Friday, January 30, 2009

Almost Healed

My legs have been jelly since last Saturday after my hike up Villager Peak, and just today I'm barely beginning to feel an inkling of strength. I've been hobbling around like a 90 yr. old all this week and've had to cancel my hiking plans for this weekend. But now that I can tell my injury is almost over I am excited about getting back outside and ending this weirdness of being this put out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Bat in Alonso's Sheep Afro

Last November I took my 3 brothers Ricky, Andres and Alonso to the Barrett Flume off Highway 94, an aquaduct used to get water through through hills in Dulzura. The flume looks like a waterslide hanging off the edge of the hillside a hundred feet in the air on top of a train trestle. The flume also covered sections of tunnel where you can crawl around and supposedly it’s a herpetologist’s dream because all sorts of snakes fall in all the time and then they can’t get out.
The four of us began our hike by scrambling into one of these tunnels. Immediately it reminded us all of Temple of Doom and we were repeating and laughing "Docta Jones, it feels like I step on fortune cookies" in four different and equally horrible Chinese accents, but the joking ended quick. I had the 3 of them leading the way in the front with a lantern and soon they were moving dead slow through the darkness, stopping, calling back to me and asking over and over "What’s down there, did you see that, how far does this go on?"
The tunnels are around 3 feet tall and covered with cobwebs and shed snake skins, all of us are huge and we barely fit. My brothers were creeped out by all the spiders in their face but they stayed calm enough because they loved the little wild country mice with their funny staring faces and heads as big as their bodies hiding in cracks and watching us giants mosey down their cave. Finally coming out of that first tunnel I show them how short a distance we actually covered and they can’t believe how long it seemed being so afraid and blind in the dark.
We crawl through a couple more tunnels then cross the flume. My brothers feel like their crossing some death rope bridge, they wonder "Will it hold our weight?" and I tell them how my friend Kevin and I climbed down the trestle one time all the way to the bottom and they make me explain to them exactly how, exactly where I put my feet and where I held on and they tried to put together the action movie sequence in their mind.
Coming off the flume we scramble up a small dry waterfall and then a slide full of boulders. We find a bee hive and some dragonflies and we chase a tiny frog the size of a dime and try to catch it but lose him in some cracks. I work on teaching them some counter-balance climbing techniques and simple route finding through the steeper rocks.
On the way back to the car we go through another tunnel and at the very end of it we see a small brown bat hanging upside down from the low cieling of the tunnel. We wont get out without crawling on all fours and scraping by the bat within an inch of our faces. So we try yelling at him and throwing things next to him trying to scare him off without hurting him. My brothers ask "What do we do?" and I leave it up to them, I tell them I'll do whatever they want to do and I reassure them that first off the bat probably wont bite and even if he does, and if, if he has rabies, then we can still get to the hospital with plenty of time and the only thing that will suck is the needle in the stomach. I assure them that there is no risk of them being seriously hurt, only of having to go through a bunch of pain and time at the hospital.
Alonso takes the lead and makes me so proud he says "We've come this far, its only a bat, lets just go for it, lets go!" So we count to 3 and I plow the way in the front and we all give our war yells, "No turning back!" and we come out of the tunnel still yelling and looking for the bat, its in the middle of us doing loops and then he flies back to the safety of his tunnel. Alonso is still yelling and swatting himself after everybody is done and he explains how the bat had got caught in the hair of his sheep afro. "Did you see that?! I was all like AH, and then it was all like eeeeeeeeee, and the I came out and....OHMYGAWD!"
It was a good adventure, we got to dance with a bat, and we came out

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Villager Peak (5755 ft.)

Late again, wasn't out of the car and on my way until 11.
I picked up a hitchiker 2 blocks from my house on the bridge before the 5 freeway entrance. He was lanky and dressed in levis from head to toe, his face was clean but dark and worn, and he told me his name was Rafferty and he said he was headed to Tucson, Arizona and he couldn't tell me what for but he gave me the rest of his life story. He used to work on every sort of plane, he was a riveter, but he could work on engines too, and somewhere along the line the Government put a chip in his brain that enabled him to speak every language in the world. He doesn't know why they did that to him, and he said he didn't remember performing any missions but it could be that they were erased. So somewhere along the line, his chip is damaged and now when he speaks in different languages they all come out at the same time and he'll talk for example in "Eskimo-Hungarian-Lebanese" or "Chilean-Japanese" and what he saying will make sense but other people ust dont know those dialects. "So you can see the difficulty I have in communicating with ordinary people who don't have the chip." I drove him as far as the Golden Acorn Casino then turned back around to get on the 79. Rafferty I hope you find your Big Rock Candy Mountain in Tucson! Where dreams go to die!
Villager Peak came into view as I drove down the S-3 into Borrego Springs. Speeding towards it, it seemed to shrink away into the distance the closer and closer I got, it seemed to runaway from me, and I became so anxious and aware of the time I was losing that I'd catch myself staring at the peak and yelling at it to stop running away, instead of looking at the road. Finally I hit S-22 and was headed towards the trailhead where I would retrace a failed 12 mile route from before (I had underestimated the climb and run out of water in august 109 degrees, I turned back only a mile before the summit). Instead, I remembered what I'd read about some Italian climber who'd said something like "Let a drop of water fall from the summit, that is the line I will climb." and I decided to climb in style instead. I did a u-turn on the highway and turned onto a dirt road and drove straight towards the face of the peak, past some trailer camping sites,to the edge of a dry lake bed. A sign said no unauthorized vehicles were permitted to drive on the lake bed so I parked my car and began my hike from there.
I ran across the entire dry lake bed, anxious to get started on my way UP, I couldn't stand wasting any more time moving on flat ground anymore. Dust devils danced and dissolved around the bleached lake bed, egging me on. I still had more than a mile of mazing of washes and rock slides to get through before I'd be on my way UP.
An hour after leaving the car I came to the base of the peak and found what I thought was the steepest route of ridges and started up in what was now a race against time because although this time I'd brought along 2 flashlights, I'd realized that I still had no way to find my way back to the car at night, there being no markers around the lake bed. I came up with the idea that I could use lights on highway as sort of moving fixed stars like a sailor. I took note of the distant reflection that was my car, its position to the highway and to the start of my climb, then tried to formulate a triangle to remember and follow on my way back. I hoped it would be enough to get me near enough to my car in the dark to locate it with the car alarm on my keys.
Sprinting up the ridge I was constantly checking to see how much further I had left to go, trying to calculate if I would make it to the summit and back down in time to find the car. After a while I decided I should just dedicate myself to reaching the peak no matter how late it got, I took my watch off and stuffed it in my pocket and kept up my burning pace. I ditched the helmet I'd brought and my extra jug of water to shed some weight.
The peak kept up to its old tricks, moving further and further away, this time as I approached on foot. As always, what looks like an easy jaunt up a nothing hill turns out to be a death march up a mounatin that felt like it was growing bigger and bigger underneath me. I weaved up boulders and thornbush on a 60 degree incline, occasionally sparking a rock slide but nothing ever serious. I never stopped to eat or rest for more than 2 minutes, eating and drinking on the run. Heat and solitude played the same 20 seconds of a song on repeat over and over in my head all the way up and I couldn't wait to wash them out of my head with something new once I got back to the car radio. During moments of lucidity I took a look around me and smiled at where I was, tromping up a very beautiful very inconvenient piece of the Earth, where only mountain lions and bighorn sheep bother to walk. It refilled my heart with enough gasoline to blast up a dozen Villager Peaks.
During last 1000 feet before the summit an old toothache kicked in with the altitude and colder air (below 5000 ft and above 8 or 9000 ft my tooth is fine, weird), blind with pain and out of breath I finally hit the summit. I stayed just long enough to carve my name in the register with a pen that didn't work, and I took only one picture with the camera on timer and hoped that I would come out in it. I had a glance at a sliver of the Salton Sea on the other side of the peak but couldn't make myself care enough to spend 5 extra minutes hiking to a good viewpoint, by now my toothache didn't even let me walk straight. My tooth blowing up trains inside my head, and my small hope for making it back down the mountain before dark, I just needed to get back down as fast as I could.
In my rush down I made my descent following a different set of ridges, and several times I ended up slipping into some loose rock slides and had to backtrack onto one of the main ridges. I never found my helmet or extra water so I began saving my drink for when it would be dark. I also started a lot more serious rock slides on my way down, after every one I would sober up and concentrate on better steps. Better to make it down late and in one piece than battered and dashed on a bunch of boulders and cactuses. I came to terms with having to suffer a much slower and laborous descent in the dark and dedicated myself to slower smarter footwork. It did get dark before I was off the peak, but my salvation I suddenly saw a half dozen campfires starting up around an oasis at the edge of the dry lake bed. I headed staright for it.
Making my way back over the washes, my first flashlight died after half an hour and I was still only a third of the way down the rocks. I recalled getting stuck lost at night with my friends Will and Kevin outside of Alpine two years ago and us finding our way back using a cell phone and holding it to the ground for miles, for 4 hours, following some old tracks in the dark. Covering this much ground covered in boulders and no trail, using my cell phone to find my steps, I wouldn't make it to the car anytime before the middle of the night.
Bless my preparedness for once, the extra flashlight. While I continued heading towards the set of campfires, three times I clearly saw pairs of green eyes in the bush. I always forget what color lions have and I hoped that they were only the coyotes I'd heard earlier. Just to be safe I barked and yelled threats to whatever mountain lions there might've been and gripped my axe ready to swing it at a missile of fangs that I kept imagining leaping at me out of the darkness.
And now the campfires were running away form me too. I had walked for what felt like another hour but the fires were still just as small as when I'd first seen them. They refused to get any bigger and offer me any comfort. Then suddenly I could hear voices in the close distance and gasps and headlights turned to look at me. Turns out the fires had been tiki torches all along, setup by a desert touring company who had a wine and cheese dinner going on for a dozen people under the stars. They had a fancy little camp setup, and they offered me a glass of Pinot Noir and some melted camembert and I promptly accepted, but then something in me told me I had to finish before I could start relaxing, and I wouldn't be finished until I was driving away in my car. I told them I had to go. I thanked them over and over for just having been there and explained how lost I would've been otherwise, I thanked them 2 more times, and I was on my way.
My plan was to follow the tour company's truck tracks back to the trail where I'd left my car. Halfway across the lake my second flashlight began to die. I began running. I used up everything left in me real quick and then decided I'd keep the light off and turn it on every 100 steps or so to make sure I was still on trail. When I turned the light off it was another piece of luck, the lake bed was so white that even under only starlight the wheel tracks that had dried months ago in the mud stood out of like a great black snake against the white. I made the rest of the way back in the dark, worried for a second that somewhere along the way I might follow the wrong set of tracks and end up on some empty side of the lake but I convinced myself I could head towards the moving lights of the highway and I'd be fine. I sang loud underneath the million desert stars, an entire repetoire, until eventually the reflectors on my car shone back from my flashlight and I made a beeline for the nearest gas station to get a celebratory Coke in me and then home, to ice my legs for the next 10 years.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

No Moon

The kids and I like to go out on hikes at night during the full moon when the blue halfdark is a magic light over the trail and the moon is a glowing bone. This time I decide to take Captain on a night hike without the moon and we go up our usual Cowles Mountain. He starts off on the trail loud singing gibberish and yelling as usual but suddenly he goes quiet and he wont speak aloud. He gets this look on his face, scared and wonderous, not terrorized, but hyperalert and curious, open to danger. Away enough from the parking lot lights the darkness becoes bigger than him and his ears pickup every noise that comes out of the bush and he starts to curl into a sort of defensive crouch, he hears a couple of crickets and he freezes in anticipation but I explain to him they're only singing lovesongs to eachother.
I turn on the flashlight for a while and Captain shines it into the bushes, his eyes wideopen as a lemur and I tell him that with the light on the trail looks like Mars. He moves slower with the flashlight. Light feels more penetrating, too revealing, when you're bringing it into a deep darkness. Captain goes on walking like someone walking cautiously out to sea, halting, instead of giving his usual driven steps. Then we hit two of his favorite boulders and scramble up them with familiarity. It makes him a little more comfortable with the dark.
On a short lookout, Captain asks me to pick him up and show him the lights below the mountain and our car. He's fine by now and he starts hopping from one side of the trail to the other, he's running up steep ends and putting some more distance between me and him. He goes strong for the rest of our hike until the last quarter of the climb when he turns zombie and seems to sleepwalk his way over the trail weaving drunkenly over dips and rocks but always forwards and he never once takes a spill. I carry him for a while and whisper in his ear how proud I am of him and that he's the strongest boy on earth. He licks the side of my face and meows like a cat then collapses asleep.
The very last bit before the top I mention out loud that we were almost there and Captain springs awake, he jumps out of my arms and we race to the top and he wins of course.
We step onto a boulder at the summit to look out over the lights and I show him where his house is. Its time for our traditional ceremonial Peter Pan cockcrow but Captain'll only give a soft, wary, "cacaw...", he is still too shy about breaking the giant silence and calling into the darkness, afraid to hear something from the darkness answer him back.
I carry him the rest of the way down like I promised him I would. He wants me to jump over every boulder and I do as many as I can and I hear him his little teeth clack every time and he gives a little grunt of satisfaction and commands "again....again" quieter and quieter each time as he falls bak asleep. He goes in and out of sleep, spilling gibberish and drooling the same way I do in when I sleep and he's out cold all the way home into his bed.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


The main purpose of me keeping this journal that you enjoy so much is to raise money for Big City Mountaineers, a non-profit that gives at-risk youth life-changing experiences in the wilderness. Here in San Diego, there is another non-profit group called Inner City Outings that works out of the Sierra Club taking different groups of kids on all types of outdoor trips.
I really believe in the impact and importance of giving kids these life-changing experiences that they don't have the chance of having on their own. On top of raising money , I want to be become involved in the same kinds of programs I'm raising money for so tonight I attended my first ICO meeting and have begun the process of becoming a Volunteer Assistant, and eventually after the required training, I will become a Trip Leader. I'll be volunteering on my first trip this February 7th to Mountain Palm Canyon, on a desert hike through palm oasises.
Some of the stories I heard at the volunteer meeting, about kids who've lived their entire lives in San Diego and've never been to the beach going into the ocean for the first time and yelling in surprise, "Its salty!", about kids who started out on a hike too cool to smile or look like they were having a good time and by the end of the trip laughing and interested in everything on the trail and asking "What kind of a job can I do where I ge to be outside all day?", these are the kinds of stories that prove I'm raising money for something that really works, and that motivate me to train and fundraise as hard as I can.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Summit For Someone 2009

My name is Luis Lopez and on July 22, 2009, I will climb to the summit of Mt. Rainier (14,411 ft., via the Emmons Glacier) in the Cascades to raise money that will benefit at-risk teens nationwide. I'm participating in a Summit for Someone mountain climbing series to support Big City Mountaineers, a 501(c)(3) non-profit recreational mentoring program for at-risk teens.
Big City Mountaineers provides urban teenage youth in need of positive adult mentoring with a challenging and safe wilderness experience led by qualified adult volunteer guides.

I'm summiting for youth that I feel a genuine understanding for. My experiences with the wilderness during my youth were only few and far between but I realize now that they were among the most important things that've me who I am. The truth is, all it really takes is a few genuine experiences for a profound, positive impact to grow out of.

The physical challenge of climbing a real mountain makes you want to take on all the rest of life's mental, emotional and financial challenges. For the at-risk teens who will participate in Big City Mountaineer's programs, the feeling they will have at the top of a mountain is what will empower them to strive for the excellence they otherwise won't aim for. These kids can grow up to do great things, but first they need a taste of greatness to inspire them.

I'm devoted to raising money for Big City Mountaineers because now more than ever, when the world is realizing the true importance of Nature and our place within it, they are repairing the disconnect between our youth and the world they belong to by making the wilderness available to those who otherwise wont have the opportunity to know the world beyond their own neighborhood.

The programs that Big City Mountaineers provides open up an entire world Outside to inner-city youth, and you'll agree that just as importantly, they open up an entire world inside of the youth themselves.

I will be climbing Mount Rainier with 8 other people and a guide. This challenge will test me physically, emotionally and mentally. To reach the summit will take me three days and two nights of climbing, so I will be training for the next 6 months in order to prepare for the climb. I'm excited to be committing myself so strongly and to be giving so much towards something so real, worthwhile and valuable.

You and I may know the sublime awe of participating in the grandeur of nature, the thrill and wonder of exploring untread wilderness, the healing contrast between an overcrowded city and a pristine forest. You and I may know the taste of triumph and it inspires us to produce the best in ourselves –the teens you will help do not know this privilege yet, after your support they will.

To do my part, I have committed myself to raising $3,600 for Big City Mountaineer's youth programs, and that's where you come in. I think you'll agree, it's never a comfortable thing asking for money and supporting me will make a positive impact on the lives of many teens.
Be sure, even a little bit will help.We each put in what we can, and together we will solve big problems. Your tax-deductible support will take teens beyond the limits of the world they know, in turn, this will produce a tremendous effect. To give towards this great cause, click this link and donate to my climb.

When I reach my goal, standing above the clouds, looking over all the obstacles I will have overcome, I will feel something greater than my own triumph. I will look forward and see the countless other triumphs of the teens that will be empowered to climb their own mountains. The ones who will be provided with what troubled teens need the most, a true challenge to reveal to them their true untapped potential.

I want to thank you in advance for your supporting this incredible journey, on behalf of myself and those teens who I am climbing for, who otherwise won't have a chance to believe that they had the ability to ascend to great heights in life. I'm also asking that you take a visit to Big City Mountaineer's website ( to learn more about what they do for youth and to read the great response the youth are giving to the programs, and the Summit for Someone's website ( so that you will be inspired by their personal, dynamic and progressive fundraising approach. In addition to investing your own support please do this for me too, forward this letter to as many people you know, and talk to as many people as you can about my climb, because making more people aware of this awesome cause will help empower that many more at-risk teens to push themselves beyond their limits towards their greatest potential!

To give you an exact picture of how far your donation will go, here are examples of how much your money accomplishes:

$50 Supports a Teen for a Day
$100 Supports Two Teens for a Day
$250 Supports a Whole Youth Group for a Day
$400 Supports a Teen for His/Her Entire Trip
$2,000 Supports a Whole Youth Group for their Entire Group

For every $1 Summit For Someone Donation:
$0.77 - BCM's Recreational Mentoring Program
$0.23 - Fundraising Program Costs

Climb on! & Donate Here!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Alonso the Sea-Hound the King of Fun

Alonso is my youngest brother and when he was 5 he got knocked over by a wave playing in the surf and it only dragged him under for just a second or two but he came up gasping and grabbing wildly for the shore and from then on in his mind the sea was all death and panic. After that day, if we ever managed to drag him along to to the beach, he always kept a constant 100 ft between him and the shore, his fear of the water would keep him aware of where he was on the beach, always on guard, and he never once fell for our tricks trying to herd him towards the water, he would never even let his foot get wet.
It took a couple of years of constant goading and exposure to the beach, of inching toward the waterline at a non-threatening but torturously slow snail's pace, but now, for the past 2 years Alonso's gone werewolf and turned into some sort of indefatigable sea-hound. He has this energy in his chubby grin and this possessed look that gathers others into a following, and he's making up for all the lost time when he kept himself dry and now he is on the other end of the rope dragging everybody else out of their comfort and calm to come splash and roll and be alive in the wash where the waves come down to explode and die. Even on freezing windy days when we go meaning just to watch the fishermen on the pier Alonso can't leave without diving into the water no matter what he's wearing no matter the water temperature his spirit and his joyous thrashing keep him impervious to the cold. We could all be huddled on the sand in our jackets and Alonso'll be splashing around in the shallows with his wet mop of sheephair over his eyes and his happy beastly grin, grinning at how he can not only endure but enjoy what other people won't dare do. Sometimes I hate taking him to the beach because I forget the power that comes over him, how he'll look at me from the water grinning and goading and daring me and he shows me the fact that he's in the water means its totally possibly for me I have to just get over myself and the cold and Alonso he smiles because ever since I showed him what he could do if he pushed himself and didn't make excuses for himself he's been holding up that mirror to me and telling me not to make any excuses for myself, to get into the cold water and I have to listen to him because he is 8 and like all 8 year olds he is the King of Fun.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Night Training with Ricky

Went packtraining around 10pm up Cowles Mountain (1592 ft). I fill my backpack with 6 old 2L bottles fulI of water and dump them out at the top to downclimb without extra weight on the knees, Ricky is my oldest little brother and he hikes with ankle weights that the swears make him move twice as fast for the rest of the day he's not wearing them. I spotted half a dozen green shooting stars, but everytime one shot across the sky Ricky would be looking the wrong way, like clockwork, everytime he turned around or bent to tie his shoe another one would shoot across the sky and by the sixth time I told him I wouldn't believe myself either by now. It was Ricky's first time at the top at night and he saw all of developed San Diego lit up like christmas or like the way we always see Tijuana at night, and all of the undeveloped land like a field of pitch black lakes, or like a great sentient shadow trying to hold its own against a floodtide of streetlights.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Milk-Teeth Billygoat Monkeys

Captain will be 4 yrs old and Skelmo will be 3, both in March, and they are two milk-toothed billygoat monkeys, they climb everything they see and so far none of their brains has spilled out. They go hiking either with me or their mother at least twice a week but usually more and they go offtrail every single time to climb every boulder they see. They have style and fire from day one and a hundred people in their lives who love helping hone and feed their greatness.
Before Captain was 3 he could climb up the side of a car, either over the bumper or up the wheel well, then over the rearview mirror to the window, then up to the roof (I admired his class in avoiding the easy route straight up the windshield), and after a couple months of watching and building strength Skelmo could follow his big brother. Since then one of their favorite places to play is the mattress I threw onto the roof of my old Jeep, that's where they shoot sharks and Tyrannosaurus Rex. A couple weeks ago at the park, Captain clawed his way 15 ft. up a scraggly pepper tree and would've gone higher if I hadn't called him down.
I remember the first time Skelmo made it to the top of the 8 ft. climbing wall I built for him and his brother inside their bedroom. When I built it Captain was already a strong enough kid and climber to fly straight up and over it and onto the roof of my parent's house the first time I asked him to try it out. But Skelmo hadn't started out as possessed by climbing as his brother and it used to be if he couldn't get up something the first time he gave up. It took some wanting to do everything big brother does and some growing in his bones before Skelmo could be at the cusp of his next big thing. So one day we get him on the little wall inside his room and he's about halfway up when he stops and is about to climb down. Captain, his mom and me start chanting his name and he stops, something clicks in his head and he gussies up his heart, it was the first time I saw it in him. Like you see in a devoted athlete or fighter he trembled and shook to overcome the wall, he locked his eyes on the next handhold and he dug inside hisself and pulled the strength out of his tiny heart for the first time. He climbed until he touched the ceiling and then climbed back down trembling more and more after every hold, until he felt the carpet under his feet and let go, looking dazed and changed and he was amazed at himself. He blinked, raised his eyebrows, cocked his head, and smiled at what he'd just done. He had beaten his first impossible thing. He was old enough to realize he had beaten his first impossible thing.
Their mother and me take them to Joshua Tree where we play billygoat over the boulders and cliff rescue using Captains favorite pink unicorn as the climber we will save. Skelmo likes to find nooks and caves and just sit, or he'll drag me under some thorny bush and tell me to wait and listen, to what?, wait papa, then he looks at me and lifts his eyebrows and gives me big old wonderous eyes like saying hear that?, o what's that?, like he's copying the way adults like to play with children. So I sit there and try to see everything the way him and Captain are seeing it all from half as high.
Our hikes are magic to them but their mother and I are making sure it's also just a part of normal life for them. All three of my brothers have pointed out how lucky their two nephews are to grow up so much outside of the house (by city standards) and've wondered with me about what theyll do with this head start of theirs. So far Captain hates wearing shoes even over the worst ground and he says you cant kill anything that is a creature. Skelmo doesn't mind his shoes and he says he wants to go hunt a moose with me.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Eagle Peak, San Diego River Gorge (3,226 ft.)

Ricky and me drove in circles all morning around El Cajon Mt. trying to find the trailhead but we could not find a way through the Barona Indian reservation, we tried asking at their information office but those guys were not nice about letting us walk through their backyards and they weren't going to give us any clues on how find our way. We ended up driving in more circles and eventually way off course so we pulled over to ask two ladies out powerwalking if they had any clue how to get up El Cajon Mt. They had no idea and they suggested we try nearby Cedar Creek and Mildred Falls instead and they gave us directions.
Ricky and me were heading out with a backpack full of fruit to last us the day but we'd forgot any water, instead of driving back to some 7-11 we talked to a man outside watering his plants and he let us fill up our bottle with hose water, he told us the hike would be long and pretty and that we’d probably see wild turkeys and mountain lions. A quarter of a way down into the valley Ricky felt like hiking off trail so we scrambled down into a half-dry creek and followed that a ways until it was blocked by poison oak, then we climbed back out and immediately back in a little ways down the creek where it was clear.
We came upon the San Diego River as a little stream full of cattails, we took our shoes off and waded through, banging cattails open and making a snow out of the seeds until we couldn’t breathe, Ricky’s feet sank 6 inches into the mud in every step and he kept yelling that he was stepping on buried frogs. I saw my first white owl in the wild. It swooped once over our heads, completely silent, then disappeared back into the trees. When we could see the river wasn’t going to clear up any, we got out onto the bank and bushwacked through some bush and put our shoes on in a clearing and planned our approach.
Ricky wanted to climb a long line along the top with our silhouettes tramping on the top of the hills, like in a movie he said. So we ended up hiking along a deer trail that followed the very ridge of the hills, leading up to the North Peak like the humps of a great long dinosaur. The first bit of climbing was maybe some 60 degrees steep, but it was all soft gripping dirt and grass so there was no risky technical maneuvers just a nice, complete, loss of leg strength and breath. We stopped in a tiny rock cave to have a small snack of water and oranges and bananas. Here, Ricky began to doubt that he could finish the climb.
I prodded him along the rest of the way, pointing to small flat saddles in between peaks that would be good resting, and at the rise of each peak I insisted over and over we were almost there and so much closer and that it wouldn’t make sense to turn back now seeing how far we’d already come. I tried keeping his mind off his weariness by talking about stupid mistakes I’d made in other climbs before, by painting a picture of how trails often begin as one animal's happenstance path, then other animals just happen to follow it slowly gets dug deeper and wider over time until one day its completely separate from the land around it, and then you have yourself a road. Something I’d read in the opening passages of one of my favorite books "Growth of the Soil" by Knut Hamsun.
Out of nowhere a group of 3 military helicopters flew right over us and they began making runs in close quarters inside the gorge. Ricky said it made the hils feel like Vietnam in the movies, this helped keep his mind off his tiredness too.
There was one last steep get up to the peak and when he saw it Ricky wanted quit again, but I reassured him the feeling of being on top, on top with nothing above you, would make it all worth while. After that he continued tired and silent, but didn’t doubt he would make it to the top anymore.
At the peak we stared around at the valley below were we’d begun our hike, at the houses where our car was parked out on the horizon. We took a long quiet look around, smiled at the airy spot of earth we'd earned, then headed back downhill with our minds on food and rest. We cut straight down the side of the peak, the soft grass and sticky mud in the deer trail made it easy not to slip and we practically skipped our way down. We saw Mildred Falls that we'd overlooked on our way up and decided we'd come again later when it was flowing. Crossing to the other side of the creek via a different route we ran into a ring of death bushes with tiny little thorns and we ended up pulling branches and branches of them out of our legs.
The hike out of the gorge felt ten times longer than the hike in. Ricky's fatigue was killing him, he had a headache and he was getting angry at the fact that after every hill it seemed like the car was just as far away. When we got to the car Ricky fell immediately asleep but then he woke up for a Coke and a gross gas station hot dog drowning in nacho cheese and he was a new person again and he wouldn't shutup all the way home, proud and amazed at what he'd just accomplished.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The First Little Wilderness

I was something like 9 or 10 when I went to spend a couple of weeks of summer with my cousin Pam and her family in the desert out in Palmdale, California. Pam was a couple years older than me and she lived on the very edge of the desert the very last house before the desert began, the street stopped being asphalt and turned to sand right past her driveway, her backyard shared a chainlink fence with the wilderness. It was magical to me and her house was like a pillar right at the gate of all the unknown, but in reality wilderness what, a lot of it was dumping ground for tires, refrigerators and dead cars, and a place for desert rats to drink and go shooting. It was a good-sized piece of land and it was big enough for me to learn my first taste of that consuming desert silence, but to most everyone who lived there it was an inconvenient square in between highways and housing developments with not much use but to go off-roading, or a boring nothing to be driven past and ignored on the way to the nearest strip mall or high school.
I was still new to any part of the world beyond my block, and the desert was some beckoning land of death, terrible, a mystery, unforgiving and deadly and uncharted and paradise to me. I begged and bribed and goaded my cousin to take me as much as possible. It was nothing new to her and it held no romance or appeal over her as it desperately did me. Living there for years in the heat and the boredom, my cousin wanted to treat me to the pleasures of her air-conditioning and her swiming pool, the last thing she wanted to do was walk around in the heat and the sand, but she took me out anyways and put up with my dreaming, and we'd go hunting for quail stalking them for hours with a real bow and arrow, and we never once saw a single quail but it wouldn't have mattered anyway because every arrow I ever shot flew straight at some rock I wasn't aiming for or else fell by my feet. Or I'd get Pam to tramp up different "mountains" with me, nothing really but scrawny rock hills full of boulders and scree but I'd take an effort in finding and picking the hardest stupidest way to climb up, up and over every jagged thing trying to take advantage of every potential jump and ass-slide and I turned those hills into crumbling death ascents. We "mined" mica in ziplocs and ziplocs chipping it off with hammers we'd brought from the house and I dreamed of selling for a fortune what turned out to be worth nothing more than shiny dandruff. We looked for mountain lions in every shade and hollow, fearless out of ignorance on my part and fearless out of the awareness that there weren't any around on my cousin's part. Once Pam told me about some friend of hers who wasn't allowed to go hiking without taking a snakebite kit along then I dreamed of one of us being lucky enough to get bit and the other having to "suck out the poison" like in the movies.
That desert was like the sea to me. It couldn't have been more than a day's walk across, half a day even, but there were gullies and dunes were I could lose sight of all the houses and the road and I was good as dead for finding North, then, it would turn measureless and unmappable, and I could be a little boy's idea of a man. I remember myself like a very ambitious Lenny, overgrown, sloppy, excitable. I was also stubborn and I believed that I could smell my way back home or something like it, but all I could do was get my cousin and me lost and then I'd swear we were supposed to go "this way" and I would tap into my keen sense of direction I was so sure I had and would get to show off now and I would strike out over and over. My cousin would try to explain to me the obvious direction home and she was never lost, but I would explain to her how she was wrong and that I remembered because I took notice of this certain bush see and its just past this turn or just past these rocks or wait, just past this turn and these rocks, or wait, and eventually she just let me navigate an idiot's line of loops until it got close to dark and she would step in and steer us home.
I remember my aunt telling me about finding scorpions inside boots that had been left out on the back porch and I remember my cousin camping with me on the deck by her pool and I saw the stars big as baseballs for the first time in my life. No kid whose never left the city before ever forgets the first time he sees the stars as more than just some quiet pins on a muted blue night sky but sees them so bright he can hear them like loud suns thrombing out of a pitch, black, real night.

1/2 of San Jacinto on New Years

First mistake I started out too late and hungover with 3 hours sleep from New Years Eve. Stopped for a microsleep in temecula parking lot hoping to stop swerving the car lot but I left the car headlights on and my battery died, I talked a baker into leaving his bagel shop to give me a jump.
The road to trailhead iced over, I try it anyways in my limpy daewoo sedan but halfway up I get stuck and have to slide backwards for 1/2 mile of downhill ess turns. I park on the main road and walk up to the trail head from there.
Georgeous as always being alone and breaking new snow. Only with everything snowed over I lost the trail took a wrong turn and ended up climbing into cluster of cabins and a lookout, pretty but not where I was supposed to be. I backtracked and studied topo map, tried to. Tried to place myself by eyeballing some ess turns and the angle between me and the mountains across from me. I make a note that I really have to learn some orienteering.
Found where I thought the trailhead started and then I knew for sure when I heard a loud group of snowshoers in front of me. I didn't want to be caught behind them so I sprinted up past them and struggled to maintain that buffer of silence between us. I'm happy to be inside that silent mountain loneliness. I'm still new enough at the gam to feel a weirdness in how empty it is, and it feels so much weirder when you can still see cities and people below you while you're in the middle of a forest at the same time. It is different than being in the middle of a real wilderness far as you can see. It feels like more of a secret that I've snuck away, as if the people in the city could see me up here the way I see them.
The rest of the day I followed some tracks up the snowed over trail, someone who'd brought snowshoes and a dog. I also spent the day wading knee-deep in snow, I only brought crampons but the snow was much to soft for them to do ay good.
To me its a hot day and I sweat a flood in just my shirt. I make it to just before the Marion Mountain campsites before I realize I have to start back to make the car by dark, having forgotten a headlamp too in my groggy hungover rush this morning. I stop and pour the water and slush out of my boots, cahnge my socks and cut out a pair of makeshift socks out of an old shirt in my pack. By the end of the day I've also torn my entire pant legs to shreds and I dont know how I didn't peel my legs off the bone.