Saturday, August 29, 2009

Up In Smoke

We have been stymied in our plans for a second weekend, as once again wildfires are burning in the forest. The smoke from the fires chimneys through the canyons to blow right in our direction. I had an asthma attack from it last night, so this weekend I am just hiding indoors in the air conditioning, limiting my physical activity. Our Sierra backpack is coming up, but once again the actual plans have changed. I should find out more on Wednesday.

Click on any picture to see larger version.

This was Saturday, before it really got going!

Red, red moon.

We woke up to a neighborhood filled with smoke the next day.
I can barely see the outline of Mt. Baden-Powell through the smoke.

Honest, there's 9000-ft peaks, including Mt. Baden-Powell, right there!
You can't even see them from Hwy 138.

Hidden now, 8000+ ft Mt. Williamson and others are right there!
Going from 20 to 40 k acres on fire, the smoke is really getting bad now.

Ashes cover everything at our house.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Up and Down

Well, after we arrived home from Mt. Burnham last Saturday, we were each exhausted. DH took a 4-hr nap, which is unusual. My hiking buddy napped and slept straight through to Sunday. I lay on the sofa to perhaps nap, and guess what -- those muscles in my back started spasming again, only this time they were joined by the muscles cramping in the arches of my feet. OUCH!!!!

I felt stronger for having accomplished the hike. It was gonzo, but it was fun! I was stiff and sore when I woke up Sunday, so I was walking a little funny when I went to church. But it's all good!

By Sunday night, when I was talking on the phone, I was starting into a full-blown asthma attack again (and still in denial about it). I did my steroid and inhaler and went to sleep, choking.

Monday was even worse. Nothing was helping; not the inhaler, not the steroid, not even the nebulizer treatments. I had to stay indoors in the air conditioning. I tried to cook myself breakfast; I couldn't even deal with the slight smoke from that! I was right back to choking my head off continually and thinking I should have abs of steel to show for these sore muscles.

How the heck can someone go from climbing a 9000' mountain to being bedridden in the space of 24 hr? Yet that's the position I found myself in...bedridden. The only way I could get away from the awful relentless choking and hacking and gagging was to drift into sleep. I dozed off and on all Monday long and most of the night.

Tuesday was my infusion day; I was choking less than the day before but still obviously in some distress. I tried to limit my exposure to the outdoors, going from air-conditioned house to air-conditioned car to air-conditioned cancer center as quickly as possible. If I reclined and did not do any physical activity and stayed in the a/c, the choking was not so out-of-control.

So I limped through the week like that until Wednesday night when I decided I'd had enough of that! I told my lungs they were better and would be fully healed by Friday so I could go climb another 9000' mountain. And guess what; it worked!

Except the weather did not cooperate. Dry lightning strikes and the subsequent wildfires from them were occurring all around our "backyard" mountains; not the time to take my son up to sleep on top a mountain. Plus the muggy weather means I'm once again choking and restricted to staying indoors in the air conditioning.

So when the weather and my body are both cooperative at the same time, we already have our next trip planned out.

Meanwhile, I saw my oncologist again last Tuesday. I updated him on what the pulmonologist had said; he was in agreement that I should hold off for now on doing the bronchoscopy. I brought up that I had found out -- by sheer happenstance -- that some patients taking one of the drugs I'm on are experiencing bronchial restriction. Hmmm...could that be what has occurred with my lungs? We decided to hold off on that drug for awhile and assess again in another month.

So like I told my oncologist, it's still up and down for me. Up -- climbing mountains. Down -- bedridden and choking choking choking until I actually WANT to go to the hospital. Sigh. It gets discouraging sometimes. But I'm

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Saturday Morning, Coming Down

Mt. Burnham
8997' elevation (1500' elevation change each way)
~2 miles, and then some, roundtrip (avg 29% grade)

Part Two: Saturday, August 15

It was much colder at this elevation and with more wind chill factor than last weekend, I was glad we were all huddled together in our small space of dirt just below the summit. I needed the extra warmth of the others' bodies. I woke several times during the night but was able to get back to sleep easily each time. Which was good, because sleeping was the only way to escape the muscle spasms in my back. I could not move from lying on that side. And my hiking buddy was feeling the pain of spasms in her feet and shins. The price we pay!

My hiking buddy woke me just in time to see the first glow of sunrise bursting up on the Earth below us.

Click on photographs to see larger version.
(My photos enlarge more than my hiking buddy's.)

Sunrise, to the west...

...and to the east.

I took in the sight, then collapsed back on my sleeping pad. "Are you gonna take pictures?" I asked. She affirmed she was, so I went promptly back to sleep and figured I'd just check out the pictures later to see what I'd missed. I'm glad one of us was rarin' to go!

Looking east southeast. (Mt. Baden-Powell middle left.)

Looking southeast. (Ross Mountain ["the Pit"] middle left .)

The wind had died down just before sunrise; and sure enough, by 8 a.m. I was having to peel that Phantom 15 off before I turned into a roasted sausage. Still, it was obvious from the night before that I am going to have to carry thermal underwear for those cold Sierra nights at the higher elevations.

We spent a leisurely morning wandering about the peak, taking pictures and making hot cocoa and packing up. Mist/smoke/pollution was hanging over the Iron Fork of the San Gabriel River below us to the south. We could see Santa Catalina Island rising out of the clouds, its shape and mountain peaks making it unmistakably Catalina. Enjoy the view from the top!

Our camp was amongst the scrub brush just below the true summit.

As close to the true summit as I bothered to get.

Summit view to the east, right into the rising sun
(unnamed peak on left; Baden-Powell top left,
Ross Mountain right midphoto; Mt. Baldy top right of middle).

The Iron Fork of the San Gabriel River
(Ross Mountain middle left;
Santa Catalina center right in the clouds).

Panorama from the summit, facing southeast toward
Ross Mountain and the Iron Fork of the San Gabriel River
(Ross Mountain middle left; San Antonio [Mt. Baldy] left background).

Santa Catalina Island in the clouds.

Panorama from the summit to the northwest
(Mt. Lewis middle left foreground peak).

The last of the hot-rock penstemmon.

Summit view looking northeast.

Summit view looking south-southeast.

Throop Peak lies westerly from Mt. Burnham
(and is higher).

Alpine wildflowers.

By 9 a.m. we were ready to saddle up and hit the trail for the trip down. We dusted off our gear as much as possible, switched out of our sweatshirts, and packed everything up. Our packs sure had bulkier shapes going down; we obviously didn't take as much time packing as we had for the trip up! But hey, I'm sure it all weighed the same (and a little less since I'd been depleting the water). It's all good!

The summit is only halfway of a successful trip; now it was time to get down the mountain without falling off of it. No fair taking the helicopter! We decided to skip the backtrack of the trail to the east and just come back the way we came -- bushwhacking over the north side -- to the Pacific Crest Trail. We each picked our best path through the 6-in.-thick carpet of pine cones and needles, aiming for the PCT. We ended up coming down onto the trail just mere feet from where we had sat and rested on the way up the night before.

Don't slide here!

Wading through the pine cones and needles atop dirt and decomposing granite.

We found our landmark dead trees for where we had come up the ridge and started down it. Even though it was light, it was still impossible to find anything resembling a trail. And the ridge was so narrow at this stretch. Once again, we got too far left. We came down a steep slope, and there was a beautiful ribbon of trail. Is this the PCT again? Or did we miss an obvious trail like this up this mountain? Next step of gonzo: don't stop and pull out the maps.

A real trail!

We followed the trail; it was easy to make good time on it. But it soon became highly obvious we had turned west-southwest, even though we were still dropping in elevation, and were no longer following our north ridge. I pulled out the map; we needed to backtrack to the switchback with the awesome northeast vista. So backtrack we did -- and this time, it was uphill.

View looking northwest (Tehachapis in far distance).
This is the critical PCT switchback where one needs to
leave the trail and follow the north ridge down.

We got back to the switchback, a little detour. Then it was time to once again step step step down the mountain, trying not to fall off of it or hurt ourselves. And trust me, all of us slipped and slid, and even fell---some of us more than once!

Once we were back on the ridge, we started finding the flags we had discovered the night before in the dark. In the light, we could scan the trees below each flag to find our next flag --- THAT was the trail.

And judging by how many flags we found the night before versus how many we found in the light, I'd say we did pretty good at getting up that "trail" in the moonless black.

An unnamed peak I like to call Hope Mountain (upper right)
and its north ridge as seen from our "trail."

I like the chunks of granite, too.

Heck of a "trail"!

Our descent was very slow; nowhere near as quickly as we had been able to descend Granite Mtn. It seemed like we'd already gone a mile and still had another mile to go when we all called "Enough!" at the same time. We settled into a break, DH even pulling off his pack. We nibbled on jerky and drank water and just sat STILL on a log and gave our legs a rest. Where we had worked the upper part of our thighs the night before stair-stepping up, we were really working our lower calves today as we stair-stepped down. But don't worry; we were really feeling all our muscles!

How much further?

Scanning for flags. (Looking northeast,
El Mirage dry lakebed in the distance.)

Finally we caught sight of the ribbon of highway below us, curling up toward Dawson Saddle. Almost there! It cheered us up, but the "trail" and its conditions prevented us from going any faster.

Highway 2 climbing west-southwest toward Dawson Saddle.

What a relief to reach the road and pull off our packs! We stuffed everything into the back of BB and climbed into the cab. I checked the time: 11:11 a.m. Approximately 2 hours to descend, counting snack break. Not sure the distance of the "trail" we took!

We made that all important pit stop at Vincent Gap, and stopped to admire the wildflowers, as always. Then we headed for home. An hour after we left the trail, we were pulling into the driveway. I had already pulled off my boots.

Scarlet penstemmon.

So that was our gonzo adventure climbing Mt. Burnham and sleeping out atop it. It was crazy fun and definitely worthwhile. And if you think I'm crazy, just keep in mind that there are people who willingly go along with my ideas!

But I must say, I think the next time I climb Mt. Burnham; I'll do it via the Pacific Crest Trail --- going downhill from Mt. Baden-Powell and tagging all the peaks as I go...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In the Dark

Mt. Burnham
8997' elevation (1500' elevation change each way)
~2 miles, and then some, roundtrip (avg 29% grade)

Part One: Friday, August 14

Okay, so THAT was a totally gonzo idea!

I've been going stir-crazy from having been so sick and having to give up my plans the past several weeks. I started my nebulizer treatments on Thursday. As my hiking buddy puts it, "On Wednesday night, you were feeling puny and didn't know about the weekend. On Thursday night, you want to go spend Friday night on a mountain top." So we think the nebulizer treatments wire me out a bit!

Mostly, I just wanted to get OUT, see the meteor shower, and get out of all the smoke beginning to blow in from the wildfires. And our Sierra backpacking trip is rapidly coming up, so I need to keep building back up, no matter how many times this enemy tries to knock me down.

Both my hiking buddy and DH had late appointments on Friday, but we agreed to meet around 6:30 p.m., which would put us up to the start of our hike around 7:30 p.m. That would give us a couple hours of sunset, twilight and early nightfall in which to climb this mass of mountain nearly 9,000' high.

Of course, the moon wouldn't be rising till very late; which was also part of my plan since I wanted to increase our chances of seeing multiple meteors. It doesn't bother me to hike in the dark; I used to climb the INSIDE of mountains (read: caves) which are as pitch black as can be (and I did it with a carbide lamp, too). Besides, we all carry headlamps. This would be a good trip to shake down some more equipment: headlamps and our JetBoil.

I packed up pretty much everything I will have on the Sierra backpack: 12 pounds (with full water) plus an additional 4 pounds on my body. DH gets to carry the weight I can't, including that "lead-lined" bear can. Not that we worry about bears in the dry San Gabriels; mostly there are just deer and coyote; sometimes bobcat and mountain lion; usually rattlesnakes and skunks; and always squirrels and lizards. But it's mandatory in the Eastern Sierras, and we are doing a dry run of all our gear for that trip. So the bear can goes, and DH's pack comes in at 40 pounds (he didn't pack extra clothes).

Click on any picture to see larger version.

Bear can on the bottom.

First step to gonzo: it was after 7 p.m. before all of us had even arrived at the rendezvous. It was 7:30 before we were finished packing and loading up. THEN we decided to stop at the store and get hot cocoa and soup---and snacks (junk food) to eat on the way, because not one of us had had time to eat. So here it is, already dark; none of us ate a decent meal; and we're just leaving the store at 7:45 pm and the mountains are still so far away...

Leaving the store. The mountains are dark against the fading light.

The last bit of light was leaving as we wound our way along Highway 2. "Wow, look at the red sky [to the west]. Wow, look at the smoke!" Even in the dark, the massive amount of wildfire smoke blowing into the valley from the west stood out blacker against the early night sky.

The stars were already out, and the wind was really starting to blow at a serious clip, by the time we made "the last pit stop" at Vincent Gap at 8:30 pm. A couple miles further; a U in the road; and we were parked at the trailhead at Milepost 71 for a climb up Mt. Burnham. I grabbed my jacket and put it on. In this wind, I needed it! We got out all our gear, strapped on our packs, and checked the time. It was 8:45 p.m. as we started out on the trail.

Step two to gonzo: trail---what trail? After climbing the first hill up from the road, there is no trail; there is only "moderate" navigation involved in climbing a ridge all the way up 1500'. None of us has ever climbed this peak before and therefore our only familiarity with it is my trusty topo maps and written descriptions. And of course, we went and handicapped ourselves by climbing in the dark (much later than our planned sunset and twilight hike).

But it's not like we were going to move quickly even if it were light; we were climbing on loose dirt, decomposing granite, slick piles of pine needles, deadfall and falldown. And the ridge was, as the Mantracker says, "steeper than a cow's face." (He certainly wouldn't have been able to follow us.) It was insane! There were plenty of times I had no real foothold; I was just hanging onto my trekking poles and pulling myself up with upper body strength.

And I guess that's why I like rebuilding this way; the gym not only bores me, I would give up much more easily in a gym. When I'm hanging off the side of a mountain by my trekking poles, I'm much more motivated to use every last bit of strength I can muster to keep myself from falling down the side of the mountain. It's an incredible workout; I'm always stronger for each time.

One of the first things we found out in shaking down our equipment is that my expensive Black Diamond headlamp has a short in it and kept going out --- but the cheap 5-LED backup one from Harbor Freight worked great and was quite bright!

It was slow going, as this was not hiking at all; this was climbing a mountain one foothold at a time and with some significant danger to it. But we were doing it, and nobody said anything about turning back. But I gotta tell ya, no way was that a mile! Especially with us losing the "trail" in the dark. We zigzagged all over that ridge, trying to use switchbacking technique on its steep face. But with all the deadfall and falldown and manzanita we had to skirt around, we got off to the sides many times. It was cr-a-zy!

When we would stop to catch our breath, I would check out the view and the stars. Both were getting even more dramatic as we went. Unfortunately, so was the wind. The jacket stayed zipped up. The black smoke to the north was mostly below us, but some was still as high as us. Would we ever get higher than it?

We were off to the side of the ridge again when all of a sudden we heard a loud thump, followed by the sound of tumbling. Oh @#$%--the bear can full of food had come off DH's pack! "Tree, tree!" I yelled. But the can did NOT aim for the tree, and the tree did not jump out to stop it. The can kept tumbling down the mountainside, quickly out of sight in the moonless night. We froze and listened, trying to hear how far it fell. We heard it come to a stop about 20 yards below us. Thank God it stopped!

You know, we've tried all different ways to deal with carrying the bear can, but there's no two ways about it -- that thing is a pain to deal with. We shone our lights about and spotted the bear can stopped by a fallen tree. DH climbed down the side of the ridge to get it while we took a break. Once the can was securely attached again, we started on our way again.

We continued our tedious slipping, sliding, and climbing over logs and around manzanita bushes.
We had to be near the intersection with the PCT; this climb was taking forever and it was getting late. It was like climbing an endless set of uneven stairs up and up and up. I wanted to climb into my bag and watch stars!

Steeper than a cow's face, no trail, slippery surface, and in the moonless dark. OK!

I was on a steep section of slippery blow dirt when I heard "Clunk"! I turned around; the bear can was lying on the ground again (but thankfully this time had not rolled away) behind DH. I went to step down the hill to help, and the instant I moved, my feet went right out from underneath me and I smacked down HARD. Really thankfully, I didn't roll away! Like times before, it was my hand and my bum that I mostly smacked. OUCH!

I decided just to sit still there while DH secured that blasted bear can AGAIN. The section was so steep and slippery that I had to slide on my feet down lower before I could once again stand up and get started climbing. We were on a really steep steep section now; I was glad it was dark and my hiking buddy could not see the amount of exposure around us.

By now, it was almost impossible to figure out any way up the ridge other than straight up its very steep, slippery edge; it was very narrow now. We had to be very near that intersection with the PCT! Why did it always seem like we had another mile to go? Wasn't this supposed to be just a one-mile hike? come my trekking pole was suddenly getting so slippery? I trained my light on it. My hand and my pole grip had blood smeared all over it. I knew my hand stung when I fell, but I didn't realize I'd actually broke the skin in any way. I thought I'd just smacked it hard and bruised it. We had to stop and clean up my hand and see what I'd done to it.

I literally had to sit on the south side of a tree, braced against the roots, to keep from sliding down (or falling off) the mountain while we administered minor first aid. Turns out I had sliced the end of my finger on the log on which I'd smacked my hand when I had fallen. We got it cleaned up, put a bandage on to hold the flap of skin over it, and started back up again.

As we climbed and kept trying to find a "trail" up the ever narrowing ridge, I could tell there was a heckuva dropoff to the east side. Before too long, we finally reached the Pacific Crest Trail. And I gotta tell ya, that thing looked like a freeway after what we'd been trying to navigate! We sat down right there on the trail and took a break while I pulled out my directions and maps for us to decide which route to take now to the top of Burnham.

I checked the time: 11:45 p.m. That puts us on the summit at midnight. Cool! But boy, was that the longest mile ever, or what?!

We opted to continue bushwhacking our way to the summit from its north side instead of traveling east on the PCT to climb the east side. By now, the wind was gusting as much as 40 mph. The terrain was such that each step would cause me to slide almost half the distance back again before I could gain any purchase whatsoever. But before too long, I could see the summit backlit by the lights of the metropolis below it.

What relief to reach the round of the top! But the actual summit was covered in bushes; we circled around the summit and tried not to get blown off the mountain. Everywhere we found that got us somewhat out of the wind did not have flat or wide enough area for us to sleep. So we found a good flat spot on top, alongside the bushes; cleared it of rocks as best as we felt like doing; and started setting up our sleeping pads and bags.

The wind was howling, but we selected the JetBoil because its design can handle our local weather. DH got it fired up while we bundled up in more clothing. Sixty mph gusts are not uncommon at all out here. Tonight's gusts at the top were probably around 45 mph, and it was really making the 35-deg temperature feel even more icy. I pulled my sweatshirt out and put it over my clothes, then put my jacket back on. I got my knit scarf out and wrapped it around my head to keep my ears out of the wind. Much better!

Below us to the south and west, we could clearly see the amber lights along the streets of San Dimas and Pomona, with the long grids of light continuing on for at least 30 miles in each direction. The Chino Hills and the mountains of Orange County were black mounded patches amid the amber light. The coastline was obvious with the fog over the water lit pale blue by the reflected city light. It looked awesome!

To the north and east, we could see as far as the lights of Barstow. From Barstow to the Orange and LA Counties coast: that's a pretty good distance of view, don'tcha think?

We were sitting up on our beds, lower bodies in our bags, wind howling over the summit, drinking our cocoa, hiking buddy chatting away, when I distinctly heard it: a guttural grunt. An unmistakable, recognizable guttural grunt that I knew was a bear that had just smelled us and "made" us.

"Did you hear that?" DH nodded. No way could I talk myself into it being just my imagination now. I readied the bear-strength pepper spray clipped to my shirt. But this is the San Gabriels, not the Sierras; up here, the bears run away from humans. The bear never approached us, and we never heard him again. But you can bet we were a little less dis"grunt"led over carrying that darn bear can up the mountain!

We were sipping the last of our hot cocoa and still admiring the view when my hiking buddy asked, "What's that red light out there?" We looked. A red light, too large to be an aircraft warning light on a radio tower or anything like that, was visible wa-a-ay in the distance to the northeast. "What the heck is by Barstow that would have a light like that?" I asked DH. "Not the railroad." He looked. We both knew there weren't any tall buildings out there. "I don't know." We couldn't figure it out. Oh, well.

I scanned the skies for falling stars. DH had already seen the first one during one of our pauses during the climb up, and I was looking forward to seeing some myself.

"What the heck IS that?" my hiking buddy asked. "A fire?" We looked. The red light was gone; now there was an orange patch. "That must be what it is; a wildfire on the side of a butte," I agreed. After all, there were plenty of wildfires burning all about us. I scanned the skies again. When I glanced at the orange patch again, it was significantly larger, having nearly doubled in size.

"Okay, no fire can get that big that fast. What the heck is it?" I said.
"It looks like liquid lava," my hiking buddy said. But it couldn't be the flames from a rocket test; it was too far east of the rocket test site. But my hiking buddy was right; it looked like a mountainside had split open and was oozing a rectangle of liquid orange lava fire. "Maybe it's the end of the world," DH commented; an inside joke from when we were at Lone Pine Lake on the 4th of July 2008.

It's hard to get perspective when you're sitting on top of a mountain, but as I watched the liquid orange I suddenly realized what we were seeing. "It's the moonrise!" I laughed. The moon was emerging far below us from behind the thick black clouds of smoke. And it had literally started as one small circle of red light before morphing into a patch of orange and then a rectangle of fire...what a trip! Now THAT was a wicked moonrise! Laughing, my hiking buddy grabbed her camera and got a shot as the curve of the moon emerged from the smoke, making it obvious what we were seeing.

One memorable moonrise!

By now it was 1 a.m. and I knew the sun would be waking us up by 8 a.m., so it was time to lie down and get some sleep. As I lay on my back to stargaze, muscles in my back on the left side began pulling and spasming. And my hiking buddy was whimpering as the arches of her feet cramped and spasmed. The cold was not helping, either! I hoped warming up in my bag would stop the spasms, but no such luck. I had no choice but to turn on the side that was spasming and lie still.

Even on my side, I was treated to faint falling stars averaging at least one per minute, one very bright meteor flash over the Chino Hills, and one fireball that streaked all the way across the northern sky from west to east with a brilliant tail behind it. I love it! I fell asleep when my eyes could remain open no longer...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Quick Turnaround

Wow, did I get hammered! I was so sick for so long, the last thing I really remember was the weekend of July 25-26. My internist kept a close eye on me, especially since my potassium was low (which can wreak havoc with the heart). The steroid and antibiotic injections she gave me knocked the pleurisy feeling in my lungs right down, that's for sure! But breathing was still an issue. I choked so much, my body hurt something fierce and I felt like I should at least have abs of steel to show for it. I felt like I couldn't get oxygen when I breathed; mostly, I just choked and choked and choked and choked... I sadly gave up our plans to go to the annual Barcroft Research Station Open House the weekend of Aug 1, but I truly was too ill to consider going at all.

I saw the internist every couple of days (and thus avoided the hospital). By the time I saw my pulmonologist on Friday (Aug 7), I was finally starting to do a little better . Still, he told me I had one week for the cough to improve, or else he would put me in the hospital; give me "the Michael Jackson juice" (his words!); put "a little" water into my lungs; and then suction it out. What, controlled drowning?! No, thank you. And didn't all this start with the general anesthesia from the open heart surgery??? We'll just get these lungs better so a bronchoscopy won't be necessary! He did give me another steroid inhaler, as well as got me set up with a nebulizer to use four times a day. That took awhile to get, but I finally got treatment started yesterday (Aug 13).

And of course, I asked him if I could still do altitude. He told me the 8000' peaks in our backyard are fine. So I immediately was begging DH and my hiking buddy for us to at least spend the night in the mountains (and try out our new sleeping pads) THAT NIGHT. I get discouraged staring at the messy house and unpaid bills that I can't take care of when I'm sick, and I was deeply disappointed I'd had to give up my plans for the past two weekend! I pointed out that we had wanted to go back and sleep on Pacifico Mountain, and after all, we can drive right to the summit. So that evening, we threw everything into Big Blue and headed out into the setting sun.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Home to Pacifico Mountain
2,885' to 7,124' elevation

The last brilliant blast of light was hanging over the mountains to the west when we arrived at the peak. Although my favorite spot was taken, we quickly found another one darn near as good. We scrambled about, unpacking and making outhouse treks and checking out the view. My hiking buddy was deeply disappointed to find it was her turn to have no camera chip. With my camera out of commission after the waterfall trip, all we have is one really old one. Oh, well. We took a few pictures even though they won't turn out the greatest. The wind was blowing and it was quite cold already, so we wasted no time in getting a fire going.

Click on any picture to see larger version.

The last of the sunset looking past Mt. Gleason to the west.

Scarlet penstemmon still thriving at the higher elevation.

The lights of the AV come out.
(Littlerock Reservoir visible mid-right.)

Evesgird sacrificed a few trees for the woodpile.
Notice how close we are to the "edge of the world";
that's the distant Littlerock Reservoir at top right!


We set up our chairs by the fire behind the tallest rocks, trying to duck the wind. DH roasted beer brats in the basket over the fire for us while we all enjoyed a bit of the green fairy. By the time our glasses were empty, the brats were ready. I rolled my brat in some heated garlic naan and ate it just like that...simple food tastes so good in the outdoors, doesn't it? Some chips to go with it and some chocolate chip cookies for dessert, and we were comfortably sated.

After dinner, we set up another round of "la louche" while I got out the guitar. Surprisingly, she holds tuning very well, even in the cold. I'm not quite sure when it occurred, but we suddenly noticed the wind had almost completely died down and the night became quite pleasant by the fire. A light breeze blew, just enough torush through the pines and keep the bugs away. So we sat by the fire and sang songs for several hours, quieting down only as it approached 11 p.m. and other campers had already turned in. Life is good!

By that time, it was cold enough even by the fire that I was ready to crawl into my sleeping bag. The temperature was 35-40 deg that night, and I didn't bring heavy clothing. The wind was gusting and thus the wind chill factor was significant.

We got all our sleeping pads laid out. I've switched to a Big Agnes now in hopes of gaining more loft for less weight. I added a Thermarest crate pad at 9 oz to help protect the air mattress and to serve as backup in case of irreparable leaks on the trail. DH has switched to the Lite Core, and the heaviest self-inflating pad is now backup for friends, offspring, etc.

My hiking buddy settled for the Lafuma rectangular 800XL down bag to avoid the claustrophobic feelings induced by the mummy bag. This would be her first time trying it out, along with her new Thermarest self-inflating 1.5 pad. She also had gifted us each with custom-made down pillows and stuff sacks (and mine even has a silk cover). Too cool!

I saw one falling star but faintly; it was midnight now and the nearly full moon was rising above the pine trees to the east of us. I fell asleep listening to DH and my hiking buddy talking and drinking shots of Jaegermeister...

By midnight, the nearly full moon was rising high above.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pacifico Mountain to Big Rock Creek (via home, driving)
7,124' elevation to ~5000' elevation

I slept quite well, and fully awoke for the first time only when the sun first was fully up. Still tired, I easily went back to sleep. I awoke again only when I was roasting in my bag and needed to peel it back RIGHT NOW. This Phantom 15 has made my "sleeping cold" a thing of the past -- I sleep snugly now until the sun makes it too hot (between 7 and 8 a.m, which is perfect for me). I LOVE it! And at 2 lb, it absolutely meets my ultralightweight backpacking needs. Life is really good!

The morning view of the desert from our campsite on the edge of the world.

I took a stroll to the outhouses, then made the loop and looked out at the world to the north and east before returning to camp. DH was making coffee, so I took a stroll on a stretch of the PCT till I could see the southern view (including Mt. Wilson).

Looking south; Mt. Wilson in the distance.
(I could see the antennae easily, but the camera isn't as good as the eye.)

Panorama of the southern view.

When I returned to camp, it was time to start packing it all up to head out. "I really don't feel like doing any hiking today," I said, even though I had brought my trusty maps and had at least two peaks in mind that were possibilities to climb. Although my lungs felt better for sleeping in the night pine air (and we all noticed I was hacking less), I still felt that overwhelming fatigue. Hiking in the heat didn't sound like the best idea for me.

Everyone agreed that hiking was not in the plan for the day. My hiking buddy and I decided to just go lie around Big Rock Creek. So we got everything quickly loaded into BB and headed down the mountain (and back to the heat).

Packing up. Desert vista in background.

As we were coming down Pacifico Mountain toward the 3N17, I saw a flash of gray-brown behind the trees. "Coyote," I incorrectly called. I looked for it as we passed the trees; there was not one, but two deer! Surprise, surprise!

"Deer!" my companions corrected me. We stopped to watch. The deer stopped to watch us. I kept fumbling for my camera, finally found it and got off a shot the moment before they started on their way again up the mountain. Click on the picture to see the bigger version, and see if your eyes can spot them!

The deer are above the log mid-picture, watching us watch them.

What a nice way to end our little campout on Pacifico Mountain!

Soon we were pulling into the driveway. We immediately started unloading. "Want to go to Big Rock Creek?" I asked my son. "Get ready if you do!"

In less than 20 minutes, we had the van unloaded from our mountain campout, and were repacked and dressed for lying in the sun up at Big Rock Creek! Now that's a fast turnaround!

As we headed through Crystalaire, we had a head-on shot to the east of a tow plane taking up a sailplane. Wish I'd had the camera ready! Crystalaire is world-famous among glider pilots for the awesome thermals where the mountains meet the desert they create.

A small plane tows a sailplane.

We were blessed with getting my regular spot at the creek. The water was not too cold, especially where the sun had warmed it up. I had fun chasing all the little trout in the pool.

My German hiking buddy relaxing by the creek pool.

My son swimming in the creek pool.

Playing with the little trout, a.k.a. swimming with the fishes!

Making the pool deeper by adding to the dam.

We had a great picnic lunch and alternately sunbathed or dipped in the creek. It was peaceful and very refreshing! As it was the last weekend before school starts, we stayed until late in the day so my son could swim as long as he liked. Not that that works, because he NEVER wants to leave! But when the shade was long on the creek, it was time to pack up and go. "How do you feel?" I was asked. "Tired, but refreshed!" Life is good. Now let's hope I have a quick turnaround and my lungs heal quickly!

My favorite little fish.

Life is good!