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10,000 ft ain’t no joke

May 24, 2010

10,000 feet. That number meant nothing to me before Saturday. I had no idea what that type of elevation gain would feel like and how my body would react. When you can’t run anymore, just start walking, right? It’s just a hike, it can’t be that hard. Wrong. Very very wrong. I’m used to running at an elevation gain from the trails, but looking in retrospect, those gains were a measly 1,000 feet compared to this beast. We were doing this as a training run for a Labor day “Race to the Top’. 6 mile up and take the ski lift down. Easy peasy.
Mt. Baldy is the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains and the highest point in Los Angeles County. 12 miles, should be done in less than 2 hours, right? As I naively planned on a shopping excursion in the early afternoon. We decided to meet at 6:30AM at the base of Mt. Baldy, which meant a 4AM wake-up call for me. Took us about an hour and 10 minutes to drive there. Weather was chilly, so I decided to wear tights, tank top, long compression sleeve and a windbreaker. I usually don’t like running in all that clothing, but I am SO glad that I brought the windbreaker. More on that later.

All smiles before our trek

Right when we started running, we were running at an elevation gain. Already, I could feel the thin air making it harder for me to breathe. We weren’t even a mile in and I was already suffering altitude sickness! We pretty much winded up along the side of the mountain, saw patches of snow at the peaks and inactive ski lifts. It was really neat to see all the ski runs without the snow on them. Actually, I was really surprised to even see snow, what month is it again?

We lost 5 people from our group as they made their way up the mountain, probably running 80% of it. I could barely run up the side of the mountain and had no idea what I was in for once we hit our first “rest stop” by the ski lift. I pretty much hung onto the rest of the group, which consisted of the 4 of us, as we made our way to the top. Since we were running behind the fast group, we decided to take a little short cut

Pictures really don’t do justice how incredibly steep this hill was. I looked at my friend in disbelief and said “Wait, we’re going up THAT?”, hoping he would say there was another way up to the top. Nope. Slippery loose rocks and all, we made our way up. Since I didn’t have any sort of traction on the bottom of my shoes, I kept slipping on the rocks so I made my way to the side and gripped the cable they had strung out and pulled myself to the top. My friend lent me his trekking poles, but I felt those required more energy from me. Sometimes I just got down on my hands and knees and started crawling. After all my spills in the past week, I was really nervous about taking a bad fall so I spent a lot of the time lowering my center of gravity and squatting. Sure it looked funny, but it’s better than slipping and falling off the side of the mountain.
By now, it was becoming more of an intense hike as we pretty much gave up on running a long time ago. Believe it or not, we had to trek through snow for a large portion of the hike

Of course, clumsy me kept slipping and falling on my ass. One time, I slipped and fell right into this woman’s arms who was waiting for me to pass through so she could get by. When I fell, the jellybean I was sucking on flew right out of my mouth onto her. Hilarious. I didn’t anticipate being out there for 5+ hours, thank goodness for sports beans. Those saved my life.

After much trekking through snow and climbing more brutal hills, we made our way to the base of Devil’s Backbone. This part of the hike was probably the most intense, not only from the major elevation gain, but from the loose gravel we had to hike up.

There was a part where I was so scared for my life because the walkway was narrow and you had to grip the side of the mountain and walk sideways. With the loose rocks falling into the canyon, I had to stop and take a breather and let some hikers go by

See my friend in the neon climbing the side of the wall?

We finally met up with the other group as they were descending from the top. They told us it was “Siberian cold” at the top and only stayed for a minute before heading back down. By then, I was getting major elevation sickness and had to sit for a little bit. Both hands were swollen 3x the size and I could barely make a first of of them. Not sure what it was, probably the cold and not coming prepared with gloves. My friend asked if I wanted to turn around and go back down with him. Light-headed and probably delusional, I shook my head and said I had to go on to the top. Whether I had to crawl up, I was going to make it. Took a deep breath and continued on…

The last 500 ft was probably the most intense. Wait, it gets better? Climb. Slip. Climb. Slip. I had to stop a couple times just to catch my breath. It was going to end here, I knew it. I thought for sure I was going to keel over and die. Right here on the side of the mountain. I would be known as the girl that came so close, but inadvertently gave up. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but I have never felt so weak. Running a marathon right then and there seemed like a breeze compared to this portion of the hike. There should have been signs posted all around: Not for the faint of heart. Anyways, if the loose rocks and steep climb wasn’t enough, we had to trek through more snow. Lovely.

I kept my head down the entire way up, afraid of how much further I had to go, and it helped with the dizziness. I just wanted to get off this damn mountain. FINALLY, I started to hear my friends scream at me that I was almost there. How much further? I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, and one last step and I was in disbelief at our surrounding views. No words.

HOLY SWEET VICTORY. Unfortunately, it was also 30 degrees at the top with powerful gusty winds. I snapped a couple quick shots before I blew away and peaced out. If my Garmin was still working, that would have probably been my fastest mile split, dashing down the side of the mountain to get away from the freezing temperature.

Don’t ask. People were trekking down with crampons.
We made our way back to the ski lift and I seriously stood there contemplating paying the $10 ticket to take the lift down. It was only 3 miles of downhill, but it was already nearing noontime and I was lacking some major mojo. After some persuading from my friends, I decided to suck it up and run all the way down. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, once I got going and as the elevation decreased, I felt better.  So needless to say, I most likely won’t be running this race. Call me whatever you want, but I’m glad I did this training run instead of showing up race day, expecting it to be a normal trail run. 10,000 ain’t no joke.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 26, 2010 4:18 pm

    WOW. Dang it Andee, you might have just talked me out of it too (especially the narrow rocky ridge part – I HATE heights).

    Well, can’t wuss out either. I have to do this at some point. But maybe this post will give me more realistic expectations about what to expect. Thanks for sharing – awesome pics 🙂

    • andee permalink
      May 27, 2010 2:16 am

      Billy, the group is going back again for another training run. I’ll go with them, but only to do 3 up and 3 down (up to the ski lift). That’s the most “normal” part of the run and wait for the group at the bottom. I’ll let you know when they go again, it was a little much for me, but the rest of the group enjoyed it.

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