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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Hiking to Anderson Peak with My Tribe

Looking toward Big Bear Lake from Anderson Peak

This was my first time on the Forsee Creek trail and my first time summiting Anderson Peak (elev. 10,840ft). The trail was gorgeous with lots of wildflowers along the way, creating great photo opportunities.

Purple lupine

Indian paintbrush

Columbine

Despite all the signs of life and rebirth, there were still remnants of the shadow of death and destruction that decimated the area during the most recent fire. It was a stark reminder of the cycle of life that the forest endures.

Danielle and I started early and Richard met up with us on the trail as he started hiking a little later. Since Danielle and I got a late start, it didn’t take him long to catch up to us.

Richard catches up

We kept a slow but steady pace as the peaceful and gradual trail wound through the forest with about a 4100-foot gain from the trailhead in about 6.5 miles. We stopped at Trail Fork about 6 miles up to have a snack and reassess whether we felt like huffing it off trail for the final ascent to the peak.

We were feeling good and decided we were too close to turn around, so we went for it. And we were happy we did. The reward of achieving the summit was so worth it and the views were amazing.

Going off trail toward Anderson Peak

Our sign-ins on the summit register

Big Bear Lake to the north of Anderson Peak

Mt. San Gorgonio to the east of Anderson Peak

I love hiking with my tribe.

*****Due to the Valley Fire, all trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness are closed until further notice. Thankfully, my friends and I got to do this beautiful hike before fire ravaged the area once again, continuing the cycle of death, destruction and rebirth.

A Tale from the TMB

The look on my face explains how I felt on much of the Tour du Mont Blanc. It’s the anguish you feel after you’ve reached the summit only to realize you’ve still got one, two, three more summits standing between you and your destination for the day. Or when you discover that the downhill section you’ve been looking forward to is much more challenging and taxing than the uphill slog. One thing is for sure, the trails in Europe are not the same as our trails here in America. Trails that I once considered insanely brutal pale in comparison to the trails in the Alps. However, at the end of the day, every painful step, every moment of agony, every tear shed was all worth it.

Maybe you find yourself in one of life’s uphill slogs and you’ve reached one of those false peaks only to be disappointed when you realize there is another, bigger peak towering between you and your goal. Stay with it. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. Don’t try to take on the mountain all at once, just one methodical step at a time. Don’t forget to admire the views along the way. They get better with each step. Before you know it, you’ll have reached your goal. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. 🙂

Tales of the Trails: The Adventures of the Fabulous Five – Pt. 3

The drive down Movie Road was smooth sailing until we reached a point where the pavement ran out and we were riding along a bumpy dirt road.  We hadn’t yet seen the parking lot for the trailhead that was supposed to lead us to the arch and I was beginning to think that we had somehow passed it.  The bumpy road was further irritating my stomach and we couldn’t find the trailhead fast enough.

“I see the arch,” Arthur said, pointing out the window.

“Where?” asked Gina.

“There.”

Arthur pointed to a rock in the distance to our right where an arch could barely be made out.

“That can’t be the arch,” I said.  “It just looks like a hole in a rock.”

Thinking that was probably the closest thing to an arch that we were going to see that day, I pulled over into the nearby parking area.  Eddie and Farrah, who were following, did the same.

When we got out of the cars to check out the location, we were immediately reminded that we were in a desert. No longer in the protective confines of the climate-controlled cars, we became instant prey for the sun’s brutal rays.  Seemingly unaffected by the heat, Arthur and Eddie took out their cameras and went to work.

Since Johnny’s map indicated a short hike to the arch, Farrah and I decided to put our hiking boots on.  We were both wearing flip flops and didn’t want to risk twisting an ankle.

I glanced around at the numerous rock formations, not to admire the scenery, but to find a well-hidden place I could use as a bathroom.  That’s when I saw the sign indicating the trailhead to the arch.  The trail was clearly defined and lined on both sides with stones.

“Over here, y’all!” I shouted to my friends.  “The trailhead is over here.”

Farrah, Eddie, Gina and Arthur started toward me, and then it hit.  I needed to find a rock bad.  I remembered the unused WAG bag that was still in my backpack from the Mt. Whitney hike and knew it would come in handy.

“You guys go on.  I’ll catch up.  There’s something I have to do,” I said.

With that, they started down the trail.  I returned to my car for the WAG bag and ran down the trail after them, keeping a safe distance behind.  Then, I spotted the perfect rock covering, and did my business.  I didn’t want to carry the WAG bag with me to the arch, so I left it near the rock with the intent of returning for it to dispose of it properly.

I met up with everyone at the arch and found that Arthur was already the center of attention.  He had perched himself on top of the arch and was staring down at the “paparazzi,” Eddie, Farrah, and Gina, who were poised in a straight line taking his picture.  He motioned for the rest of us to join him, but Gina and Eddie were the only ones brave enough.

The arch wasn’t particularly huge, but to climb to the top of it took some skill.  I tried to be a little more daring and adventurous to get up there, but even with Arthur’s help, I chickened out.  Instead, I took pictures of Arthur and Gina clowning around atop the arch.  It was such a lovely day and the clouds were so wispy and formed very interesting shapes above the spectacular rock formations.

Arthur helped Gina down the from the arch and climbed back up.  Eddie hopped to another rock to take more pictures of the scenery while Farrah and Gina went off to explore some other rock formations.  I went to check out a nearby crevice to see what was below, but when an image from the movie “127 Hours” flashed through my head, I thought better of it and moved away from the edge.

I returned to the arch, which was only a few yards away and noticed that Arthur was gone.  I looked around and saw Eddie in the same spot as before, and Farrah and Gina were still looking at some other rocks.  Arthur was nowhere to be found.  Thinking he might have been playing some sort of trick, I scanned the area near the arch, but still, no Arthur.  I was puzzled because, although Arthur moves fast, there was no way he could have gotten down from that arch and hidden himself so quickly.

“Arthur?”  I called.  No answer.

Eddie looked up, curious.

“Did you see where Arthur went?” I asked.

“No,” said Eddie.  “He was just there on top of the arch.”

“Well, he’s gone now,” I said.  “Okay, Arthur, this isn’t funny.  Where are you?”

Gina and Farrah began walking back toward the arch.  “What’s going on?” Gina said.

“Did you see where Arthur went?” I asked.

“No, wasn’t he up there?” Gina said, indicating the arch.

“I turned my back for five seconds,” I said.  “There’s no way even he could have gotten down that fast.”

By this time, Eddie joined us, curious about the commotion.  “He’s gotta be around here somewhere,” he said. “He can’t be too far.”

“I’ll look over here,” Farrah said, walking to a nearby boulder.  Eddie darted off in another direction and Gina walked over to the crevice where I had just been.

Help meeeee!

The voice was so faint at first that it could very well have been the wind.  I paused, then heard it again, clearer this time.

Please!  Help!

“Arthur?”  The voice was coming from the arch, but there was no one near it other than me.  I thought that perhaps Arthur had fallen into a crevice and the wind was carrying his voice over to where I was.

Joyce!  The arch!

This time, I heard Arthur’s voice loud and clear.  The question was, what was he trying to tell me about the arch?  And where in the heck was he anyway?

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 26-Serpents and Scorpions)

I didn’t do any hiking for about two weeks after I returned from Yosemite.  It wasn’t because I was sore; I had very little soreness, which got better after about a day or so.  I didn’t hike because I had reached a goal that I had spent months preparing for.  It’s very difficult to motivate yourself to do things when you don’t have a goal or a purpose.  I had grown complacent and didn’t want to exercise at all.

Do it again.

I heard the voice of God speak to my heart.  What?  Again?  Why would anyone want to put themselves through that kind of torture another time?  Then, it came to me.  I would start training to do the hike again the next year and purpose to finish in less time.

It took me about 13 hours to finish the hike, not including the time spent at the summit.  For most people, it takes less.  I decided that I was up for the challenge.  I got up one morning, put on my hiking gear and went on one of my favorite trails: a five-mile hike in Santa Clarita.  I went during a weekday, so I hiked alone.  Sometimes I do that.

It felt good to be back on the trails again and inhale some fresh air.  Of course, the air wasn’t as fresh as it was at Yosemite, but it was better than breathing in smog.  I noticed that I fared much better on the uphill than I had on that hike previously.  I didn’t have to stop as much to catch my breath, which was a good sign.

When I had made it almost to the top of the ridge, just past a fork where the trail split, something in the middle of the trail caught my eye.  I almost stepped on it as I thought initially that it was a big stick.  When I realized it was a snake, I immediately stepped back a few feet.  At the time, I didn’t know what kind of snake it was, but it didn’t matter.  To me, a snake is a snake, and they are all ugly and disgusting creatures.

Although the snake didn’t move, I knew it was alive.  Thankfully, it didn’t lunge at me.  I took a picture of it and went back to the fork in the trail and took the other path.  The trails converged later, so it wasn’t a big detour.  That was enough excitement for one day.

I didn’t necessarily fear the snake.  I just didn’t want to have to deal with a snake bite, especially while I was out in the wilderness alone.

I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
Luke 10:19 (New International Version)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 25-Beauty for Ashes)

The wind was beginning to pick up and it was getting chilly, so Andy, who had taken the lead, suggested that we head down the rock so we could start the 8-mile journey back to the car. After all, we still had a five-hour drive ahead of us that evening.

I changed my socks, strapped on my backpack and got ready to leave. I knew going back down the cables was going to be fun, but I almost forgot something very important. The rock! It was still in my backpack and. I told the others and asked them to wait while I found the perfect spot to leave the rock.

I set it on a boulder and took pictures of it for the memorial. Then, I left it there, along with the painful comment that nearly destroyed my life. I didn’t even look back. It was no longer my burden.

I walked toward the cables with what I had dubbed the “Fellowship,” Andy, Bre, Mike, and our new addition, Ms. Rosemarie, who had decided to ride back to L.A. with us.

I was again first to get on the cables. Going down wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The biggest challenge getting down was the crowd. There were people coming up as we descended and everyone had to stay inside the cables, so it got a little congested. There were occasional weirdoes climbing up outside of the cables and they were pretty much free to do so since there were no rangers present to monitor the situation.

When I reached Sub Dome, I took pictures of everyone as they came down from the cables. The mission had been accomplished and I felt so much lighter.

Although I ate some of the food I carried in my backpack and drank more water, the reason my backpack was lighter was because of the burden that had been left behind. The rock was small enough to fit into the palm of my hand, so it wasn’t very heavy. However, what the rock symbolized in my life was a heavy burden and it was now gone.

To console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:3 (New King James Version)

Life on the Edge…(Chapter 24 – On Top of the World)

When I made it to the top, I was immediately welcomed by a fellow member of Team Half Dome. He thought I had turned back and was thrilled to see that I’d made it.

Gretchen was next to come up, followed by Andy, Bre and Mike. Gretchen’s husband was waiting and we all cheered when she came up. I was so proud of her. Like me, she overcame her fears and dared to do the impossible.

No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.
Matthew 19:26 (The Message)

Walking on the summit of Half Dome, which stood 8800 feet above sea level, was like walking on the moon.

I had never walked on the moon before, but I could just imagine the moon’s surface looking a lot like what I was standing on. The surface was a lot bigger than it looked from afar. It was probably the size of about 3-4 football fields.

We met up with Ms. Rosemarie and the rest of Team Half Dome, but most were ready to head back down. I had surprised everyone. They were certain I had turned back. I can’t say I blamed them for thinking that. They just didn’t know me very well.

Since Andy was our driver, he said that we would stay at the summit longer to give us all a chance to take it all in and enjoy the euphoria of the moment. I saw little Katelyn and her family and they were excited to see me there as well.

I took a few moments to explore the surroundings, then I did the unthinkable. I went to the edge and guess what? No fear of heights. I laid down flat on my stomach and peered over the edge. I held out my camera and took a picture of the valley floor below. I guess it didn’t dawn on me that I was hanging over the edge of a 4800 foot sheer drop.

I backed away from the edge, got to a seated position, and carefully scooted over to where my legs could dangle freely. Andy came up and asked if I wanted my picture taken. “Sure,” I said. He stood behind me and I smiled up at the camera. I told Andy I wasn’t scared and he said that he was because of the vantage point where he was standing.

My risk taking didn’t stop there. I went and stood on the Visor and had Andy take my picture there, too. I had said that I would never, under any circumstance, go on the Visor. If you’re not familiar with Half Dome, the Visor is this rock ledge that juts out over the sheer drop. Walking onto it is like walking the plank. However, I wasn’t scared. I was free of the fear of heights and it felt so good.

Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.
John 8:36 (New King James Version)