“It is NOT THE MOUNTAIN we conquer —BUT— OURSELVES”
More than a few years ago I had the desire to set out on an overnight journey to get in touch with nature and spend some time in the space that brings so much PEACE to those who allow themselves to feel it’s heartbeat! But who knew a family trip to the Grand Canyon in May would hook me.
The energy that vibrated from those that had come from all over this country and many parts of the world I guess, as I admired those whom had found what I was looking for. My girls and I ventured down only about an hour while on vacation, but I think spending my 53rd birthday by experiencing the sunrise my have played a part in my hunger as well. We arrived at Hopi Point at 4:50am and waited in the canyons aww, innocent and ignorant to what was about to unfold made it even more special in a way! It was like I imagined, but on a larger scale! It was a perfect silence as I looked out among it’s vastness and even though I was in this mist, found it still hard to imagine such a wonder. Seeing backpackers later that morning converging on one the wonders made me want to be apart of this special group of adventures. I had been missing out! Somehow I had been called to this magical place at this point in my life for a reason. I’m just thankful I payed attention.
I was all set to make my overnight backing trip with permit in hand, gear packed and ready to go, hungry for my long awaited journey to begin! My dads health was starting to decline and I didn’t know when he would leave us, but I knew it was just a matter of time. My trip was set for the 13-14th or August and my dad took his last breath at 9:55pm on the 9th. It was by far the most difficult thing for me to endure seeing him decline and being unable to fix his situation as my mom has put it! But knowing that he was not gonna get better, not gonna be able to get around on his own, be dependent, and become even more of a shell of himself gave me the peace that I had already prepared myself for when he decided he had enough. Thanks for running an “AMAZING RACE” pops! After going back in fourth as to whether I would continue with my weekend plans I decided to forgo my trip to spend the night with mom on Saturday and the day with her on that Sunday. It was so cool to crawl into bed with her at 53 and hear stories of their early years together for about two hours before we decided to turn in for the night. In the morning I retreated into the first room I occupied by myself after sharing a room with my brother until 1976. Mom has her routine, she wakes up at 4:30am to water the lawn and turn on the news and I certainly did not want to take away from her norm. Lying there taking in the energy of the only house I’ve known for the last 53 years I was comforted as to how serene it felt. It was as if a fuzzy blanket inthralled itself around me in this newness. We spent the day visited by a few a few family members and friends on and off though out the day before I headed home to my girls. It would be my moms first night alone since dads passing and that was surely concerning for me, but she assured me she would be fine and would have to eventually be faced with this.
During the week while deciding when I would continue with my plans I found out about this 6 Pack of Peaks Challenge which would cover about 80 miles, 27,000 feet in elevation and take roughly 40 plus hours. I decided it was what I needed and it was something Daddy would be up for. The challenge was ending on September 30th which meant I had to do a Peak a week to finish on time. I was all!! The ironic thing was that the overnight trip I planned was a part of the 6 Peaks. And the way my schedule played out being off that Sunday and Monday I could make it the overnighter I planned for and it was the final 6th Peak. Time in nature, by myself, to just be and breathe, “wow!” There was no particular order to complete them, but as a way to prepare one for Mt. Whitney(not something I had set out to do)they where laid out this way because as the degree of difficulty increased so did the elevation. I love to cut against the grain sometime, but because this world was so new to me I decided it was best to listen to those with experience and hike them in the way they were suggested.
Starting with Mt. Wilson, mystical like walking in the clouds by foliage tunnels that seemed to be created by the trees and shrubs. Lots of flying bugs(note to self bring bug spray and a face covering) and peaceful footsteps as Adele serenaded my soul on the way up through my ear buds. During the final push up to the anticlimactic summit I passed a tree in which a squirrel was making a load sound like a turkey(no joke)as to get my attention and I immediately knew he was Daddy. When I looked to my right at the tree to follow the sound, he was shaking his butt at me. It was the most bizarre thing I know(LOL). But it all made sense on the way down because I missed a turn and ended up way off course, but had this not happened I would have ever never saw Pops again through the deer that locked eyes with me as he watched over me on my new journey. It was not until after telling the story to my girls about that laughing squirrel, shaking his butt and sounding like a turkey that it came to me that the tree was a land marker to remember on my decent.
Cucamonga Peak, the second on my voyage started out with a really cool creek that flowed with ease. Old cottages adorned the beginning, some totally intact, while others shells of the original architecture. Lots of smalls rocks to navigate through and around. A bit confusing and slightly difficult to decipher whether you were on trail or not though. Each time I started out on my drive to either of my Peaks in total darkness, their was a slight “not fear” I don’t think, but uncomfortable feeling and this confusion was reminiscent of just that!
Mt. Baldy aka San Antonio Peak was met with excitement because it would be the second time I would have the opportunity to tread my way up this mountain that challenges you on so many levels. It was less crowed this time around and I because I was slightly off my original course ended up seeing a family of Mountain Goats, one of which I’m sure was Pops again. Stronger and more experienced, I was plowing my way up in true baller form. On the peak I chatted briefly with a friendly bunch and even experienced a huge sand storm caused by a Marine Chopper that was landing to deliver supplies for a Race To The Top that would take place the next day(Labor Day)!
San Bernardino Peak would be one of my favorites! It made you an active participant to work for every inch of land that you traversed over, through and around. You ascended fast pretty early and flattened to allow you to catch your breath before making you work a little harder while what you thought could be the peek peering at you in the distance only to run and hide to keep you guessing. I thought the Peak would never come, but a soothing Creek took my mind off the summit while providing me some stillness within the gentle flow. The serenity coming from MY time spent in these mountains was truly allowing me to step out side myself while detaching from the business of my world. Having found my passions of teaching(yoga) and healing(massage) this honor of mountaineering is being met with open arms. That said the group that I met at the Summit and ran into again on the descent because of the altitude sickness of a fellow adventurer decided they would wrap their wings around me and induct me into their group as WE continued down as one. The last few years of my Dads life he would talk to you during a conversation none stop. I would have to honestly cut him off because I had reached my destination while driving some place because I had to go. The leader of this pack however showered me with constant dialogue. It was like music to my ears, I didn’t want it to end!
San Jacinto Peak which started in Idyllwild, one of the longest days because the drive to get to the trailhead was 2 hours which meant I had to get up to leave a lot earlier than the previous hikes. Thank God I love mornings and darkness! I’ve always driven this route with Karina and the girls to camp in Idyllwild, but driving it alone “although familiar”, was different without the normal occupants in the my truck as passengers. It was a very technical climb, with switch backs, exposed roots and lots of boulders. I stopped often to take in the spectacular views that a fellow climber reminded us mountain people that tend to get in the zone(head down) and pushing up. They were breathtaking! The video footage of the last creek before the Summit takes me right back. The final climb to the True Peak would give you the cherry on top, but you had to scramble over big Boulders to get receive it . it was a like a skills test and because I had seen it in pictures online I felt renewed like I was reacquainting myself with an old friend.
My final and long awaited climb to Mt San Gorgonio was the culmination of all the effort I put in and truly prepared for over the last five weeks. I monitored the weather all week and knew it was gonna be a cold one, especially at night where it had been dipping down into the mid to high 30’s. I was prepared with the gear I would need and physically I was in the best shape of my life. So much so that my first four hikes left me super sore the day after, but after San Jacinto it was as if I had not climbed 4,505 feet in elevation during 11.5 miles in just shy of 7 hours at all. Start time temp was about 38 degrees and even with gloves my hands benefited from the extra tight grip I gave my trekking poles. It was the first time I ever carried a full pack of this magnitude(50 pounds)and it challenged me beyond anything I could have ever imagined. The weight on my hips was like shooting fire, I stopped often! It forced me to really slow down and enjoy the ride to base camp where I decided to listen to the advice I received from a few others that had already gone the day before and were on the way down. “Summit today, they advised that way in the morning when it’s freezing cold you won’t have that trek still left to do.” It turned out to be great advice. I felt like this mountain had been waiting for me like me it! It was like a right of passage I earned and I felt honored to be in its presence. A couple of the backers I had befriended on previous hikes were making this #6 as well and we crossed paths again. Aside from the pressure(weight) on my hips I felt peaceful knowing I was in no hurry to rush this experience at all. Everything about this mountain seemed big. The trees, the rocks, more water and there was nothing that caused me to second guess the direction I was going one bit. It was as if the heavens had opened up for me. I had a moment of freedom at base camp when I took my pack off! While being weighted down for so many hours carrying it I felt like I was lifting off from less weight. If the cameras had been rolling I’m pretty sure I would have been levitating(ha ha ha ha ha). The 3 plus miles to the summit was a piece of cake compared to almost 6 miles I had put in up until that point. I was one of the last to make it to the top on that day and it was pretty sweet to take it all in by myself. The view was impeccable and the hum of silence stronger than anything previously lived. I took in this moment and was super grateful! I remembered the recommendation to get back back to base camp by 6pm so that I would have time to eat, clean up and be out of the elements by 7pm because once the sun descends beyond the horizon it gets bone chilling cold.
Pretty much on cue I was escaping into my tent by the time suggested. I had envisioned before this day of star gazing, looking for satellites, meditating and journaling. Not the case at all! It was freaking cold! I was tired, but not sleepy and the cold had me make the decision to turn the lights out early. I knew that preparing a hot meal in the morning was something I wanted no parts of because of the cold so, I knew I’d be blowing out of camp shortly after sunrise. I’m so thankful for yoga and mediation because it allowed me to keep my wits while being forced to be in silence and darkness for 11 hours. I felt like I was being punished in one way, but would emerge a butterfly with new wings after breaking my way out of my cocoon. The inability to find physical comfort during the night caused me to change positions often from right side, left side, to back again all night! At least that’s what it felt like. Regardless I felt rested, energized and thankful in the morning. My trek down was cold, but not as cold as the way up and even though I was making my way down I felt taller(larger) than life itself.
I set out on this journey to live something I cleared my schedule for, to honor a man that introduced me to running, which meant so much to him! I now run five or six days per week. I felt I had an opportunity I could not pass up and took him along with me every step on the way. But I soon learned that he was already in the mountains wondering around, paving the way for me. The Deer that stopped me in my tracks on the way down, just staring at me in the middle of the road. It was a look of sadness. A sadness I saw in Daddy during his last days and I knew it was him calling out to me to come visit. So when Sunday came me and the girls loaded up a picnic food and chairs and went to spend part of the afternoon with the COOL CAT. I really did not speak to him much, I don’t know why? I sense because we had been talking quite a bit over the last six weeks and that we were all caught up I suppose.