Monday, April 29, 2013

False Evidence Appearing Real

"It's 5am, I thought you were going for a run?"

I roll over and ponder the dim blue light turning shadows into shapes outside.  I think to myself, "I could sleep a few more hours and just run scenic."  I've been tossing and turning all night, having strange dreams of being alone in the wilderness.

It's been four weeks since I've done a high country dawn patrol.  It's been four weeks since I stood face to face with Mt. San Jacinto's largest wild predator.  There's not much snow left, all the access roads are open and the weather's been excellent.  Still, I've managed to find excuses for not going up high, not getting up early, and not being far from home.

Fear is a survival instinct that enhances our awareness, sharpens our senses and creates an overwhelming desire to abandon the situation causing it.  All of these characteristics are extremely beneficial if fear is rational, and some fear is rational.  What about irrational fear?

How many times have I seen a Mountain Lion? Once.  That would make the odds pretty low that I would run into one again, right?  How many medium-sized male trail runners have been attacked in Southern California? None.  That would make the odds pretty low that I would get attacked, right?

With this thought process, I rationalize my fear as being irrational.  I crawl out of bed, pound a cup of coffee, chase it with two heaping tablespoons of honey, lace up my shoes, throw my hydration pack over my shoulders and move silently out the door.

It's light, but the sun's not over the horizon yet.  There are no clouds anywhere in the sky, and the moon is setting just above the western horizon.  The only way to truly face this irrational fear of encountering another Mountain Lion is to head up the trail I was on four weeks ago.  I climb quickly and the air warms as a slow breeze moves over South Ridge.

I summit Tahquitz Peak and enjoy the silence, scan the high country, distant ridges, valleys and coastal fog.  I move on, looping my way through meadows and streams on trails that still have winter's fallen trees lying across them.  I'm out for almost four hours and I encounter no wild predators, at least none that I could see!

Text and Photos by Daniel

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Returning to a Vertical World

April is a time to re-connect with the high country's limber pines, streams, swallows and sweeping granite.  It's warm, but not hot.  Most flat-landers are still sitting in fog.  The warmer temperature this week guaranteed there wouldn't be much snow or spring drip on Tahquitz Rock, so I loaded my pack and headed out for an adventure.  It's early afternoon and the sun is warm.  I pull up to the parking area at Humber Park and do a quick scan of the rock.  Still a little shady on the North and Northeast faces.

I hike to the Northwest face and find a huge pile of snow at the base of my route.  Luckily there is a three foot gap between it and the rock so I can easily start the climb.  I adjust all my gear, double check everything, take a few deep breathes, cover my hands in chalk and scamper up the first moves of a 400' climb.  The rock is cold, and my shoes stick perfectly to the sharp granite edges.  Winter has cleansed the rock and it makes me feel comfortable and confident as my hands bite into the holds.  After 100' I enter a giant, shadowed corner that is capped by a small roof.  This is one of my favorite pitches on Tahquitz.  I take my time, moving slowly and precisely.  Using opposing pressure with my feet and hands, on opposite walls of the corner, I stem to it's top and pull through the overhanging roof moves as smoothly as I can.

After the roof is lunch ledge, I rest here, and enjoy the view.  It's 150' of easy climbing to the summit, and all of it's in the sun.  The breeze picks up and just before the top, a hummingbird swoops in to check me out.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Daniel in the Lion's Den, Again!

It's been warm in Idyllwild.  The lilacs, manzanita and oaks are blossoming.  The swallows, ants and lizards are back in abundance.  It's Easter Sunday, I wake up early, Juniper crawls out of bed shortly after me and we spend some time stretching and doing yoga before Margaret wakes up.  After a quick breakfast and a few cups of coffee I fill my pack and lace up my shoes.  I've got to get a move on if I'm going to make it back before the ladies are home from Church.  

A low pressure system is forecast along with exceptionally gusty winds and some passing clouds. Perfect weather for ascending Tahquitz Peak via its South Ridge.  The gate has been locked for most of the winter and today is no exception.  It's a relatively steep mile from pavement's end to the trailhead proper and I only encounter one other hiker.  We say hello and good morning as I pass him.

At the end of the dirt road, the trail is not nearly as steep so I begin a nice slow, easy jog up the switchbacks.  It's definitely windy, but the views are spectacular: To the southwest you can see the oceanside, and to the northwest, the San Gabriels, not to mention all of Strawberry and Garner Valleys to the north and south respectively.  It's been five months since I've been on this section of trail, and I briefly drift off to that fateful morning.  It was when I met a couple of runners that had signed up for the Beyond Limits Ultra-marathon and convinced me to do the same...

As I come around the last corner before the long straight stretch leading to the rock window in front of me, twenty yards and closing quickly, is a Mountain Lion.  I see her first and move over to the side of the trail and stop.  On my right is a ten-foot-high scrub oak, and on my left a steep bouldery hillside.  I'm not going anywhere.  Her tail is huge, longer and thicker than I would have expected. She stops dead center in the trail and we stand there, staring at each other.

I'm supposed to act dominant, bigger and louder to scare her off. I can't.  All I can do is stare.  I 'm transfixed by her sandy brown coat and deep eyes and the wild markings of her face.  I snap out of it, realizing this cougar is going nowhere without a little encouragement.  I raise my hands above my head and clap.  This seems to have no effect.  I look again at the steep bouldery hillside on my left and huge scrub oak on my right, contemplating my options.  I know that this cat could land on me with two swift and powerful jumps and that running would probably encourage that action.  I clap louder, in one fluid movement she crouches, turns and disappears up the trail.

I cautiously make may way back down the trail, constantly looking over my shoulder and scanning the terrain in front of me.  It's rarely felt like a "long" three miles home from this trail, but this morning it seems like forever.  I finally hit the pavement and reflect on the morning's experience. Encountering a Mountain Lion that high up in early April was the last thing on my mind when leaving the house. I am reminded of a thought by John Muir, "In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Crazy Insane or Insane Crazy?

Narrative by Daniel
Photos by Gary

"Hey I just found your next race," Matt says as I walk in the door for breakfast after our 50 mile ultramarathon, "and it's only 31 miles!"  He hands me his laptop with the page open to the Oriflamme 50k. I smile, because I've already been thinking about this race and whether or not three weeks is enough time to properly rest and recover before another really long run.  I register for the race, Matt and I lace up our shoes and head out for a recovery run.

I created a low mileage running plan that would keep me in shape for the next three weeks and allow me to enjoy extra time with the Family during spring break. I learned a lot from running the BLU 50M, (see Matt's "7 lessons"), and applied everything to the Oriflamme 50k.

The course begins with almost 6 miles of single track, which can be a little slow when there's a line of 130 people.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

7 Lessons from Our First Ultra: Lesson 7

by Matt Gray

Mile 50 . . . Training for the Next Ultra: Clouds build over the Continental Divide to the East and South, but a brilliant blue fills the sky above me.  I'm climbing a hill on my first real run since the Beyond Limits Ultra just ten days ago. At 9,000 feet in Winter Park, Colorado I figured my breathing would be tight, my legs sore, and my body would be questioning why I'm already back out on the move. None of this comes true.  Instead, I feel euphoric.

There's a debate about whether or not the infamous runner's high exists.