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Independence Day 2013: Celebrating Freedom from Hiking Boots and Running Shoes

July 4, 2013
Mt. San Gorgonio at sunrise: "Old Greyback" glows orange for a few minutes.

Mt. San Gorgonio at sunrise: “Old Greyback” glows orange for a few minutes.

Last week I went for another backpacking adventure: a quick-turnaround attempt to summit “Old Greyback”: Mt. San Gorgonio, which the local People, the Luiseño, called  Pewipwe, which means “white on top”, or “gray head.”

Traversing the talus slopes of Old Greyback

Traversing the talus slopes of Old Greyback

My retired brother and I were on the trail by 8:30 am, hoping (key word: hope) to hike five miles to a campsite, drop our packs, hike five more miles to the summit, then return to our camp for a 15-mile day with 3500 feet of elevation gain to the 11,503-foot summit.

Crossing Fish Creek on the way up Mt. San Gorgonio

Crossing Fish Creek on the way up Mt. San Gorgonio. I wear thin SmartWool PhD socks with my sandals to alleviate friction issues.

What we forgot to take into account: we were starting at sea level and we’re not spring chickens. So only a few miles up the trail, before I even caught sight of the curved dome of the summit, my head was already pounding.  Then I started to feel slightly nauseous, then super nauseous, but by then we had less than two miles to the top and I was ready to try all the mental tricks I’d read about to. Keep. Going.

I counted steps . . . not to 100, like I’d read about on ultra-running blogs. That number seemed far-fetched and unattainable, so I set a “reasonable” goal of counting 20 steps at a time. Too much to think about. How about eight? That worked for a while…maybe a few minutes.

I forced my face into a smile (which probably looked more like a grimace.)

I videotaped myself in a light-hearted (more like light-headed) attempt at humor. Big Brother tried to lighten the mood with moderately funny comments about his high-altitude high.

Urp. I just wanted to puke, hoped I would puke, tried to encourage myself to puke, but never did quite puke. It harked me back many a decade to morning sickness, but with no excitement of anything but a bunch of moldering trail-snacks and a couple of liters of luke-warm plastic-tasting water in my tummy.

While I did not think it appropriate to pray for something as trivial as a desire to get to the end of a trail so I could enjoy a view of most of Southern California, I did respectfully request safe travel down–thank you God for allowing this . . .beause when I got home I read about AMS, HAPE, and HACE  and realized how stupid it was to keep trying to hike when I was so obviously, and severely, affected by the sudden change in altitude…which can become life-threatening in a fairly short amount of time.

So this blog post was supposed to be (like all my posts) somehow foot-and-footwear related. Here’s the deal: although the trail was a combination of sandy and rocky (way smoother than the Grand Canyon, but still a bit rough at times), my good old Merrell Pipidae Wrap sandals worked fine, once again (this is my fifth time using them for part or all of a backpacking trip).

Comparing the new and old sandals

Comparing the new and old sandals: these things are durable!

They work so well I started to write a detailed review of them after the week-long Grand Canyon backpacking adventure this past May . . . only to discover that Merrel has discontinued them. (I snapped up a pair on sale at the REI outlet online, so I’m good for a couple of more years, with the new pair to wear to work and the old ones to continue thrashing on the trail.)

Now, as far as true barefooting goes . . . sure I love backpacking in sandals. . . but I love trail running with nothing on my feet even more.

My miracle-worker (God works through people in the healing professions, for sure) physical therapy doctor, Derrick Suecki, has been doing wonders to “help my body remove the obstacles” (he says something like that when I thank him repeatedly for getting me back to running…). I am actually running again, after a long, discontented winter of rehab walking-walking-always-walking. (Being barefoot on the trail does help alleviate some of the angst….)

Today, Independence Day 2013, I had the “best run of the summer” (see last summer’s post on this topic) from Irvine Park to Santiago Oaks and back in a loop over Barham Ridge and returning along the cemetery road. When I say “run,” I mean it . . . I actually was able to “speed along” (for me) the dusty trails at a pace that felt fabulously taxing for about an hour. (Truth in trail-running-bragging: I did do some walking in between spurts of speed, fartlek/interval style.)

There was a mysterious mud-puddle in the middle of the trail on the outskirts of Irvine Park….coming from the direction of the scout camp…so I made the most of not having shoes on, of course.

IMG_5146 (640x480)

Happy Independence (from shoes) Day, 2013!

Some bonus photos of a few of the many wildflowers along the Fish Creek Trail up Mt. San Gorgonio:

California native orchid along the Fish Creek Trail (I could not figure out which species.)

California native orchid along the Fish Creek Trail (I could not figure out which species.)

California columbine

Western columbine

Lemon lilies

Lemon lilies


Common cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) a giant Hercules of a plant with many native uses.

Sunrise on the way down the Fish Creek Trail

Sunrise on the way down the Fish Creek Trail

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