Ever since hiking to the foot of Sugarloaf Mt. last June during my Western States taper, I’ve been angling to “run” all the way to the summit of this rounded peak. Indeed, getting so close but not making it to the top last time left me with a lingering motivation.
I started my trek around 8 a.m. The air was a cool and crisp, and the sun was shining brightly on the horizon. I carried two water bottles and no food, thinking the round trip would take two hours or less. Of course, as it turns out, that was “flatlander” thinking. And flatlander thinking doesn’t account for the little things peculiar to running in the mountains. Things like when you run at altitude, say between 9,000 and 10,000 feet, you go a little slower. Or, when you have to deal with 4,000 feet of elevation change over nine miles, or make your way up steep grades that bring you to all fours, things can take a little longer. Ok, I’m still learning.
Trail Marker -- San Gorgonio Background
I ran along the ridge that connects Sugarloaf to the Bear Mountain Ski area. The view is quite stunning along this ridge, and I found myself stopping several times to simply gaze at what lay before me. To my right, Mt. San Gorgonio, Southern California’s highest peak at 11,499 feet. To my left, Baldwin and Big Bear Lake, nestled under an eastern horizon that reached a distance far beyond what my eyes have ever seen. Quirky mountain peaks jutted, randomly, from the desert floor that unfolded all the way to Arizona. Joshua Tree, Twenty Nine Palms, Palm Springs lay below me, unnoticeable amidst a painted landscape.
(Click on picture below for full view)
As I approached the end of the ridge, past the location where I turned back last time, I glanced up to see the peak. Tall pine trees covered every square foot of the mountain. But I couldn’t see the peak, only a rounded, seemingly endless forest of Pine trees. I glanced at my watch. Should I turn around? I was already over an hour and a half into this quest, and I hadn’t even started the steepest section. I pressed forward thinking that if I didn’t make it this time, when would I?
Sugarloaf Mt. Elavation 9,952'
Despite a lack of food and limited water, things were going well. The single track trial I'd been following was narrow yet visable, at least most of the way. But just as I was ready to attempt the steepest section, the narrow trail that led me this far had vanished. Gone, just like that! Ok, I was in a hurry to get up the mountain and I didn't really look for it. Instead I decided to keep going straight up the side of the peak, leaving markers behind me to help find my way back.
Disappearing Trail (2E18)
Finally, after crawling over giant, fallen tree trunks, loose rock fields, the steep grade began to flatten. I had reached the top! I walked toward the monument that marked the peak, stopped for a few photos and signed the registry.
Then I stood in the silence. And a light wind blew from the south.