Tuesday, March 22, 2011

WBC: Joshua Tree Backcountry

A little late in posting this!

About 3.5 weeks ago, there were news reports saying that some gnarly storm was coming into SoCal, and that we should prepare for the worst.  Grocery stores starting running out of food, those in the east county started gathering supplies like Burt and Reba from Tremors, snow levels were going to drop to lower elevations, screams of "hide ya wife, hide ya kids" could be heard 'round the county, and so on.  Ok, a little much, but it was the usual exaggerated SoCal-doomsday-weather-forecast-just-because-we're-getting-wind-and-rain.

Well, that weekend was our scheduled land navigation camping trip, and this time, we chose the back country of Joshua Tree.  Friday night camping would be at 3300ft, and after navigating through some back country, we'd finally setup camp around 4200ft.  The main attraction for the trip was the top notch bouldering we'd encounter, along with fine tuning my rusty navigation skills.

Knowing that the snow level was indeed dropping that weekend, along with lots of wind (up to 50mph gusts), rain and even snow, even I was a little concerned.  Partly because my winter gear hadn't come in yet, leaving me with a long sleeve running jersey and a wind/water resistant cycling jacket to fend the elements with, and partly because I didn't want to be miserable all weekend.  Fortunately, I learned later, my friend Erin was going to let me borrow some Gore-tex bad ass jacket to keep me warm.

Friday morning, an email came out from WBC saying that all camping trips were canceled.  15 minutes later, our group leader emails us all says: "I don't cancel my trips, game on!"  Time to man up!

The drive out had a few highlights.  The visual highlight was driving past the base on San Jacinto, which was covered in snow, and just after sunset, had a majestic feel to it.  The audio highlight is another story.  After passing by a local casino, they were advertising that both Huey Lewis and the news, and even Meatloaf were going to be playing there soon.  This prompted an immediate need to hear things like Paradise by the dashboard light, and The Power of Love and This is it.  Go ahead, click those links, I dare you.  Unfortunately, this song also came on, and it stayed stuck in my head nearly all weekend.  I highly advise that you not watch that video.

Anyhow, enough text, more pictures!

Saturday morning wake up view:


The next 2 pictures are for when I was sitting in my car because some people wanted to leave a campsite to drive 20 minutes into town to go to starbucks, and then come back to the campsite.  I thought that was a bit "much" in a Wilderness Basics Course, so I opted to stick around (but was completely OK with them bringing me coffee).  So, I sat in my car, out of the rain, when it was 39 degrees...


... and proceeded to eat Peanut Butter and Jelly straight from both jars, with the same spoon, going back and forth.  Personally, having PB and J in one spoonful is optimal!


At the start of the hike, I had to bundle up...


This is Michelle's first "run" in with the Jumping Cholla tree.  After this, we both have been very diligent not to run into these, nor let them run into us.  They have the "Jumping" in their name for a reason!  Mind you, having not been attacked by one yet, she yelled out a scream, so naturally I was like "stay there, don't move - let me get a picture!" not knowing how painful it was for her.  After I carefully pulled it out, it actually landed on me, and my respect for the Cholla grew!  Damn that hurt!


The desert can be a rough place for some...


High Desert


It was snowing in this picture. For real.


I had the responsibility of navigating from here, to somewhere over "there"... always fun off trail!


Snow covered mountains in the distance...


After we got to our destination, which is this big rock structure in the middle of the valley to shield us from the howling winds, we started eating dinner.  Let me tell you, when you are living outside and its that cold, people will still walk 75ft away from camp, just to be in the sun a little bit longer for some warmth...



Some gnarly boulders we just, um, bouldered.  FUN!


Where I needed to go:


Some of the gnarlyness we just bouldered down...


Even though I had my reservations about the weather, and even though Saturday was one of the worst nights of "sleep" I've ever had, I had an absolute blast during this weekend meeting new people, and learning new things.

Notes and Lessons Learned:
There are no fires permitted in the back country, and when its in the 20's, buddy burners don't do squat!

When its cold out, and you are cold, the last thing you feel like eating is cold food.  Bring some sort of stove, and make some hot food!

Sleeping outside when its 23 degrees takes a little getting used to!

When its cold and you are near "elevation", drink more water, or headaches are imminent!

Bouldering is a ton of fun, and might have ignited a desire to rock climb!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WBC: Villager Peak

We interrupt this irregularly scheduled blog posting (it's been a while since I've posted, hasn't it?) to let you know that there is some good news coming on the injury front, but really to tell the world of the ass whoopin' I received this past weekend!

First a little background.  I'm doing the San Diego Sierra Club Wilderness Basics Course, and there are 4 camping weekends.  This past weekend was the third: Desert and Mountain Backpacking.  The prior one in J-Tree gets its own mention (we got snowed on), but since the shellacking is so fresh in me, I am inspired to write.

After hearing lots of tales and urban lore of this guy Steve and his crazy ass hikes, we thought we'd see what all the fuss is about.  Steve is a 10 year old in a 40-something year old body, and is crazy, hilarious and a little "cuckoo". This says a lot.  Trust me.

The hike was advertised as a 7 mile hike up to Villager Peak (5750 ft), but all of that elevation gain would be in "about 5 or 6 miles" after scramble across the desert floor.  After doing the math, that's an average 16-18% grade for a long time.  Most of you fit athletes reading that are probably barely raising an eye at grades like that that you eat for breakfast.  The challenge however lies in things like couple pound, higher-than-ankle hiking boots, and about 40 lbs of backpacking gear resting on your hips & back.  For the endurance-athlete-learning-mountaineering, it's an adjustment (but much welcomed)!  Additionally, it was a game time decision early Saturday morning (4:30am) since I left work early on Friday due to illness and was unsure if I could be "up" to the challenge.

Note: All pictures don't even come close to doing the justice.

The main ridge line (not including the summit), as seen from Borrego Springs:


... and from the base:



While there is no path in this Google Earth image, if you follow the little green icons from my car, to the one in the top left (the peak), that's pretty much the path we took:

Relentless is a great way to describe the hike.  It's like being on the most scenic stairmaster for about 7 hours.  It's pretty much straight up, with a few flatter spots for recovery, and a few spots well into the 25% grade range.  Hands were used a few times to get up.  Kind of like this:


One funny moment from the hike, I overheard this one woman say "... it takes them about 9 days to finish the thing, and they usually sleep about 2 hours a night...".  I immediately jumped in and said "Oh, you must be talking about those crazy solo guys doing the Race Across America."  Of course she was!  She was reading a book about RAAM, and that led to a pretty fun conversation about strategy, pacing, not sleeping, and how doing RAAM on a team any less than 8 is psychotic! :)

By the time we stopped for lunch, I knew I was in trouble.  It was 80 degrees in the desert, I wasn't thirsty, I wasn't really hungry, and I had cold sweats.  I got kinda quiet, brooded and just kinda slipped into my own little pain cave.  Right after lunch, we tackled this gnarly climb, and were greeted with some serious drops off to the left.  This was right around the time the wind went from a nice, gentle cooling breeze to 20mph gusts. Perfect timing.

The terrain just kept on going up and up, and it is such where you can't actually see the peak until you are about 45 minutes away (mind you, 45 minutes looks like a stones throw, so its deceptive and teasing).  We finally got to camp, and with a group of 18, I immediately scoured the area for a good camp spot that was sheltered from the wind.  It also happened to provide some sweet views of rabbit peak as well, along with snow covered El Toro, San Jacinto, and San Gorgornio in the distance.  Most importantly, we were away from the group and potential snore-ers (there's always one, right)?

Night fell, and I finally got to use some of my new GoLite gear.  I picked up some new jackets recently with Toby's recommendations, and a great sale over at the clymb.  We had some food, and I was starting to feel alright, and of course people had "stories" to share around the campfire.  The night was perfect.  Surprisingly warm (upper 40's), and the sky was hosting a shooting star show that nearly everyone got to see.  It also was great to chat with people and hear about their adventures while not huffing and puffing.

The next morning, the group went on and did the 5 hour hike to Rabbit peak and back, but feeling like crap, I opted out of the hike and we decided to take off down the mountain.

Our cars are somewhere down there:


6 hours of quad pounding descent, and a few pics later...


We shall call this next one: "Don't Slip"


we made it back to the car and pointed it west.  As of Tuesday morning, there is some serious DOMS in the legs.  Already looking forward to the next trip!


Notes and Lessons learned:
Mummy (sleeping) bag: I don't think I'm a fan - legs feel too restricted.

On hikes like these: Ultra-lite gear is the way to go, and trekking polls would have been really nice.

Cherish the friends who can let you borrow cool stuff like little portable stoves & dishes.

2 gallons of water (the recommended minimum) was barely enough.

Although I am sure there are plenty of similarly challenging hikes, if anyone is training for a hilly event and wants to do a long, hard ass day hike (without the sleep over), do this hike, but be careful, as the trail can disappear at times!

I brought an uncharged Garmin.  The lesson learned is obvious!