I was in my late twenties and my mom was fifty-something when we got the hair-brained idea that we would climb the highest peak in Southern California, Mt. San Gorgonio. Never mind the fact that neither one of us had done any hiking to speak of. So, one fine morning, at the crack of dawn, Mom, Uncle Ted, my cousin Dan, and I, set off equipped with day packs and naiveté.
We opted for the Vivian Creek trail as it was the most direct route to the summit. It didn’t occur to us that the most direct route would also be the steepest. The trail ascends about 5,500′ in less than 8 miles. Within view of the summit, but with 1,000′ of climbing ahead, my body rebelled at the unaccustomed abuse. We were on a steep slope of broken shale, above the tree line, where I laid down in the middle of the trail (the only relatively flat spot) and fell into a deep sleep. My mom stayed with me while the boys continued to the summit. I vaguely remember other hikers stepping over me but it was beyond my power to move.
The hike back down was not noticeably easier than the climb had been, especially for my uncle who had well-worn knees. It was dark before we reached the parking lot.
With that indelible memory, I loaded the girls into the car for a short day hike. I told myself that I would turn back before I was completely enervated, so that the return would be as enjoyable as the climb. Ha! Have you EVER been able to resist going up just one last steep pitch, or around one more twist in the trail, just to see what’s ahead? Me neither.
The first half mile was rather too steep for a comfortable warm up and the next mile was was like climbing a relentless staircase. Even the dogs were happy to pause occasionally to catch our breath. Just past the “wilderness” border, our efforts were amply rewarded by the lush riparian canyon of Vivian Creek where the trail leveled out.
This trail is probably the most popular trail in our area, so we were never lonely nor did we need to be wary of wildlife. There were a surprising number of small children on the trail, one whose tiny Asian mother had CARRIED him up. He looked like he weighed at least 45 pounds. Most of the children were cranky and complaining, making me question the wisdom of dragging them on such an adventure. Of course, if the plan was to abandon little Hansel & Grettle in the deep dark woods, I could see the appeal to the strategy.
So, we kept plodding uphill until it wasn’t fun anymore (for me; the dogs saw no reason to reverse course). And then we had to retrace our steps for three miles. My knees creaked, my feet groused, my stomach growled; the cacophony was audible. The good part was, there was no place I would rather be; there was nothing I’d rather be doing; and there was nobody I’d rather be doing it with.