The Hike that Nearly Broke Me
Saturday I was supposed to go on a “long” hike with a friend, but as I was on my way to the Westside traveling towards her and the trail ahead, she called up literally lame with a foot injury. So, I turned my truck around and after thirty-seven seconds of “What should I do with my day…” I headed east towards the San Gabriel mountains and some big trees. And because it was a weekend, I figured I’d go deeper in to avoid potential crowds. I stopped in the ranger station to find out about road and trail closures, and then continued on the road again.
I decided to park with my Adventure Pass hanging from my rear-view mirror at Cloudburst Summit and hike towards Cooper Canyon Falls… And dealt with more cramps and odd leg issues along the way than normal…
Several times the thought of “I might be getting too old for solo hikes,” crossed through my mind. “What the hell is that pain now?”
I passed a few over-nighters climbing out of the Cooper Canyon campground, and a large group of street clothing dressed teenagers at the Buchhorn/Cooper Canyon trail intersection. But the trails were largely underpopulated, just how I like ’em.
When I saw the falls below, they were all alone… Quietly babbling from an under-flowing spring melt, which had apparently already melted.
Without a human-soul in sight, I descended into the canyon, using the muddy courtesy rope…
BTW, a little tip… If you’re heading down a slope, and you’re using a rope that someone else tied there… Do yourself a favor and check it before trusting it completely… I found that the underside of this particular had been nearly worn through, having been rubbing against the root structure it had been attached to… And though it took a few minutes I looped it again, to make it safer.
I got a full two-brilliant-minutes of peaceful serene alone time with the cascading water when the converse and jeans wearing teens started to descend towards me, the creek and the waterfall, and one after another they all seeming enjoyed loudly exclaiming how gross the dirty wet rope was… “Ewww.”
The Cooper Canyon falls were to be my final improvised destination, but I really didn’t want to be around as they chatted, giggled, and exclaimed whatever they were bursting to tell each other, when when they broke out a Frisbee… (Yeah, they did). That was enough for me.
So, in order to find my own personal quiet happiness, I climbed out of the hole like Spider Man, ripping up the rope, up the hill, hands pulling and legs driving, and got back on the main trail in seconds. Taking in more nature and more scenery.
Unsatisfied with the length of my time in the woods, I pressed further… Going towards unknown trails. Kind of a no, no… As I didn’t have a map, nor any idea what trail linked with which, and I didn’t bring a proper amount of hydration.
For three miles I crushed rocks and skated gravel on slopes, till I ran into another exhausted solo hiker that told me the trail I had chosen had no looping point, and it wouldn’t end till Devil’s Punchbowl, eleven miles away…
So, I just made the hike about endurance, scenery and mileage and went till I hit a mile marker I could be proud of…
But as I’ve already tipped my hat, I kinda went too far, too hard, with too little water… And had to ration my forty-once stainless steel container to only sips on my way back…
After the sweaty six-mile, I’m-silently-protesting-your-Frisbee-playing extension, I climbed back down to the bottom of the Cooper Canyon falls and while I was once again alone with my cascading two-parts-hydrogen-one-part-oxygen friend, this time I found myself more physically stressed and thinking about the mileage still ahead.
For the record I actually had to climb down a third time, as in my absent minded exhaustion I forgot my hat on a log… And instead of climbing out like Spider Man, this third time I pulled myself out like… Like a tired old grouper who had… Wait, fish don’t pull themselves into boats…
For whatever reason: The altitude. The distance. The night before. The burrito I had for breakfast. Or the rationing of water… At 3:00 PM I hit a wall like I haven’t hit in a long long time… That sort of wall that people who run marathons hit… That kind of wall that made me want to have the whole experience just end, wishing someone could just blink and transport me with some Star Trek transporter beam out of the woods… Or a Swedish Bikini Team would just happen to be driving by on some Jeep tour. My legs were killing me, cramps, tightness… And I had miles of upward loose rocks ahead of me still.
When’s the last time you really pushed yourself, physically? You know, where you’re making deals with yourself, promising yourself things if you continue…? Where you truly just feel like curling up in a cramp and crying?
Yeah, me neither.
The great and horrific thing about the wilderness is that you can’t stop. You have to keep moving. The sun will set, and no water is going to magically fill your canteen. So, you press on or you rot like a fallen tree that bugs will make a home out of. Yes, I’m being overly-dramatic. As I’m pretty sure if I broke a leg or absolutely couldn’t go on someone most likely would have passed by either on that day or the next and I could have pleaded for them to get help. But really at that particular moment in time I would have paid $20 for a gallon of fresh clean water or $100 for a ride on the back of an ATV.
My pace had dropped from 20-21 minute miles to 25-26 minute miles… Having to stop every hundred yards or so… Pleading with my illogical self… “Just make it to that next rock up there…” “You can stop at that next patch of shade.” And when I heard a motorcycle whining in the distance I perked up a little, but deflated when I saw how far away the highway might have been… Up up up up… And still around the mountain…
Oddly for the first time in all my hiking in those mountains, it was during this climb upwards that I saw an old Grizzly Adams type fellow dressed in green wandering off the trail with a single barreled shotgun cracked/broken open with a little tan hound walking by his side.
It was 4:06 when I reached the parking lot, still logically forever till darkness, and what felt like forever, were some of the longest and difficult sixty-six minutes I’ve physically had in a long time. I recorded a short bit of video when I finally got into my truck, to remember what it was like if I ever need a reminder… You know, playing some role where I’m in a desert or being chased by zombies… And while I can honestly say, I’m not exaggerating how broken I was, the footage is so pathetic I’m not going to post it. Eyes glossed with tears. Sweat. Mumbling words. Shaking hands. Lost rambling thoughts.
I stopped in at a tavern on the way back, giving myself the beer I promised, and once I got home I moved like someone twice my age, and this morning I’m not so much better…
But I’m happy I did the hike. Happy I didn’t and couldn’t quit. Happy I have the ability to go out to nature, to “test” myself… All total the hike was about 12 miles, took about 5 hours, and started at 7000 feet.
– Quiche Out