Saturday, May 25, 2013

humbled, part one

       Friends, I just want to say that I'm okay, and will be assessing just what happened as the weekend moves on. Suffice to say, I fell far short of my expectations. I made the decision that it would have been unwise for me to continue on last night and turned around just before the first summit. While this turning point represents a third of the elevation profile and more than a third of the distance, the fact that I did not "bag" the first peak, smarts. The temps were in the 30s, and for reasons I'll have to consider I was slowing down to a such an extent that it was going to be progressively more difficult keeping warm; heading ever further "out there" felt unsafe at that point.

       I am honored by the fact that you all believe—as much as I do—in completing the 24n24, and hope that you see this as just a setback. I may have to put it off until next month, and will likely decide to tackle it in a counterclockwise direction, starting in the morning. There are several advantages to this other direction that I thought were not significant enough to warrant it, but I may indeed have been mistaken. I've no doubt that someone else could tackle the course as I'd laid out, but there are very real challenges in taking the initial 6000 climb while the body is wanting to shut down for the night. (This was one of the contributing factors last night, and made my footsteps less sure than typical, and unsafe for me over the rocks.)

       I am humbled by the limitations I met out there; surprised by them, and frustrated by them since I'd climbed these trails so often before with starkly different results. The temptation is call this a failed attempt and leave it at that. It is all too easy to say this is about one single event—but it is much more than that. In a way, I've been climbing the mountains of this epic for several months, learning how to inspire and be inspired. That I've fallen short, is what it is. I am sorry for this. Especially all the efforts that were poured into the news coverage, were they for naught? I can only hope not.

     I'm feeling a bit lost right now (got back at close to 4 this morning), but should have more to offer later.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

In 24 hours

        In a little over 24 hours hours I'll be setting out on this Mill Creek runaround. Thank you for following along. I will report back within the following 24 hours. What a difference a day makes...and the difference is you. Your support, in your kind thoughts and through your gifts to The Wildlands Conservancy, makes this all worth the extra effort. I will do my best. 
A few last minute details:


         Here is the link to the map to track progress in real time (for advanced viewing, see KML Feeds just below). Once the map page is opened, select the Map Filters, then within the "Date and Time Range" dropdown menu select the "Currently tracking" option (that way you can limit the viewing to the 24n24 and exclude any previous hikes I've taken).

        How this tracking unit functions does not necessarily reflect how I'm doing on the 24n24. It is an electronic gadget and as such, may not work as one would expect. The fact that Delorme (the manufacturer) has issued three firmware updates in the past couple of weeks tells me they've been working on some serious bugs having to do with the connection to the Iridium satellite system. And while I expect this latest update will suffice for my trip, keep in mind that this beacon is not something I depend on. It's nice to know it's there—since it has an emergency signal should the extreme need arise—and it's nice to know that you all will be able to track my position en route. But, don't fret if it doesn't work perfectly. I may need to change batteries, for example, in which case the signal will drop for some minutes before reconnecting. I may not be aware that batteries have run low (again, don't fret).

KML Feeds Use these links to view inReach data outside the MapShare page linked above. (Note: This is an advanced feature. Most people just use MapShare.)
KML Loader This feed can be opened in an application, such as Google Earth, for viewing real-time inReach updates.
Raw KML Feed A more advanced option, for scenarios such as loading inReach data into a web site.

Saturday gathering

      If you are planning to visit Bearpaw on Saturday afternoon, please let us know you're coming. Call the office 909-797-8507 to confirm you're coming and for directions. No one will be there before about 4:00 pm or so, btw. There's no set time after that for when I get back since I can only guess how long this thing will take overall, but there'll be plenty to enjoy there while you wait: great company, food, beautiful walks, games to play, etc. Weather should be very nice as well. The Reserve is not hard to find, but the turnoff is tricky (you must be careful to slow down well in advance, especially if a car is following behind you). Once on the gravel drive, you will cross the creek (there's a bridge), and on the far side you'll follow the paved drive all the way to the parking at the end (half mile or less).

      There's scant cell coverage (if any), so don't plan on having it. We will have some coverage at the lodge and will (in theory) have a sense of my location as long as electronics are functioning. I will head straight for the lodge to touch the post and mutter "that was easy" (or press one of those buttons if someone has one available).

 See you out there!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Leaving the trail behind

      We each enter this world on our own, and we exit on our own. It's a well-worn cliché, yes, but poignant nonetheless, and it serves as an overlay to the feeling I have sometimes when I step off the trail into the wilderness. It's a cutting of the chord, from the other world to this one, or from this one to the other. Similarly, the interface between tame and wild can be covered in one or two steps. The wilderness (as in San Gorgonio Wilderness) has popular trails, with people weaving their way back and forth. One such path, the Vivian Creek trail, wends its way up from Mill Creek to the highest peak in Southern California. It runs about 9 miles or so from parking lot to rocky top; at a certain point, about 2/3 of the way up, it begins to follow a north/south ridge for the next mile or two before turning eastward to the peak.
     I'll be coming down from San Gorgonio [and Dragon's Head], heading off the trail down a thousand foot bushwhacking descent to the Mill Creek Jump Off (sometimes referred to as the Galena Headwall). Each time I do this I feel a sort of sadness, like I'm leaving behind the comfort of the peopled world. Even through the wilderness, when there is a trail that hikers tread, there is a sense of safety even if hours pass before seeing any other person passing. But there's something about leaving the trail in the wilderness that is like cutting the ties that bind. It's a feeling. And I wonder if it's more like the passage of birth or the passage of death. In birth, we enter our human world; in death, we leave it behind. When leaving the trail I enter another world where I'm simply another animal, on my own, without human companionship. I cut the umbilical cord, the human chord fades and nature assumes a royal mantle. (It's always there, of course, but we typically choose to ignore this.)

     I wouldn't choose to be a reclusive, living out in the middle of the northern woods of Canada. I've just too much to learn from the company of others to set aside the peopled world. Yet, from time to time, a fugue into deep nature is the most powerful teacher I can find, with elements of extraordinary beauty and peace, as well as wistfulness and even fear. This coming Saturday morning I'll be heading off down a steep draw covered with bush chinquapin. At the bottom, above the headwaters of the Mill Creek, I'll begin my ascent to Galena Peak and the subsequent traverse over Cuchillo and Wanat peaks. This will be the most remote section of my trek, the furthest removed from my "tribe," and when I arrive at the saddle beneath Little San Gorgonio, and find the human path once again, I will let out a loud whoop—I'll "sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world," as Whitman wrote. 

     As a note, The Wildlands Conservancy presently owns Galena Peak (and Wilshire Peak) and supports the expansion of the San Gorgonio Wilderness to include these as part of the Sand to Snow National Monument (within the California Desert Protection Act). They certainly deserve to be added to the designated Wilderness.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Newspaper online article

      In case you want to view this article outside of this blog, click here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Glowing rectangles... or, "Don't look down now."


      I'm carrying electronic contraptions which weigh almost 2 pounds combined! Yikes, I'd not intended this, but here's what they are and why I'm bringing 'em along:

Garmin Trex: I'm bringing a gps, borrowed from friend and TWC ranger Charlie Marquardt, because I want a reliable tracking for the course. The Delorme Inreach, unit below only sends a tracking point every ten minutes so this will not work for the source tracking. I'll put in fresh batteries, turn it on, and forget about it, since I do not like the idea of relying on a gps to find my way (just another way to look down at a glowing rectangle and away from the beauty surrounding.

Delorme InReach: This beacon hooks into and can send messages via the Iridium satellite system. I'd consider ditching this, but ya never know…and it's pretty remote…and this is a solo run…etc. The Inreach also will provide anyone with a link online, to view my progress in real time. Like the Garmin, put in new batteries, turn on, and forget about it (though I might check a couple of times to make sure battery's good).

GoPro: As lightweight as this tiny video camera is, the protective case is not. Nevertheless, the Riverside Press Enterprise offered it to me to carry along and record some images and thoughts, "to bring others along on the journey," and we managed to attach it nicely to one of my pack straps, so I won't have much to fiddle with.

Canon SX280. I want some good quality stills, and the GoPro can't cut it for these, so this point-and-shoot will capture some worthy stills.

ABC watch (altitude, barometer, compass): I plan to take a quick photo of this on top of each peak for added course verification.

      I'll post more on what I'm taking along for the ride, but these doodads are sitting on my desk now so I'm thinking about them [and how much they weigh]!



      With an emphasis on "estimated," I submit the following estimated times of arrival for the 24n24, with a departure time of 6:30 pm:

Bearpaw Preserve: 6:30 p.m.
San Bernardino Peak: 11:45 p.m.
East San Bernardino Peak: 12:15 a.m.
Anderson Peak: 1:00 a.m.
Shields Peak: 1:30 a.m.
Alto Diablo Peak: 2:00 a.m.
Charlton Peak: 3:00 a.m.
Little Charleton Peak: 3:15 a.m.
Jepson Peak: 4:15 a.m.*
East Dobbs Peak: 4:45 a.m. *
Dobbs Peak: 5:00 a.m. *
San Gorgonio Mountain: 6:00 a.m.
Bighorn Mountain: 6:30 a.m.
Dragon's Head Peak: 7:00 a.m.
Galena Peak: 9:30 a.m.
Cuchillo Peak: 11:00 a.m.
Wanat Peak: 11:30 a.m.
Little San Gorgonio Peak: 12:15 p.m.
Wilshire Mountain: 12:45 p.m.
Wilshire Peak: 1:15 p.m.
Oak Glen Peak: 1:45 p.m.
Cedar Mountain: 2:30 p.m.
Birch Mountain: 3:00 p.m.
Allen Peak: 4:15 p.m.
Mill Peak: 5:00 p.m.
Bearpaw Preserve: 6:25 p.m.

      Once underway, real-time tracking (ten minute interval tracking points) will be available to follow online HERE.

* The order of Jepson and the two Dobbs may be reversed (east Dobbs, Dobbs, then Jepson).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Crumbling mountains, fading eyesight

      I like to make connections. It's just who I am...I can't help myself. And it's a game I play to keep my perspective on life interesting and inspiring. Something about associating the shape of a leaf to the sound of a musical phrase, or a scab and subsequent scar on my arm to some fading bad habit—odd things like that—intrigues me.

      The mountains I've been spending time in are crumbling. You can't see this from down in the valley, from down in the town, but they are. When you walk over them, they simply give beneath you. Sometimes in just the smallest way, like the sand and gravel underfoot sliding downward under the weight of your stepping forward; other times in more pronounced, even troubling ways, when you step on a large rock or boulder and it gives [way] when you expect it to take [your weight]. The mountains are falling apart. All my life I've watched them from a distance and thought they were "rock solid." Nope, it ain't so. The pinnacle of "falling down," like the game of Ring-a-round a rosie, is most pronounced on the crags of the Galenas, the easternmost section of the Yucaipa range, but I see the lure of gravity throughout the 24n24 course.

      My eyesight is failing. Well, not failing, as in boulders giving way; more like the soft side of the hill slowly sliding down over time. Especially reading, when my eyes are not yet awake, or are end-of-day tired, is more challenging. I've some 1.0 reading glasses, but I've not yet figured out how to keep them clean, which may be my way of denying the crumbling mountain. I'm 55, turning 56 on the 24th (yes, inflicting hardship on myself is my way of celebrating the occasion, ha). I'm trying in various ways to keep my body, my mountain, from undue crumbling.

 Here's another paradox (a most treasured connection): my body crumbles faster when I'm not climbing the mountains. The more sedentary life I lead, the more I get sick, the faster the mountain crumbles. By remaining in the valley I might not see the effect of my absence, but the mountain falls nonetheless. Why is it that climbing the steep trail, even feeling the dirt and rock give underfoot, keeps the mountain more...mountainous?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Run, walk, sit, stand, fly...

      The question's been posed: "How is it possible to enjoy nature, really experience it, when one is running through it." I can only say it is indeed possible to fully experience the sights, smells, and sounds of nature while running through it. After all, is a deer's experience of its world somehow diminished while running? Multitudes of animals and insects move faster me, yet experience the breadth of life as much or more than I do in my relatively sluggish form.

      Perhaps when we pose the question we are confusing "running" with "rushing." I sometimes feel like I'm rushing through my day sitting at my desk. It's about a fullness of experience. I can barely imagine what the wild horse experience must be running across a wild desert landscape; I hardly expect those unfamiliar with the sport of endurance running to understand how much greater it is to run in beautiful landscapes than it is to run in "asphalt jungles."  Running in itself is an experience of the body like no other—not greater or lesser, but unique. Like other endurance sports, it challenges the athlete to experience one's limits. (read Limits, real and illusory)

      I love being out in nature, walking, sitting, standing…or running. My sport is endurance running, for me most enjoyed in places of beauty and challenging terrain. Moving through epic landscapes is wonderful at any speed. Yes, they're very different experiences, sitting quietly and moving swiftly. So, what am I "trying to prove?" Several things. 1) We each have "epic" challenges inside of us waiting to be met, things that will help us to grow taller, become better people and truer, more honest friends. No need to be of a physical sort; composing a folk song and performing it before an audience could be your epic endeavor. Or, what about that book of short stories you've wanted to publish, or whatever. 2) In doing this sort of thing, and not keeping to yourself, you can inspire others to consider their own unique, as yet unmet epics. "Wow, that reminds me, I've been wanting to hike the Appalachian Trail since I was a teenager. Why not now?"

      We become better people from these experiences, I'm sure of it. And in addition to inspiring others to find their own epic(s), we can invite them to support us by contributing to a cause outside of ourselves, tone hat we wholeheartedly believe is worth supporting. When you might ask, "What is Melzer up to with all this?" the answer is multifaceted, and that's a good thing.

The peaks' names

      The 24 peaks all have names, although two of them are under consideration with the USGS for the proposed names Wanat and Cuchillo. I've found a few bits of information on the peak name origins. For further info, where available, click on a peak's name to link to the Sierra Club's HPS (Hundred Peaks Section). I've not included the peaks with secondary names (East San Bernardino, Little Charlton, etc).

San Bernardino Peak (elev 10,649)
Named, early 19th century, after Saint Bernardino of Siena (1380-1444). Although not the tallest, this is the most iconic peak from the valley floor.
Anderson Peak (elev 10,840+)
Named in 1921 for Lew Anderson, USFS District Ranger of Barton Flats.

Sheilds Peak (elev 10,680+)
Named, 1920s, for Leila Shields, outdoor enthusiast.

Alto Diablo (elev 10,563)
Name of unknown origin.

Charlton Peak (elev 10,806)
Named, 1921 for Rushton H. Charlton, Angeles National Forest Supervisor (1907-24).

Jepson Peak (elev 11,205)
Named for Willis Linn Jepson (1867-1946), botanist, author, Charter Member of Sierra Club and Save-the-Redwoods, and founder of the California Botanical Society.

Dobbs Peak (elev 10,459)
Named for John W. Dobbs, local prospector, mountain man, and guide.

San Gorgonio Mountain (elev 11,499)
Named after the Christian Saint Gorgonius. Highest peak in Southern California. The San Gorgonio Wilderness was designated in 1964.

Bighorn Mountain (elev 10,997)
Named for the Bighorn mountain sheep, Ovis canadensis, still seen in these mountains.

Dragon's Head (elev 10,866)
Apparently named for the summit which appears to some to be like a reptilian head. Name first appears in 1967.

Galena Peak (elev 9,324)
Named, circa 1902, for the mineral galena, named after the Greek physician Galenus.

Cuchillo Peak (elev 8,870)
(naming currently under consideration by CACGN and USGS [USBGN])

Wanat Peak
(elev 9,040)
(naming currently under consideration by CACGN and USGS [USBGN])

Little San Gorgonio Peak (elev 9,133)
eta: 12:15 pm

Wilshire Mountain (elev 8,832)
Named for Joseph E. Wilshire (ca.1858-1920), famous Oak Glen resident.

Oak Glen Peak (elev 8,400)
Named for the city of Oak Glen, California.

Cedar Mountain (elev 8,324)
Named for the incense Cedar (Cedrus deodars) found on its slopes.zzzz

Birch Mountain (elev 7,826)
Named after nearby Birch Creek, perhaps mistakenly named since there are no birch trees in the area.

Allen Peak (elev 5,795)
Named for B. F. Allen, a Special Agent of the Department of the Interior (late 19th c), or possibly for USFS Ranger John H.B. "Jack" Allen, posted at Mill Creek Ranger Station (early 20th c).

Mill Peak (elev 4,900)
Name of unknown origin.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

There lies a transcendence...

I am including here a passage or two of David Myers' writings in Behold the Beauty, the book that The Wildlands Conservancy has produced to help illustrate (in glorious photography) some of the epic landscapes being preserved for all of us to share. These passages inform my work these days, and inspire my efforts on this 24n24 endeavor.

       There lies a transcendence amid deep forests, pastoral meadows, remote beaches and solitary deserts that the world’s great art, music and literature have attempted to capture. Indeed this is why the great poets, prophets and redeemers of humanity sought the wilderness. Wherever there is a place of great beauty and biodiversity, inspired people have been given the eyes to see that beauty, the mind to understand the importance of biodiversity, and the passion to act upon its preservation. The Wildlands Conservancy is but another face of people, past and present, who have devoted their lives to preserving timeless enclaves of nature. By preserving wild lands though reverent stewardship, by opening our preserves to the public at no cost, and through our children’s programs, we trust people will be inspired by the songs of birds, the music of streams, the whispering pines, and voices more eloquent than our own. 

       Since incorporating in 1995, The Wildlands Conservancy has continued to promote its model of land-based conservation through expanding our preserve system. That system now includes the West Coast’s largest nonprofit preserve at Wind Wolves, California’s largest nonprofit wilderness at Pioneertown Mountains Preserve, and California’s longest stretch of nonprofit-owned coastline at Sounding Seas Dunes and Eel River Estuary Preserves. What is most remarkable is that these preserves are being purchased and restored with private donations, and opened for free passive recreation with national park quality facilities. 
      Over the past 15 years, there has been a growing demand for conservation organizations to become land stewards and for more individuals to become citizen conservationists, docents and restoration volunteers. The restoration challenges facing California’s landscapes far exceed the financial and human resources of government to adequately address them. The Wildlands Conservancy’s overarching goal is to call people back to the beauty, wonder and inspiration of the natural world, and to encourage people to be participants in saving our magnificent landscapes and restoring California’s rich biological diversity. 

       Ultimately, saving land means educating and instilling a love for nature in the next generation. The boundaries we place around our state and national parks and wilderness areas are not automatically sacred and inviolate to the next generation. It is the value system of our culture that gives land designations meaning and prevents all land use decisions to subordinate to utilization, profit and expediency. This is why The Wildlands Conservancy is California’s nonprofit leader in providing free outdoor education programs to almost one million children to date. It is through these programs, and reverent stewardship of preserves visited by almost half a million people a year, that we foster a love and respect for life in all its magnificent forms. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Limits, real and illusory

      Last spring I was training for the Barkley Marathons, a footrace held each year in Tennessee on or around April Fools Day. In the world of ultrarunning it's legendary. Lots of other races present huge personal challenges to the participants, but none match the character of the the Barkley—it's a life-changing experience (not to make too much of it). The entry field is limited to about 35 runners, all devotees to the sport (just about the only prerequisite). Names are drawn at the end of the year for the upcoming race, so one of the challenges is, if you are serious about the race—and I would suggest that if you're not, you'd best not throw your hat in the ring—you had better be training for it long before the drawing—like months before.

     It's often said amongst Barkers that you're a fool to train hard for this race, since you will fail. The only difference is how long your suffering will last—the better your training, the longer you'll last out there, the greater your suffering. And if you're a fool to train hard, what kind of idiot are you to be training hard before your name is even drawn?! Like all great things, I believe there's something here we can weave into a broader cloth (heh, heh, follow me if you dare).
Melzer, tapped out at the Barkley

      Training for the Barkley is intense, and the echo that follows each participant after they fail effects them deep to the core. (For the very few who complete it, obviously true as well.) It is an epic endeavor, in part because of the details—60,000 feet of climbing (that's 120,000 feet of elevation change) over a 100 mile course known for its natural obstacles (including a time limit of 60 hours). There have been about a dozen finishers out of hundreds who've tried over the past 20 years; all the rest of us are tapped out (literally, a bugle plays Taps to signal another fallen).

      Some consider the race director to be a sadistic man; he is anything but. Sure, he has a streak of toughness like no other, but its tenor is that of a wise teacher. Offering the participants a chance to look close (reallll close) at their own limits is an informing idea behind his race. Why would anyone want to get up close and personal with one's own limits? Good question; I think the answer might be different for each person who wants this experience. It may have something to do with our sense that limits are both very real, and very illusory. Our own limits ebb and flow like the ocean. Sometimes I am more courageous, or more flexible, or more generous...sometimes less. In training for 24n24, I am pushing my limits. Indeed, I find the trick is to push as hard as I can in training—this promises the best outcome, all other things being equal.

      The trick is—and this is the biggest unknown—there's a certain point where training too hard will invite injury or illness. Or is there? That certain point, like one's personal limits in a race, is illusory.... at least up to the point that you experience it. "Okay, so now that I've got shin splints I realize I should not have run an additional 50 miles this week on top of my 50 regular miles." Smarts will help keep you from overdoing it, but to succeed at the Barkley, you really have to push the training into an area that's unsafe. After all, meeting one's limits is the height of unsafe, it can be terrifying, in fact.

      I pushed my training this past weekend, and will do so even more next weekend. I climbed Galena Peak on Saturday and San Bernardino Peak on Sunday. While separating these two hike/runs by a night's rest (and lots of extra protein), I tread the fine line between training hard and training so hard that I'd need a week to recover. I felt the extra fatigue from the day before, yes, but not so much that I couldn't complete it feeling pretty good at Sunday's end. Next weekend I'll do the same, only a few hours longer each day. I'll be caching water, so an additional 8 pounds will be on my back on the climbs.

      By the way, I've attempted the Barkley 3 times. Each time I get a bit smarter, a bit more focused, more determined, and a bit further down the trail. Still far from the end, it's the great teacher Paradox, who stands beside me silently stating "Failure / Success." What will the 24n24 hold for me? We'll see soon enough.