Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Conquering At Mt. San Gorgonio


Climbing Mt. Whitney


If you’ve been following the Climbing Mt. Whitney blog posts, you know that I’ve planned to hike up to Whitney by the end of this Summer.  To prepare for this hike, aside from the weekly regimen of exercises and hikes, I’d scheduled to climb some local higher elevation mountains.  Keep in mind, I live at sea-level.  So, anything over one hundred feet is “higher elevation!” 

The first of these higher elevation mountains was Santiago Peak.  This is the tallest peak in Orange County, CA at 5,687 ft.  Christopher T., my techie buddy who happens to be quite an athlete, and I completed this hike on November 9, 2011.  I wrote about it under the post heading, First Long Hike Complete.  The post inspired others to try the same.  One of our readers wrote about his trek in another article posted here under the heading, Hike to Santiago Peak.

Our next adventure was scheduled for March 10th to Mt. San Jacinto at 10,834 ft.  Unfortunately, family matters kept us from trying to conquer this peak.

That left the final hike before Mt. Whitney: Mt. San Gorgonio at 11,499 ft. scheduled for  June 30th.  This post is the retelling of our adventure that day.  Truth be told, this was one of the more grueling hikes I’ve been on and certainly filled with many surprises.  I’ll divulge now that at one point on the hike, I was concerned my hiking buddy wouldn’t make it back down the mountain alive. 

Read on and let me know what you think.

Start of Day
20120630_044030How do I start a long trek?  Same as I do any day, with a hearty breakfast of six egg whites cooked in a skillet with no oil, filled with an ounce of low fat string cheese and toped with half of an avocado and  LOTS of Tabasco Chipotle hot sauce.  Not only is this stuff delicious, it’s filled with protein and the right amount of the good fats that your body needs. 

The catch?  Given that I had to drive about an hour and a half to get to our trailhead in San Bernardino county and our desire to start by about 7 AM, I had to get up around 4 AM to prepare food and myself! Those are crazy hours for me.  I know some farmer out there is thinking, “that’s my every morning wake up time.”  It’s not mine and it was tough, but I’m glad I did it to save time in the day, as you’ll soon see.

After breakfast, I loaded up my gear and helped my hiking buddy, Jiggy, settle in the back of the SUV.  In case you’re wondering, Jiggy is my 75 lbs. American Bulldog mix.  This dog has heart like none other and had already accompanied me on all of my weekly hikes, as well as completed the Santiago Peak hike months earlier.  As I call him, Jiggs the Dude was ready. 

Our drive to the site was fairly uneventful.  The only excitement was during my call to Christopher.  I called to let him know I’d started later in the day and would probably arrive at the Ranger Station about 15 to 20 minutes after 6 AM.  “No problem.  I’m already here and there’s somebody else waiting in line for a permit. See you here",” he told me.

20120630_060548By around sunrise, I’d taken the turn off to the Ranger Station where we’d get our day permit for the hike, and where I was supposed to meet up with Christopher.  This was when I first glimpsed the Mt. San Gorgonio peak as the sun began to rise up from behind it. It was a beautiful sight.  the peak is the highest you see in the picture.  Seeing this, I was excited, yet calm.  The peaceful quite of the drive, with only Jiggy’s heavy breathing and the hum of the road, kept my mind occupied with all the possibilities for how we would celebrate summiting. 

Getting There
20120630_065729As I drove up to the Ranger Station, I remembered my call to them the day before.  After prompting from Christopher, running a last minute check to insure we had all the necessary parking and other permits, I’d called to ask if we needed day permits for our hike.  Wouldn’t you know it? We did.  However, they were fresh out of them.  The Ranger on the phone then asked, “Do you just need a day permit?”  Why yes, that’s all we needed and there were only two of us and my hiking buddy, Jiggy.  She continued, “Well, we always keep three day permits that we hand out at the beginning of each day.  If you can get here before 7 in the morning, you can get one.” 

Wow!  Now that’s lucky.  I asked her how busy it gets in the mornings and if there were others who had called asking for the same.  She tells me this is the busiest time of the season and she couldn’t hold or guarantee we would get a ticket.  It was first come, first served.

Hence, our reason to show up extra early.  Originally, we’d planned to start at the trailhead at 6:30 AM.  Assuming a 10.5 hour hike that would include stops, that meant we’d be done by about 5 PM.  However, given the Ranger Station wouldn’t open until 7 AM, we’d probably be delayed by an hour.  So, accounting for the extra hour and about a two hour drive back home, I’d told the family I’d be back around 8 PM.  To insure they knew how we were doing, I’d also mentioned I’d send text messages on my cell, assuming I had signal, or at least call around 6 PM when I was driving back home.  Piece of cake.  All planning complete.

20120630_065740I pulled into the Ranger parking lot and saw Christopher and another gentleman standing by a blue camping chair, in front of the Ranger Station.  However, there were about a half a dozen other people behind them just milling around.   There sure were a lot of folks interested in this mountain.  At least we wouldn’t be alone if we got lost!

This was at about 6:20 AM. I parked the car, opened the back of the SUV and let Jiggy take a look at the surroundings while still connected to his seat belt harness.  I walked over to meet up with Christopher, and after our hellos, we talked about the trek, what food and equipment we’d each brought, our last minute equipment check the night before in an effort to lighten up the packs, among other things.  We still had plenty of time.  20120630_065751So, I decided to take out Jiggy to relieve him and have him say hello to Christopher and everyone else.

Jiggy was eager to get out.  He is, after all, a big walker.  This guy LOVES any opportunity to be outdoor.  He never tires of a walk, no matter how many times he’s walked the same trail.  There’s always something interesting, some new spot he wants to mark, or a new fellow creature he wants to sniff, investigate or greet.

Everyone at the sight loved him.  I initially let him loose, knowing he would just go over to say hello to everyone by the Ranger Station.  He did. Then he started moving around, relieving himself, wagging his tail, sniffing, marking, sniffing, licking a passerby…you know, just being a menacing love bug.  That’s just the way he is.  He’s always eager to greet people and explore everything around him.  He’s also quite good about sticking around.  He may go off exploring for a short while, but I call him with a, “Let’s go Jiggs…let’s go buddy!” and he comes running, ready to start on whatever adventure we have ahead of us.

20120630_065803You’ve probably already locked in on how much I care for my buddy.  He’s as true a companion as anyone can have and one of the best dogs I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a life with.

You’ll notice I took a lot of pictures of him on this trip.  Part of it is the love I have for him.  The other part is that he’s the inspiration for the organization we’ve setup, CanvasPet.com, where we save pets by selling high quality pet products.  I post all pictures of his treks on our CanvasPet Twitter feed to hopefully inspire others to share their every adventure with their best friend pooch.

In any case, while we were waiting, a whole lot of other hopefuls showed up, all with the goal of getting one of the three remaining day passes.  It was then that we learned you could have up to 12 people per pass.  The hiker that told us about this arrived pretty late and was hoping to join one of the groups that had enough room for him and his three friends.  He asked us and we agreed to have them join us.  My only concern was that I would slow him down since he sounded like a very experienced hiker.  I told him this, but he dismissed it and told me he had “newbies” with him.  So, he wasn’t planning on walking THAT fast!  Nice!!!

20120630_073248Once the Ranger Station opened, we were able to get our pass fairly quickly.  While Christopher signed up for the pass, I loaded up Jiggy and made room for Christopher and his equipment in the SUV.  We would leave his car behind and I would bring him back to the Ranger Station on our way out that evening. 

We soon loaded up and followed our newly found fellow permit holders to the trailhead parking lot.  It didn’t take us long to unload, get our equipment ready, stretch and run a final check on our equipment.

Jiggy was certainly eager to leave.  He was already scouting for the path out of the lot by the time I had all of his equipment ready.  He too wears a pack, carrying his own water and food in a saddle bag.  His pack consists of a harness that has a handle to help lift him up and over boulders, streams and other obstacles. 

For that day, knowing it would be warm, I’d loaded one liter of water in his saddle bag water bladders, along with four cups of kibble in small zip lock bags. I’d also taken  seven liters of water for both of us in my backpack.  I’d packed my water filtration system just in case that wasn’t enough, knowing there were a few streams we would cross where I could fill up.

Trailhead
It was 7:38 AM when we started. Not bad!  We were only off by about 8 minutes from when I thought we’d start. I checked my phone to send my first text to the family and realized I wouldn’t be able to send any: I had no signal there. Neither did Christopher.  So long as we stuck to our return times, we would still be fine.

We walked up past a couple of campgrounds on a fire road with lots of gravel.  I was a bit concerned for Jiggy.  His paws are callused enough, but he has also cut up his paws on granite before.  I’d come prepared for that with some bandage specific for wrapping his paws, but if I had to use that anytime soon, I might as well end the trip early.  After all, I wouldn’t have wanted him to walk on injured paw all the way from the start!

The gravel gave way to dirt and I directed him to walk in areas with less rock.  He knew what he was doing too. Danger averted.

Soon though, he decided to empty his bowels. Why do I bring this up?  Well, I immediately realized that though I thought I’d checked everything before leaving the SUV, I’d forgotten to pack his waste bags!  That’s a double whammy since I was planning on using those for my bathroom duties too  Luckily, I always pack some zip lock bags.  That works well, except they have a small opening, increasing the odds of spilling the stuff…and they’re see-through.  In any case, it had to do.  I just picked up his stuff and wrapped the first bag with a paper towel and put it inside another before shoving in in his saddle pack.  

20120630_075718First misadventure averted! Phew!

By this time the hiking company had pulled well ahead of me and stopped at a crossing. After catching up with them, I learned we had to cross a dry riverbed…that was filled with boulders of varying size.  So much for avoiding rocks! 

I must admit, the riverbed looked beautiful and I was taken by the way the sun was now peaking past the trees and lighting it, showing us the sheer width and magnificence of how much rock mass the river had moved from the top of these great mountains to where we were. 

Impressive indeed.  What’s more, this was the unofficial trailhead and the start of our long hike to the summit.

Hike UP
20120630_081816So, what did we have ahead of us?  Let’s start with some stats about the hike:

  • Elevation at peak: 11,503 ft., making it the highest peak in Southern California
  • Total Elevation Gain: We started at 6,000 ft.  That would make the gain at 5,503 ft.  Do you know how many feet are in a mile? 5,280 ft, which means we were going to gain over a mile of elevation.
  • Total Distance from Trailhead to the Summit: It was supposed to be 7.8 miles, but we started a bit further down, making it 8.9 miles.  This meant a total of 17.8 mile round trip.
  • Average incline:  12% grade.  However, this is only average.  We knew there was a big variation from 10% to 15% and more.

We’d actually read that the first mile to mile and a half of the hike were brutal in that we would hit 20% grade.20120630_081824  It’s the kind of grade where cars have to shift to low gears to stay at 30 to 40 mph. 

It was certainly tough to travel that first mile and a half and we were all glad once we got past it.  With the exception of Christopher and our professional hiking companion, we were all breathing heavily. 

Oh, count in Jiggy as one who absolutely loved going up this hill with no trouble.  He was nevertheless happy once we reached the top and took a quick break, shaking off a bit and enjoying the view of all of the other hikers that were coming up.

It must have taken us an hour just to make it up to that point.  The sun was by now shining directly on us.  20120630_081831We decided to take a quick five-minute break to replenish on water.  Jiggy and I took the opportunity and emptied our bladders too.  I was already beginning to feel warm, pulling my hat further down to keep the sun out of my eyes.

We still had over 7 miles left, but I figured we’d gotten the steepest part of the mountain behind us.  Nothing could stop us now. 

My body was already tiring due to the weight of the pack though.  Given the amount of water I was carrying, the pack was making the steep steps difficult already.  I’d weighed my bag the night before at 28 lbs.  it was substantial especially for the pace we were keeping.  I had to either slow down, drop some weight, or both.  Based on what I’d read in the Hike to Santiago Peak post on this blog, I thought I’d find a nice area to hide some water to use on the way back.  It was cool enough that it made sense, but I wasn’t ready to do that just yet.

20120630_083305We continued our trek and I quickly noticed that our hiking companions, even though they had some “newbies,” were much faster than me.  I wasn’t used to the pace they kept.  I prefered walking at about 1.8 to 2 miles per hour. Accounting for breaks, on average I could walk 1.5 to 1.6 miles per hour.  I knew this pace would eventually give me trouble, but I was hoping for the best.

It took us a while longer, but we eventually arrived at the official part of the trail where we needed our day pass.  We were thankful we got one too.  It wasn’t too long before we met up with a Forest Ranger who asked for it.  I write “lucky”  since it meant the group had to stop and wait for me to catch up. Man I needed that rest!

In all of this, Jiggy was still very eager.  In fact, he was wearing away at my shoulders with his pulling on the leash.  Every time we stopped, he would look on to the rest of the trail, wanting to catch up with the “pack.”  At each stop I would give him some water, check his paws to insure they weren’t torn and just check his overall well being.  He didn’t care much what I did with him.  He just wanted to keep walking!

Knowing how there were rattlesnakes in the area, and following the local laws, I didn’t want to let him off leash.  Nor did I want to hand him to one of the others since I was concerned about imposing his pulling strength onto them.

20120630_08331720120630_08373820120630_08405920120630_102016

Eventually, I gave in and let him off leash. This was well after we’d passed the midway point.  I watched him closely for a while and noticed he kept close to the others, remaining on the trail.  This was a good change of pace for me too as it allowed me to rest my shoulders and enjoy the scenery.  The shot below is right before we reached a final stream and where I finally dropped off four liters of water, more than half of what I was carrying.  My three liter water bladder was mostly empty at this point, but I figured I’d fill it at the stream.

(Quick note on the picture: It’s a panoramic composed of four pictures.  They didn’t align right.  Can you find where the image shearing took place?)

Panoram

Our lunch break was at about noon at the stream.  I took the chance to fill up my water bladder using the cool water from the stream.  Jiggy found a friend here too, another dog that was off leash.  We had to leash Jiggy for a short time to insure they didn’t get too tangled up, especially since he was se eager to play with the other dog. Since Jiggy is not too keen on getting into water, I took advantage of the situation to lead him down to the stream to meet up with the other dog while I wet him down.  The weather was certainly quite warm by this time, likely in the mid 70’s, though it felt much warmer given our hike.  Nevertheless, I figured it was a good opportunity for Jiggy to cool down and insure he didn’t get heat exhaustion.

After about a half hour of resting, eating, and filtering water for everyone in the group, including the liter refill to Jiggy’s water bladder, we decided to take on the last leg of the trip.  I checked Jiggy’s paws again and noticed he’d cut the inside edge of a back paw.  I took out the elastic bandage and covered it up, after cleaning the cut thoroughly. I also checked that the wrap wasn’t too tight or agitating him.  He seemed fine.

Our pit stop at the stream was at 9,400 feet and we had a little over 2,000 feet and 2.5 miles to get the summit.  We figured it would take us another two to three hours to reach it.

An Alarming State
20120630_135101And that’s when I really felt it.  It wasn’t long after we left the stream that I felt lightheaded and, in general, a bit queasy.  Not only that, I had to have a bowl movement.  I told the others to leave me since I was walking at a snail’s pace at this point.  Even the use of walking poles weren’t helping me lighten the load.  Jiggy must have sensed I couldn’t keep up and he hung back with me.  I took my time and cleaned up, eventually taking up the walk again.  It wasn’t long before I got to one of the many switchbacks on the trail and noticed Christopher was waiting there for us.  He had given me room to relax and take care of my business, while keeping an eye out to insure I didn’t need help. 

We were now at 9,800 ft.  We had only gone about half a mile to get to this elevation.  I was drinking water at about every other step and sweating it all out.  It almost seemed I was just taking a shower, though most of the sweat was drying off of me quickly. 

If possible, my walking had slowed even more.  I was feeling a bit of pressure in my head and realized I may be affected by the elevation.  One quick look at my watch told me we were at 10,000 feet.  I stopped and took another swig of water from my water bladder while giving Jiggy some too. 
 20120630_180155
I turned to Christopher and told him I was done.  My legs were burning quite heavily at this point and I realized I wasn’t in the proper shape to summit.  My body wasn’t breaking down blood sugars fast enough to replenish my muscles.  I had to stop.

EmptyWaterBottlesChristopher understood and asked what we should do.  I saw he was perfectly fine and knew he would have to come back down our way.  So, I told him Jiggy and I would rest before heading down to the stream where we’d wait to walk back down with him.  I thought he should summit if he could.  It seemed like a good idea, but he was out of water. He asked if I could give him some of mine.  No problem, I thought…until I opened my pack and realized I’d drank all of my three liters of water in less than a mile! 

He was on his own, as was I. 

I checked Jiggy’s water supply…and breathed a sigh of relief: he still had 20 oz. left.  That should’ve been enough to get him back down to the stream.  This was a big concern for me since dogs can get dehydrated and overheated quickly.  This is due to their lack of sweat glands.  They use their tongue, partially sweat from the padding of their paws and raise their hair to cool off.  Of course, with Jiggy, raising his hair doesn’t do much since he has very short hair.  I figured with less than a mile, downhill walk descending 600 ft. would be easy enough after some rest.

After about a half hour, I felt a bit revived and thought it best to start walking down before it got too late in the day.  The time was about 1:30 PM and we were still at 10,000 feet.  After packing Jiggy with his saddle bag again and putting my backpack on, we started off…but not for long.  Jiggy couldn’t walk very fast, or just wasn’t willing to.  He made some whining sounds.  I figured I’d walk ahead of him, even though he had no leash, to motivate him.  All I had to do was call to him, “Let’s go Jiggs…let’s go buddy!”

But that wasn’t working.  He laid down and refused to get back up.  We were at a dead stop!

StopSign

Recupe
I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I suspected Jiggy was overheating.  I’d checked him for dehydration earlier at 10,000 feet by looking around his gums to insure they were wet, and pulling up at his neck skin.  The skin had returned to flat in two to four seconds, which meant he was fine. What’s more, he had drank some water.

20120630_135040Once he stopped and refused to get up, I checked him again.  You can see in the picture that the corners of his mouth were now dry.  When I checked his neck, the skin would remain wrinkled and pulled up.  That was not good. 

I figured I’d give him some water.  He did what I was afraid of…he refused to drink it.  So, I now had a dehydrated dog that refused water.  I checked his body temperature and he was warm…he was beginning to overheat.  this was not good at all.  The only positive note was that he was still alert and looking around at the wildlife.

I decided to cool his body with some of his remaining water and forced some down his throat.  This is one of the best characteristics of American Bulldog and American Pit Bull Terriers: even when they’re in trouble, no matter what uncomfortable thing you do to them, they trust and let you.

We spent another half hour and finished his water.  He seemed to gain a bit of strength and we walked…for only 100 ft.  We stopped again and rested for another 15 minutes.  I was concerned about not having enough water and time to cool him off before getting to the stream.  The remaining half a mile to the stream may as well have been 50 miles.  We weren’t going anywhere. 

I began asking for water from other hikers, not for myself, but to cool off Jiggy and hydrate him.  Everyone was on a pretty tight water budget this far up past the trailhead, but anyone that had any amount of water helped.  You have to admire the compassion and the camaraderie hikers have.

By about 3 PM we had come about a third of a mile and 400 ft down in elevation.  Jiggy had resisted walking, even when I lifted him via his saddle bag harness.  He had some scrapes too.  I was now thinking of other means of getting him to the stream…and concerned that I would lose him this close to the water. I vowed that no matter if he survived the day or not, I would stay with him and get him back home.  I knew he would never abandon me and I meant to never abandon him!!!

One of the groups that came by were quite concerned about him.  They combined and gave us close to another liter of water.  I used it all to cool him down and force down his throat in the hopes of hydrating him.  They also offered to carry my backpack if I thought I could carry him.

I didn’t want to chance staying there any longer.  We were at a stage on the trail where I could hear the stream…it was so close. We had to try something different.

I accepted their offer, gave them my hat and backpack, hoisted him up and held him close to my chest.  He was a heavy load at 75 lbs.  it didn’t help that we were at a steep decline, but I took my steps slowly to insure we didn’t fall.  The walk was slow, but we were making progress. 

It was quite tiring though and I had to put him down to rest for a minute.  One of the group’s members asked if I could carry him “fireman rescue” style, over my shoulders with his front and rear legs draped over me chest.  Sure thing, I thought.  That’s exactly what we did, though with some difficulty at first getting him on my shoulders. 

I admired my dog for his willingness to let me do what I was.  He was scared and shaking, but willing.  I had to stop two or three times until we were only a couple of switchbacks away from the stream.  I was quite tired at this point, but knew we would make it to the stream. 

And then Jiggy’s buddy, the dog we met earlier at the stream, came around a corner, downhill, toward us.  The dog and his guardians had summited and were on their way back.  Jiggy got up from where he was laying and wagged his tail.  He wanted to walk again.  His shaking stopped and he was moving, not rapidly, but moving nevertheless, following the dog. 

We walked the rest of the way and I immediately took him to the stream, asking the other dog’s guardian to stay with us so that I could soak Jiggy.  Once I got him cooled off, I took out my sweater top, laid it down on a flat piece of ground and asked him to lay there.  he did with some hesitation, but also what appeared as relief.

It was now 4 PM and we were recuperating.  I kept petting him and speaking to insure he knew I was with him, in an attempt to comfort him.

It was around 4:15 PM when the “newbies” from our hiking group made it back to the stream.  They too had turned before summiting, though they’d gone much further than Jiggy and I did. 

By about 4:30, Christopher and the rest of the gang showed up.  I recounted what had happened, leaving out my bouts of desperation. I told them I would wait another hour before attempting to walk back down, though I was willing to stay the night if Jiggy couldn’t walk.  I figured with the packed extra thermals, emergency blankets and the plenty of campers around us, we should make it through the night.  I also still had two cups of kibble for Jiggy and some nutrition bars for myself.  With the water at hand and my remaining three liter that I would pick up on the way down we would be fine.

Christopher said he would wait to go down with me.  The others had to get back home, but it was Christopher’s words that reassured me we had a friend and we’d make it back that night.  I was also determined since I wanted to get Jiggy to safety.  Of course, I also had to take Christopher back to his car at the Forest Ranger station.
 
Descent
We started our trek down at about 5:30 PM.  Do you recall the stream elevation?  9,400 ft.  Make a note as this is important for a later revelation.

We moved slowly at first and had to stop about 15 minutes into the walk.  Jiggy wanted to rest.  I took the opportunity to check his paws.  By this point I wasn’t concerned whether he would cut them due to the weight he was carrying since I’d already taken his saddle bag and the full harness off.  I was more concerned he would wear out his pads from inflammation and hitting a sharp rock.

20120630_194121His paws were fine, though his wrap from earlier had worn off.  So, in the process of re-wrapping that paw, I took Christopher’s advice and made him temporary “boots” by wrapping the others. 

He looked kind of cool.  The wraps looked just like snug socks and they worked beautifully.  He was ready to move again at this point.

This time, when he got up, he wanted to move ahead.  So, I didn’t leash him.  Within a few feet, he was walking ahead of Christopher.  Suddenly, it hit me: he may have had altitude sickness as well as been dehydrated.  I checked my watch: we were just below 9,000 ft.  That had to be it.  In fact, I remembered reading that dogs may feel the affects of altitude sickness earlier than humans, at about 8,000 ft. 

20120630_084050The rest of the way down was quite uneventful.  We stopped by where I’d earlier dropped off four liters of water.  Christopher took them, though we emptied some of the water.  He had to carry the water bladders since I had already fully stuffed my bag with Jiggy’s saddle bags. 

On our way down, we some some other great landscapes, though I was just mostly relieved about Jiggy.  I knew he would be fine, though I would spend more time acclimating him at 6,000 to 8,000 feet should I ever decide to take him on a high altitude walk again. 

It was now past 6 PM and I realized I had to contact my family.  They would be expecting a call from me right about now, supposedly on my drive home.  Huh!

I checked my phone and found no signal.  I kept checking about every half hour with no luck.

By the time we reached the SUV, the sun had already set and it was 8:20 PM.  That was almost 13 hours after we’d started the hike. It sure had been a long day, but also it’d been much past when I said I’d call home. I was hoping everyone at home was resting or preoccupied and had forgotten about when I said I’d call.  May be I could catch them just when they thought something may be amiss. 

We loaded up all our gear and ourselves in the SUV.  Jiggy was a trooper. Though he had walked gallantly all the way down from 9,000 ft., he was clearly tired.  He jumped into the back of the SUV, found his blanket and immediately laid down to rest.  I gave him some water, changed clothes and jumped in too.   We were ready to go home and put an end to this long, adventurous day.

Turmoil At Home
As it turned out, I had no signal on my cell phone until I reached the Ranger Station…and then my phone began to vibrate multiple times, alerting me to the large number of text and voice messages.  This was NOT good.

helicopterI called home immediately, without listening to or reading any messages, and after a frantic few seconds conversation confirming I was alive and well, my wife told me she had to hang up and make some calls…she had alerted the local police and rescues.  There was already a rescue team who was preparing to fly out.  Holly cow!  We both immediately hung up as Christopher told me he had also received a voicemail from my wife on his cell phone.

I later learned that my family had tried to locate me since about 8 PM.  They had called the cell phone company asking for my GPS location. Of course, with no cell reception, they had no way of finding me. 

They had then called friends asking if they knew my day’s waypoints.  Though I’d provided some details of my trip, I’d not told them the exact trail I was taking.  So, they had scrambled and, quite intelligently, figured out which one we’d taken based on my first photo of the day at the Ranger Station that had automatically uploaded to my Google+ page.

In short, they were rightfully concerned and suspecting the worst.  In a later call to them I apologized, though I’m sure it didn’t take away all the angst they went through.  When I recounted part of our story, I left out how close I thought I’d been to losing my hiking buddy.  When I hung up the phone, all I could do was drive…and tear up at the thought of how I’d risked my pal, Jiggy’s life.  He’s my one and only Jiggs the Dude and I sure don’t want to lose him anytime soon.  In the midst of all this self-lamenting and regrets, I was also glad to remember how we’d stuck together, as hikers should, to insure we both made it back down!

End of Day
Burger On my drive back I realized neither Jiggy nor I had had any food for a few hours.  We both deserved a treat.  I stopped in Loma Linda to use a restroom and help Jiggy relieve himself too.  I saw an In-N-Out and pulled it.  Immediately I thought we’d just eat there too.  But how can we both enjoy a burger together?

After letting Jiggy roam on the parking lot grass a bit, putting him back in the SUV and opening all of its windows, I went into the restaurant.  I too used the facilities, then ordered a 4x4 protein style (no buns, four pieces of meat, four pieces of cheese wrapped in lettuce) for me, along with four plain patties for my buddy…to go!

After picking up the order, we spent the next half hour in the back of the SUV, with the tailgate open, watching the passing cars and people, enjoying our food together.  Jiggy just lapped up his patties with delight, looking up with a pair of thankful eyes. We were both just a couple of dudes enjoying sharing and living the moment.  The cool air felt great, the ice cold water went down well, and the food made us both enjoy even more what we had together…our friendship. 

Lessons Learned
There are too many lessons to spell out here, but I’ll just list highlight a handful:

  1. Whatever you plans, make sure you share them with those close to you in case they can help
  2. When taking a risk, take it with friends.  I owe Christopher a debt of gratitude for giving me the strength I needed on multiple occasions he offered his help, whether explicitly or not, on the way up and, most importantly, on the way down the mountain
  3. No matter the circumstances, be thankful for what you have, even if it’s just being thankful for the scenery and the experience
  4. Giving up at the first sign of danger is not an option
  5. Not reaching a goal is not giving up, so long as you come back to try, try again


What’s Next
That last lesson should give you an idea of the next step.  I’ve delayed the Mt. Whitney trip to next year, and decided to ascend Mt. San Gorgonio again, but summit this time.  I know that I failed the ascent since I wasn’t physically prepared for it. 

Here’s the interesting part though. Since I think I need two to three months of training, this’ll mean ascending San Gorgonio in the October / November timeframe.  Will there be snow? How will I prepare for that?

What I know is that I must conquer my physical weakness exposed at this mountain, and I will not stop until I’ve summited its peak.   Of course, to insure I don’t risk anyone’s but my own safety, I’ll do this without Jiggy.  I’ll just make sure to come back with a good story!

SanGorgonio


What Do You Think


Feel free to share your comments below, including your own harrowing hiking and climbing stories.


Photo Credits


Your truly, Steve A. Johnson, Larry Kwan, Dave Goodman, Marshall Astor, rmceoin