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Peak bagging in So Cal
posted by John : February 2-9, 2008


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Not snow


Way back in the Fall my wife and her parents started talking about this amazing trip. I wouldn't classify it as a once-in-a-lifetime type of trip, but certainly not the sort of trip you get to go on more than once every few years if you're really, really lucky. I started getting really psyched for the trip as it drew near.

The trip was going to be just over a week long. Base camp would be a hard day's travel, but would put us within striking distance of five well-known mountains. We got going early on the first day. Although the weather was rather nasty at home I had high hopes it would improve by the time we settled in for the night. Although there were some brief periods of brilliant blue skies they didn't last and as night fell at base camp we were back under the clouds.

The next morning we were all annoyed to see the weather hadn't improved much. It was raining. Nevertheless, we packed up and headed off. There were a surprising number of other folks out in spite of the rain, but they seemed ill prepared. I kept thinking to myself, "Cotton kills," and hoping they'd have the good sense to find shelter.

As we were making our way to the beginning of the real adventure on our first peak we saw a surprising amount of wildlife. We saw oodles of fish in one spot of water and a whole flock of birds and the most amazing flowers ever. Almost everywhere else we looked we saw the influence of mice or rats or whatever. My wife is usually really freaked out by rodents, but she was strangely accepting or maybe just oblivious.

When we finally got to our destination I grew really nervous. I don't do a lot of hiking or climbing or anything that requires safety equipment, but here we were buckling up for the long slow ascent. By the time we finally reached the top I decided that this kind of adventure wasn't really for me, but of course at the top (with a great view, I'll give it that) it was a little too late. Descent was quite a bit faster (as always) and when we were back on level ground I decided once was enough. None of the other trips required the same precautions.

On the way back to camp we saw the biggest frickin' mouse I've ever seen. Some in our party, and I won't name names, but they know who they are, were terrorized and nearly broke down in tears. As it scurried away we focused on dinner and getting ready for the next day, which promised yet more excitement.

As rainy and nasty as the first day out of camp had been the second was the complete opposite. I couldn't see a single cloud in the sky and the green hills looked artificial against the deep azure of the sky. It was still early in the morning and warm enough to be in short sleeves. SWEET.

And then we saw the mice again. Two of them this time. There were squeals and (I kid you not) requests to be carried. Even once the mice were no longer a problem we saw dogs (off leash, of course) and found the home of some squirrels or chipmunks, though we didn't see them. All this was before lunch.

Of the days we were going after mountains this was to be the big day. The goal was to tag three of them before we had to head back to camp.

The first had a LONG approach. There were tons of other folks trudging up, but thanks to a shortcut (no, we didn't cut any switchbacks) we were able to bypass many of them. Of all the mountains this was the one that I was most apprehensive about. It wasn't particularly high or dangerous, but did have a rather circuitous route. As we neared the end of the ascent I could hear a pounding in my ears and I swear I was seeing spots. Closing my eyes and breathing deeply helped me regain my composure, though my companions seemed to enjoy my pain.

We had a ways to go to get to the next peak, which seemed like it was in a different time and place. The terrain grew noticeably drier and the people we saw along the route seemed to be more hickish. This time there was no shortcut so we just followed along the well-trod path. Views were not terribly good, but hurray! We did it. Down we went.

Our final destination for the day was somewhat different. Although it still involved a fair climb there was a ton more water around. It seemed probable that before we were done we would be significantly wet. Not a problem had we done it earlier in the day, but with the sun starting to dip I was a little worried. However, I was distracted by yet another incredible display of wildlife including rabbits and I think I saw a fox. (First time I've seen a fox on a trip like this. Pretty cool.) Sadly, no pics of the animals.

As predicted we wound up damp when a log wound up dipping a little low under our load and there was much splashing. We had a bit of a shiver on the way back to camp, but nothing too bad.

Or at least I didn't think it was too bad. Perhaps I'd gotten a bit of a chill, but I had the strangest thoughts that night. I saw myself back on the same mountains, but in the pitch black. (I guess I didn't really "see" myself if it was pitch black, but you know what I mean.) There was screaming and general unhappiness. I remember flashes of light before it was all done. Finally, I got into a deep sleep.

After a couple of days of working hard we took the next day off. We had a leisurely breakfast at camp, but there was a dog that kept wandering over and making a horrible racket. Toward the end a pair of chipmunks showed up and I think they were after our food, but we prevailed in consuming just about everything without losing too much on the ground. We went swimming, but found the water to be too cold to really have much fun for long. We turned in for an early night.

The next day we wound up circling the last peak on the list, but weren't prepared to make a go of it. Instead we wound up in a place where there were more and bigger bugs than any other I can think of. It seemed everywhere you looked there were ants and ladybugs and creepy crawly things. (Can you tell I'm not a big fan of bugs?) One of the weirdest things was the size of the plants. Huge clovers practically blocked out the sun standing 50 feet tall (ok, so perhaps I exaggerate a little). We ducked into a cave that looked interesting, but my lack of bug-happiness meant that I had some serious freaking out inside when I swear I felt something move across my back. We left far quicker than we arrived. It was a late night, but I didn't have any of the dreams about bugs I had feared so all was good.

Our final mountain day arrived, but I wasn't sure we were going to get to it until late in the day. As we circumnavigated the peak the previous day I had found the pass going near the summit was open, but there were no obvious routes up. We detoured way away from the peak before finally arriving at a point that looked promising, if a little intimidating. The way up was a long, steady climb through a really wet area. By the time we reached a flat spot below the summit we were already pretty wet.

The final stretch to the top proved to be rather trivial, but descent was a near catastrophe. I remember slipping down a little drop into a pool of water that didn't look like it would get me really wet, but in fact splashed water all over my pack and legs. While I looked for a way out I got spun around and started floating downstream. There was another little drop, but then a massive slide at about 45 degrees that seemed to go on forever. I'm pretty sure I screamed like a girl as I plummeted down. Amazingly, I was still in one piece, but frickin' cold. It was a long, squelchy walk back to camp where I was able to change into warm and dry clothing.

Our last full day was pretty anticlimactic except for an amazing sunset with the moon high in the sky. It made me a little sad to think that we were going to have to head home the next day.

On the trip out one of our group started feeling really ill with a fever and wouldn't eat anything. We hurried the best we could, but were already going as fast as we were able. It wasn't a total loss, though. We had pretty good weather and got views of a beautiful peak and a spectacular lake far below us.

Finally back home my daughter decided she needed to climb a peak so she mounted the massive pile of laundry and declared herself a true mountaineer. I couldn't argue with her and I can only hope next time we try a trip like this she can come with us on all our summit attempts.

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