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Trilogy Challenge 2007 -- Director's Cut

(10/17/07) Written by Mike B.

The Trilogy Challenge began for me back in the spring when Glen first proposed it. Perfect Pace was going to do Baldy, Gorgonio and San Jacinto over one weekend. I liked the idea since I faithfully hike all three peaks each summer. From one summit you could look across the landscape and see the other two. Normally, I spread them out over three weekends, so the idea of packing them into one sounded fun. I was assuming Baldy and Jacinto on Saturday and then Gorgonio on Sunday.

Then Glen posted the Trilogy Challenge on the website. The hikes were going to be done in sequence without a night's rest. Gorgonio was going to be an all nighter. That sounded like a drag. When I asked Glen why he didn't just split them up into two days, he replied, "then it wouldn't be much of a challenge". I understood the reasoning, but didn't see the necessity. I like challenging long distance hikes, but usually there is a pay-off. You can go farther and therefore gain a better sense of the topography and develop a deeper intimacy with the area. I couldn't see the benefit of staying up all night to do Gorgonio during the darkness.

Nonetheless, many other of the hardcore hikers were signing up for the Challenge, so I didn't want to be left out. Even though, I thought this challenge would be unnecessarily grueling, I would be doing it with people I have gotten to know over the past few years, so we would all be in it together and on that basis alone it would be fun.

When Mick heard us discuss the Challenge at Big Sur, he said he would love to be involved and help out, but he didn't want to do all three hikes. It occurred to me then that we could use a driver to transport us to the different hikes. Staying up all night while completing 34 miles of hiking would not be conducive for safe driving. Glen agreed the trip required designated drivers who would not be participating.

A week prior to the Challenge, Glen and I were discussing the logistics of the three peaks. Many issues needed to be ironed out: lodging for the drivers, carpool logistics, potential participation of members doing only select hikes and budget to cover expenses which initially included very expensive medals. We continued to bounce ideas back and forth over the next few days.

It was interesting to observe Glen during this process. He was open to all suggestions, but he wanted to do everything and was continually waffling between all the options. Quite frankly, it was beginning to drive me crazy. When we talked Thursday afternoon, we still had a morass of unresolved issues. Two hours later, I called back and Glen had everything resolved. Lodging was secured, medals were out, meals were in, and all carpools were arranged. I was not only impressed with his decisive action, but his ability to contact all those involved and work out solutions that made sense for everyone. I witnessed first hand one of Glen's many talents for managing Perfect Pace.

Saturday morning, the two carpools left their respective cities. Carlos drove the LA people in his company car plastered with Infinity.com advertising. Aaron drove the San Diego people in Glen's van. Mick came with the LA carpool to shuttle Donnie in his truck. The drivers ended up being an indispensable part of the weekend. By the end of the Challenge, many of us were spontaneously nodding in the middle of thoughts. So it was comforting to know that there was someone at the wheel who was well rested. Also, I felt the drivers volunteering represented the sense of a Perfect Pace community. They weren't attempting the Challenge, yet they wanted to be a part of it, a chance to spend time with people that they had come to know over a series of outings. (Granted, Carlos and Aaron had ulterior motives. They met at Tahquitz the weekend before and acknowledged a mutual attraction.)

All parties arrived at the Tram station for San Jacinto on schedule. After our ascent up the tram, we started our hike to the top. As we passed hikers, we managed to inform them of our three peak goal, generally leaving them impressed. At the peak, Jeremy pointed to Gorgonio and proclaimed, "You're next Bitch!" Carlos happened to be standing between Jeremy's finger and the peak, so Jeremy assured him he meant no harm. With Jacinto summitted, we returned and went for dinner at Caffe Italia in Palm Springs.

We had a leisurely dinner. Since we would be staying up all night, I decided it would be best to indulge in caffeine, something I rarely ingest. I drank too cokes and two cups of coffee. After dinner, I took a couple of swigs of Jeff's Red Bull on our way to Forest Falls, something I never had before. It was like drinking Jolly Ranchers. At Forest Falls, we got Carlos, Aaron and Mick situated in the lodge, a beautiful spot 1 mile from the trailhead. We then left for the trailhead.

We took off at 8:50 PM. I was totally caffeinated and felt like I could sprint to the peak. With me leading the group, we crossed the wash and headed up the steep switchbacks towards Vivian Creek. A few times, Amy suggested that I should slow the pace. I thought I adjusted accordingly, but finally she blurted out, "Mike I am done hinting. Slow down!" At that point, I drastically slowed down, but I felt like I was holding myself back. I realized that the secret behind the accelerated pace of Perfect Pace members is caffeine. I had suspected it all along, but now it was confirmed.

We reached Vivian Creek around 9:40PM. The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Sierrans (GLS) were camping there that evening. Amy, Jeff and I are also members of GLS, so I thought we would say a quick "Hello" to those who were still awake while the rest of Perfect Pace waited on the trail. To my surprise, all of GLS climbed out of their tents to greet us. And Perfect Pace joined for an impromptu mixer at their campsite. Everyone was introducing themselves to each other. One GLS woman greeted Jeremy, "My name's Eva. I usually don't introduce myself in my underwear." Amy's girlfriend, Winnie, finally got to meet the Perfect Pace members she had only seen on the website. There was so much chatter, it sounded like a party.

After about 20 minutes of socializing, we got back on the trail. We started spreading out as we reached High Creek Camp. Donnie was lagging behind. He had been sick with food poisoning two days earlier. His veal dinner from the Caffe Italia wasn't sitting well with him and it ended up somewhere on the trail. Amy also wasn't also feeling up to par. She had a cold a few weeks earlier and didn't have a chance to train as she would have liked. So she and Donnie decided to stick together determined to summit.
Jeremy, myself, Jeff, Glen and Andy, spread out as we headed to the peak. We could see the vast matrix of lights spread out across San Bernardino. I never realized how much civilization was in that valley until that moment.

Jeremy arrived first with the rest of us arriving one after another in 10-20 minute intervals. All except Donnie and Amy were there by 2:00 AM. It was freezing at the top with a fierce wind blowing. We put on all our layers and huddled together. By 2:20AM, there was no sign of Amy and Donnie, so we decided to head down. About 10 minutes latter, Amy and Donnie crested the ridge. While we all reconvened, Donnie climbed atop a nearby mound of boulders and lied down as if he were in a lounge chair. He was so exhausted the he decided that mound was the summit, our first clue that Donnie was little bit out of it.

Now that we were altogether, we agreed as a group to re-peak before heading down. We returned to the summit for a few pictures and then once again headed back down. Jeremy and Jeff took off. We could see their headlights in the distance progress down the mountain. Amy and I stuck together. Glen and Andy stuck close to Donnie who was completely wobbly at this point, requesting to nap at the side of the trail. At High Creek Camp, Glen and I needed more water. Amy, Donnie and Andy went ahead. I followed Glen.

Glen was concerned about Donnie's state of fatigue and his own. He wasn't sure if either of them would continue to Baldy. Glen seemed to sprain his ankle every 10 minutes, hopping on his good leg like a dog with an injured foot. Daylight had broken by the time we reached Vivian Creek. Shortly after, we caught up with Donnie who looked like a living dead ambling on the trail. His pack was hanging to one side and he was carrying his pools at a cock-eyed angle. Nonetheless, he remained very agile. Though he appeared to be stumbling down the trail, he navigated it well.

Shortly before reaching the GLS campers, we came across an unattended campsite with a large bear munching away on some human food. While we took pictures, the bear started heading in our direction. Glen and I backed away not sure which direction to head while Donnie held his ground. We yelled at Donnie to move, but he clicked his poles together and the bear slinked off like a dog. When I reached the GLS campsite, they reported that a few bears were walking through the area all night long.

Both Donnie and Glen made their way back down the trail. Donnie was wiped and wasted. He decided not to continue onto Baldy. When we returned, our respective drivers were waiting for us to take us back to the lodge, having carted the previous arrivals. At the lodge we were able to shower and freshen up, a rare treat in the middle of a grueling challenge. Jeff was surprised to learn that I was still full of energy and good spirits, figuring I would have crashed from the caffeine hours ago. After vacating the lodge, we ate breakfast in Yucaipa and then headed for Baldy in our respective carpools.

We reached the final leg of our journey, the Baldy ski lift. All the hikers and the drivers decided to go up the lift. Both Donnie and Glen felt recharged and decided to complete the challenge. The drivers remained at the ski lift. Though the ski lift is the shortest approach to Baldy (6 miles RT.), 3000' is still substantial gain. Jeff, Donnie and I were the only ones who had taken this route before. Jeff explained that the first and last parts were steep, but the middle was pretty level. As we continued climbing, Andy asked where the level part was that Jeff described. I pointed out the 1/8" mile section near Harwood peak, a very short middle.

Originally, I was thinking Baldy was going to be the anticlimactic finale to the challenge, but the hike was gorgeous. The partly cloudy sky brought out the brown, blues and purples of the surrounding mountains. A fierce wind was blowing, keeping the air clean. Freshly showered and full of energy, we all raced up the hill and felt great. Andy joked that doing Gorgonio all night long may be the best preparation for future challenging hikes. We all arrived within minutes of each other. Glen tossed his hat in the air like a Frisbee. I retrieved it for him and he picked me up and spun me around three times in celebration. I had this sudden fear of his ankles completely buckling. Looking to the East, we saw Gorgonio and Jacinto. We had been at all three peaks within a 24 hour span and everyone who started also completed, even those who were ready to quit after Gorgonio. We stayed up for about 25 minutes to savor the moment. I was so high from the whole experience that I volunteered to write this article, something that has taken me two months to complete.

We headed down at our own pace, descended the ski lift, and enjoyed one final meal at Mount Baldy Village. After a great time chatting, we piled into our carpools and headed home. I was asleep by 7:30PM. The whole trip was one of my favorite Perfect Pace adventures, partly because I helped plan it. But mostly because I was running around in what I consider my extended backyard with people I enjoy hiking with. Though I originally could see no payoff to hiking Gorgonio at night, I can now appreciate the benefit in retrospect. Only at night time, can you look out and see the vast array of light in the San Bernardino and Coachella Valleys.tet