Sunday, June 28, 2009

Three Peaks in One Day...

...and One More the Night Before!!!

San Gabriel Mountains
Forest Road 3N17
Mill Creek Summit to Three Points
(and back again)

Okay, I'll admit it up front -- I cheated! Two of the four summits could be reached by driving, and the other two totaled approximately 2 mi round-trip. But it was a good workout for me, we got to shake down gear, and the driving helped break up the hiking as my feet learn to adapt to the idea of walking distances again.

Since we've each got new gear we want to try out before getting too far off the beaten path, my hiking buddy, DH, and I have all been interested in doing a simple night out under the stars with a bit of hiking the next day. The mountains in our backyard offer plenty of opportunities for that, so we set out on Friday after work to Mill Creek Summit, then headed east on Forest Road 3N17 toward Pacifico Mountain.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pacifico Mountain
7,124' elevation

We had not gone very far on the dirt road before we had to pull out for passing traffic. "Are you headed to Pacifico?" the driver asked. "Because it's already full there." I glanced at the clock, incredulous: barely 6 p.m. "Maybe some of them aren't staying the night," I hoped aloud. "What's Plan B?" DH asked. "There is no Plan B; just find a place to camp," I told him.

The drive on 3N17 and up the Pacifico Mtn turnoff was terrific, with dropoffs and vistas that sent my hiking buddy scrambling to the opposite window to focus on the wildflowers that lined the road. But when we reached the summit of Pacifico, we found all the campground sites were indeed full. Full of amateur astronomers with telescopes! We had managed to pick a night when the waning crescent moon would be setting early, making viewing conditions up there ideal. We stopped at the bathrooms before circling the campground and heading back to the 3N17; and that was our summit (my second) of Pacifico Mountain!

Reaching the junction with the 3N17, we agreed to continue traveling east despite the fact ALL of our maps omit this one little section where we were heading. I had a pretty good idea where more campgrounds were, closer to the junction with Hwy 2. The sun was setting behind Mount Gleason to the west of us as we rolled slowly along the bumpy, rocky road.

When we reached the junction with Sulphur Springs Road, we turned left toward Sulphur Springs. It was nice to be on paved (loosely speaking) road again! Those trees with the yellow flowers were blooming everywhere, giving the appearance of fall colors in early summer. Then, before we could even make a move for a camera, a young buck appeared in front of us. We stopped to watch him; he chose a safe distance from which to watch us. We could see his mule-deer ears, and his small antlers, approximately 6 inches long (but no prongs yet).

We headed on toward the campgrounds at Sulphur Springs. But apparently the campground, which turned out to be a group one, is closed, due to the Arroyo-toad closure of the Littlerock Dam Recreation Area. Gates and fences across the road blocked further travel. We turned around and headed back the other direction on Sulphur Springs Road, knowing we would find campgrounds along Hwy 2 if not before then.

And sure enough, just as it was getting to be dusk, we found Horse Flats Campgrounds just past where I wanted to start the next day's hiking. We quickly snagged a spot, got a campfire going, and set up our deluxe air mattress beds. I changed into the gear I bought to wear for a week on our backpack: rainproof zipoff pants and an SPF 50 shirt. Everything felt comfortable. I slicked on some Cutter's stick and headed into the bugs to sit by the fire.

Not sleeping on the ground if I don't have to!
Click on any picture to see larger version.

B-52-sized bugs zipped by me, but the Cutter's did its job. As it got darker and cooler, I found I needed a sweatshirt to keep warm. We roasted beer brats over the fire and indulged in some absinthe while watching the stars come out. Before too long, I was eager to climb into my new mummy bag and check out its warmth!

I had a fairly unobstructed view of a good swath of the sky, so I entertained myself watching satellites and falling stars. All in all, I saw about 8 falling stars, including 2 or 3 that streaked brilliantly across much of the sky, before falling asleep.

I'm happy to report I like the new bag, a Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15 Long. My buddies report I look like an inch worm in it, as it perfectly cocoons me (and I would have to inch my way back up the mattress as I kept sliding down). I stayed warm all night, although I did wake up several times.

Toward morning, the coyotes came out and sang to us, calling to each other. One on the hill right behind us answered back, singing different tunes to communicate who knows what to the others. Impossible to sleep through; it was really cool, and something our hiking buddy had never experienced before!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

In the morning we had a quick, light, cold breakfast as we rapidly tore down camp. We threw everything into Big Blue, then jumped in and headed the opposite direction of where we wanted to go---we drove to the junction with Hwy 2 so we could say we had done the whole road; then turned around to measure the mileage to our first stop, Mt. Hillyer.

Mt. Hillyer
~6,200' elevation
1.5 mi roundtrip
300' elevation change
(avg. 7.5% grade)

It was 9:45 a.m. by the time we hopped out at Rosenita Saddle and pulled on our packs. The flowering yellow trees were thick here; I wish I knew their name! The trail started off wide and level, then begin climbing. It was a gentle enough grade that we could enjoy a leisurely hike. The air was still cool in the shady areas; it felt nice. Wildflowers were still out, particularly penstemmon. We took our time, my hiking buddy snapping pictures. I would've been snapping pictures, but someone who shall go nameless did not put the card back in my camera after a recent outing.

Strapping on the packs at the trailhead.

Fremontia (named for John Fremont), aka slippery elm.

The trail starts out fairly level and wide before beginning to climb.

The views were enjoyable from the trail, and we also liked checking out all the varied rock "sculptures" that littered the area. We checked out a little "summit" along the way; not the one we're looking for. We trudged on a bit further, looking for the landmarks given by our guide. By 10:30 a.m., we had reached the top and were having a summit celebration of jerky and trail mix.

The view as we climb.

Mountain wildflowers.

One view from atop Mt. Hillyer.

Looking down the side of Mt. Hillyer.

We explored the top a bit, but never found any summit register. After munching for a bit, we clambered about some rocks; then headed back down the trail. For some reason, I failed to note what time we left or what time we arrived back at the trailhead. Guess I was having too good a time to remember to take notes!

Whatever time it was, it sure felt good to climb into BB, blast the a/c, and DRIVE to our next destination...

Granite Mountain
~6,600' elevation
0.5 mi roundtrip
300' elevation change
(avg 23% grade)

Traveling further west on 3N17, we passed the turnoff for Pacifico Mountain and opted to not "summit" it again today. But we all agreed we wanted to return another time to camp there. Not far past the turnoff, we reached the junction with Forest Road 3N90; a road that goes past Granite Mountain (#1) and dead-ends at the summit of Round Top Mountain.

Less than a mile later, we were parking in a small saddle area and strapping on our packs again. We started up the trail at 11:55 a.m. Like Hillyer, this hike offered a 300' gain in elevation---only this time over a much shorter distance. We followed a deer trail up the steep side. We know it was a deer trail, 'cause we found the pellets to prove it!

Unlike Hillyer, this was no leisurely hike! I would pick my way up the loose path from shady spot to shady spot, resting every so many yards to catch my breath and let my leg muscles stop screaming so much. It was a slow trip!

And though it was hot, we were glad for the sunny day. Looking around us, we could see most of the trees had been "topped" at some point over their lives by lightning strikes. This area is renowned for lightning strikes causing forest fires.

Wonder why it's called Granite Mountain?

Lightning often strikes this peak.

We gasped our way up the last bit and reached the top at 12:20 p.m., 25 minutes after we started out. Wow, that was steep! We wondered how much butt-sliding we would do on the way back down. Then we settled in to a more lengthy summit celebration, breaking out our food and picnicking at the top.

Granite offered us a spectacular view of the dichotomy of this area: rugged wilderness one direction and arid desert the other. We enjoyed the view each direction, plus the little wildflowers in our picnic spot.

Looking east of Pacifico. You can see the 3N17 mid-photograph.

Looking toward Mt. Gleason from the top of Granite.

Looking southwest from Granite.

Dense and lush on the wilderness side.

Looking out at the Mojave desert side.

Picnic wildflower.

At 12:55 p.m., 35 minutes after we'd arrived, we packed up our picnic and started back down the deer path. I borrowed DH's walking stick for the steepest part; I wasn't interested in doing any sliding! A mere five minutes after we left the top, we were back at BB. Now that was a steep hike!

This time when we climbed in BB, I went ahead and pulled off my hiking boots and socks, then zipped off my pants to make shorts. I slipped into a pair of flipflops, pointed the a/c vents at my face, and off we went, headed for the next stop...

Round Top
~6,316' elevation

Like Pacifico, the summit of Round Top can be reached via a road that dead-ends at the peak. So we headed further south on 3N90, which turned out to be another really fun road filled with vistas and dropoffs and some good climbs. BB handled it all well; nothing like a good ol' Chevy engine and high clearance to get you there!

Although I hadn't planned on doing any more hiking, I did end up jumping out and exploring all the corners of the peak. It was a bit more hiking in flipflops than I had planned, but I enjoyed it.

Looking toward Mt. Wilson (towers visible).

We spent about 20 minutes at the top taking pictures and walking about, then piled back in and pointed BB the direction home. The road sure seemed shorter going out than coming in, and in no time at all, we were home and back to the heat. So not bad: three summits in one day. Even if I did cheat, I still got a workout!

Cleared to 10,000 ft

It was one of those weeks where, once again, going to doctors and fighting cancer proved to be a full-time job. It wore me out. On Tuesday alone I had two dr appts, and came out of them with five more!

I saw the current relevant trio: the cardiologist, the oncologist, and the pulmonologist. The cardiologist is pleased with how I am recovering and cleared me to go to higher altitudes. We discussed the fact that I am still struggling to get rid of the pericarditis, but opted to not start a diminishing course of Prednisone. My body is so close to defeating it; I want to give it a chance. He told me it was okay to push physically while I am trying to overcome the pericarditis.

The cardiologist felt the reason why I am still struggling with nausea and vomiting is not due to the liver lesions but rather a consequence of the drug I was taking for the pericarditis and pleurisy. He offered me an Rx for gastritis, but of course I declined that too, as I loathe polypharmacy. Instead, I stocked up on yogurt with good enzymes and bacteria for my digestive tract.

The oncologist is pleased that I am finally getting over all these nuisance issues with the cardiopulmonary systems. Our game plan is to continue infusions of the monoclonal antibody and resume infusions of the bone medication. At the end of July, we will do more CT scans; if the lesions in the liver are stable or improved, I will skip the toxic chemotherapies. So I've got one month for my body to kick those cancer lesions out without having to resort to poison.

The pulmonologist held the biggest surprise for me. It turns out the reason why I am still struggling to get well from the lung problems is that I've had undiagnosed asthma, probably since childhood. The breathing test doesn't lie; I have a SIGNIFICANT bronchial restriction. I always thought it was just allergies; the superior lung capacity I enjoy after a lifetime of swimming has apparently always mitigated the problem for me.

He prescribed a couple of inhalers for me; the first one I am using twice a day for two weeks to try to resolve this residual coughing/choking/breathing issue I've been having. After that, I just use a regular inhaler as needed, like anyone else diagnosed with asthma. Given my track record, I don't expect to need it!

The best part was he cleared me to climb to 10,000 ft altitude. He'll be seeing me again in August, before I plan to climb higher than that. So I am on track to make this year's backpack!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

With A Little Help From My Friend

Sunday, June 21: Devil's Punchbowl; Piñon Path
4,740' elevation
Cross-country hike from Piñon Path to rappelling anchors

Click on any picture to see larger version.

For the summer solstice, we decided to check out a rappelling spot DH had previously inquired about. Since it wasn't much of a hike to the place, I figured it was the perfect outing to try out the new dog backpack. She'd already tried out drinking from her new sports bottle the day before; might as well keep her learning more new things. We loaded up and headed out.

The day was so perfect; beautiful sunny blue skies and a cool breeze keeping it from being too hot. The dog was a bit nervous as we strapped her into the backpack, but got over it the instant we were done constraining her. I'm liking this; this way, she can carry an extra liter of water for me. The weight restrictions on me really limit the amount of water I can carry!

Carrying her own food and water, plus a liter of water for me.

We stopped by the nature center and Ranger Jonathan pointed out the sandstone ridge that has rappelling anchors already established in it. So we headed out the Pi
ñon Path and climbed over the wall at its limit point. A myriad of trails covers the hillside; we picked our best route and headed for the sandstone ridge.

Cactus bloom.

The dog did great! She remembers not to drag me, and patiently waits when told. She paid no attention to the backpack; it might as well not been there as far as her reaction to it. We picked our way through the junipers and ducked through the trees and brush till we reached a dry creek bed. After crossing it, we reached our intended ridge.

Rappelling rock.

I set up a spot on adjacent rocks while DH went to investigate the anchors. The dog stayed with me. It was so nice and warm, yet a cool breeze kept me from overheating. No one was around; the small canyon seemed remote. I stripped to my underwear and sunbathed, enjoying the screech of the ravens and the calls of other birds while lying like a lizard on the rocks.

Sunbathing spot on an adjacent sandstone ridge.

The dog explored a bit, then settled into the shade while I sunbathed. After about 30 minutes, I restored my clothing and DH returned. I rewarded the dog with her can of food, then we packed up and put her backpack on her again. Again, she was hesitant about us restraining her and strapping this THING on her; but was fine with everything the instant we were done.

Again she walked well with me, only hesitating at one hill she deemed too steep. I led the way for her. Until she spied a lizard---then my arm was suddenly yanked as she hit the end of her leash trying to catch the poor thing. Still, I was able to keep her under control and she did not drag me or knock me down.

Chasing a lizard.

It seemed hotter as we trudged back up the hill. I was huffing and puffing; heading down had been so much easier! I stopped a few times, albeit very briefly, in the shade as I tried to catch my breath. But all in all, I held up pretty well. As a matter of fact, I think I outdid the dog! By the time we got the last part of the way back, I was leading her and she was dragging behind.

When we got back to the top, I showed her the owls. But they were in cages; she never even noticed them, bird-dog though she is. We talked to Ranger Rosie for a little bit, then said our goodbyes and loaded back up. The dog was asleep and snoring almost as soon as she hit the seat. Yep, I think I wore her out!

Horned owl.

Barn owl.

Worn out.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

If It's Tuesday, I Must Be Infused

I finished up the drug for the pericarditis and pleurisy last Sunday. Even though it was a long day driving home from the beach, I hadn't relapsed when I awoke Monday. I could still breathe okay!

On Tuesday, I had my normal weekly infusion appointment in the afternoon. I'd done a little catch-up work around the homestead before heading in, and I noticed by that evening I was having sharp pains in my chest. I seem to have physically overdone it, as far as the pericarditis was concerned. And that means it's not gone, but I am off the medication. Hmm...we will have to discuss this with the cardiologist next Monday.

Wednesday and Thursday, I worked a little and napped a lot. I still tire so easily.

But Friday, I worked a lot and didn't nap at all! I'm definitely feeling stronger every day. So my hiking buddy and I headed out that evening on a roadtrip to a recreational equipment store. The entire drive there, I was having sharp stabs of pain in my heart---the pericarditis letting me know I had done too much physical activity again.

We enjoyed the roadtrip and dinner out. I didn't find the Cutter's stick repellent I like so well; but I did pick up an SPF-50, light, COMFY shirt for me; some environmentally safe soap for our trip; and a backpack and sport drinking bottle for my dog.

Saturday, I decided I better go back to just lying in the sun; that's about the speed I can handle right now. But at least it gives me some good vitamin D for my bones, and I'm convinced it does even more good for the spirit and soul. And I certainly need to get over this pericarditis, and beat back the two new lesions in the liver. I asked who wanted to go with me to play in the water, but everyone had other plans.

So I headed out with just my dog for company. It's been awhile since I've been able to take her on a leashed walk, so she could use the refresher! We went walking the trails around a local recreational area, then headed to a more unpopulated local mountain creek. My dog LOVES water, so she was thrilled to be in the outdoors once again. She went wading while I sunbathed, relaxing in the warmth while the wind blew a singing breeze through the trees. It was a peaceful time. I'm so glad I'm alive to enjoy this.

My sunbathing spot looked out over this pool.

Wading right in...that snow water's too cold for me!

Smiling the whole day through.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Taking It Slow

By Friday of last week, I could finally inhale without that god-awful pain. But I still have to sleep a lot! My lungs (and liver) need all the help they can get, so DD and I headed for the beach last weekend. Just walking around in the sea air is good for my lungs, and lying on a beach sunbathing is about the right speed for me these days. And that Vitamin D is good for my bones and beginning to rebuild again.

After returning home, I found some good water-resistant, zip-off, COMFY pants on sale, so I picked up two pair in anticipation of rebuilding and our August-planned backpack.

Slowly slowly slowly, things are coming together again.

It's good to be blessed.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Staying Alive

As it turns out, I can do exactly nothing if I want to get better. Just trying to accomplish the smallest physical activity causes the pain in my shoulders and neck to increase to an unbearable level, and inhaling HURTS. So I have been staying in bed and resting in hopes of getting rid of this pericarditis and pleurisy.

Saturday, my hiking buddy came over and kept me company while I stayed at rest in bed. We identified some of the wildflowers in our pictures, and worked on the laptop plotting routes for future hikes.

Sunday and Monday, I mostly slept. I read when I wasn't sleeping.

Today, the shoulder pain was finally, noticeably absent when I awoke. I inhaled; I could do it without that stabbing pain! Hooray!

So I started off the day with the breathing test at 9 a.m. I think I passed it. I was really really tired, so I went back home and fell asleep until my next appointments.

I got my antibody infusion, and then saw the oncologist. My left ventricle ejection fraction is back to 55%; good enough albeit below my baseline. I told him the pulmonologist had wanted to talk to him and told him what the cardiologist had prescribed. I told him what a hard time I'm having getting well, and so I am doing NOTHING.

I also asked about seeing if the antibody infusions and my immune system alone can deal with the two lesions in my liver. He agreed we could do an ultrasound of the liver when I'm well enough that he starts thinking about how to deal with the lesions in there.

So here's my chance to miss out on the toxic chemos -- I've got a couple of weeks while I'm recovering from the cardiopulmonary problems that the antibodies and my immune systems can go to work on those lesions. Go, antibodies, go! Get rid of those lesions now, and there will be no need for the toxic chemotherapies when I'm well.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Madness of My Method

Well, that plan worked well! Unfortunately, in the "kick or get kicked" stance I took, I got kicked. But at least the symptoms are no longer borderline and hard to pinpoint!

I woke up Tuesday with the pain in my lungs worse again. By the time I was driving home from my antibody infusion on Tuesday, I knew I wouldn't be driving anywhere anytime soon. I was already in real pain in the shoulders and neck again, plus had a headache. These are not good signs.

Wednesday was completely ridiculous. Breathing was painful, and coughing was OVER THE TOP. All I could do was try to hold my shoulders and neck while I tried to cough very lightly. Forget doing anything; you can't function in this kind of pain and misery. I was completely bedridden and felt like an elephant was crushing my chest, but--almost unbelievably, if this weren't me we were talking about-- still had no temperature. I just read and dozed and enjoyed the rare rain and thunderstorms.

By today, I was beyond miserable. I just wanted to go to a hospital and have them keep me alive, because I didn't have what it takes to stay alive in me (but have no plans to give up or quit now). My temp was just below 100 deg and I felt like I couldn't breathe. And oh, the pain! Torso up was crushing misery.

Good thing my pulmonology and cardiology appointments were scheduled for today! I've been waiting for them. Maybe now my symptoms are obvious enough that we can figure out what's going on! My family drove me into town while I just tried to survive the misery that was passing for still breathing.

It was the pulmonologist who made the correlation between when I first got worse and the effects of the steroid shot wearing wasn't the antibiotic or even the elevation. Between that data point, my pronounced symptoms, and the two doctors; we think we've figured out that I am suffering from pericarditis and pleurisy -- inflammation of the heart lining, and inflammation of the lung (and chest) linings.

The pulmonologist did not want to give me steroids, but didn't know anything else that would work in my current situation. So he wrote a prescription for Prednisone and told me to discuss it with my other drs. Prednisone! Oooh, that one packs the weight on worse than almost all the other steroids! I HATE it!

Thankfully, the cardiologist was also reluctant to put me on Prednisone; he was concerned that might be a one-way ticket for me. He knew another drug, not a steroid, that is the first-line drug for pericarditis and is an anti-inflammatory. It should take care of the whole problem.

He thinks the "elephant crushing my chest"; pain; and breathlessness will be improved in a couple of days. Then it will take a couple of weeks to completely kick the inflammation.

So I'm starting on the new drug tonight; I've got some sort of breathing test on Tuesday before all my oncology appointments; and I get to see both drs again in a couple of weeks. By which point I told them I expect to be bouncing off the walls with energy, and have some color back in my face! I really really really need to be rebuilding if I'm gonna make our summer backpack trip!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Pushing It

Pacifico Mountain
7,124' elevation

Okay, this post and the last post probably fall under the category of "don't tell Dr. S." Especially since he told me to stay below 6000'.

But something is still not right. Yes, I am better...but there are still underlying cardiopulmonary problems. I still have sharp chest pain that feels cardiac in nature -- like, have we ruled out pericarditis yet? And it still hurts to inhale deeply -- like, is there still pulmonary edema left over from the cardiac tamponade? And my shoulders and neck still ache in that weird way. And we know I had a low-grade temperature last week when I got infused.

So after climbing Mt. Lewis, I can't decide what exactly is wrong; I just know I'm not completely right yet. But I'm healthy enough that the doctors can't pinpoint what is wrong. So the only thing I know to do is push it. Push it until I'm either stronger and kick whatever is going on, or until it kicks me and reveals itself.

So I thought I'd take it easy and just go for a little drive. (Probably a good thing my friend wasn't with me; her vertigo might've done her in on this little drive!) So I headed out in Big Blue, stopping along the way to get a hot roast beef sandwich "to go" from my favorite crack-seed store outside Hawai'i, Charlie Brown Farms.

Then I headed up Angeles Forest Hwy to Mill Creek Summit. Since it's past May 15th, the forest road up to Pacifico Mountain is now open! A one lane dirt path recommended for high-clearance vehicles only, Forest Road 3N17 wends its way east for many miles, eventually linking up to Hwy 2. But only after it passes many peaks!

Forest Road 3N17. Roundtop and Granite Peaks in mid distance.
Click on any photograph to see larger version.

After nearly five miles of putt-ing at 15 miles per hour over the narrow, rough "road," I made the turn to take me the last couple miles up to the peak of Pacifico. There are campgrounds at the top, so I parked and enjoyed my lunch and the view.

Lunch spot. Rosamond and Rogers dry lakebeds in distance.

Lunch spot. Littlerock Dam in distance.

Looking toward my home.

Looking east.

Looking south. Mt. Wilson rear left.

People were scarce up there; I had the entire journey virtually to myself. There were lots of lizards to keep me company, though. I walked around and explored the summit a bit. A register is reported to be hidden in a rock outcropping -- but the top is strewn with rock outcroppings. I never found it, but I sure enjoyed looking.


It was a beautiful place, full of pines and rock formations. I saw trees growing out of rock. I saw rocks swallowed by trees. It was nice just to walk around at the elevation in the pine-scented air.

I hated to pack up and leave, but it was time to head home. I consoled myself by taking pictures of the wildflowers all the way back to Mill Summit.

And, as counterintuitive as it seems; I notice it doesn't hurt quite as much when I take a deep breath now. That's so weird. Well, we'll see what happens!

Lupine and paintbrush.


Mountain lilac.

Snow flowers with a visiting butterfly.

Definitely snapdragon family; probably a monkeyflower.

Okay, I believe it's hot-rock penstemmon!