Adapting at High Altitude

(8/24/05) Sometimes even careful planning and preparation cannot prevent things from going wrong in a wilderness outing. The art of being a skilled hiker comes out in adapting to the punches Mother Nature throws out at you. This last weekend's trip through San Gorgonio wilderness was certainly an interesting test in adapting to circumstances.

Even before the trip began, I knew there may be a logistical problem with water for the first wilderness campsite. Thankfully I was able to tap into great recommendations from the San Gorgonio Wilderness Association online message board and change the first wilderness campsite from Dry Lake View to Red Rock Flats where water was located close by.

As we began our drive to San Gorgonio, we immediately ran into bumper-to-bumper traffic on the I-15 corridor at Rancho Bernardo. Rather than sit in traffic, we decided to stop and have dinner at a lovely Olive Garden restaurant. After a fairly long dinner, we continued our journey to the mountain and came across a roadblock at the bottom of the mountain. Apparently, an accident caused a small hillside fire and the police were not letting anyone pass. With our show-must-go-on attitude, we figured out another way up the mountain which basically circled the entire mountain. It was quite a long dizzying detour.

At the campground the next morning, we entertained each other with trying to get a bear vault open and remove the bottom cup on a JetBoil. The bear vault was more human proof than bear proof. Fortunately, Andy thought up the brilliant idea of using a hard object such as a small rock to press down on the bear vault lid to pry it open. I've also learned that the JetBoil cup can come off more easily if you file down the tabs on the cup.

We had our fair share of accidentally leaving things behind in this trip. In the first day, Erick left his camera at Horse Meadows which he was able to run back and retrieve. Shortly thereafter, I left my sunglasses at South Fork junction, which I was able to run back and retrieve. Later in the trip, Jimm misplaced his spork and I left my tent footprint behind, both of which I'll describe shortly.

When we reached our first wilderness camp, Red Rock Flats (10K feet), Erick was hit by Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). AMS affects 10 to 40% of people at high altitude and it does not discriminate. It can hit anyone regardless of age or fitness level. Later that afternoon, I sprained my ankle while walking on top of a tree log. Great. I have a sprained ankle and Erick has AMS. All I could hope for was that Erick would feel better in the morning and my ankle would quickly heal.

We woke the next morning and Erick was not doing better. My ankle was a little better, but tender. After discussing various options, we decided to walk Erick back to the trailhead. Fortunately, by the time we reached the South Fork junction, which was at a much lower elevation, Erick was feeling much better. Erick indicated he was okay enough to make the rest of the leg back to the trailhead. After hugs and goodbyes, the rest of us continued in the opposite direction of our planned route to Dry Lake. At a stream crossing, I slipped on a log and fell right on top of one of my hiking poles, breaking it in half. I still had the other pole. Glass half full, right? When we reached Dry Lake, we quickly set up camp.

With our ten essentials, we then headed off to the highest point in Southern California -- San Gorgonio summit. On the way there we ran into the Cargo plane wreckage. It was kind of cool, yet spooky. As we approached the summit, a nice guy named Alex came up to me and asked "Are you Glen?" It is always a pleasure bumping into someone on the trail who has learned about Perfect Pace. Hopefully, Alex will be joining us in future outings. The summit was amazing, with crystal clear views of Mt. Baldy, Palm Springs, Little San Bernardino Mountains, Big Bear Lakes, Santa Ana Mountains, Agua Tibia, and of course, stately San Jacinto. I was able to call my sweetie and wave to him down at Palm Springs.

When we arrived back at camp, we had a nice relaxing evening, enjoying dinner, dirty martinis, and candle light. Since we were missing a spork, I was able to luckily spot a plastic white spoon which seemed to magically appear on the trail on the way back from the summit (Yes, I cleaned it). Those trail angels really get around. We all slept like rocks that evening.

I woke up early the next morning feeling fully rested and my ankle perfectly healed. I decided to race back to Red Rock Flats to retrieve the tent footprint I left there from the night before. Yes, I know I could have avoided the 11 mile round trip and bought a new one, but it was a matter of principle and in some respects, a symbol of closure. I actually really enjoyed the early morning solo hike. I spotted a family of gorgeous big horn sheep at Dollar Lake Saddle and also ran into three different parties also training for Whitney. I did the 11 mile (3000 ft elev gain) round trip in a record 4 hours. It was exhilarating.

We broke camp and headed back to the trailhead. We spotted deer along the way and enjoyed the rest of a glorious Sunday on beautiful San Gorgonio.

This trip reminded me a little of my crazy solo Sheep Canyon adventure. It seems that on some trips, when it rains, it pours. Lessons learned: Safety first, let the creative juices flow, figure out alternate plans, do one last check for left-behind items, stay calm and patient, work as a team in the decision-making process, think positive, get lots of rest, water, and nourishment, don't forget to have fun, and never ever give up.

We got great pictures out of this trip. Special thanks to Jimm for his photo contributions. His pictures are labeled "jimm".