This is a narrative that I decided to write about my experiences. Enjoy!
Oak Glen is a small apple farming community tucked into the southern foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. To the north, the Yucaipa Ridge forms a solid wall and its mountains loom high above everything. In November of 2009 I was hired as the preserve manager for The Wildlands Conservancy’s Oak Glen Preserve and in January of 2009, I was given a beautiful house to live in on the property. The views from this scenic location were spectacular, but few could match the majesty of Wilshire Peak, Yucaipa Ridge’s most prominent and recognizable point. I often looked up at it in awe. I was not new to mountain climbing, but had little experience with the rugged terrain that covered the steep ridges and deep canyons that form the approach to the ridge and to Wilshire Peak. Gradually, my innocent gazing became focused staring, almost as if I was locking eyes with the peak itself. I felt more and more compelled to climb the towering mountain, but it was a daunting proposition and I lacked right motivation to try it.
It wasn’t until almost a year later that I found myself chatting with David Myers about climbing it. David was my boss at the time, so like any good employee, I agreed to go. His desire to do it became the catalyst that I had been waiting for. On 10.23.12, David, Steve Hererro, and I set out for Wilshire Peak.
The route was steep and hard to follow, but it was a warm fall day and the ascent was a novel experience. As we enjoyed the changes in vegetation and terrain, we were offered increasingly impressive views of the surrounding landscape and a profound feeling of isolation. After reaching the tops of Cedar, Oak Glen, Wilshire Peak, and Wilshire Mountain, we headed down. We were fortunate to be able to use a dirt road owned and maintained by a neighboring landowners, which made the way back much less demanding than the way out. Still, my legs were spent and I was exhausted. If someone had asked me to do it again, I would have laughed.
It wasn’t until a few days after Christmas in 2010 that I would go for the peak again, this time accompanied by Frazier Haney and Jose, two good friends from the banks of the Whitewater River. Together, we set out towards the wintry slopes of mighty Wilshire. We hit snow at approximately 7000 feet, but it wasn’t very deep. As we climbed, it deepened a little, but it wasn’t until the final ascent of Wilshire Peak that the snow became challenging to navigate. Facing north, the final 500-foot climb to Wilshire peak is steep, and in this case, very frozen. Each step presented a struggle to maintain purchase in the peak’s crusty shell. Luckily, we three (plus Tolken and Luna) were bold and unrelenting fellows, so we made the top with moderate ease.
On 6.3.2011, I gathered a fellowship of well-intentioned men to try something new. The plan was to start at the Vivian Creek trailhead, climb Galena Peak (via the Mill Creek Jumpoff), then follow the Yucaipa Ridge west, past Birch Mountain, then down Forest Service road 1S08 to the parking area at the Bearpaw Reserve. It was ambitious plan, but Lucas, Dan, and Andrew signed up without coercion.
It soon became clear that I was part of a definite minority in the group that was actually prepared for the entire duration of the expedition. The fellowship became disjointed, morale eroded away, and it eventually broke. Anyone that has taken the ridge from Galena Peak to Little San Gorgonio Peak can tell you why. Add a deficiency of fresh water and improper attire to a general miscalculation of the physical demand, and you have a recipe for failure.
After we parted ways (in the Camp Creek Saddle) I spent the remainder of the day following the ridge, over Wilshire Peak and its neighbors, to Birch Mtn. (for the first time) and down to my destination. I made a few navigational mistakes, ran out of water, and would have enjoyed Luna’s company, but was successful nonetheless.
Each of my next three hikes to the peak were unique and each presented new challenges, but they all offered the same rewarding sensations and cheeseburger-lust that I had come to expect from such excursions.
On 8.23.2011, Luna and I joined a Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section hike, led by the incomparable Mars Bonfire, with a similar east to west traverse of the Yucaipa Ridge in mind. This time, however, we followed a steep, loose, and vague route that followed Camp Creek (from the Vivian Creek Trailhead) to the ridge. I certainly did not mind the exclusion of Galena Peak and was all too eager to substitute Allen Peak as peak #7 for the day. Luna showed us all a thing or two about hiking and fun was had by all.
On 9.5.2011, Luna and I decided to try a new route to the peak. We followed Ford Canyon upstream, past excellent water falls and sheer rock walls, until the water faded into the mountain side and the canyon bottom steepened to an unappealing angle. When the right opportunity presented itself, we took a side canyon up towards the 7000-foot peak that sits below Wilshire Peak to the south. Along the way, I lost my camera and became fairly distraught. After finally giving up the search, I questioned whether I should proceed to Wilshire Peak, unsure of the feasibility of my intended route and with dark clouds building overhead.
With some encouragement from Luna, I decided to head onward (Onward!) and upward (Upward!). The route was incredibly steep and loose and it began to rain. Luna and I hit the usual suspects (minus Cedar Peak) and returned home. I was upset about loosing my camera. My wife, Jennifer, had bought it for me and I really liked it. I decided I would purchase a new one online to replace it before she was the wiser. I sold an old Olympus camera that was collecting dust for the cost of a replacement, so the universe seemed to be evening back out. Even with a new camera on the way and the purchase fully funded, I couldn’t escape the bitterness and regret that comes from losing something, especially when it housed pictures from months of fun and adventure that couldn’t be replaced.
Enter Travis Brooks, a longtime friend and fellow adventurer from New York.
Travis was in town for work, so I presented him with an opportunity to retrace my route, with hopes of recovering the camera. It had been a week, had rained, and I had a very hazy memory of the exact route I had taken and where/when I might have lost it. It was a mission with a small likelihood of success, but I mentioned the approximate proximity of the missing camera to remote and wild places, waterfalls, and giant oak trees, and he agreed without hesitation.
When heading upward steeply, a route is affected by a myriad of variables and an endless stream of questions, cost/benefit analysis, and calculations of risk. Thick brush, rock outcroppings, ravines, and many other things present impasses and opportunities, back-tracking and fatigue. It wasn’t easy, but I kept reminding myself that, like water, most creatures will settle on the navigational option that presents the least amount of calorie consumption and the lowest possibility for harm, so if followed my natural instincts, I was likely to take a similar route as before.
After a hearty bout of thinking out loud and second guessing (which Travis endured patiently) it was a downed tree lying in a dirt slope that led me to the camera. I had remembered using it to aid my ascent, and while celebrating this successful aligning of memory and current circumstances, I spotted the camera. It was undamaged and seemed to be waiting for me on a dirt slope as if I had left it on the back seat of the car.
We celebrated and shared the excitement of success. Riding high, we turned our attention to exploration and adventure. We took some time to snack at an elevated position, careened down a dirt slope, and practiced acts of accuracy and balance. True to form, Travis navigated the steep slopes, rocky ravines, and vertical cliffs without a whisper of doubt or complaint and Luna never missed an opportunity to impress us.
The hike to Wilshire Peak on 11.30.11 was a simple idea: leave work at lunch time and hike to the peak and back before dark. It was an idea that appealed to me and had been rattling around in my head for weeks, so I decided to do it. I got some great photos along the way. The fall colors in Oak Glen were beautiful. My legs were killing me. I had played soccer the night before and had underestimated the fatigue that would come to haunt my leg muscles and make me feel like it was my first time going for the peak. Despite this unexpected, but familiar strain to maintain a rate of gain, Luna and I reached Cedar, Oak Glen, Wilshire Peak, and Wilshire Mountain, descended below a fabulous evening sky, and returned home to lay on the couch together.
I had become very fond of Wilshire Peak, and when the sun set at the close of 2011, I had climbed it six times…but was just getting started.
On 1.15.12, Luna and I took the first group of Sand to Snow Hiking Club members for a scamper up to Wilshire Peak. Nine of us set out at 9am for a hike that would take us just over 9 hours. Aside from losing a hiker halfway up to the turn-around-temptations generated by the tedious toil, the entertaining complaining of a new member, and a peak photograph spoiled by Luna’s rear end, it was a great hike. Some swore “never again” others were silently exhausted, but all reaped the rewards that are shared by the ambitious few that have climbed Wilshire Peak.
The hike to Wilshire Peak on 2.25.12 was supposed to be “Wilshire 0.5”, so named because I planned only to hike halfway up. It was designed for those that were interested in the route, but not quite ready for the whole thing. There was varied interest in the hike, but when it was time to start, only 5 were ready to start. Luna and I joined John Davis, Paul Melzer, and Charlie Marquardt set out once more. It wasn’t long before talk started of a “Wilshire 1.0”, so when John turned around (as planned) and said that he didn’t mind doing so along, Paul, Charlie, Luna, and I decided to go for it.
Both Paul and Charlie were Wilshire Peak veterans, very capable hikers, and valued friends, so the remainder of the climb was laid back and fun. We held our usual rock-tossing competitions, found a stump that looked like a dancing lady, and talked hikes, trails, peaks, and landscapes. I knew that they were both the “go anywhere” type of person, so when we reached the peak, I suggested a tantalizing amendment to the plan.
Rather than proceed down on one of the traditional routes, I suggested that we take a route that I knew to be reasonable and that would bring us down to Wilshire Creek, where waterfalls waited and champion oak trees were known to grow.
They both agreed, so when we reached the saddle to the west of Oak Glen Peak, we turned left. On the same slopes that had brought me upward almost 6 months prior (lost camera hike), we now ran recklessly and merrily downward. As we explored the canyon, I showed them the great canyon live oak tree that grows at the source of Wilshire Creek. We all agreed that it was a very special place. When we finished, we had a beer and joked that our synergy and enthusiasm had created the “Wilshire 1.5” hike.
On 3.11.12, I decided to walk from Bearpaw to Oak Glen. I had done it before, but this time planned to take the Yucaipa Ridge over to Wilshire Mountain., then down on Stan’s road (instead of the Oak Glen Divide Trail). It was an interesting piece of planning, as I started the hike with Marianne and some new hiking club pals, met up with Paul at the ridge, waved goodbye to Marianne and hiked to Birch Mtn. with Paul, then parted ways with Paul and continued on, just me and Luna. It was interesting to be following the ridge eastward from Birch to Cedar for the first time. I knew there was going to be snow on top, but had no idea that I would be post-holing up to my thighs. Just another surprise on what felt more and more like my own private ridge top.
Of all of my ascents to Wilshire Peak, the route, conditions, and unfolding of my climb on 4.27.12 might be my favorite.
I had thought of it while on our “Wilshire 1.5” adventure, as I looked down from the saddle immediately west of Wilshire Peak. Would it be possible to find a route that would bring me directly up it? If so, it was likely to be the most direct way to the peak (aside from climbing the crumbling rock south face of the peak itself).
I decide to go for it, and just to make matters more interesting, I decided very spontaneously, and therefore had only a small window in which to attempt it.
To reach the dirt and rock slope that would bring me to the saddle, I followed Wilshire Creek, past the waterfalls and intimate vistas that I had come to know so well. When I reached to main fork in the creek, I proceeded to the western fork, moving quickly and confidently. Before long, the canyon bottom turned to snow. It started as intermittent drifts, but became a solid mass that spanned from one side to another. Luna frolicked up and down and side to side with magnificent ease. I, on the other hand, took short, cautious steps and regretted the omission of my trekking poles from the day’s gear. As the angle of the snowy slope increased, so did the possibility of a devastating loss of footing. Such a misstep could have sent me downward with a decreasing potential for stopping and an increasing potential for harmful consequences. I also worried about the spatial compositions of the subsurface depositions. If the terrain or running melt water had created a large pocket under the snow, a leg (or my whole body) could have dropped through. This was something I preferred to avoid.
As a thickening mist soon began to surround me, I turned my attention from such worries and concerns to the full enjoyment of the seemingly miraculous conditions that I had found myself walking in. Heat from the sun in the valleys below was pushing the cool moist air from the canyon swiftly up the mountainside, sending fresh air past my face and into my lungs. Luna and I had this air conditioned snowpack freeway to ourselves and nowhere to go but up. Upward!
Eventually, the slope of the canyon became steep enough and daily sunshine allotment became substantial enough that the snow gave way to earth, so I knew I was close to the saddle. When I reached it, the mist broke for the first time to reveal a brilliant blue sky. As we reached the top of the peak, I marveled at the contrasting views. There was a wall of cloud to the south and clear skies, Mill Creek and San Gorgonio, and sunshine to the north. It was very cool.
Without even bothering to visit Wilshire Mountain, Luna and I headed for Stan’s road and the way down. I ran the whole way. The entire adventure had taken only 3 hours and 37 minutes (door to door). It was a personal record and remains an undiminished point of pride. I quickly shifted my efforts towards preparing for the remainder of the day’s plans, baked some brownies, and was in Hermosa Beach in time for sunset. I had climbed a mountain, traveled from snow to sand, and finished the day lying next to a beautiful girl. Onward!
My visit to Wilshire Peak on 6.3.12 was part of a grand plan (see http://www.summitpost.org/big-hike-6-3-12/801655). It was the easiest peak of the day, a sharp contrast with its usual requirements and consequences. I paused long enough to enjoy the customary gaze at spectacular views and some rest, and then continued on.
On 7.9.12, I took Jenn to the top. We had decided to leave California and move to Connecticut and I didn’t want her to leave Oak Glen without having climbed Wilshire Peak. She had just finished a grueling year-long internship and had a lot to do before the big move. We settled on a Tuesday, hoping that my work schedule would be flexible enough to allow me to take most of the day off and that the weather would cooperate. My work schedule wasn’t very flexible and the weather was about as ill-suited for a Wilshire Peak hike as it gets. Our plan had been to get an early start and get the bulk of the climbing in before the high midday temperatures, but by the time I was able to get out of work, it was 11am and the temperature was already into the 90s. Our expedition sat on the edge of a knife.
We went for it, and for someone that barely had time to eat and sleep, let alone exercise in the previous 12 months, Jenn climbed that peak like a champion. I was incredibly impressed. Like most Wilshire Peak first-timers, she had her moments of pessimism and saltiness, but she kept a solid pace, listened politely to most of my crummy jokes and silly observations, and had fun. She finished the hike with aching feet and justifiable dehydration and hunger, but had accomplished Oak Glen’s most demanding physical challenge in a time that puts her in the company of Wilshire Peak’s elite.
As July became August, the reality of my impending departure from the world that I had come to know and love began to set in. My life was about to change in many fundamental ways. I found myself about to sell and give away most of my possessions, conclude my affairs with The Wildlands Conservancy, and leave one of Southern California’s most beautiful landscapes. I felt fear, sadness, and trepidation, but also unbounded optimism and excitement. I was returning home. In a few weeks, I would be surrounded by the friends and family that I had waved goodbye to 5 years prior, and would be 30 or 300 miles away, instead of 3000. I was also about to get married. After almost seven and a half years with Jenn, I was finally going to be able to call the most beautiful, intelligent, and motivated girl that had ever met “my wife”.
With all of this swirling around, I had many people and places that I needed to visit and say goodbye to. I finally visited “The Bridge to Nowhere”, and made final visits to Wind Wolves, Whitewater, Law’s Coffee Shop, and Hanger 24. I made plans for one last expedition up Wilshire Creek to see the oak tree (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2012/09/san-bernardino-mountains-oak-tree.html) and then turned my sights to Wilshire Peak.
I didn’t just want to climb it one more time; I wanted to do something epic. The Yucaipa Ridge and the peaks above Oak Glen had been the site of so many amazing adventures, magnanimous moments, and exasperating experiences, and I wanted make my final visit something to remember…and be remembered by.
It wasn’t a new idea, to climb Wilshire Peak multiple times in a day. I had been seriously considering an attempt at twice in a day for a while, and even though I had mostly joked about doing it three times, I thought it to be possible as well. With my last free weekend in Oak Glen drew near, I began to scheme.
I started going over time tables in my head. I knew approximately how long it would take me to complete the route up and over Wilshire Peak at a moderate-to-fast pace, that I had a fixed amount of daylight, and from experience with long hikes, I knew the general effects that the daily succession of temperatures would have on my performance, but I didn’t know how the rigors of the hike would compound, how long it might take on the second and third attempt, or if I were even physically and mentally up for the 27 miles and almost 14000 feet of elevation gain the hike would present.
Knowing that I was at least going to do it once, I reached out to the usual suspects to join me. First Paul was in, then Charlie and David. The first version of the plan was to start at 8am, assume 5-6 hours for a roundtrip, then go for a second. In the second version, I would start at 3am for lap 1, meet the rest of the group at 9am for lap 2, and still have enough time for an attempt at a third lap if I felt up to it. Doug had agreed to go with me on the first lap, so it seemed like a good plan. This version was in place right up until the day before the hike.
On the morning of Friday 8.24.12, I bumped into Seth at Los Rios Rancho. We had talked many times about climbing Wilshire Peak together, but our schedules had never lined up, so I presented my plan and asked if he wanted to join. Knowing that I was leaving in a week, he said he would amend his work schedule to make it happen. While we were chatting, however, a new version of the plan formed in my head.
I asked him if he was interested in beginning the hike later that day instead. I had always fantasized about watching the sunset from Wilshire Peak and knew that a late afternoon start would make that possible. With this in mind, the rest of the third and final version of the plan fell into place.
4:00 pm – Start – Meet Seth at my house to begin lap 1
11:00 pm – Finish lap 1, Meet Doug at my house for lap 2
7:00 am – Finish lap 2, meet Paul, Charlie, and David for lap 3
3:00 pm – Finish
Lap durations and meeting times were set based on the fact that neither Seth nor Doug had done the hike before (I spent 9 hours on my first attempt) and to reflect my desire to avoid making any of my successive companions wait for me at late and early hours of the day.
I knew that preparation (in addition to determination and luck) was going to be the key to success, so I rounded up the usual assortment of protein bars, gel packs, slim jims, gummies, hydration gear, and the rest of the 10 essentials (plus bear spray and a walloping stick), loaded my pack, and adorned my most trusted clothing and footwear. I had hoped to take a nap before I began, but that opportunity came and went, so when 4 pm rolled around and Seth arrived, we set out on our adventure.
I knew that I was going to need to monitor my pace carefully. If I pushed to hard, I would not have the energy or strength to complete all three laps, but taking it too easy would have been equally detrimental. I also knew that I wanted to make it to Wilshire Peak before sunset (7:22 pm), but that I needed to be fair to Seth. I spent most of that first climb over-scrutinizing my level of fatigue and wondering if I could do it two more times. I was trying to stay optimistic, but struggled to fend off the persistent doubt that I was feeling. The fading light brought cooling temperatures and an enjoyable array of atmospheric colors and patterns. Me made it to Cedar Peak, then Oak Glen, but as I stood looked across at Wilshire Peak, I noticed the shadow of Oak Glen Peak creeping up its side. The race against the sunset line brought a welcomed distraction from dramatic thoughts like “can I really do this” and “why am I doing this” and replaced them with “I’ll get you sunset line”.
Sure enough, after descending into darkness, we quickly caught and passed that pesky sunset line and outpaced it all the way to the top of the peak (although not by much). Watching the sun set from the top of Wilshire Peak was everything I hoped it would be and a hell of a way for Seth to experience his first trip to the top.
I took Seth over to Wilshire Mountain, then down Stan’s road to my house. The remaining light of the day faded away and the stars climbed the sky above. It was only 10pm, but I had called Doug on the way down, and he was going to come up as soon as he could. We were ahead of schedule and I felt good.
Committing to climb Wilshire Peak during the day takes as special kind of person, so I appreciated and respected Doug’s willingness to go for it in the dark of night. Shortly after I finished reloading my water and snacks, Doug arrived. I have him a headlamp and a walloping stick and we prepared to start. Luna begged me to come. I would have loved to have brought her on all three hikes, but the threat of nocturnal encounters with wildlife was too great, so she would have to settle for only coming on lap 3.
Around 10:45 pm, we set out on my second attempt. To my surprise, my legs felt great going up. Contrary to my fears, I didn’t experience any of the dramatic fatigue and difficulty that I was dreading. Doug proved to be a lively and cheerful hiking companion, which made it easier for me to stop worrying about things and just enjoy the experience. The moon set shortly after we began, so it was very dark. I marveled at the unique silence and captivating perspective we gained as we climbed towards the ridge. It was remarkable.
We made it to Wilshire Peak around 2:30 am. The nighttime view was awesome. As we sat on the peak and enjoyed the cool night air and the wheeling stars overhead, I began to feel a surge of optimism. I began to feel that, beyond the personal pride or notoriety that such an accomplishment might bring, I was doing something truly unique and worthy of my last Wilshire Peak adventure. It was a moment outside of time and outside of the swirling anxiety of leaving.
The walk down seemed longer on lap 2. Much of my optimism dissipated during our descent, as many of my doubts returned and some painful friction developed. To make matters more difficult, Stan’s road was in horrible shape from recent thunder storms and was a gnarly mess of ruts, rocks, and debris. It had been a challenge on lap 1, but in the dark, presented a constant strain to survey the approaching terrain with our headlamps, which seemed to be unusually tiresome. It also made for many slips, stumbles, and ankle rolls. Despite the circumstances, I remained focused on returning home and knew that my frame of mind would likely change and that there was no use in speculating until I arrived there. We were ahead of schedule again, so I put the word out.
We were back at my house by 5:30 am. Doug went home for some well deserved sleep and I went inside to sit down. I again replenished my water and snacks, and this time, saddled Luna up and we both prepared for what would be our last attempt at Wilshire Peak for the foreseeable future. Paul and Charlie arrived, and thanks to their enthusiasm and support (and to 100 mg of caffeine) I set out once more.
We met David at his house and continued on. I was feeling pretty good.
The climb to the ridge went as good as I could have hoped. I was tired and out of breath, but seemed to be progressing as well as I had on the first lap. By that time, I had divided the hike into many segments in my head and considered each segment’s completion to be a success of its own. Such a style of thinking, combined with high quality hiking partners, continuously renewed my spirit.
When we reached the third and final climb to Wilshire Peak, we had arrived at the last substantial ascent of the day and my last real challenge. As I neared the top, I broke into a run. The exhilaration of the moment took over and exhaustion gave way to euphoria. It was a moment reserved for and shared by those who climb mountains. It was temporary access to the purest forms of pride and joy. I will never forget it.
We arrived back at my house at 2 pm on 8.25.12, and after 22 hours of hiking, I was ready to relax. We celebrated with cheeseburgers and apple cider. Afterwards, I showered and laid down for a much deserved nap. After a few hours, however, I was up again. I was leaving in a week, so there was no time to be tired. Some friends came over and we celebrated late into the night.
Climbing Wilshire Peak has left me with many fond memories, and the friendships that I have cultivated along the way will evolve and endure like the mountain itself. I am thankful for my time in Oak Glen and for the days that I lived with a mountain in my back yard. I look now towards a new landscape, one without the tall peaks and gritty terrain of the San Bernardino, San Gabriel, and San Jacinto Mountains of Southern California, but instead with the rolling mountaintops and deep green forests of the Adirondack, Green, and White Mountains of the Great Northeast.