Sunday, January 03, 2010

Bagging Mt. Baldy

I've decided to branch out and try some new outdoor adventures. When my friend said he was hiking up Mt. Baldy and invited me, I thought, "Sure. Why not?" After a trip to REI, I had the equipment but absolutely no idea what to expect. Mt. Baldy, also known as Mt. San Antonio, sits at 10,068 feet, the highest peak in Los Angeles County and the San Gabriel Mountains. This time of year, the top was covered in a solid, 2-feet of snow. Snow? I hadn't seen snow for 4 years!

Decked head to toe in a smurfy blue outfit (no one said I looked like a freakin' smurf!) with brand-spankin'-new, never-before-worn, hiking boots, we set out, trekking poles, crampons, and snowshoes in tow. We started up a fire road. Okay, I can handle that. The guys started talking about making sure not to "miss the trail". All of a sudden, they said, "There it is!" They were pointing to a tiny deer trail to the left, narrow, rocky, cliff on one side, that snaked up into the trees and disappeared. We were only 1/4 mile of the way in. The group headed up the trail like it was normal. I saw 2 guys coming down. Do these people think they're deer? I followed meekly, like a lamb.

Matt and Marie on the way up

Then, patches of ice and snow appeared, like random blobs, threatening to make me slip and tumble down the mountain to my death. Apparently, I was the only one bothered by this as I penguin-baby-stepped-waddled across the icy spots. Each step was very tedious, as I stabbed the trekking pole into the ground and leaned on it to make sure I wouldn't fall. I noticed I was the only one using this strategy to manuever across the trail. Everyone else was simply walking. Hmmm. My method was using an incredible amount of energy and required inordinate upper body strength. Mark suggested I put the crampons on. Huh? What are those? I borrowed a spare pair of semi-crampons (not the full spikes; more like toothpicks) and was instantly a much happier sailor.

--The group at the start (Mark, me, Marie, & Matt; Leonard, not shown)

We reached the Sierra Club lodge where I took a much-needed bathroom break. It had only been 3 miles, and we were just getting started. I was hydrating A LOT, encouraged by my more-experienced friends, who knew drinking lots of water was key to adjusting to the altitude. Of course, my period decided to start that very day, and I don't know if it was the altitude or what, but it was like the Red Sea. I had brought the necessary supplies but used them all up pretty quickly. Argh! Are you kidding me? If you're squeamish, I'm not apologizing. I have to live it! I was just glad I wasn't swimming in the Cove that day; can we say "Shark Bait"? One of the guys had napkins. I thanked him for the MacGyver-style diaper. Who would have thought I would need Crampons and Tampons at the same time?

We continued our hike upwards; our goal was to reach the summit, if possible. The snow pack was continuous now, and we were all donning extra layers, crampons, trekking poles, and ice axes. I was slipping quite a bit in my "toothpick" crampons but making good progress going up. We had only made it about 1/4 mile when we hear, "Help! Help!" We spotted 2 agitated dogs, circling their troubled owner. The more experienced mountaineers in our party carefully made their way over to the fallen victim, who had slipped, twisted an ankle, and was precariously stuck in a steep part of the snow bowl on an ice pack, ready to fall down the mountain if he breathed too hard. His friend was too inebriated to be anything but a hindrance. Both of them were wearing nothing but running shoes. The rescuers hacked a trail for the victim(s) laboriously with the ice axe. Meanwhile, as Marie and I waited, I had the overwhelming urge to pee..again. I had been hydrating very, very well. I did my business by the tree, and felt much better (and warmer) afterwards. Anyone know why you feel warmer after you pee? Doesn't make sense to me. Good use of the time while we waited, I thought. The inebriated victim was uninjured but very unsteady and kept slipping and falling (the running shoes didn't help). As he came closer, he slipped and skidded across the snow pack, aiming (seemingly) right for me. Ummm, big drunk guy rolling like an avalanche right for me? I wasn't about to go down with him! I did a quick side-step, dropped a knee to the ground, and reached for him with my arms to try to grab him, succeeding in at the very least, slowing his momentum. I smiled internally, realizing he had skidded right over the middle of my freshly-made, pee-covered snow. He collided gently with a rock and skidded to a halt, completely unharmed. He fell and slipped and skidded several more times before making it back to the hut.

--Mark and Marie on the way to the summit.

After a looong time, we got the pair situated and continued on our way. We had been delayed by quite a bit. Reaching the summit now would be questionable. But we would try. Maybe mountaineering with a bunch of type-A, goal-oriented triathletes isn't such a good idea? Since I was the newbie in the group, they asked how I felt and how far I wanted to go. I felt great! Wonderful! I had never been this high, altitude-wise, before, never been tested, and felt exhilarated. No headache, no nausea, and only a slight shortness of breath but no biggie. Actually, I couldn't figure out why everyone kept stopping to rest. Of course, I had a secret weapon--a big bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies in my pocket that I nibbled continuously. I must have annoyed everyone enough as I chirped away and scampered upwards because, eventually, they waved me away, actually humoring me by letting me lead the way up for a bit. Anyway, I desperately wanted to reach the summit. I should have thought a little more carefully when Mark asked, "You have your headlamp, right?"

We continued climbing. Suddenly, there were no more pine trees. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped. It was 32 without the windchill, most likely in the 20s with the wind (even though the winds were mild). Actually, when the sun blessed us with its presence, it was delightful. I couldn't believe how one minute, it would be sunny and pleasant, and the next, it was windy, cloudy and cold. Everything was so transient.

--view of the desert from the summit

And then, we reached the summit. It was a small plateau, covered with a smooth blanket of snow. The view was incredible. To the east, I saw the Anza Borrego Desert. It was like walking on the moon. Another planet. 10,000 feet. I felt incredible. Mark said, "You bagged your first peak!" I hadn't even realized it until that moment. It was akin to crossing a finish line. Thanks, Mark. You will always be my Mike Reilly of the mountains.

--bagging Mt. Baldy!

We stopped to eat in a protected grove of pine trees. I gobbled down everything I had in my pack and most of what anyone offered me from theirs as well. The wind picked up and the sun disappeared, and I started to get miserably cold. The group waved me onward. Since I would be the slowest descender of the group, it was a good solution. Apparently, as the saying goes, the climb doesn't begin until the descent. I know now this is all too true but had no idea that going down is twice as hard as getting up. Going up is easy. You're excited, it's easy to see where to put your feet, and you have lots of energy. After reaching the summit, all the wind is gone from your sails. And it's getting dark and cold, you're using less energy so you're colder, but you're using incredible amount of quad strength. And it's hard on the ole' knees! I had never worn crampons before. Luckily, Mark traded me the toothpick ones for the sturdy, iron nails ones, which makes you feel like Spiderman. You can walk on the ceiling with those things. I felt much more comfortable. However, it's a little unnerving going down. One misstep.....

--view from our lunch spot

--She's coming down the mountain!

I may have been a little mountain goat going up but I was like a cat stuck in a tree coming down. No one seemed to mind waiting for me. Unfortunately, we overshot the trail coming down and had to traverse across on a loosely-packed, snow covered part of the bowl for a short way to get back to the trail. It was steep and tedious work. Matt ice axed a path for Mark, who was wearing the measly toothpick crampons; not good in steep sections. Even though I had sturdy crampons, I still used a lot of mental forethought before every step, which was simply exhausting. We reached the trail safe and sound and made our way back to the hut at dusk.

--view coming down in the late afternoon light

We stopped to put on our headlamps and stuff our faces one last time. Only 3 miles to go. Of course, since it was dark, and the trail was narrow, it was the toughest 3 miles. Also, the ice was melting and mixing with rock, which was difficult to navigate with crampons. Do I keep them on? Take them off? After tripping and stumbling about 3 times, which put me exactly at the spot where all the ice had melted, I eagerly took them off. I was the last to take them off. I hate ice! My quads were toast by that point. And I was mentally exhausted. Hiking downhill by headlamp is actually quite difficult! I tripped, fell, stumbled my way down a few more times but all very minor.

--donning my headlamp
At last, we made it back to the car. We were victorious! We made our way to the closest Outback Steakhouse and gorged on meat, Bloomin' Onions, and some sort of warm, wonderful, delicious brownie sundae concoction. All I can say is, when can we do it again?!
--crumpled bottles back at sea level


Ordinarylife said...

congratulation! And I agree, coming down is always much harder.

It looks beautiful.

Jack said...

Happy New Year Rachel! Coming down is the hardest, but the view on top is worth every painful step! Great pictures!

Leah said...

Sounds v. cool. You don't look like a Smurf! Maybe if your pants had been blue, too. Hehe.

bunnygirl said...

Congratulations on the hike! I've never hiked in snow before. And heck yes, on the downhills. I thought it was just me, with my lousy depth perception, so it's interesting to know I'm not the only one.

teacherwoman said...

Now that sounds like fun! I remember climbing the Superstition Mountains in AZ, wanting to go to the top but only making it a little more than half way... thankful for that on the way down as it was sooo much harder going down.

Wes said...

You earned a healthy dose of meat and brownie concoction after that! nice job!!

Christi said...

WOW, that sounds like a great adventure! Thanks for sharing!

Chris said...

"Who would have thought I would need Crampons and Tampons at the same time?"
That might be the most hilariously gross thing I've ever heard!
Congrats Rachel, Mt. Whitney next year? :)

Esther @ Online Easy Find said...

Spectacular photos, great story - that would have been amazing for your fitness training. What a great thing to do to maintain your fitness in the snowy season!

Daniel said...

Hi Baldy
Your decision is very good for this environment.Your friend circle is also good.And you go in the highest peak and mountain...........................Ice Bagger