Monday, January 5, 2015

A Full Moon at the Top of Franklin Canyon



I don't think I'll ever stop making up for past failures, missed opportunities, and regrets. I have more than I ever imagined, and every day, new ones seem to crop up.

I'd forgotten that the two times I'd hiked the Hastain Trail in Franklin Canyon Park, my passage to the top had been blocked by developers. I'd forgotten that the last time I went on a full moon hike in Franklin Canyon, I didn't actually see the moon.

After all, enough time had passed for me to forget: I hadn't been there in nearly four years. And I've hiked a lot of other trails since then, racked up a whole lot of other places to add to my list.

But I'm trying to get back on track after months of rehabilitating myself mentally and emotionally, letting my body waste away. I decided to work on my inside before I could work on my outside. And now that my head and my heart feel a little better (a little), I'm ready to start climbing again. But I'll have to start out small to get back in shape. I really have not felt up for anything since last April, and I have deliberately let myself go pretty far.

So going back to a familiar place on a familiar trail in the coolness of night with a group seemed like a good way to get back in the swing of things. I didn't have any expectations when I returned to Franklin Canyon: I figured we wouldn't see much, and wouldn't go far. And it didn't start out well, with three different groups of us convening in three different meeting spots, all for the same hike, and two different hike leads not knowing about each other, causing a late start and a splintered group that was so spread out, it didn't feel like we were hiking together at all.

Amidst the sounds of owls, I stuck with a dad and his kid who were blazing the trail for the group, familiar with the path even in the dark, though carrying a flashlight just in case. The upwards trail is a little rougher than I remembered, further rutted by the recent rains, with a lot of ankle-cracking crevices and rocks to trip you up in the dark. It's a straightforward trail, hard to lose your way if you just keep going up, but by the time we reached the second fence (left over from developers who were kicked out of there in 2012), I realized I hadn't been this far before. Back in 2011 when I first arrived to LA, the trail had been blockaded by chainlink and a bulldozer, so I had no idea what lie in store on the rest of the hike.

At that point, the trail becomes a bit steeper, and I was feeling winded, having taken the hike at a pretty good clip to keep up with the hikers at the head of the pack, but unfortunately leaving the hikers behind me way behind. Catching my breath and removing my fleece and hoodie in the rising temperatures left me alone on the trail, the blinking flashlight ahead still in sight, the chatter of fellow hikers dull in the distance.

But lo, there up in the sky: the full moon!

An ambulance passed through the Beverly Hills neighborhood below, and the dogs sang in concert with its siren. But the howling didn't fade – rather, it intensified, perhaps joined by the coyotes that roamed these hills at night looking for food, looking up at the moon. Although Franklin Canyon is not remote, it's still a wild park full of creatures of the night. And at some point, it was likely that they would make themselves known.

As I was alone in my dark climb, I kept telling myself I could stop and wait for another group to join me, or I could turn back. I knew the way, and it would be all downhill from there. But I kept wondering what was at the top, what the city looked like from up there, when I would ever be able to come back here and do this again, when there are so many other adventures to be had! I felt that if I could do it then – if I could make it to the top – then I should.

I paused several times along the way.

But I still made it to the top, snapping a photo of the 1952 USGS survey marker to commemorate the moment.

I didn't stay long, choosing to descend the trail with a couple who were making their way back home, rather than stay up there to take in the view and risk hiking alone again. But when one of them stopped to tie her shoe, the two let me pass them by, and I was no longer following anyone. I, the hiker who hates the dark, not only was leading the way, but soon was hiking completely alone, guided only by my fading red flashlight. I kept remembering how our one hike lead had insisted that it wasn't safe to hike alone in this canyon, and how the other hike lead said we could split off from the group if we wanted.

But I didn't want to be hiking alone – I'd intentionally chosen the night hike because it was with a group – and I'm still traumatized by the times I've been left behind on a hike.

It feels like I'm constantly seeking companionship, and I'm consistently abandoned.

Despite my trepidation, I felt myself trudging forward by myself, listening for mountain lions, finding my way sufficiently by moonlight as I tried to save battery power on my flashlight. I could hear running water, and as I neared the trailhead where I'd parked my car, the chill of night hit me, my heart rate considerably relaxed from the descent, though I'd taken it at an impressively quick pace.

I was smiling when I got back to the bottom, dazzled by the night sky and proud of myself for not freaking out. I've cried on too many trails, both in the light and in the dark.

I've cried too much these past few months.

It's time to stop, and find the moonlight in the darkness.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Franklin Canyon Night Hike
Photo Essay: Franklin Canyon
Chasing the Moon