There's one aspect of Southern California I haven't really experienced yet, and that's its many ski resorts.
I didn't grow up in an outdoorsy family. Sure, there were a few summers we went to the Adirondacks on vacation, but we didn't go camping—we stayed at the Howard Johnson's. We didn't go hiking; we drove up Whiteface Mountain.
We never went skiing at Song Mountain in Central New York; we only rode its summer season alpine slide.
And likewise, the only other time I was ever at one of SoCal's most popular snow recreation areas, Big Bear, it was in the summer—and I rode the alpine slide.
Maybe one day I'll go back for some snow tubing; but since there's plenty to do in Big Bear when the weather is warm, for now I think I'll stick to the ziplining, kayaking, and hiking.
But starting any hike even as low as 6700 feet above sea level, I really feel the altitude.
I've been down so low so long...
...my body doesn't know how to adjust to the peaks.
And the Castle Rock Trail in Big Bear gives you no time to warm up—it starts out steep and makes you climb endlessly up a boulder-strewn gully, surrounded by tall pines and cedars.
My legs felt like dead weight, and I had a hard time catching my breath—despite the difficulty of the trail being rated as "moderate" (if you're in shape).
And then, of course, when you get high enough, what you can see down below takes your breath away even more.
Fortunately, there are plenty of areas along the out-and-back trail to take pause...
...take in the view...
...and take photos.
It feels almost novel to be able to see a lake—any lake, especially one that's full of water.
And while the water level is still technically low in Big Bear Lake...
...it's a lot higher than it was at the end of last summer.
And as you look out upon the surface of the lake, you can hear the distant trickle of a nearby stream, carrying water down the mountain along a hidden creek bed.
The entire trail feels like it was underwater at some point—that these great boulders must've been carried along by some strong currents...
...and that only the most forcible stream could've carved out the arches and rounded scars of each of these granite grains.
Finally, after walking upstream for just over a mile, you reach the "castle"—the biggest rock of all along the trail—where you can either scramble to the top of it or turn around and tiptoe your way back down.
The base of the boulder was plenty high enough for me, my chest heaving and tightening and my stomach churning, head throbbing from my case of "acute mountain sickness," the air already too thin for me to get the oxygen that I needed.
Besides, some castles can be seen best from a little bit of a distance.
Photo Essay: The Long Way to the Highest Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains
Photo Essay: Trippet Ranch to Eagle Rock
Photo Essay: Getting a Little Closer to The Eagle Rock
When In Doubt, Climb a Mountain
Photo Essay: Up the Creek at Caballero Canyon