Text by Matt 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.