July 23, 2012

When In Doubt, Climb a Mountain

I was a little traumatized after my Bridge to Nowhere hike left me hobbling and nearly lame, barely able to squeeze my swollen feet into closed-toed shoes.

I managed to ride a bike successfully despite my injury, but I'd only attempted the least intimidating walks and hikes since overestimating my ability and getting left behind despite joining a group.

I didn't want to cry on the trail again.

But I didn't want to stay home, either.

So I joined yet another carpool as part of yet another Meetup to drive 34 miles north on the Angeles Crest Highway to the Mt. Waterman trailhead, a little-known part of the San Gabriel Wilderness, whose visitation dipped dramatically when the highway was closed after the 2009 Station Fire.

Irregular and insufficient precipitation has also contributed to an unpredictable ski season schedule for the nearby ski resort over the last few years.

But it's a great mountain to visit during the summertime, with temperatures slightly cooler at a higher elevation, a moderate amount of shade, and a well-cleared trail.

It is scenic and, with a 1500 foot change at over 8000 feet elevation, everything appears to be at somewhat of a diagonal.

For a hiker such as myself, who is not acclimated to hiking in higher elevations, the air feels thin. Breathing is laborious.

I wondered if it was just me. Was I still recovering from the hard time I'd had a few weeks before? Was I once again underslept? (I most certainly was.) Was I not as strong of a hiker as I thought I was?

Fortunately, our group's 21 hikers ranged in ability and stamina - some trailing way far behind - but the important thing was, we stuck together. When we spread out too far along the single track, those of us towards the middle and the front found a patch of shade under a tree and waited for the rear to catch up.

We sniffed the bark of tall trees that smelled like vanilla. We scratched behind the ears of a chihuahua / Boston terrier rescue who never barked, only pressed his ear harder into our scratching fingers. We kicked and tossed huge pinecones into the air.

At the summit, three miles up, we sat on rocks and ate our lunches.

And when we turned around and descended Waterman Mountain along the same trail, like a child I naively marveled at how much easier - and quicker - it was on the way down.

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