed from your life so suddenly and tragically, it is tough to move on. As I was in the process of overcoming a separate traumatic situation around the same time, it was a couple of months before I could hit the trails again. When I did get back on the trails, it was hard not to think about The Seven.

Hiking is an inherently dangerous sport, as our late hiking leader always put in his disclaimers. Every hiker knows that and we do our best to prepare for things to not go as planned. Sometimes, things just happen, despite our most careful precision and preparation. When we go out into the nature, we seldom think about the very real possibility that we may not return home that night. The awareness is there, but it’s more of an afterthought, one of those things we’d rather not think about for fear that the very thought might draw it into reality.

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We train, we research, we acquire all the right gear and sometimes our best efforts are not good enough to shield us from imminent disaster. We know all of these things the moment we go out, and yet we still hike. Knowing and understanding this about myself and my friends that lost their lives in the flood was one of the best comforts for me in dealing with the tragedy. I also found much comfort in revisiting some of the places I had previously hiked with those friends and by sticking close to my other hiking companions that share in the loss.

Seven years prior to the Zion tragedy, I experienced another gut-wrenching loss, the loss of my mother, who was my treasure. Not long after that, I moved to LA where I was introduced to hiking. The pain of losing my mom was unimaginable and I wouldn’t have wished anything like it on anyone. I didn’t realize how wounded I was until I started doing extreme hikes.

the-narrows

The tough hikes pulled more out of me than sweat. I found that with each grueling ascent, more of the tears I didn’t shed at my mother’s funeral broke free. I think about my mom often on the trails. My entire body grieved her loss to the point where I felt physical pain like muscle soreness all over for about a month after her passing. Hiking healed and carried me through that grieving process. I have had conversations with friends on the trails who shared similar stories of hiking through grief.

The grief process never ends, but you reach new stages of it as your life’s journey progresses, and you find new and innovative ways of dealing with the loss or tragedy you’ve suffered. When it’s all said and done, you begin to realize that the one(s) you’ve lost are never truly lost. They are with you always in your heart, and being on the trails helps make the crooked places in the process a lot straighter.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

-John Muir

Hike on!

~J

Trekking in the Negev Desert

Back in April, I was blessed to organize and lead a trip to the beautiful country of Israel to go on a multi-day trek across the Negev Desert with a youth group.

Seffi leads the charge.

Seffi leads the charge.

Led by our guide, Seffi, we trekked across poritions of the Spice Route, one of the main trade routes of the ancient world that connected the Roman Empire with Asia. It crossed the Arabian and the Negev deserts through Petra, the Nabatean capital and continued to Gaza port on the Mediterranean shore. The Spice Route derives its name from the exotic spices like Frankenscene and Myrrh, that were traded there by the Nabateans. The Nabateans, the Desert Masters, ruled the entire region for about 1000 years. They built along the Spice Route service stations to the caravans, inns, water storage facilities, forts and a complete road system.

Seffi gives us a brief history lesson.

Seffi gives us a brief history lesson.

Seffi, a man of the desert, knew the terrain forwards and backwards and provided us a wealth of information ranging from the topography, to its historical roots and educated us on the plant and animal life. We Americans weren’t used to seeing free-range camels and were in total awe, but to Seffi, it was just another day at the office.

At times, the trail was pretty steep.

At times, the trail was pretty steep.

During our four days of camping in the desert, we only utilized shelter the first night where we stayed in a bedouin camp. The remainder of our time out there, we literally slept under the stars in nothing more than our sleeping bags. My Marmot Pinnacle 15 down sleeping bag served me well as the nights were fairly cool. I was very accustomed to camping, but before this trip I had never slept out in the open, only in a tent. It was quite an experience.

Campfire tales.

Campfire tales.

When camping under the stars, you don't miss men on camels passing under the moon.

When camping under the stars, you don’t miss men on camels passing under the moon.

These photos are from the second through fourth days at camp. I didn’t take any pics on the first day at the bedouin camp at their request.

Seffi knew how to keep the camels calm.

Seffi knew how to keep the camels calm.

We hiked down to a swimming hole that was popular with the locals.

We hiked down to a swimming hole that was popular with the locals.

A man sitting between the rocks meditating.

A man sitting between the rocks meditating.

We stopped to get water from a well and were joined by a herd of camels that had the same idea.

We stopped to get water from a well and were joined by a herd of camels that had the same idea.

Some of the ruins we explored on the way back.

Some of the ruins we explored on the way back.