Life on the Edge: On Top of the World (Podcast)

Here is today’s podcast.  Previous episodes are available on iTunes.  Enjoy!

Life on the Edge: On Top of the World

Silver Linings

Have you ever had someone tell you that they were going to do something and they let you down? Or has someone ever given you a reason to joyfully anticipate something in the near future and then flaked, leaving you wondering what you might have done wrong?  I see it all the time in Hollywood relationships on all levels, both professional and personal.

I’m going to call you next week so we can do lunch to discuss that deal.

Yeah, right.  What you really mean to say is, “Don’t call me, I’ll call you.”  Or how about this one?

It’s been aeons since we’ve hung out!  I’m going to do a better job about keeping in touch.  As a matter of fact, let’s chat in a couple of days so we can talk about actually taking that cruise we’ve been talking about for YEARS.

Okay, but I won’t wait by the phone for too long because I might start growing grey hairs.  But seriously, I started with this piece because last fall, there was someone in my life that I had hiked with a few times and that person suggested that I get into snow hiking.  I had never been on a real snow hike up to that point and had no desire to do it, nor did I own any of the equipment, such as microspikes, snowshoes, or ice axe.  Yet, I saw this as an invitation to adventure, and because I really desired to get to know this person, I looked forward to embracing something new and exciting.

I was told that the adventure would be coming soon, so I waited…and waited…and waited.  We were anticipating the first snow of the season and I was the proud owner of a shiny new pair of microspikes, which I had purchased on sale at the local Adventure 16 outfitter.  I sent a “nudge” text to my friend asking when we were going on our winter wonderland excursion.  The response read, “Soon.”  After that, all I got was complete radio silence…for months.  The winter season has come and gone and now we’re into summer and there has still been radio silence.

Don’t get me wrong, I have not been waiting by the phone all this time.  About a month after I received that last reply from the friend, and had given up on ever hearing from that person again, I was given another–or should I say–greater opportunity to go on my first real snow hike.  A mountaineer, who is part of a large group linked to a popular hiking message board, was to make his 300th ascent to the summit of Mt. Baldy in Southern California.  At 10,064ft, Mt. Baldy is a challenging and steep uphill slog, especially in the summertime when it’s hot.  I went on the hike to meet some new faces and to help celebrate this monumental achievement.

This wasn’t intended to be a snow hike, but Mt. Baldy happened to receive it’s first big snow of the season the day before our climb.  The trail was covered in snow from the beginning all the way to the summit.  I met lots of new people on the hike, including a woman that I had been Facebook friends with for so long it felt like we already knew each other.  Our meeting on the trail was an epic experience.  When we started out, the temperature was below freezing and I actually had icicles in my hair.  When I hike uphill, I sweat no matter cold it is, but this was my first time hiking in temps that cold.

Going up the Bowl

I also did something else that was way out of my comfort zone.  I climbed straight up the Baldy Bowl in the snow with two of my new friends.  Hiking up the Bowl is almost like climbing straight up at a 90-degree angle.  The best time to do it, in fact, the only time to do it is in deep snow, which we thankfully had on that day.  I had seen pictures of some friends of mine doing that the year before and thought they were crazy.  I swore I’d never do something like that.  But there I was, halfway up the Bowl amid intermittent whiteout conditions, climbing with my two new friends.  It was one of the scariest things I had ever done, but it was so worth it.

Looking Down the Bowl

I went on the next snow hike with another friend.  He and I both had the day off, so we tackled Baldy on a weekday.  We hiked up the main trail and descended the same route.  The conditions at the summit were not very good that day.  It was so cold and windy that we stayed on the summit probably less than five minutes.  We were the only ones on the trail that day and that somehow fueled the spirit of adventure.9th Baldy Summit

The next time I went on a snow hike, it was actually a snowshoe adventure to San Jacinto Peak near Palm Springs.  A gentleman I know that leads hikes with several groups posted this hike and I signed up because another friend let me borrow his snowshoes and ice axe.  I didn’t know if I’d like snowshoeing, so I was excited to try it out.  Despite coming down with AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) my second time at San Jacinto Peak, I made it to the summit had the time of my life that day.  Snowshoeing is a challenging workout, but so much fun.  I even stopped at my favorite outlet mall in Cabazon on the way home and found a great deal on some winter hiking pants made by Mountain Hardwear, my preferred brand of hiking pants.Snowshoeing San Jacinto PeakSnowshoes

Before the snow completely melted for the season, I went on a couple more adventures with groups of friends.  Perhaps one of my most memorable snow hikes (other than the group from the message board) was the Baldy hike I did with my friends Patrick and Mark.  Those two are hysterical.  Mark drove us to the trailhead, or at least he attempted to, in his SUV.  Mt. Baldy Road was covered with snow beginning at Baldy Village, which is at a pretty low elevation (4,000ft) and about 3.5 miles from the trailhead.  We were skidding all over the place, but Mark assured Patrick and I, who were cowering in our seats, that he had control and we would be okay.  We ended up not making it to the trailhead.  There are so many steep hairpin turns past Baldy Village that in icy conditions without a 4-wheel drive, you might as well hang it up.The Truck Stuck

Playing with Icicles

Clouds

Mark parked the SUV about 1.5 miles from the trailhead as he could go no further.  We were determined to do our hike, so we got out, made sure we had everything we needed, and walked up the road to begin the hike to the summit of Mt. Baldy.  More snow had fallen since the trail had been last traversed, so there were no tracks.  Since I knew the trail so well (I had climbed Baldy like 9 or 10 times up to that point) I was the guide and in charge of navigation and route finding.  We made it to the summit and had to come down immediately due to gale-force winds and fierce windchill. I loved spending time with Patrick and Mark.  Their personalities are so fun and entertaining.  It’s especially funny when they argue, which they did on this hike.

Patrick and Mark

I recently saw a movie called “Silver Linings Playbook.”  It’s about Pat Solitano (played by Bradley Cooper), who is released from a mental institution to live with his parents.  Pat meets a girl who has similar problems to his own and he fails to realize that they are made for each other because he’s hung up on his estranged wife who cheated on him, causing him to snap mentally.  I’m not going to spoil the ending in case you haven’t seen the movie, but what I will say is that sometimes we get so hung on our disappointments that we fail to see the silver lining, the invitation to adventure right in front of us.

If I had sat around waiting, hoping, praying that my friend would someday contact me, I would have missed out on the time of my life and the opportunities I’ve had to meet new friends and deepen relationships with existing friends.  I heard it said that you should never make someone your priority when you’re just their option.  If someone disappoints your or fails to keep their word, move on.  It’s not worth wasting precious moments of your life waiting for a person to come around who may never do so.  Like I said, I was disappointed that I didn’t get an opportunity to hike with this friend of mine over the winter, but I chose to embrace opportunities that were there.  When one door closes, another will open.  In my case, many doors opened, and I ran in.  I chose to embrace the silver lining.

Tales of the Trails – Mt. Whitney Edition Pt. 2

The last three miles of the first Mt. Whitney summit attempt in August were the longest three miles of my life. I had a strange out-of-body type of experience on the way down and I have no idea how I even made it all the way. Perhaps it was the quick pace set by my friends Jeff and Nancy. Or maybe it was Jeff’s calling out the mileage on the descent, giving me hope that the trailhead was near. Somehow, even with the encouraging words from Jeff, I grew more and more discouraged as I saw headlamps snaking up the trail below us, indicating that we still had at least that much further to go.

Every inch of me was in pain. The few places that weren’t were downright numb. I felt as if rigor mortis was settling into my body while I was still in it, and that non-sensation should have frightened me, but I was even numb to fear. My headlamp had even grown dim as the batteries needed replacing, but I refused to stop. I knew that if I had stopped for even a moment, I wouldn’t be able to start again. So I walked in between Jeff and Nancy so that I could use the light of their headlamps.

By the time we finally reached the trailhead, I thought I was hallucinating. I looked up into the sky and noticed millions of stars, something I had never seen before. I glanced at Nancy and told her I had never seen that many stars in the sky and felt like something was wrong with me. She assured me that there weren’t any more stars in the sky than normal, but because of the light pollution in the city, the stars are not all clearly visible to us. While it was a comfort to know that I wasn’t hallucinating, that did little to reassure me that something wasn’t terribly wrong.

Jeff offered to treat us all to a pizza in Lone Pine as we were all famished. When we got there, I walked across the street to the hostel where I stayed to leave my backpack in the room and I could barely stand. Going up the stairs was excruciating. Somehow I made it back to the pizza joint and attempted to eat a slice of pizza and rehydrate with some green tea sweetened with honey. I had to force a small bite of pizza down and I probably only drank half a cup of green tea. I couldn’t sit at the table any longer and bid my friends goodnight. As hungry as I was, it was very surprising to me that I couldn’t eat or drink. When I got back to the room, I went straight to bed.

There had only been one time in my life that I could remember not having an appetite. I was fourteen, it was Thanksgiving, and I had the flu. It was the most awful feeling ever to be at my grandmother’s house around family and lots of food, and unable to touch any of it. After my failed attempt to summit Mt. Whitney, I had that feeling multiplied by ten. I was also severely dehydrated, as well as physically and emotionally spent. I later discovered that I had a pretty bad case of AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), which could have turned fatal. Thank God, it didn’t.

The next morning, I loaded up on electrolytes, which I badly needed, and had a big breakfast up at the Whitney Portal. After that, I felt refreshed. However, I couldn’t stop looking back at Mt. Whitney staring down at me in the distance and feeling bummed that I didn’t conquer her as I had intended. I knew it would be at least a year before I would have another go at it and I tried to let it go, but be thankful that I at least made it as far as Trail Crest, which by all purposes was the summit at 13,600ft.

When I returned to L.A. and pondered my failed summit attempt, I lamented over the fact that I had given up on some dreams that I had held dear to my heart for many years. I also noted that I had given up on summiting two peaks and felt that the two instances were somehow connected. I didn’t know for sure if that was the case, but it was worth consideration. I wondered what to do about it.

The answer came suddenly when my friend Walter, the leader of the Mt. Whitney conquests, posed the idea of going back to the mountain to take care of business once and for all. I wasn’t going to have to wait another year. I would take on the mountain again, and I would do it on my birthday, celebrating with epic flare. It would be the birthday to remember.