Cram Peak on New Year’s Eve

One way to make sure you’re not awake at midnight on New Year’s Eve is to hike up Cram Peak.

About thirty years ago, a group of about five guys and I had the bright idea to explore the Cram Peak “trail”. Back in those days, there was no app to consult but we had heard tell that there was an old route that would take one off the backside of Morton Peak, all the way down to Mentone via Cram Peak. The ascent of Morton Peak is no small feat as the fire service access road is granny-gear steep, so, by the time we reached the alleged trail, I was already pretty toasted. But, always the optimist, I plunged into the unknown, believing that it would be all downhill.

The first mile or so was indeed downhill and wide enough to ride. But then came a series of what we call hogbacks, where the ridge humps up and then drops to a saddle before rising again, even though the general elevation loss is greater than the gain. Aside from the hike-a-bike ascents and the brush-choked, white-knuckle descents, the only real excitement was when we aggravated a Diamondback Rattle snake who had been peacefully basking in the sun, until we came slip sliding, almost in control, through his territory. We have a saying that the first rider wakes the snake up, the second rider pisses him off, and the third gets bit. Well, I was the sixth in line and had little choice but to zip past him as fast as I dared, hoping I could regain control of my speed once beyond his reach.

Sycamores line Morton Creek

Today it was cool and overcast with no danger of snake encounters and too early in the season to worry much about ticks. Unlike the overgrown route of thirty years ago, there is now a well-worn path that we could follow with little difficulty. The only difficulty lay in the approximately 1,000′ of elevation gain per mile. At one point, I put my gloves on so I could scramble up on all fours. The view from the peak was worth the effort though we had some second thoughts as our age-worn knees objected to the steep descent.

Looking across Morton Creek canyon at the Morton Peak Lookout Tower
Sadie pauses to allow the old ladies to catch up.
A view of the damn dam.

The story of the accursed dam is a real heart breaker to local mountain bikers. Jerry Lewis, U.S. Representative and Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, carved out an obscene amount of money for his district to build a dam on the South Fork of the Santa Ana River under the auspices of protecting development downstream. The proponents assured those who were concerned about losing access to this lovely stretch of canyon, with its perennial stream, that once the dam was completed, full access to the canyon above the dam would be returned. In due course, a previously unspoiled riparian habitat was blasted into the largest earthen dam in the country, an eyesore that’s visible from almost anywhere in the valley. The first rainy season after the dam was completed, the entire season’s runoff was too polluted by mud to be used. A season of heavy rainfall followed a year or two later and the dam’s spillways were damaged by the urgent need to send water downstream to prevent a breach. And the canyon was never reopened to recreation.

That’s not to say we never enjoyed the canyon again. Sally and I have been escorted out by flustered security guards more than once. There are two forest service roads that allow access to mountain bikes that can be hoisted over the gates at the top of the canyon. Once you’re down at the dam, there’s not much they can do but tell you to leave, which is what you are in the process of doing when they find you.

Once we were standing at the top of the dam, marveling at the muddy pond a hundred feet below, when a security guard drove up. “You can’t be here!” he spluttered, though clearly we were here. He continued his tirade and we listened politely until he stopped for breath. At which point I asked sweetly, “I guess this means you won’t take our picture?”

His shoulders slumped and he grinned ruefully, holding out his hand for the proffered camera. He dutifully followed us down the face of the dam to the gate where we had to wait for him to catch up to let us out. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that we knew of a route that circumvented the gate.

Doing My Part For the Cause

Most of my blog friends confess to having lost their mojo during this time of sequestration, as if their inspiration to write comes from the stimulation of interaction with others. Since my life has changed very little, I have no such excuse. I’ve just become a crotchety old lady, bereft of humor.

Like many, I’ve tackled long-procrastinated tasks, like divvying up Mum’s cremains. Each of her nieces have requested a piece of her, so it’s up to me to get a scoop of grandma shipped to them.

This is a selfie of Mum and me. I miss her every day but I’m grateful that she is not here to weather this crisis. She would have not been able to process the information she saw on Fox News (not that I can!) and she would have been in a constant turmoil.

This is her urn, a carved piece of juniper driftwood that I picked up in the San Juan Islands, several years ago. It’s cedar so it smells lovely.

Thankfully, mountain biking and hiking are still permitted in our neck of the woods, though the trails closest to parking lots are more populated than normal. Sadie and I don’t have any trouble escaping the madding crowd.

Sadie catches her breath before we begin the descent of Roller Coaster…
an E-ticket ride, for sure.

My sister Babs has been forced to take up cooking again which gives us something to commiserate about. Menu planning for “mates” who have polar opposite tastes to our own is challenging. I made this gorgeous lentil soup that included coriander seeds and cumin seeds which Mike immediately deemed too exotic for his taste. I ate it for a week and never tired of it.

Chunks of butternut squash, Rotelle tomatoes, and spinach add texture and color to a pot of yellow lentils.

The only excitement (if you can call it that) was a hike my favorite niece (MFN) Tara enticed me into doing one afternoon. She called around 3:00 to tell me she was going to hike up Morton Peak at 4:00, did I want to go? No-brainer! I loaded up my hydration pack, snapped ID on the dogs, and leapt at the chance to spend time with MFN. Morton Peak is a fire road (that’s a dirt road to those of you who live in more humid climates) that ascends about 2,000 feet to a now defunct fire lookout tower in about three miles.

Tara, 13 years my junior with long legs, scampered up the trail at a pace that had me unable to hold up my end of the conversation. Knowing that it was a short hike, I pushed the pace to keep up. At the top, Tara bemoaned the fact that we were too early to observe the sunset that promised to be spectacular in the stormy sky. In a moment of insanity, I suggested that we could descend via the single track that ended six miles below. We had two hours of daylight remaining, so we called my sister to arrange for a shuttle back to my car, and set off down the trail.

The trail had suffered some damage from the heavy rains. It was rutted, rocky, and badly overgrown, all of which slowed our descent. Still a couple of miles from the bottom, the shadows grew long and the light began to fade.

By the time we reached the dirt road at the end of the single track, it was all but dark and we still had a mile to go to reach the paved road where my sister waited. Coyotes began their evening chorus; we were serenaded from several directions so I leashed Sadie just to make sure she wasn’t tempted to go native. Eagerly, she preceded me down the final descent, a steep, gnarly motorcycle track, barely visible in the dark, as Tara called encouragement from below. I had to remind Sadie that her assistance on the downhill was NOT appreciated.

Then the real danger began…we, my sister, my niece and me, failed to practice good social distancing and all rode in the same car back to pick up my car, which, much to our relief had not been vandalized in the dark.