I met Aaron and his group of friends at the ranger station, signed permits, loaded bear canisters, and talked optimistically about our pending assault on Mt. San Gorgonio. The weight of the pack when it is first loaded onto your shoulders always surprises you, no matter how many times you have done it before.
The first mile of the Vivian Creek Trail is the steepest, removing any possibility of getting a warm-up or stretch in, or really, any of the other recommendations that your Physician may give you regarding exercise. I hated my pack and I hated whichever goddamn son-of-a-bitch had designed all of these switchbacks on the trail. We were awarded relief earlier than normal, however. By some stroke of luck or Aaron's genius planning, our camp was less than 3 miles from the trail-head. We dropped our packs, set up camp, and hid the food from any marauding bears.
Back on the trail, we moved quickly, free from the weight of all of our belongings, and still relatively fired up on adrenaline and caffeine. Like a bunch of idiots, we brought minimal water and no clothing other than the t-shirts and shorts that we had on. For a group of guys experienced enough to know better, I can only chalk this up to amnesia or temporary insanity. Mile after mile, switch-back after switch-back, one better-equipped hiker after another, we floundered up the tallest mountain in Southern California.
By necessity, we drank less water, rationing some for the return, and our rest stops became longer and longer. Sitting on the flat rocks with legs stretched out, feasting on small oranges that Adam called "cuties," (of which I have since learned is the real name), it became easy to toy with the idea of just sitting down forever. Each time that we got back up, our legs protested a little louder. They started with a "do we have to?" and evolved to a shriller "what the fucking fuck is your problem?" Temperamental little bastards...
After getting above the tree-line, we realized the extent of our stupidity. The wind whipped, and with no trees to mute the force, we got lashed by the gales, turning our hands purple and numb, and our minds fondly remembering the "old days" of camping. You know, the ones with smores and ghost stories. More and more hikers looked at us strangely as they passed us on the way back down.
"Is that all the clothes you have?"
"Is that all the water you have?"
"I hope you have more clothes than that hidden somewhere."
"Yes," "yes," and "we wish we did too." But we didn't. So we kept walking. We finally got over the false summit, a huge rocky mound that thinks its funny, and lures the unsuspecting into thinking you are almost done. It then kicks sand in your face, laughs at you, and steals your girlfriend. Aaron and I jogged the final push, startling a few kindly folks as we jostled past them, and tried not to get taken off of our feet by the wind.
The summit was just under 11,500 feet, and provided the panoramic views of southern California that it is famous for. The wind was damn near knocking us over. We posed for a couple of pictures, and then shared our whiskey, a flask of Bulliet Bourbon that was a gift from my cousins. One of the world's toughest grandmothers had reached the peak as well, and took an impressive slug of the fire water. We couldn't see, hear, or do anything for the cold and the wind, and estimated the wind-chill factor to be close to freezing, so we got the hell out of there.
Tough Grandma and Aaron
Aaron and I at summit
Exposed along the ridge, the wind got even more intense, and loosening your grip on the earth to take a step forward was to risk being knocked completely ass over tea kettle.
Video from the summit. Turn up the volume to hear the wind.
We finally got back to camp, and were bitterly disappointed to find that no batch of sorority girls had arrived in our absence, an unlikely scenario I'll admit, but one which had incubated in our minds and discussion so firmly that we had almost come to expect it. No sorority girls.
After watching me struggle mightily with my tent for what must have been an hour, Eric was kind enough to lend me his engineering assistance. It went up in no time, of course. Amazing what can be accomplished when one member of the party actually has some common-sense and ingenuity. Thanks, Eric. And thanks for not laughing at me.
Aaron jimmy-rigged one hell of a rope contraption that brought our bag of used dishes high above the head of any normal bear, and we stashed the canisters far from camp. Despite that, it was a relatively sleepless night. Obviously half-stupid from whiskey and exertion, I became convinced that a cavalry of bears and armed Vikings were coming to raid our camp, steal the liquor and kill us all.
The bear/Viking cavalry from my imagination
Breakfast was Lucky Charms and powdered milk, beef jerky, power bars, and a shit-heap of energy-Gu. Adam and Alex led the charge down the mountain, and we were sipping ice-cold beers and mowing down burritos by noon.
Aaron bear-proofing our camp
Alex becoming one with a tree spirit
Another mountain conquered, and good times were had by all.