A Glimpse of Heaven

(7/28/05) Where there are queers, there is luggage. Yes, that includes backpack trips. I'm not sure how Jimm did it, but he was able to masterfully cram 4 passengers and all our baggage into the X5. Becka-Homo-Eka's kitchen may have played a heavy role in weighing down the car, but in defense, I only brought two pairs of shoes. My auntie, Imelda Marcos, would have been shocked.

The first night we car camped at Marion Mountain Campground to adjust to altitude and run a gear check. This was Matt's first backpacking trip. He wanted to test the waters of the sport of backpacking and by trip's end had crossed the ocean with flying colors. Friday afternoon included a backpacking clinic on packing a backpack and backpacking clothing selection. Many of us were also christening new gear, such as Jeff's amazing two-door, two-porch, MSR Hubba-Hubba tent. I can see why it received a 2005 Backpacker's Editor's Choice Award.

That night we enjoyed mouthwatering salmon steaks with basil butter barbequed by our multi-talented college boy, Matt, and finished the evening off with a campfire, conversation, smores, and wine.

During the night there was a light rain, which was a gentle reminder that weather could bring us quite the adventure that weekend. Weather reports predicted instability and chance of thunderstorm over the weekend. But this did not deter us. We were prepared.

Saturday morning we ran into the Sierra Club GLS at the trailhead and I chatted with a few members, including Mike Brostoff, who recently became a Perfect Pace member. We were all surprised at the number of family members on the mountain over the weekend, which seemed like a majority. Of course, as with many electronic devices at high-altitude, our gadar may have been slightly malfunctioning.

Marion Mountain Trail was steep, but steady and clean. Although we carried full packs, the intensity was nothing like the killer Baldy Ski Hut Trail the previous weekend. Our friends and family warned us, "It's going to be hot!". To the contrary, the whole weekend was very pleasant in 60's and 70's, and dense tree groves and rolling clouds offered great shade. While the rest of Southern California baked from the heatwave, we had to put on all our layers, including gloves, to keep warm on the summit Sunday morning. I'm guessing the temperature was probably about 50 degrees at the peak.

After our trek up to Little Round Valley, we set up camp, and relaxed the entire afternoon knowing we had a long day ahead of us the next day. It felt like a party on the mountain as we bumped into GLS again and mingled with them for a while. We certainly brought enough spirits to have a party, with Yellow Tail chardonnay, Ferrari Carano merlot, dirty Tanqueray Ten martinis, and Courvoisier cognac. It was quite the fun extended tea-time as we closed the day off with awed silence on top of a rock outcropping looking out to a fantastic sunset. It was a very open bunch as the topic of sex seemed to make its way into most of the conversations. And as we agreed guys, what happens on the mountain stays on the mountain. ;)

At 3:30 am, I made my rounds screaming "Wake-up Call!" to prepare my fellow mountaineers for our headlamp hike to San Jacinto peak to watch the sunrise. The sky was almost completely covered with clouds and fog during the whole hike and prayed that it would magically disappear once we reached the top.

My prayer was answered. Shortly after reaching the top, the clouds dramatically parted, like a scene out of the Ten Commandments, for a fleeting, yet time-stopping moment. If you think the pictures that follow are surreal, imagine it in real life. It was unreal. Thank you GOD for that perfect moment on the peak. But just as swiftly as the sky opened up, it quickly sealed, as thunderheads started to gather around the mountain.

We continued our hike around Marion Mountain hearing distant claps of thunder. It felt like the storm was chasing us around the mountain. But the rain was sporadic during the day and we only had to don our rain gear twice. To be honest, I'm not sure I would have wanted it any other way with the eerie sounds of thunder, the fog-filled valleys, the photographic play on shadows, the magnified colors of the wet landscape, and the cool hiking temperatures. The storm rolled in and out often enough to also reveal spectacular vistas. All of our senses were electrified, thankfully not by lightning.

When we reached the trailhead, Chad found a rattlesnake curled up by the car, guarding my car from trespassers. We quickly cleaned up and drove into Idyllwild for a celebratory meal. As we sat in the outdoor patio, the waitress warned us that there was a storm rapidly approaching and that we might get rained on. I almost busted out laughing.

Matt said the trip was purely magical. I'm sure everyone in the group feels the same. And I'm not surprised that backpacking has won Matt's heart over in his first trip. Its hard to convey why we love backpacking so much. Its not just about camping overnight in the wilderness. Its about witnessing unsurpassed sunrises and sunsets, more intimately connecting with nature, truly escaping from the hustle and bustle of civilization, challenging our abilities, baring our souls and bonding with each other, and tapping into an inner part of ourselves. If you haven't tried backpacking yet, I invite you now to come on a Perfect Pace backpack trip. You will not regret it.

Special thanks to Jimm for his photo contributions, including the breathtaking cover shot.