Friday, December 11, 2009

Strawberry Peak Revisited

I came across this article yesterday and feel like enough time has passed (sorry Mom!) to tell the full story about my Strawberry Peak hike in May. I'm embarrassed to admit that I could very well have been one of those statistics, and it was one of those hikes where important lessons were drilled home. Unfortunately, I've found making mistakes is one of the best ways I learn anything. Fortunately, I'm still alive to tell the tale.

When I hiked Strawberry Peak, it was only the second or third time I had been in the Angeles National Forest. Being new to LA, I was so excited to begin exploring this area. I was amazed how I could hike for hours and not see another soul, especially since it's so close to the city. Still in a state of blissful ignorance, my mind had not yet fully grasped the idea that this could be a very dangerous area if something were to go wrong. That realization happened when I found myself accidentally clinging to a crumbling hillside.

About 3/4's of a mile from the summit, the trail became increasingly steep and required rock scrambling, somewhat difficult hand over hand climbing. At one point in between some rock scrambling, I accidentally walked off trail and found myself following a path created by other hikers who in the past had also made a wrong turn. One thing I have learned over the years while hiking, is that I get a rather strong feeling in my gut when I've made wrong turns or have accidentally hiked off trail. Nine times out of ten, as soon as I catch myself thinking "this doesn't feel right," it's usually the case. I immediately turn around and re-orient myself once I find where the mistake occurred. While hiking Strawberry Peak, I got that feeling, but decided to see if I could find a shortcut back to where I knew the trail to be. Big mistake.

After bushwhacking for a couple of minutes, the hillside became increasingly steep. I kept telling myself, "if I just get over there, I'll be able to get to the trail on the ridge no problem." As soon as I'd arrive at the place where I thought the terrain would allow for safe travel, I'd find myself in a more precarious situation. I finally reached a point where I had nowhere else to go. I could not go sideways, I could not go up or down. To make matters worse, the hillside was literally crumbling underneath me. Every rock I grabbed with my hands seemed to break off within seconds. I tried to remain as calm as possible but I started to get scared. I realized that a fall would probably result in a serious injury. I also remembered that I hadn't seen anybody all day. If I was to injure myself, who knows how long I'd be laying amongst the chaparral before my desperate screams would be heard, if at all. I immediately began cursing myself for being so stupid to get myself in this situation. What was I thinking ignoring my gut feeling, or for even hiking out here alone?

Thankfully, after a couple of minutes of careful navigating, I managed to crawl my way back to a safer section of the mountainside and find my way back to the trail. I was rattled, but decided to finish my hike to the summit. I learned a couple of major lessons that day. One, the rock in the San Gabriel's is not very stable, and two (perhaps most importantly) never to hike alone without leaving an itinerary with someone. Now, whenever I go hiking alone, I leave my roommate a note describing where I am going and also an ETA (estimated time of arrival.)

So there you have it. Another hike. Another lesson. Thankfully, not another statistic.

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