San Bernardino Wilderness: San Gorgonio 9 Peaks Trail

I must preface this post with my realization that I actually have a comfort zone and it was defined on this hike. I tested my personal limits and now I know where they are.

I knew this backpacking trip was going to be nuts, 26 mi. in 2.5 days, but I somehow talked myself into it. We started at Jenks Lake trailhead at about 7PM on a Friday night, the weekend after my birthday. IN FACT this was my birthday trip, since I like to do something out of the ordinary, nature-minded and travel-orientated to celebrate my birth. It was still a little light out too and as it grew darker, I loved using my night vision to guide me. Then it got real dark, real cold and real steep – fast. I have never night-backpacked before and it was a little amazing and a little terrifying at the same time. I thought we were the only crazy ones but we passed a larger group of young kids and adult chaperones, two of which asked if we were close to camp. It was a steady climb into camp at Dry Lake, 6 mi. later. We layered up, set up and had birthday cake that they were nice enough to pack in for me and Justin, who shared the same exact birthday as me. We also discovered that Doyle brought a Trader Joe’s large electrolyte water bottle of whiskey. And here I was trying to get my pack to weigh the least as possible, so I only brought 3 airplane sized bottles of whiskey. Some people are pro. Me and Mad shared a tent and we had a bit of the giggles as we tried desperately to warm up. What felt like an hour later, my feet were at sleeping temperature and then I had the typical, shitty tent sleep that I always have with weird dreams and tossing and turning. The perfect set-up for the next day of 11 mi. of pure incline. But I still managed to put one foot in front of the other and handle it.

Mike ushering the way
Mike ushering the way

The next morning we packed up and headed out around 8:30. The trail started out with gradual switch backs amongst gorgeous views of the San Bernardino mountains and Big Bear Lake. My eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing, it was so pretty and clear. There was a crash site that we passed along the trail where a military plane lost 27 passengers. I wondered if I was passing through ghosts as I walked by.

IMG_1283

Crew! Snacks!
Crew! Snacks!
Crash site
Ghost hunting

Then as we approached the final ascent, it got really hard and I was surprised I could still breathe at the height we were at. It took me a few minutes to smile again, somewhere in the last half mile, my soul/life force left my body to be replaced by shear robotic-alien power from outerspace. Seriously, I don’t know where the energy came from to make it to the top. I managed to get it together enough to smile for the camera.

Living on the edge: Chuck and Tiffani
Living on the edge: Chuck and Tiffani
Still smiling
Still smiling

We had lunch in chipmunk cove on top of Gorgonio. It was the best! I couldn’t resist feeding the critter, he was so damn cute. For shame! Don’t feed the wildlife! Then, as if that wasn’t enough climbing for the day, we were to hike two more smaller peaks (3 of the 9 down). I was not having it so Mike and I hiked into camp and scouted and drank wine out of a bag and waited for the others to arrive. Buzzed, we needed to filter water from the teeny-tiny stream way down the hill and to the left. More hiking! It was a buzz kill but really pretty. I felt like Jack and Jill. We had some laughs and dinner and went to bed early. We still had 6 more peaks to climb and our decent to do the next day.

Chipmunk Cove
Chipmunk Cove
Don't look at me like that!
Don’t look at me like that!

I am proud to say that I did all 6 peaks the next day. Some weren’t so intimidating but one was straight up and required scrambling rocks. Not a neat little trail, at all. I remember thinking if my mother knew I was doing this, she’d have a coronary. It was scary but I was so happy when I was back down, feeling like we just kicked that peak’s ass.

Some peak
Some peak
Another peak
Another peak

After the peaks were peaked, there was an extremely long descent to get through. It didn’t seem that tough at first but 6 miles is a long time, even for traveling downhill. This is when my soul got abducted by aliens. We passed a huge snow bank that if we’d slip, we’d be in a deep gully. Stuck. It was terrifying but we crossed it. There was some delicious flowing water to be drunk on the other side of it. Most of the group were a long way ahead of Tiffani, Mike and I and we didn’t see them until we made it out. I lost my soul again, during that decent. Not sure what mile marker it happened at but I just wanted to be off the mountain. The sound of cars and dogs barking was never so well received. I wanted to cry at hearing it, I was so happy. Civilization!!!!! I think I did cry a few times that day. It was challenging on so many levels. Mentally worse than physically. I was beat down. We didn’t make it out until about 6PM that day and we typically celebrate with beer after but I didn’t have anything left in me. They went without me. I felt like a shell of a person. I threw my hiking boots in my trunk with the socks stuffed in them, only to use them again almost a month later. Socks still there. It was a different feeling this time. Not the happiness I felt coming off of Baldy. The proud sense of accomplishment….. I felt abused. By myself. I felt pushed in a way that disturbed me. By myself. Yes, I accomplished something that weekend but I wasn’t feeling good about it then. I’m still processing it, a month later, while typing this. It’s that comfort zone I mentioned. I like to push myself beyond it. But this was too far, too much, too soon. I now know where that line is. And regret is something I don’t subscribe to.

Yet another peak and still smiling
Yet another peak and still smiling
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