On a mild July day on a Saturday I spontaneously decided that I wanted to go hike up a mountain. I grabbed my back pack, some sun block, water and set Google maps to Mount Baldy. The drive from Wildomar was only about a half an hour. Living in Redlands for 2 years I had driven up to Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead but that was simply driving. I had never really well, gotten out of the car an even walked more than a few feet down any trail, let alone trekked up a a mountain to the summit. At the end of a steep winding road I came to a small town and a little further up the road ended with a ski lift where, if one were so inclined, they could purchase a lift ticket. This wasn't my style. No, I have to do things the hard way...walking. I asked a woman in the office where the trail began. She directed me to the garbage cans at the other end of the parking lot. With all enthusiasm I wandered past the cans and on to the trail. I immediately wondered if I had made a mistake. The trail was rugged and steep as hell! It was clear that this was the trail but it was a sheer rocky wall going up about a quarter of a mile. This part of the trail is already 7000 feet up and so my lungs weren't exactly handling it. And this is a guy who jogs 5 miles every other day. Anyways I gathered my resolved and trekked on humming the 80;s song one foot in front of the other and eventually reached the first turn. From then on the trail opened up and became the gradual green ski slope. I imagined skiers passing me in the winter and remembered the last time I went skiing...Geez I had to be 14 or 15. It was fun. Maybe I should do that again sometime.
There were several people on the trail that day. It was a weekend, the weather was nice for July and we were still on the tail end of the pandemic. By this time I had received both shots and I imagine many of the other trail patrons had done the same. After an hour or so I reached the Notch. A place where you can rent skis, take in a meal or camp in one of the bungalows.
I Think I Took The Wrong Path
The map at the Top of the Notch is kinda vague. It's purpose isn't really to guide a hiker so much as to just give a general idea of where things are. It noted that the summit was to the right of the map and looking on I could see what appeared to be a treeless peak. I began following a trail in that direction. After a bit the trail split. Two the left the trail appeared to go downhill and to the right it went up. My instinct was that up was where I wanted to go so to the right I went.
Similar to the opening of the trail near the ski lift this was steep, rugged and long. I found myself out of breath several times. I sat and looked back and where i was sitting reminded me of a time when i was kid, the last time I had gone skiing, when I accidently turned on to a black slope and found myself faced with what from my perspective was a sheer cliff that I wasn't about to ski down! I remember it had taken me a good half-hour to slowly tack back and forth from one side to the other to get to the bottom.
Anyways, as I was sitting and contemplating and gathering my breath and older woman came wandering by, hiking sticks in hand and a smile on her face. "HI there", she said, "Nice weather". I agreed and asked her whether I had taken the wrong trail because this was brutal. She said, "No" and advised me that should just keep doing what I'm doing. Move a little , catch your breath, take in the view and move again. I have marveled at this since moving to California as a similar theme seems to happen time and again since moving to California and to day was no exception. I am a middle aged man and think of myself as being in pretty good shape and yet being it jogging, hiking, or mountain biking I find men and woman well my senior who really can give me a run for my money. Amazing.
I had just returned a week earlier from a trip to Texas, my home state. This trip took me from Dallas down to Austin and then down to Houston and finally Galveston. It was a great trip. Here on the top of a mountain in California I meet a young man who coincidentally was here on vacation as well from Dallas and was going to go on to Zion in Utah next week.
Sympathy For The Devil
The Devils Backbone technically starts at the Top of The Knock lodge but really, it starts at the first sign just after the last ski lift. And you can really tell where it got it's name from. A winding rocky steep trail with sheer cliffs on both sides that lasts to a good 5 miles. Actually it's only 2 miles, as the crow flies. The first part of this trail was brutal. Loose rocks that frankly I had no choice but to sort of skip from one to the next. I recall grumbling under my breath cursing the damn trail and the very idea by some devil in my subconscious that had spawn this cursed idea in my dreams the following night.
Along the trail you tend to get bunched up with other groups of people moving at roughly the same pace. One such group were a bunch of twenty somethings from UCLA. One of the young women was Asian, cute, short hair. She reminded me of Diane form Bojack Horseman. By the time we reached the Backbone the boys had all decided that the girls were moving to slow and began pressing forward. Initially everything seemed fine. The atmosphere was calm and humorous when suddenly Bojack/Diane collapsed and began hyperventilating. From my perspective she seems alright actually. Sufferings not from exposure or exhaustion but from an anxiety attack from the looks of it. Regardless her friend, a rather buxom girl, took off like a shot up the hill to get the men to come back down.
Denial and Acceptance
A few days prior I came across a few YouTube videos of people hiking Mount Baldy. They made it look easy and as I stated before I felt I was in good shape. At this point however, I was feeling like ... well like someone trying to hike up a much higher mountain I think. I would stop, catch my breath, feel like a million dollars with the strength of a 20 year old and then almost immediately be out of breath again. It was really frustrating. Eventually a woman came the the other direction for the top. She was older, fully equipped and was in a bit of a hurry. I asked her how far I had left and she said, "Oh, about a half an hour" and asked if I had enough water. She said that she was training for a competition and had taken way too much. I thought I probably has enough but more couldn't hurt so she filled my canteen and trotted off.
Wandering back to the first leg of the Backbone I paused for quite awhile and sat in meditation... Staring into the distance. I didn't know it at the time but now looking at Google maps I was probably staring at Route 66 and Edwards Air Force Base ... pretty cool.
Eventually I began heading down the mountain. I came across the two college women from before eating a sandwich. I asked if everything was alright. They laughed and said yes and I continued on.
Top Of The Notch
Looks like a nice bar and restaurant. I wish I had stuck around but I was there for one thing, "water". I would like to say it's a bar whose admission is hiking up half-way but with the ski lift that's far from true ... It's a nice sentiment anyways.
A Second Wind
Turning the corner to that first painful stretch of trail I found myself full of energy. I started inexplicably jogging, no GALOPPING down the trail. I was passing hikers who were looking at me like I was some kind of a crazy person. This is a steep and rocky trail so this was no simple feet. In retrospect I really could have hurt myself. Perhaps after all of this, as much as I really loved it, I was exhausted and maybe knowing that it was almost over my subconscious was on some kind of celebratory parade.
I really enjoyed this trail. It as NOT as easy as it's made out on various YouTube videos filmed by rubber people with lungs that were grown on top of Mount Everest. It's beautiful, a little dangerous but, safe enough for the average shmuck to be able to attempt without a sherpa.