After consulting with my SoCal trail guru, Christine, I saved the San Bernardino Trail topographic trail map to my phone and got ready for a long, solo hike.
One of the perks of having a work schedule that rotates into the hospital on weekends is having a week-day OFF! This weekday was rewarded after 7 days of working, and naturally I’m going to wake up earlier than normal and head to the mountains.
“Going to the mountains is going home”-John Muir
And that is what it feels like as I drive on auto-pilot to the San Gabriel/Bernardino mountains. This trail was a newbie for me, but one identified as the top 6-pack Socal Peaks. Reading on the internet the night before about recent trail hikers’ accounts and “what to look out for” notes, I felt prepared to go at it solo. It’s a Friday, most people are working. I was looking forward to breaking in my hiking shoes more, (and I’m laughing just reading that statement) and trying out my new trekking poles. I’ve never hiked with them before. Some of my more experienced hiking friends swear by them and talk about the decreased joint stress and improved tolerance of a long hike. I mean, I’ve used them in the PT clinic for incorporating reciprocal limb motion of all 4 extremities for people with neurologic disorders working through a lack of coordination, but haven’t put myself to the same coordination demand…let alone for 16.5 miles.
I parked my car, a couple other cars in the lot, no messages on the wooden board, my hiking permit in my bag, adventure pass on my car mirror, and two text messages fired off to my friends who are keeping track of my where-abouts. I have plans to meet them later, so if I don’t show up they have been instructed to send out a search party ;).
I smell the pine in the air, I start heading up. Online accounts state 4.5 hours to the peak. I’m sleep deprived, tired from 7 days of working, but hydrated and set on making the hike. I keep playing mind games to pass the time. 1) Count the switchbacks….really it passes the time and then on the way down when your feet are pleading for you to relieve their pressure you can count down the switchbacks. 2) Look up the mountain and look ahead on the path for wildlife and whatever wild flower may catch my eye. 3) Let my mind wander in thought and to the people who are in my life….(why I was addicted to running).
Treat 1: Big Bear Lake…you look out over a wide expanse and initially what looks higher than where you are is a shiny blue lake….I didn’t realize how high Big Bear Lake is and that not far from it is a steep drop off to the space dividing me from it.
Treat 2: HoneyStinger Fruit Smoothie chews, ProBar Berry Blast chews (a real treat)
I brought along all kinds of different accessories on this hike to see what worked. My bike computer for elevation gain and GPS access for distance, my running watch, 4.5L of water with the hope of drinking most of it to lighten my load, wool socks, trail shoes, hiking shoes, and trek poles. Phew. My pack being heavy was the goal.
Two other goals: avoid dehydration and play with avoiding the hypoglycemic bonk that I know very well from my running days. Every 50-75 min I stopped to eat something, a few chews, a couple nuts, bulgar wheat with tuna, an apple. And take a couple extra swigs from my camelback. I admit, my body was tired….so I was willing to stop more often than my normal “eyes on the prize” anti-pacing strategy :).
I bought new hiking shoes at the beginning of the summer and I’ve been hesitant to use them. My history with hiking boots and shoes is not too pleasant. My feet are used to cushiony running shoes and seem to protest when anything else envelopes them; i.e. high heels and hiking boots. I bought Oboz Luna Low’s after trying on 15+ pairs with a very patient REI shoe guy. Prior to this hike I wore them for about 2 hours hiking around El Moro Canyon; with some descent short up and down sections. 2 hours into Friday’s hike I was ready to take them off. I tried wearing SmartWool socks instead of my usual wicking running socks and my feet feel a little warmer and more snug. At 3 hours, I sat down, dressed my blistered heels with love, and switched into my Northface trail shoes. Thank goodness for 2 pairs of shoes, not minding the extra weight on my pack one bit. My Northface trail shoes were purchased at the same time as my Oboz’s, but have had more trail time. 3 hours and 45 minutes in I’m eager for lunch, still feeling a bit away from the top, and a bit frustrated that I’m not moving faster. If the internet says 4.5 hours, I should be able to do it faster! Humbling moment….I may do this one slower. As I’m sitting next to the trail a gentleman comes down; he greets me and me him.
“Are you going up or down”
“Up, how much longer do you anticipate I have?”
He walks me through the terrain from my sitting spot to the top and accounts for 37 minutes of downward walking
I look at my watch…I gotta push it. I have plans Friday night in a normal single girl fashion and squeezing every minute of the day is how I roll. Back on my feet, wash down my lunch with more water. I hit Washington Monument (not DC) and am happy to be in the final portion of the trail. I’m looking for the side trail and give myself a time of 25 minutes; if I don’t see it in 25, I’m turning around and heading back down. The internet said 17 minutes, my friendly hiker friend who picked up my spirits said 21 minutes. At 22 minutes, when I’m starting to have doubt again, I see the fork of a small side trail up to the right. Ahhhhhh!!!!! Steepest portion, highest point on the mountain, go go go! I get to the top, write in the journal in the metal box, sit and have an apple, practice my outdoor pit-stops, and look out and around.
My head is swimming. I push out the heat, I push out the length of trail ahead. I sit in the moment and breathe. Collect my intent and square up to head down.
In the last 4.5 hours I have seen 7 people. I have spoken to myself more than someone else. I hear a russel in the brush, 2 more people and they are later than me!
The man asks what time I started, “9:18”
“Oh wow, you are fast, we started at 8:00” Wait, but I didn’t pass you on the trail….
“Oh, we took a sleep somewhere along the trail”
haha, that sounded delicious to me at that moment.
So feeling like I figured out the trekking poles going uphill, time to see what they feel like going downhill. And let’s see how fast I can go! Descending was a bit more variable with the trek poles. I elongated them a smidge to catch the downhill grade and played with pushing back against myself with my arms letting my legs turn over with less breaking momentum. At parts, I could run! It was kind of cool. I played the same games going down: looking out, finding a rhythm between feet and poles, stopping and eating, and counting the switch backs. Fast forward 3 hours: I spotted the fire station I passed driving when getting near the trailhead and now it was time to let myself believe “I’m almost there”. 20 minutes later and after 6 switch backs on the final portion, I spotted my car and excitement bubbled. (sad that the excitement was at the end, but my feet were screaming)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love my car (shameless plug: Ford Escape XLT) because I literally can just hop into the trunk and sit and relax after hiking, running, snowboarding, any sport that my feet are asking for pressure relief. I climbed into my trunk, texted my friends that I’m alive and succeeded, and enjoyed another bottle of water and some snacks. All in all I finished the hike with 3.5L of water down the hatch, and eating something small frequently to avoid the hypoglycemia that zaps my mental and physical drive. I’d say it was a success! 16.5 miles in 9 hours of trail time,
8 hours of movement and reached the peak at 10,649 feet.
Recapping my accessories:
My bike computer: not effective on the trail; only captured 3 miles of movement over the whole hike.
My running watch from Targ-et: kept time effectively as long as I remembered to push stop/start.
Trekking poles: LOVE them! Made uphill about hashing and made downhill more fluid. I think my abs worked harder and my legs got a break. (Confirmed 24-48 hours later with moderate muscle soreness of abs and minor of calves and TFL’s…darn those TFL’s, I’m trying to not use them as much, as identified a few weeks ago…whole different story that I’ll maybe get back to another time)
Camelback bladder and 2-32oz Nalgene’s…good water quantity for time and weather on trail
Ozob Hiking Shoes: My feet hate you, therefore I do too.
Northface Trail Shoes: Thank goodness for them!
Solo hike: mental perseverance and serenity
Two peaks left in the 6-pack Peak series: San Gorgonio Sept 25th with Christine and San Jacinto TBD with TBD, ha.
Issues to address: socks and shoes