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

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Time in the Nature

Smith Mountain

Smith Mountain

This hike reminded me of the hike to Telescope Peak in Death Valley, minus the barren desert views. Our intent was to hike up to Smith Mountain and then descend down to Bear Creek, which was about a 12-mile adventure. I arrived a tad late since I couldn’t find the trailhead, but the ladies waited and told the two gentlemen (Don Viejo and David) to go ahead. They were the only two from our small group that hiked up to Smith Mountain. We waited for them at the saddle. When I saw the half-mile stretch to the summit up close, I was glad I decided to wait. The trail was steep like Mt. Baldy’s Register Ridge and involved some bouldering, which I wasn’t feeling up to.

Signs at the trailhead.

Signs at the trailhead.

Once again, we were blessed with Don Viejo’s presence on this hike. The 88-year-old energizer climbed up Smith Mountain and descended like a champ. He amazes me on every outing and I’m in total awe of his stamina and endurance. He puts 30-something-year-olds like me to shame. But seriously, there is no shame in our group. We hike as a team and the stronger ones are always willing to support the ones who are either in development or recovery.

Don Viejo

Don Viejo

The hike beyond the saddle to Bear Creek took us downhill for about a 2000ft elevation loss over four miles on an unmaintained trail. A chainsaw or machete would have come in handy because we were bushwhacking and climbing over fallen trees. It was quite a challenge. Sections of the trail were also washed out and became very narrow on steep ledges with loose scree. At times, I wondered if the mountainside would crumble right beneath my feet and send me tumbling to my death. Thankfully, no one was hurt during this adventure.

Crossing a barely flowing stream

Crossing a barely flowing stream

A harrowing section of washed out trail

A harrowing section of washed out trail

I made it to within about a half-mile of the creek when I decided to turn around and head back uphill. I knew the climb back up to the saddle was going to slow me down and we’d be running out of daylight soon. I also noticed clouds gathering and threatening of an impending storm. It was a good thing I turned back when I did because I was very slow going back uphill and the rain started just as I got into my car.

A storm coming in

A storm coming in

Smith mountain as the sun was setting and storm coming

Smith mountain as the sun was setting before the rain

Even though I didn’t make it to either of the two planned destinations along this trek, I still had a very fun day with friends enjoying our natural surroundings. During the quiet moments where I hiked alone, I spent some time in prayer and gained a new perspective on some things that were causing me a lot of worry and anxiety and now I have more peace and assurance that all is well. Time in nature is always time well spent.

Hike on!

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!

~Joyce

 

Strawberries, a Meadow, and a Peak

Tree on the Trail to Strawberry MeadowOn Saturday, we hiked to Josephine Peak via Strawberry Meadow, a 14-mile car shuttle that was supposed to begin at Colby Ranch. However, the gate to the ranch was closed for some unknown reason. At that point, we initiated Plan B, which was to go to Red Box Rd. and begin our hike on the Strawberry Peak trail. While we didn’t climb Strawberry Peak, our trail took us around the base of the north side of it where we were treated to some enchanting views.

It was a beautiful day, although there were periods of fog. When the sun was out, it was nice and warm, but when the clouds blew over, it got breezy and cold. During the first 6-7 miles of the hike, we had to dodge TONS of bikers on the trail coming toward us. As it turned out, they were doing some sort of marathon called Mud Foot and one biker told us that there were about 75 of them total, all spread out. One biker even suggested that we find a nice place to stop, relax and wait for all of them to pass. We decided to go on despite the warning, because we didn’t know how long it was going to take all of the bikers to go through.

SONY DSC

By the time we made it through Strawberry Meadow and into Strawberry Potrero, we had seen the last of the bikers and the trail was peaceful again. At the end of the day, we had hiked 14 miles with roughly 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Not too bad for a day’s work.

The tale of the trail?
Just because you find one door (or in this case, gate) closed on the way to your destiny, don’t give up and throw in the towel. Stay on the path and be open to other opportunities. There is always another–and sometimes better–way. You will get there. You will conquer your mountain.

SONY DSC

Strawberries and a Peak

We hiked to Strawberry Peak from Colby Canyon, my first time hiking that route. This took us up a few sections of class 3 climbing that challenged my fear of heights and was pretty adventurous. The climbing part wasn’t half as bad as I expected it be; it was 3/4 as bad. I knew there was some rather tedious climbing involved but I thought it would be a little more straightforward than it was. Thankfully, we did this hike as a one-way car shuttle to Red Box so we didn’t have to down-climb those boulders. From the peak, we enjoyed amazing views in every direction and feasted on chocolate covered strawberries for a treat. It was a beautiful day with great company.

Jackson Lake Walkabout (Video)

This is the latest episode of “Tales of the Trails,” last weekend’s hike, the Jackson Lake Loop. At about 10 miles with about 2,500 feet of elevation gain, this scenic trek involved some cross country hiking, a stint on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT,) as well as a side trip to Pinyon Ridge, one of the Sierra Club’s “100 Peaks.” This was a bit of a trial run with my new GoPro action cam, so I didn’t do any talking except at the beginning, which was shot with my Sony. Enjoy! 🙂

The Bridge to Nowhere

In this episode of “Tales of the Trails,” I introduce four of my adventurous friends to the Bridge to Nowhere, a freestanding bridge located in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California just north of Azusa.  We hiked on a broken road paved with beauty, adventure and promise, and acquired a few life lessons along the way.  Find out what sort of tales we found ourselves in by watching The Bridge to Nowhere.

Enjoy!  🙂