The plan was simple, albeit changed slightly from the original. My Whitney climbing partner had tweaked his knee while reffing a football (not soccer) game and had decided to sit out the weekends hike up San Gorgonio. With that in mind I changed the destination to Mount Baldy.
A slightly later than planned start, an hour in the car, $5.00 for the Park parking permit, three laps around Manker Flats Campground parking at around 6100’ before finding a spot and I was set. The first part of the trail was actually a road which led up to a somewhat dryish waterfall and then switchbacked up on a fireroad. A quarter mile later and a sharp left turn and I followed the singletrack path. I signed in the trail book and headed up into the tree line. The trail, was ominously called “Ski Hut Trail”, good for going down, and, well, not so for going up.
I had set off with my Forerunner on but the path was so steep that the autostop/start was chirping so much it sounded like an over-cheerful budgie! A steady pace and several hours later and I arrived at the “ski hut” having climbed 2000’ vertical feet. There were multiple groups of hikers enjoying the views and having a well earned rest. After a short break for lunch, (Cliff bar and gel) I set of the second half which would take me up to the summit at 10,064. Like most things in life it proved to be an event of two halves. The second half started well but it wasn’t long before I started to feel the effects of both the heat and altitude. This photo was taken about 15 minutes into the second half. There was a little shade afforded from the trees but not as much as I would have liked. While taking a rest on a rather inviting log I asked a descending hiker what lay ahead, he advised that the ridgeline to the summit was about 40 minutes away and then the summit was another 30 or so after that. To put this into perspective this trail is, according to the book, 8.4 miles, I was traveling at around one, yes one mile per hour! I pushed on and the higher I got the slower I got.
After spending 40 minutes or so getting to the top of a particularly steep section, having promised myself a rest when I got there, I found the least uncomfortable spot and unceremoniously plonked myself down, another group sat nearby in a choice shady spot got up and set off and I overheard the comment that there was another 600 feet, a half mile, about half an hour to the top. You can see in the photo how close I was. I rested a little while longer and looked at my watch; 1:30, I made the decision to give myself till 2pm before turning around, whether I was at the top or not. The next time I looked at my watch it was 1:35 and I had moved roughly steps. At this point for the second weekend in a row discretion was the better part of valor, I about faced a started walking downhill.
Physiologically the effect of altitude is hard to describe, my wife, who suffered from it when we hiked the Inca Trail (13,828) describes it as being 120 years old; you have a complete lack of mobility, your muscles feel fine, you’re not that short of breath, you just are unable to move, I had it mildly while climbing Mt Kinabalu (13,438’) and would say that that is a pretty fair description, throw into the mix, nausea and giddiness and, well, I had two out of three. My stomach had been feeling a little queasy and within two minutes of my turnaround decided that the contents were no longer content with containment, this was again repeated several times during the next 30 minutes, I can report that the rumors are true and you feel a million times better afterwards.
I slowly and steadily (emphasis on the slow and not on the steady) made my way back down. I was not feeling hungry or thirsty and had been consuming gels and Perpetuem along the way as well as water from my CamelBak, the problem now was that having been in the sun so long both were warm, refreshing; I don't think so! I recrossed a couple of small streams and took the opportunity to cool myself down in the ice cold water. At this point I started fixating on ice pops, the thought of the cold fruit flavored ice melting in my mouth was becoming almost an obsession; I have no idea where it came from but it was driving me nuts. Every so often I would rest and I reminded myself of a line from the film The Runner where David Horton says something like “it’s no good sitting down, you’re not going to die and you’ve got to get to the end”. Finally after just under two and half hours I was back at the car, after phoning home to confirm I was on my way, a look at the temperature gauge revealed that it was a toasty 92 degrees! A short car ride to the nearest store satisfied my ice pop lust and two hours later I was back home. The effects of the altitude having been left on the mountain, literally!
So with this in mind I have canceled, well delayed, my Whitney trip, I have no desire to repeat this experience, put the responsibility for my safety in the hands of anyone else and do it all when I am over 300 miles from home. Both Baldy and Whitney will be around for a while yet so I will be back have another go having put in some lower level work first.
There is a old joke which asks; how do you make a Swiss Roll – you push him off the top of a mountain. Continuing the gastronomy theme there is a joke in there somewhere about tossing my cookies on the mountain, but it’s late and I can’t quite piece it together, but you see where I am going…right?
As mentioned there is no Forerunner data but you can check out the pictures here.