Monday, September 23, 2013


 It was four years ago when I first stumbled on the idea of climbing Southern California's three largest mountains - San Antonio, San Gorgonio and San Jacinto - in one continuos effort.  It's known as the SoCal Triple Crown or the 8,000 meter challenge, I dubbed it: Tres Saints.  At the time I didn't own a pair of running shorts, didn't know the definition of an ultra-marathon and hadn't read Born to Run.  I had just finished up an awesome summer in the high sierra that culminated in a traverse of the palisade crest from Temple crag to Thunderbolt peak in one continuos 18 hour push.  To sum up my first two attempts at Tres Saints, I will just say:"Life happens, while you're making plans."

On Friday, September 20th I left Idyllwild around 2pm headed towards the trailhead for Mt. San Antonio.  I started up the trail around 4pm and was back to the car by 7pm.  I used the last light of day to prepare my pack for Mt. San Gorgonio which I headed toward next.  I hit the trail at 930pm, and after a long, cold, dark and sometimes painful run I returned to the car a little after 4am.  That's right, I had the brilliant idea to do the longest, toughest and highest of the three mountains during the middle of the night.  On the drive from Forest Falls to Marion Mountain trailhead I utilized the cruise control, set at 60mph, and I enjoyed a nice slow traffic-less drive, letting my legs rest and refueling my body and mind, which were both starting to feel the fatigue.  At 6am, after not sleeping in over 24hrs and putting 28 miles of mountain trails under my feet, I headed out with the fresh energy of two friends and a lot of caffeine towards the summit of Mt. San Jacinto.  We had a great hike, enjoyed the last beautiful morning of Summer and were back at the car by 1130am.

In the 22 hours between leaving and returning to Idyllwild my thoughts ebbed and flowed, sometimes they took me to strange places, places I haven't been in years.  This morning, while reflecting on the journey over the last four years that brought me through the physical act of accomplishing this ludicrous goal, I am filled with gratitude.  I am grateful for all the support from my family and friends who allow me such self indulgent passions.  You know who you are, and you know there are too many of you to list.  To all of you, I say THANK YOU, I am grateful!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Another Running Metaphor

Text by Matt Gray

Images by Daniel Gray

This is the first pre-dawn start we’ve enjoyed in quite some time.  I’m without a headlamp, (not an intentional mistake, but one that I’ll survive), so I rely on Daniel’s light and the backs of his shoes to guide me up the trail. The cool morning keeps our quick pace manageable, and as usual, the mountain air rejuvenates my body and soul.

Having hiked Deer Springs Trail dozens, maybe hundreds of time throughout my childhood, I am at home, and not just because of the familiarity.  At this point, running long, slow distances feels quite good.  While pain most certainly comes and goes, overall, I feel comfortable and thrilled.

Unfortunately, this theme of home casts a slightly darker shadow on today’s expedition.  I wrote recently about a beautiful run up the North Gully of Tahquitz and through the high country meadows.  Between that trip and this early morning ascent towards San Jacinto Peak, a forest fire consumed a great deal of wild land, potentially including those meadows. We run peacefully for the moment, knowing that in an hour when we’re on the summit we’ll have to face the truth about the fire’s path. How much of our wilderness playground, the site of our first backpacks and alpine birthday celebrations and day-long strolls did the fire transform?

We work our way through the yellow pine forest, up rocky trails, and into Little Round Valley.  A small flock of juncos, with their striped-white tails flashing, leads us upwards. The climb is idyllic; it is good to be home.

Smoke from the fire still smolders in the valley below as we reach the peak.  One flare-up looks precariously close to the Palm Springs Tram, and in the far distance we can see the matchstick trees left on the Desert Divide.  Fingers of the flames rambled through the area known as Laws, towards the Skunk Cabbage meadows, and up the flank of San Jac on Angel’s Glide. I liken this experience to someone walking through the remnants of their house after a fire or flood or tornado; they know each hallway and bedroom and nook quite intimately and it becomes overwhelming to detatch from those beautiful places that mean so much to us.

On the nine-mile descent, Daniel and I philosophize about fires in the wilderness.  We consider the acres and the homes lost, the lives not lost, and the change that the forest will now under go. I can’t say that we found solace, not in that moment, but as the path rolled and rambled beneath our feet, it became a fitting metaphor for the impermanence we experience in this world. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Chasing the Garuda

by Matt Gray

We planned a morning circuit of our favorite alpine meadows, hoping to check in on the ferns up there now growing shoulder high, and possibly track down an elusive Lemon Lily or two. But as we arrive at the Humber Park trail head, I catch Daniel looking up at Tahquitz Rock. I glance in the back to see if he snuck in the climbing gear . . . there's nothing there that will drastically alter our day, yet I know from his half smile that he suddenly has another idea.

"I've never gone up the North Gully in the summer," he finally confesses/mentions/proposes. The North Gully begins as a climber's trail and then diverts through a series of rock bands, chinqapuin fields, and steep, crumbly shoots until reaching Tahquitz Peak, some 2500 vertical feet above. 

If you haven't figured it out yet, I worry, a lot.  So I begin thinking of all the hazards: rock fall and rock slides, timber rattlers kin to last summer's encounter, running out of air chasing my brother up another unknown adventure.  Fortunately, I will follow Daniel just about anywhere, pending a terribly clairvoyant intuition. And having just finished the section on the Garuda Practice of Shambala Warriors in "Running with the Mind of Meditation," I'm game for the challenge.

"Are we planning on running it?" I ask in agreement of the diverted plans.  He smiles again and takes off at a brisk walk.

The Garuda is a mythic, playful, courageous bird-like animal in Tibetan Buddhist lore.  Its application is all about challenge: being audacious, overcoming tough obstacles, pushing yourself beyond, and testing your limits when your awareness of self (the Tiger) and the world around you (the Lion) are keen, in-shape, and ready for the mediated risks ahead.

While the Garuda dances and flies through another world, applying its natural tendencies to meditation and running practices will surely land you in some outrageous places. High on the North Gully, I'm scrambling over granite features, admiring delicate flowers growing from precarious cracks and gaps, and breathing deep, calming my racing pulse as I look out at the beautiful landscape beneath us, above us, and all around us.

Today, the Garuda will take us through these uncharted cross-crounty territories, to the panoramic vista of Southern California from the summit, and down into the very meadows that had originally motivated this run. But everything will feel more alive, more crisp, more vibrant. The Garuda's power helps us break through to new levels of physical strength and mental understanding, and simultaneously grounds us in the subtle beauty that we often miss on our day-to-day routine.  The Garuda revitalizes and awakens, inspires and uplifts, shows off the strength of Tahquitz and reveals the quiet poetry of the Lemon Lily.