After work this Friday, I hopped in the car with Isla and drove us up to Manker Flats for a Friday night microadventure. As the nights grow colder with each passing day, I wanted to get one more overnighter in above 10,000ft before the temperatures drop too low to bring my furry friend along. Also, next week is daylight savings time, which means getting microadventures in after work is going to be a little more of a challenge. I knew we were in for a real treat at sunset as soon as we arrived to the trailhead parking area. The sky was filled with a twisting canvas of clouds, reflecting light in every direction. I clipped Isla into her harness, and together we took the first steps of the 4 mile and 4000ft climb to the 10,064ft summit of Mt. Baldy.
One of my favorite things about hiking on Friday evenings is the lack of traffic on the trails. Isla and I covered the first 2 miles on Ski Hut Trail with only the squirrels and birds to keep us company. Isla was beaming with excitement, as she usually has to settle for a game of frisbee at the park when I finish up with work on the weekdays. Breaking up the standard post work routine on a Friday had both of us hitting our stride with an extra dose of enthusiasm.
We took our first break at the iconic green Ski Hut which lends it’s name to the “Ski Hut Trail”. The door was locked up and it didn’t look like anyone would be staying there for the night. Isla still hopped up the stairs and sniffed around just to make sure. The break came at the perfect time for me, as the air was starting to get pretty cold with the sun hiding behind a thick wall of clouds. I put on my jacket, and forced Isla to put hers on as well.
After leaving the Ski Hut, we cut across the gravel and talus at the base of Baldy Bowl. This is one of my favorite stretches of trail on this path to the summit of Mt. Baldy. When Isla was younger, she was a little apprehensive going through this stretch, but now she’s a boulder hopping pro. There are times I have to slow her down and ask that she stay close to me…I’m really struggling with this whole helicopter parenting thing.
This was my first time hiking this trail since we got hit with a few thunderstorms last month. It was incredible to see the depth of a few new rain ruts and the amount of gravel they spewed down to the basin of Baldy Bowl.
After clearing the base of Baldy Bowl, we made our way up towards the approaching saddle. Just as we were beginning to ascend the switchbacks towards the saddle, we saw our first fellow hiker…it was a familiar face. “How old are you?” he asked. I knew instantly he did not recognize me, even though this was our third time crossing paths on this very trail. I answered anyway, “I’m 30”. “Wow, you’re a very strong hiker, and you have a very good dog!” I gave my thanks and replied with the same question, even though I already knew the answer. “I’m 78”, he said. With that, I took the opportunity to find out more.
The 78 year old hiker’s name is Seuk Doo Kim. He has done Mt. Baldy and Iron Mountain hundreds of times, and is from Korea. He’s also the author of a trail guide book for Korea Baekdu-Daegan. I was facing a deadline to reach the summit before sunset, but I lost track of time and spoke with Kim for quite a while. It was time well spent, and I’m glad to be able to call him a trail friend now. You can read more about Kim’s story here on the The Sheet News.
After parting ways with Seuk Doo Kim, Isla and I continued on towards the saddle. We were enjoying the cool evening and pleasant evening breeze. The perfect temperature allowed us to make quick work of the uphill ascent. My shoulders were starting to feel the 7 liters of water I was carrying, but Isla’s weightless frame was free to dance around with the trees and pine cones.
With only a mile left, I was feeling great about our timing for sunset, as we were on pace to reach the summit with an hour to spare. The uphill climb towards the top of Baldy Bowl is probably the toughest stretch of the Ski Hut Trail. The ground is soft and steep, and as you climb above 9000ft, your lungs begin to feel the lack of oxygen. It didn’t help that chimpmunks were buzzing just off trail, forcing Isla to blast along at a pace my human legs just can’t compete with.
As the summit of Mt. Baldy drew near, we both were feeling the joy of another successful summit hike. Isla led the charge, and I did my best to stay on her heels. The views at the peak of Baldy were absolutely spectacular, with breathtaking landscapes in every direction. There was a group of students from the Claremont Colleges at the summit who took Devils’ Backbone Trail. It was cool to see a few people at the peak before Isla and I had it to ourselves.
I pitched the tent and set up camp while Isla wandered around making sense of the summit. The wind was starting to blow into a new range of cold, so I bundled Isla up in her second layer, before putting a few layers on myself. I made Isla some dinner of doggy beef stew and added some warm water from my Jetboil to make it even more appetizing for her. After she had her fill, I boiled a little more water for my Mountainhouse dehydrated meals, and kicked back to eat while watching the sun sink slowly into the West.
The sky lit up in the West with ambrosial hues of orange, blue, purple, and red. To the South and East, the sky sung a song of softer pinks. Earning a mountaintop sunset is a perfect life lesson. You have to put in a ton of effort and energy of the course of a few hours to enjoy a moment that only lasts ten minutes. Never have I left feeling disappointed.
I settled into the night and the warmth of my sleeping bag by 8 o’clock, after some light reading and stretching. I always bring along an extra down jacket that I use as a sleeping bag for Isla. It zips up perfectly around her body, and keeps her nice and toasty throughout the night. Sometimes, I’ll even pull her into my sleeping bag if I feel the inside of the tent is still too cold. It was in the 20’s on this night with a slight breeze, but Isla fussed at my attempts to keep her warm. Just like her dad in that regard, we both run warm.
We woke up at 6:30, which gave us 35 minutes to eat breakfast and break camp before a 7:05 sunrise. There was one gentleman standing at the summit when we exited the tent.
I figured the downhill hike would be pretty low key and uneventful, as Isla and I made our way down Devil’s Backbone towards Manker Flats. Just as we reached the saddle after Baldy Bowl, I saw a group of 3 walking not too far ahead of us. One of the voices sounded incredibly familiar to me, but I just couldn’t place it. As we reached the ski lift just before the Turkey Shoot, Isla and I caught up. The voice and face I remembered was Tim Medvetz, a mountaineer who has scaled many of the worlds most famous peaks. I first saw Tim on a Discovery Channel reality show about climbing Mt. Everest. I loved Tim’s vibrant personality, and the drive and guts with which he forced his way to the summit. This day wasn’t about meeting Tim though, it was about meeting his group and the cause they were hiking for. With Tim was Sergeant Julian Torres of the United States Marine Corps. Julian is a double amputee and a firecracker of inspiration. He will be summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro on Veteran’s Day as part of the The Heroes Project. Take some time to read the feature of Sergeant Julian Torres, and if you’re feeling inspired, make a donation or grab some gear in the shop. You can also tune into CNN live on Veteran’s Day to watch Sergeant Julian Torres reach the summit of Kilimanjaro!