Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number

Don Viejo's Ad

Don Viejo’s Ad

I had a pretty good idea of who Don Viejo was before I actually met him in person. He had left his mark all over the San Gabriel Mountains in bright orange, sprinkled with black letters. He was in search of a hiking partner and was very specific about his requirements.

When I saw the first ad on the way up Baldy Bowl via the Ski Hut Trail, I thought it was a joke. I mean, who would dare put themselves out there like that, or better yet, expect someone else to put themselves out there to go and meet on top of a mountain? This day and age, you just can’t be too careful.

It wasn’t until I saw the second sign posted on the other side of Mt. Baldy, on the Devil’s Backbone Trail, that I realized the poster must have been pretty serious, so I snapped a picture with no intentions of calling. I didn’t fit the age requirement anyway.

Hiking in tutus

Hiking to Mt. Baden-Powell in tutus

Months later, one of the hiking groups that I’m an assistant organizer with did a special tutu hike to Mt. Baden-Powell the day of Don Viejo’s scheduled interviews. Every now and then we do a fun and silly hike like a tutu hike, zombie hike, or a hippy hike where we dress up in crazy costumes.

We hiked up to Throop Peak and Mt. Burnham, then made our way to the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell where there were a few people milling about. Then, we saw a short, slender man with strong, capable legs standing near a tree next to a sign and cradling a notebook. He was accompanied by a taller, younger man.

Don Viejo with his son

Don Viejo with his son on Mt. Baden-Powell

We kindly approached and introduced ourselves. Don Viejo, a pleasant man full of life, told us that he got into hiking after his wife died six years ago. His son, the taller gentleman with him, wasn’t always able to accompany him on hikes and didn’t want Don hiking alone, so he helped him come up with a creative way of finding a hiking partner.

Don may have been 85 at the time, but he was certainly young at heart. He demonstrated more strength, agility and charisma than many people one-third of his age. We were amazed by his trail savvy and desired to spend more time with him so we could glean more of his knowledge.

Don Viejo shares his trail knowledge

Don Viejo shares his trail knowledge

Don had only met a couple of potential hiking partners that day, but he wasn’t too impressed with them, so we invited him to join our group so he would never have to hike alone. The next time I saw Don was this past Saturday when I had the pleasure of hiking with him on the Register Ridge Trail to Mt. Baldy.

Don with his game face on

Don with his game face on

Now 87, Don is still going strong. I had agreed to be his hiking partner and look after him during the hike. In return, I was treated to endless jokes, witty humor and poetry along the way. I was so entertained that I forgot just how hard the hike up the ridge was.

Don Viejo hiking up the steep Register Ridge Trail

Don Viejo hiking up the steep Register Ridge Trail

Don and I matched pace perfectly. He allowed me to go ahead of him, so I hiked a ways up and then stopped to let him catch up, never letting him out of my sight. Watching him navigate his way over the steep, rocky terrain was an inspiration and it encouraged me to go further.

We made it to the Devil’s Backbone Trail in 3.5 hours, took a short snack break, and then hiked to the summit of Mt. Baldy where we took a longer lunch break. We hung out on the summit for a while and I took a picture of Don at the summit sign. We glanced over at West Baldy and considered a visit, but then thought better of it. Another time.

On the way up the Register Ridge Trail, Don had told me that if I made it to the summit, he’d give me one of his coveted calling cards. He didn’t forget, and I was very grateful when he placed the card into my hand.

The front of Don Viejo's card

The front of Don Viejo’s card

The back of Don Viejo's card

The back of Don Viejo’s card

As we began our descent from the summit, we ran into two of our friends, Cee Cee and Steve. We had already seen Steve leaving the summit as we were approaching and wondered why he was going back up. Cee Cee said that he wanted them to have a picture together for the first time on the summit. At that point, I realized Don and I didn’t get a picture together, so we hiked back up to the top with them.

Group photo with Don Viejo on the summit of Mt. Baldy

Group photo with Don Viejo on the summit of Mt. Baldy

We took some group photos and then Don and I took a photo together. It was one of my best of many experiences on the mountain.

Don Viejo and I on the summit of Mt. Baldy

Don Viejo and I on the summit of Mt. Baldy

After we finished getting our pictures, we bid Cee Cee and Steve farewell as they were going to stick around on the summit for a bit. We knew we’d probably see them again at the Notch where we’d catch the ski lift down for the short walk back to Manker Flats.

Danielle, Aida and Don Viejo

Danielle, Aida and Don Viejo

As we descended the second time, we ran into our two other friends, Danielle and Aida. We initially though they had turned around to help out another person in our group who was struggling. Turns out, the other lady made it to the Devil’s Backbone Trail and decided to wait there while they went to the summit. We saw her on our way down and chatted for a bit. She was fine, so we continued toward the Notch.

While hiking with Don, I realized that he was old enough to be my grandfather, and couldn’t help but think about my own grandfather, who I loved dearly, but lost three years ago. Though decades stand between us, Don and I share one major thing in common: grief. Don lost his wife around the same time I lost my mom, and hiking is what helped us both through it.

When we made it to the Notch, Don Viejo treated me to a root beer and we celebrated our accomplishment. Don is truly a class act and I will never forget my experience with him. I hope to share many more mountain experiences with Don. He has so many tales of his own trails that I’d like to hear and then share with you.

Hike on!



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


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.