A view from the peak:
But let’s rewind a bit.
I arrived in the area around noon, and my body was completely worn out from three straight days of long mountain hikes near San Diego, so I planned on waiting until the next day to do the 11.5-mile mountain hike. I went to the nearest legitimate city (Ontario) and looked for a cheap hotel, but I couldn’t really find one. And the cheapest I could find had a strict 4:00 PM check-in policy, so I had time to kill if that was where I was going to stay. I lacked food and sleep, and being reckless can be fun, so I foolishly decided to go to the trailhead and fit the hike into the current day. After miles of driving on a winding mountainous road, and a few inquiries into the actual location of my specific trailhead (there are many in that area), I arrived at the start of the trail at 1:45 PM. “There’s no way I should start now…” so I started. I had a goal of getting to the peak around 3:45 so I would have time to take a break and to safely descend. The only trail I could see for miles was a steep uphill ascent; it seems that whoever originally started this trail didn’t want to waste time getting to the top. It only took a half a mile for me to realize I was truly exhausted and not up for this task. I went a little bit further and thought, “time to turn around.” Yet something told me to keep going. After two more long uphill miles, I got to the first checkpoint, and I knew the wise thing to do was turn back because I couldn’t move another inch. Naturally, I continued up. At least the view was nice.
I tried walking backwards, sideways, upside down, inside out, etc. but I couldn’t buy any relief from the toll the steep climb was taking on my legs. I had to take frequent breaks, and I already drank more than half of my liter of water. But I hate doing the same thing twice, and I didn’t want to do all of this work again, so I thought I might as well push it while I’m here. It was truly excruciating, and I didn’t know if I would ever reach the peak. 4:00 rolled around and I thought I was at the top when a further glance revealed another steep stretch. By the time I stumbled to the peak at 4:30 PM, the six miles of constant uphill hiking had rendered my legs numb. Yet instead of focusing on how much of a relief a flat surface was, I looked around and enjoyed the incredible sights.
Everything was beautiful, and I had the summit all to myself. I took some pictures, gathered in the sight with deep breaths, had a snack and water and set off again. As much as I would have loved to stand there 10,000 feet up, higher than all the other nearby peaks, all by myself, I was still worried about getting the remaining 6-7 miles in by sunset. So after 15-20 minutes on the peak , I had to get up and go again. The initial part of the descent was just incredible. A windy, rocky, slippery path was the only way down.
Then came this:
I was running quickly at this point, until I realized how unsafe it was. Probably a good time to slow down. I now approached “Devil’s Backbone.”
At this point, the wind began to blow really hard, and I got pretty scared walking over the narrow path with death on both sides of me. I howled like a wolf.
I was following these very primitive directions because I thought it would be fun, but it almost came back to bite me in the butt. “After about two miles, take the narrow unmarked trail on the left.” Trails were poorly marked and at times indistinguishable. Footprints and common sense were the only things I could use to my advantage, and it was still a challenge at times. The view was still fantastic, though.
I was supposed to follow the ski lift (which only operates on weekends) all the way down to some dirt road, which would then lead me to the trailhead, but I apparently followed the wrong ski lift and got completely lost. This ended up adding a couple of miles to the journey. It was very pretty, though.
6:00 rolled around, the sun was starting to hide behind the highest peaks, and I was nowhere near close to where I started. I took some dirt road for utility vehicles that winded slowly down for miles and miles.
It was really my only option; as you can see, trying to take any shortcuts would have been dangerous. I hadn’t seen any living creature since the very beginning of the trail, but all of a sudden I saw what looked like a wolf running up the path. Here I am, near the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, and this thing is approaching. I’ve gone on so many hikes recently that the directions for dealing with mountain lions, coyotes, snakes, bears, and other predators are ingrained in my mind. So after initially freezing in place, I thought the best thing to do would be to confidently walk past the thing. I gave him a “what’s up” stare with some swag as I passed by, and he continued up the mountain. It turned out to be just a border collie.
I walked on the road until 6:45, when the sun was legitimately beginning to set in the mountains. I had about 10 minutes of sunlight and 30 minutes or so of twilight left, no service and 10% battery on my phone, no real directions, and I knew it was time for the fun and games wandering to become serious.
Luckily I took a few pictures at the beginning of the hike, and I compared the vantage point from these to the current vantage point to get near the same area. Because of these pictures, I took a fork in the road that I don’t think I would have taken without. 10 minutes later, I saw someone backing out of a parking spot next to a ski lodge, the only human I had seen for hours, and she rolled down her window and offered me a ride to wherever I needed to go. I got into her old Jeep and her border collie was sitting in the back seat. I told her about the random border collie I ran into way up the mountain, and she said it was him. He apparently knew shortcuts. My car turned out to be only a mile or so down the road, so I was on the right path, but she saved me a little bit of time and energy. She also told me I saved about 30 minutes taking the path that I took. When I got to my car, the sun was down and it was almost pitch black as I looked back up to the mountain. About 13.5 miles had elapsed on my body odometer, and I was dead tired. I drove to a cheap hotel, ate a huge meal, and (in typical Curtis fashion) was somehow not able to sleep at all…
Even though I started it out of randomness and confusion, and even though I was unprepared at the moment for a very demanding uphill hike, I somehow found another gear and pushed myself. Maybe it’s because I don’t know what to do in life, maybe it’s because I wanted to accomplish something, but I channeled my inner drive and self-discipline and got a very productive result. While I was rushed and not completely able to enjoy my time at the top of Mt. Baldy, the entire hike was nonetheless a surreal experience that I will never forget.