I totally accept the fact that I am a very late boomer (play on words there) when it comes to the outdoors. We are just now getting acquainted for the first time in 3 decades.
But I am hell bent on getting trained for the Next Big Thing.
I appropriately equipped myself (this time) on my solo day hike to bag a new trail on an old mountain.
I have been preparing for this day for months. Trekking sticks, check. Hydration pack, check. Hiking shoes, check. Hiking socks, check. Annual parking permit, check. I’m good to go.
So with a very light heart and a song on my lips I set out to seek adventure in the San Antonio Mountain Wilderness (in California, not Texas), which is also the mountains I grew up by and can see out of my current home’s windows. I see it everyday, and every day I vow to conquer it.
The day has come. On a Thursday morning the parking lot is not full yet and I jump out of my car and to the rear of the Suburban to gear up. I have filled the hydration pack with 2 liters of water (more than I should need), a light lunch, and emergency matches etc.
I noticed that my hydration pack was wet so I assumed I set it on the mouthpiece, and I made a mental note to be more careful next time.
I set out on the trail and am feeling dang good about myself. This is my mountain, and the old Ice House Trail is one I was originally introduced to by my intrepid Mother when I was a tender 4 years old. That was 53 years ago, and even though I have taken a 30 year hiatus from this mountain, I have a lot of great family memories of this trail and the
swimming hole creek that it follows.
After about a mile I reached back to feel of the hydration pack and noticed it was still dripping. A lot. The only reason I hadn’t felt the wetness is because I had tied my down jacket (did I leave that out of my original list of trick equipment? Sorry.) around my waist.
I sat down on a log and took it off for inspection. I couldn’t really find anything wrong with it, but as I took the entire bladder out of the pack, I noticed that my Curious George of a husband had not snapped the tube back into the bladder after he had taken it apart.
Because that’s what guys do. They have to take things apart. They just do.
I snapped it back in and noticed I had lost a whole liter of water. Thank goodness I brought extra.
Another mile and I was turning onto the trail of my desire. It added 2 miles to the destination versus the Ice House Trail, but was not as steep of an ascent. I was anticipating a leisurely climb to my destination known as the Mt. Baldy Saddle where many different trails converged.
The first 3 or so miles was aromatherapy heaven (scents of pine, California sage, and other plants I don’t know), except for the group of women ahead of me that were talking so loudly it was kind of defeating the purpose of getting out in nature. I couldn’t see them, but I could definitely hear them talking in their native tongue, an Asian language.
I made it to a tent camping site along the trail (known as Cedar Glen Campsite) where the women were seated on the only felled log, eating their lunches. It was hard to be mad at them, they were pretty adorable. They asked me if I was going to the Saddle, I replied “Yes, I’ve never been this way before though”. They replied with a like destination, and it would be their first time to the Saddle on this trail also.
Good. I thought to myself that I would wait for them at the Saddle so I could give them all “high fives” to celebrate our mutual achievement. Then I moved on.
I noticed right away that the trail was markedly different than what I had experienced before Cedar Glen. The trail earlier had been equipped with railings to protect against the steep talus (loose broken rock) mountain side.
The railings were gone. The trail narrowed to about 12 inches wide and I noticed a new development…snow. I wasn’t worried, the trail was well marked by a couple of sets of footprints (quite large actually) so I set my foot down on one of them to follow.
Shawoop! The footprints had turned to ice and were so slick not even my new trick hiking shoes could grab hold of a footing. I stopped and looked around me. The snow on the steep mountainside above and below me tracked with big horned sheep footprints going in a straight vertical trajectory. HOW DO THEY DO THAT?
I reasoned that if the big horned sheep can go straight up, and a couple of large men are ahead of me on the human trail, certainly I could do this.
I recited a mantra of my husband’s, “Don’t let fear hold you back” over and over in my head as I made my way through the slick ice and onto solid ground just 10 ft. up the trail. No sweat I thought, I can do this.
The next patch of snow/ice was on where the switchback turned sharply to the left and up. I put my foot down on what I thought was solid ground and Shawoop again! If not for my trekking pole, I would have fallen backward down the rocky mountainside.
I at this point noticed how very far down that was. About 500 ft. down a rock and log strewn steep mountainside so far down that I couldn’t see where I would actually land.
I shouldn’t have done that.
It was then I noticed I could no longer hear the Asian women coming up behind me. I am standing on ice, with only ice ahead of me and behind me. I am too frightened to go back down passed the very slick part I had just traversed, and since there was open trail just pass the slick switchback…I pulled myself up to it with my arms and trekking poles.
I was not having fun anymore. Not at all.
I kept going with the thought that the Saddle was probably just around each slippery bend, and then I could take the familiar Ice House Trail back down to my car.
But it didn’t happen. The trail just kept getting more and more steep.
I kept pushing on until I reached a point where the trail had washed out due to a landslide, but the landslide was only about 2 ft. wide. I stepped over the landslide and froze.
My trekking pole had caused a tiny landslide where I had planted it, and I made the mistake of watching the rocks go down. So I am literally frozen with terror with my legs wide apart and no leg muscles to either retreat or advance.
It occurs to me here that I am waaaaaaaaay out of my league here. I have made a dire error in assessing my skill level. I made mention of this to God in my almost constant praying at this point. As the panic begins to rise, I think of how long it will take to find my body. I told my hubby where I was going complete with the name of the trail, but I know he wouldn’t retain it.
I have no choice but to move my now shaking legs. I tried to get on my hands and knees, but the trail was too narrow and unstable to allow it. I moved forward an inch with my back foot, and after about 15 minutes, got it to about a foot away from my front one.
About 4 more feet forward and I was off of the talus. I couldn’t go back now for sure, but forward was so steep and treacherous that I stopped again and considered my options.
No cell phone service. No other person in sight. I had no options.
It was slow going after that. I reluctantly put one foot in front of the other with such trepidation that it actually took me an hour to go a mile. The snow was getting deeper, which actually made it easier, but I was getting cold.
I stopped to put on my jacket but as I turned my head to unwrap it from my waist, I saw just how far down the mountainside was now. I couldn’t see an end. I was overtaken by such a quick and deadly vertigo that had I not had my trekking pole on solid ground, I would have toppled over.
In all of my 57 years, I’ve never had vertigo before. I don’t like it at all.
I dared not make a move to put on my jacket which would require letting go of my poles. No way. I’d rather freeze.
If I wasn’t so terrified, I would have been mad at myself for putting me in a position where I could actually die. Why can’t I just be happy with crafting and DIY projects like my friends in retirement? Oh the irony.
Just as I was about to burst into tears from panic and fatigue, a man came tearing around the bend in the trail (no trekking poles) and bade greeting.
Instead of crying out in relief and begging for his help…I composed myself and asked him if I was almost to the Saddle.
Because that’s what we humans do. We try not to appear as though we are the dumb asses we actually are. Wait…I might be just speaking for myself here. Never mind.
He assessed my equipment and said with my ankle high hiking boots and trekking poles that I should be fine, but the last bit would be much more steep and treacherous. He said I might ask the opinion of the two women coming down behind him, and he went on his way.
SERIOUSLY? MORE STEEP AND TREACHEROUS THAN THIS?
I was again literally frozen in terror. A terror that I have never known before this point.
Before I can get too maniacal, the aforementioned women (in their 50’s, a very fit 50’s) came around the bend in a lighthearted, upbeat pace. They are not racing like the man before them, nor are they clinging to their trekking poles and carefully making a shaky commitment to every labored step as I am.
They stop and greet me and without so much as a “Hello”, I blurt out a question as to the quality of the trail further up. I state that I am not enjoying myself anymore and need to make a decision whether to keep going or cut bait and retreat. Can they help?
They reply, “If you don’t like this, you definitely won’t like what comes next. We probably should have worn our crampons.”
That did it. Sometimes the evils of the known are better than the evils of the unknown. I don’t even know what crampons are, and ignore that it rhymes so closely with tampons.
I ask if I can follow them back down and they said no problem.
But I didn’t miss the look they gave each other. It was an exasperated “Oh no, not another annoying newbie”. They said a little impatiently to “just follow their footsteps” and continued on their way.
I said, “Ok, thank you”. But in my head I thought…”screw you, I’ll follow my own footprints”.
There she is. The saucy city girl that will fall down the side of the mountain with her pride intact.
I don’t know if it was because I no longer felt so alone and vulnerable, or because the sun had melted some of the ice (let’s go with that one shall we?), or just because I knew that other people were able to do it, I made it down quickly.
Well quickly compared to how slowly I had gone up after I lost my nerve.
The women had vanished in the distance long ago, but after passing Cedar Glen I relaxed a little and itemized what lessons I had learned this day. If you read them and apply “duh” after each one, you will replicate how I heard them in my head.
1. Fancy shmancy equipment does not take the place of leg muscles.
2. Check said equipment after Curious George has had his hands on it.
3. Don’t explore unfamiliar territory
without Tarzan as a hiking companion, alone (this is problematic to future hikes as just about everything is unfamiliar to me).
4. Stop and turn around when the Asian women do.
5. Write down where I am going in the event I do not return so Curious George will know what to tell the authorities after 24 hours has passed.
6. Do not look down.
I finally make it back to my car (with no water left) and realize that in my excitement to hit the trail, I left the driver side door standing wide open. For 5 hours. On the most crowded mountains in LA and San Bernardino Counties. Oh.My.Gosh.
Thank God my hubby (Curious George) does not know about my blog. This shall be our secret ok?
I quickly assess that my purse is untouched, as are the fancy shmancy trekking poles I bought my husband in the hopes that he would go with me someday.
I am still thanking God for saving me from myself yet again. In so many ways.
Until next time dearest.