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Page 5

                     S  T  O  R  I  E  S

                                                Swallowed by the Green

It was my first hike, and I was alone, walking down the trail which switch-backed sharply leading me down the steep slope into the canyon towards the creek, rushing in the far distance.  As I walked, I heard the  sound of my boots grinding and chewing the loose gravel on the trail while a light nippy breeze buffeted my cheeks, a plethora or bird calls punctuating the air.

Continuing the descent, I could vaguely make out the music of the creek below  but was yet unable to see it through the forest of the various greens spread out before me.  Then, suddenly, the view opened up as I reached the bottom of the canyon and came upon my first obstacle, the creek itself.  Looking at the water, I had no idea where to cross and as I peered over to the other side, I could not even discern where and if the trail even continued on the other side.  And, as no one else was about, I wondered if I may had taken a wrong turn somewhere on my way down.

I settled on one of the many boulders by the creek and decided to wait it out for other hikers to arrive;  that way I could follow their route as I was rather vainly concerned about looking like the inexperienced hiker that I was, perhaps crossing the water in the wrong place and then probably getting hung up halfway across. There were a couple of cabins about, set up on higher shelves above the rushing stream, windows boarded up. Reaching down from my boulder perch, I touched the rushing flowing water with my fingers and was bitten by its icy coldness.  The absolute clarity of the water revealed the different shapes, sizes and colors of the myriad rounded stream pebbles all aligned under the water in a mosaic of hues like pieces of an underwater puzzle.  Every now and then one moved, revealing itself to be a reddish colored newt, a lizard like creek denizen.

Soon other trekkers arrived who swiftly, deftly and effortlessly crossed over, some boulder-hopping, another simply boot-sloshing through the water to the other side.  Picking one of the boulder routes, I excitedly made my way across while watching the others as they continued through a path flanked and partially hidden by the forest undergrowth of ivy and twisting, climbing vines.

I continued along the emerald ivy path as it twisted and turned through the brook side forest of alder, bay and willow trees.  Everywhere about me viridescent, serpentine vines crept up the trunks of the trees and out unto the branches, covering them almost completely in their virescent grip.  All other sounds of the forest were now extinguished save the singing waters of the rivulet, warbling and gurgling its sonata.  The next few crossings were easier as there were makeshift flat stone steps laid across the water as well as a few log-overs.

Then, just after crossing one of these, directly in front of me, the bear crossed my path, seemingly materializing out of thin air, slowly ambling along through the dense, verdure flora, not even looking once my way.  In its own overwhelming world of greens, forest and trees, I simply did not exist.  I stopped, stunned at the sight of this real wild animal, its rich glossy, black-as-night coat glistening in the patches of sunlight as he rambled along towards his own destination.  A gamey, pungent scent filled the air as I noted the true anvil shape of his head as seen in profile, his weight evident from the racket, commotion and branch-crushing sounds he made trudging through his own obstacle of green, flattening and bending it with his bulk, and then seeminly, just melting into the color from where he had come, slowly becoming but a small black dot as if he was swallowed by the green color itself. 

And then the sounds of the water re-entered my ears as if the volume control on a radio had been suddenly turned up.  I had been so engrossed by the encounter with the bear that my senses, save for sight and smell, had seeminly been shut down.  Briefly, I even questioned what I had seen, if perhaps I had been intoxicated by the songs of the creek and great green hues about me into seeing an apparition of a bear, but as I continued onward, the flattened green grasses and flora along the wide swath his path had made through the the lush underbrush revealed his tracks, set deep into the moist earth and leading on into the green that had consumed him.

-Ray Monch 2013

                                                    On  Hiking

Hiking.  For some just exercise;  something to do while plugged into an Ipod.  For others, a chance to get out and connect with nature.  For yet others, a journey, an escape or challenge.

'Hiking' conjures up images of hunched backs, overburdened with overloaded, heavy backpacks, foot-blisters, endless steep switchbacks, 5,000 foot elevation gains, mountain rescues, trudgery and sweat.  Hardly.  For me it is a jaunt in the forest, a ramble through the mountains.  A walk on the wild side.

I carry only my essentials and don't get bogged down with all the popular hiking garb such as trekking poles, trail gloves, radios and designer trekkers clothing.  I'm a dayhike afficionado, not a pack-rat-backpacker.  I might pack some water and a flute, hat, bandana, sometimes a camera.  And maybe the trail quintessential peanutbutter-jelly sandwich.  It is said that the mountain junkie, John Muir, roamed through the Sierras on just bread and tea.  Today he would be packing Twinkies, Ding Dongs and Mountain Dew.  A GPS device?  I don't think so.

All hikes take me into my cathedral;  a sanctuary, place of refuge, contemplation, meditation and musings.  Forests, mountains, waterfalls, rivers.  Nirvana.  It welcomes me to combine the experience with my other joys of writing, flutes, ukuleles and photography, encouraging me to fuse them all into one overall wider tribulation.

Hiking is a rush for the senses, a potpourri of sense experiences offering a cornucopia of natural highs.  A natural smorgasbord.  A hiking junkie's fix with the scent of the forest, the surrounding visuals and sounds, the immense putting-you-in-your-place vistas and panoramas, the acoustics of your hiking boots crunching into the trail, the puzzle-piece feel of the Jeffrey and Ponderosa pine bark, the profusion of green and the plethora of its shades, the taste of the mountain air.  True ambrosia.  A 'Rocky Mountain High'.  And, above all, a chance to get among the trees.  Yes, the trees.

As such, extreme mountain summits such as 14,000 ft Mt Whitney lie outside my interest zone;  not part of my universe.  Once the trees disappear, I don't belong.  I am not a height-junkie or peak bagger.  Everest is outside the human universe.  It is for our eyes only, and only from a distance.  My upper turf remains at 10,000 ft.  No higher.  Mt Baldy, Mt Baden-Powell country.  To see the trees at this upper limit of their elevation endurance, particularly those exceeding hundreds of years of age, usually just below the 10,000 ft boundary, is awe inspiring when one contemplates and considers the hundreds of storms that most of them have endured and lived through;  all of them sculpted by winds, blizzards and ice storms coupled with all the lightening strikes and the bleaching effects of the dazzling summer sun, holding on to life with their exposed, intertwined roots.  These trees are wonders of nature, testaments to tenacity and the power of life.  Unreal.

Sit down under an aged wind swept Juniper, a survivor, its outer bark long since stripped away, standing alone on an exposed ridge, with only a branch or two left of its precious, life-sustaining chlorophyll-producing small needles, and ponder on its precarious existence, facing multiplicities of barriers and obstacles to continued life.  And you thought
you had problems?  If they could only talk;  what tales they could tell.

Though I understand the appeal of backpacking, with its promises of self-reliance, comraderie, campfire talk and songs, dark starry night skies, cold, hard uneven sleeping floors, mosquitos and pit toilets, I am content with returning home after my walk on the wild side as one would visit a church or other place of worship but not linger or remain to long.  Maybe take some pictures, make some mental notes for a story, play a few tunes on my ocarina.  Thus, I am only a visitor, a temporary trespasser, cutting out after a while.

Yes, a dayhiker, not a backpacker.  Admittedly a member of the city-folk.  Afterall, the forest and mountains, with their endless fascinations, curiosities and wonders, will beckon and call anew, reworking their mojo on me, their magnetism ushering me their way.  Again.

-Ray Monch  2013


                                                 The Mountain

"The Mountain" is 10,064 feet high and you started at 4000 feet.  6,000 feet of elevation gain over the course of 7 miles.  Think of a ladder, 7 miles long, set up against a wall over a mile high, set at a 10 degree angle.  Now, climb that ladder, 15,000 steps to the top"

  The Mountain is besieged every weekend by hundreds of summit want-to-be conquistadors.  The Mountain will test the very limits of your strength, endurance and will power.  It will play with your psyche.  It will burn and cramp your calves and thighs, shake up and rattle

your knees, and leave you gasping for breath.  It will compel you to continually fight off the more sensible impulse to turn back, however realizing that if you do, the downward steepness will probably knock some of your toe nails off, not to say mess up your ego by surrendering to The Mountain.

Not to say it is not a worthy endeavor.  Do it once to see if you can do it.  Perhaps even a second time to see if what you learned from the first time would make it more tolerable a second time.  But more that twice?  There are those that have done The Mountain over a hundred times.  I have met them.  Count me off that list.

It is the most physically challenging endeavor you will ever undertake.  Fifteen thousand upward steps.  Like going up a ladder, almost 7 miles long,  and over a mile high.  Of the four routes up The Mountain
, this is the toughest.  The Big One.  The Big Enchilada.  El Grande,The Ultimate Challenge.  After you do it once you are convinced you will never go back.  But you do.  There is something about The Mountain for many who come to it.  A calling.  The Mountain maintains a grip on you.  It will eat you up and spit you out, but you will return for another fix.  The Mountain will work its mojo on you.

The Ultimate Challenge begins at the Mt Baldy Visitor Center.  At first you trek up asphalt Bear Canyon Road to the official trailhead, just past a lava-carved mountain lion in front of a cabin.  It's a moderate grade at first, all in cool, dark shade, with a singing creek flowing alongside.  Enticing.  This could not be that tough.  You reach Bear Flat, your first stop of many, within 45 minutes, elevation gain 1200 ft, 2 miles from the visitor center starting point, with 4800 ft of elevation gain to go over the course of the next 4-5 miles.  You linger for a while under the large oak tree munching on trail mix and a banana.  There is a small, lush green meadow;  various wildflowers, Indian Paintbrush, Yellow Monkey Flower, Phlox, Baby Blue Eyes, looking up at you, asking "Why"?  Others snickering.  A chipmunk barks angrily from atop his turf, a nearby boulder, questioning what you are doing on his mountain.   The Mountain is waiting.

  The Mountain is waiting with its first line of defense.  An unending series of formidably steep, exposed, sweat-drenching switchbacks leading up another 2 miles to one of The Mountain's lower ridges, visible far off in the distance.  It seems impossibly far away.  It questions your reasons for even having considered taking on this route.

It's only a third or so up the switchbacks, the sun beating down, playing tag team on you with
The Mountain, when you first begin to wonder if you actually packed enough water, as you stop to drink more and more while plodding and struggling up the steep incline.  Instinct has kicked you into a survival mode.  Body bent forward and down, you eventually reach the lower ridge line only to be told by a passing, downward bound hiker, that you're past the really hard part and now only the really
difficult parts remain.

During and after these long exposed switchbacks, some isolate themselves by plugging into an Ipod, thereby shutting out disconcerting thoughts and halting the advent of self doubt.  Others withdraw into a catatonic dream state, zombie like, legs being lifted and pushed onward and upward by sheer will power alone.  The Mountain is taking its toll.

And yet there are others who run up and down this mountain, and you wonder what universe they live in.  You recall the first time you climbed The Mountain
that shortly after beginning at 6:30 am, a duo of trail runners came sprinting down past you, having started at 3 am, and were just then already returning.  This, as you remember, was actually a ego-booster at the time, since if they could get up and down The Mountain in just a little over 3 hours of trail running, well then surely you could do it by going slow and easy.  No matter how long it took.  The turtle method.  Slowly but surely.  That first time was a 7 hour ascent.

After the welcome long break above the switchbacks, you continue to move on up the ladder, the summit no where in sight.  The idea of rationing your water now begins to seriously slosh in your mind;  soon thereafter it will consume and dominate your thoughts along with that ice cooler waiting in your car.  Mountain Dew Code Red and lots of root beer.  You contemplate, among other things, that next to death by fire, death by thirst is the worst.  You move on with salt encrusted lips, mouth, face.  Now the mouth becomes devoid of its natural enzymatic acidity.  Now water never tasted so sweet, orange juice so orangey.

15,000-20,000 steps to the top.  It's the 7 mile ladder at a 10 degree angle set up against a wall over a mile high.  Hikers train on The Mountain to take on Whitney.  I wonder why.  Though Whitney is 4 miles longer, the elevation gain is the same, 6000 ft.  Whitney is an 11 mile ladder set at a 6 degree angle.  They should be training on Whitney to do this mountain.  You remember in the past encountering a couple of old timers along the trails in the area, each 84 years old, who have done The Mountain over 150 times.

As you move on up, others are coming down.  You begin to compile vastly different info form everyone descending.  How much further to the top?  Answers range from 3-4 more hours to "It's only another hour or so"  to  "Maybe 45 minutes" from a grail runner, leaving you in a cloud of dust.  And, of course, the ever perverbial "You're almost there"   "5 more minutes".
Figure on 5-9 hours to the top from the beginning.

It is here that The Mountain really begins to play havoc with your mind.  Even though you're 4 miles into the hike, the summit is still not yet in sight, hidden behind ridgeline after ridgeline and false summits.  In fact, not until the final hour will you see it, when you try to pick it out among other adjoining peaks and rises.  No matter the size of your hiking group, your summit strike force, in the end it is just you and The MountainAnd the 15,000 steps.

The Mountain eats up your hiking boots, rips some skin off your heels and inside between your toes.  Blisters.  Packing some bandaids is always a good idea to head off their forming along with an extra pair of socks.  If you start out with thin ones, pack thick ones and vice versa.  And bananas.  Crucial.  Potassium for cramps.  Like "Water, Water Everywhere But Not A Drop To Drink"  the mineral is actually all around you, but is locked up in all the rocks.  There is a vast mixture of granite, mica, feldspar, quartz and others, crushed into mountain dust.

You stop every few minutes, much more frequently over the last couple of hours.  Thoughts of sleep make their way into your thoughts.  Eternal rest here among the pines would be wonderful.  An occasional breeze does wonders.  And then, looking up, you can now just barely make out some pencil-thin figures moving about the along the top edge of The Mountain. 
Now, during the course of the last 1.5 miles before you reach the summit, the scene spread out before you is one of surrealism. This is not the domain of chlorophyll.  All flora has virtually vanished save for some sporadic dark green matted patches of something growing at ground level, a testament to tenacity.  This is the realm of rock.  Virtual moonscape encompasses your peripheral vision, but you see only what's ahead of you. 

You trudge along the final ridgeline, similar to The Devil's Backbone Trail, located directly opposite, another route up The MountainThe few trees along the trail here are gnarled and twisted, all having been blasted and shaped into grotesquely beautiful and startling forms and shapes, many hundreds of years old, having endured countless harsh winters of ice, blizzards and lightening strikes.  The sun is intense here, burning through over 2 miles less protective atmosphere than at sea level.  The light that reflects off the predominately light-gray-brown landscape is fierce.  Dark sunglasses a must.  Pieces of quartz laden rock blaze your eyes in the reflected sunlight.  Large boulders take on moving shapes and seem to watch you with their strange faces.

How debilitating, demoralizing, when you realize that it has been almost 8 hours when you finally reach the summit.  But you don't care.  The summit is the gateway to the downward path and the waiting ice cooler with its stash of ice-encased Mountain Dews.  And what's on top?  Just a pile of crushed rock.  The name of The Mountain,
  'Baldy'  is no misnomer..  There is nothing there.  After the long, brutal haul up, sort of anti-climatic;  it was definitely the journey and not the destination.  Fierce winds buffet the summit at times, judging from the pile of rocks facing west, set in that configuration by the overnight backpackers for protection against the fierce blows.

Yet still, it is a fascinating place.  There are many fellow hikers milling about the gently curving top.  A sailplane silently flies over.  There are a number of watermelons laying about;  somebody actually lugged them up here.  Or it's all in your mind.  There is a dog with hiking boots, 'Hi-Techs';  a guy playing a flute, another strumming a small guitar, possibly a ukulele.  Hawaii on The Mountain.
Others just standing about, looking into infinity, lost in thought;  many, exhausted, laying down on their backs.  There are a few nestled behind the rock cairns staking out their sleeping spots for the coming night. Backpackers.  Still others taking pictures of friends and strangers kneeling down next to the summit sign, a heavy, faded bronze slab lying flat on the ground with the inscription 'Mt Baldy  10064 ft'.  You have done your 15,000 steps up the ladder to the top of The Mountain.  Again.  But now it's another 5,000 steps down the other way, along The Devil's Backbone Trail leading to the chairlift ride down.

Downward along The Backbone, more trees appear.  Going down means more and more green, less and less of the crushed, granular rock.  Actual soil appears shortly thereafter.  Back in the realm of chlorophyll.  You think about the email you will be sending the rest of the hiking group, stating that you will be removing this route from the schedule;  too brutal, you will say. 

But then you look back over your shoulder and you see hikers still trekking up the volcano-shaped eastern flank of The Mountain, like ants zig-zagging ever upward, being drawn up The Mountain simply by its presence;  because it is there.

Mountain Mojo.

--Ray Monch 2013

                                B E A C H       M  U  S  I  N  G  S

I don't like the combination of beach wind, sand, or salt in the air.

I'm fully covered, head to toe; long sleeves, long pants, hat. I'm sure I'm the only one on this stretch of beach wearing sandals and socks. Thick hiking socks. I don't care. I don't like sand between my toes or hot sand under them. It gets into everything and is everywhere. I don't like burned feet; and I won't put on any greasy sand-catching sunscreen.  And the ocean itself  is off limits.

Beneath the serene,gentle swells are sharp-edged shells and rocks mixed in with all that underwater primordial, squishy ooze, a melange of human, fish and hazardous waste, all seasoned with that salt. It's teeming with unfriendly critters you can't see who communicate by bite. You can die out there in seconds. I remember years back having my body slammed senseless into an underwater sand dune by a wave when attempting to body board. Anyway, I am not an ocean kind of guy; I'm a mountain sojourner with chipped toe nails from descending too many steep angled trails. Not a pretty sight.

There are a couple of "He-men" strutting about, shirts off, steroids bulging. And other wanna-be He-men with hanging Heiniken bellies, beach barbecuing, talking about babes, boobs and beer. Other reddened bodies are everywhere broiling under the sun. The hell with skin cancer.

Beach sun is particularly obtrusive and invasive, just like the sand. But then again, you came here. The sand has always been here. Maybe you're invasive. I follow the slowly creeping shade under the fluttering beach umbrella, frequently moving my low-rider beach chair to keep ahead and out of the sun. But you really can't escape it, though under a hat and umbrella you still get zapped by the zig-zagging rays reflecting off the water, sand, and all the prone skin laying chicken-skin-like along the beach. The breeze is deceptively cool; but the sun is still burning you. My reddened nose confirms it.

I look along the crescent shaped beach and its 2 miles of shoreline. The view brings back an astronomy lesson. The Earth is but a grain of sand, the universe all the grains of sand on all of Earth's beaches. Now, try and find Earth. Try to find home. You won't. Better to stay home.

There is dried out seaweed and driftwood everywhere, covered with shifting legions of sand flies. They're
after the salt. Winged salt-miners on seaweed. There is also the occasional patch of sticky black tar; oil washing ashore. The offshore rigs appear as stationary ships in the distance.

There are multitudes of gulls on the watch. They are nabbing food and poking into plastic and canvas bags. Having received handouts from some, they expect it from all. If they don't get it they will help themselves. Stealthy, territorial to the point of bullying or maiming their own for position by pummeling other gulls with flapping wings and an occasional peck; ever alert, ever opportunistic, smart. Throw a chip or piece of bread to one and suddenly you're besieged by a coalition of wings and find yourself in the middle of Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds".

There are way too many women wearing skimpy bathing suits they shouldn't be wearing. Shameless. I look the other way or I may lose my appetite. Not a looker among them. The blazing bright, brilliantly intense sun exposingly reveals and highlights all their many flaws, imperfections and neglects, and magnifies them to everyone's consternation and horror. There are more full and double crescent moons along this beach than those on Jupiter and Saturn combined. And flabby moons at that. But they don't care. Some of them prance and parade along the shoreline, yakking about babies, boobs and boys, like models walking the runaway, cheeks wobbling like jello.

The continuous, eternal pounding of the surf interupts and drowns out out my ukulele, though I surprisingly find the salt air ideal for playing even though I can barely hear the chords:  the combination of the salt and the breeze helps keep my fingers dry;  no finger-string sticking.

I watch the kayakers paddling, divers snorkeling and dolphins bobbing in the waters way out yonder.  There are also up-right surfboarders, standing on their boards, gently sweeping further away from the shore using two-meter-long paddles, heading out along with the kayakers to follow and mingle with the Cetacean crowd, the dolphns, seeking to touch them, to commune with Nature.  A religious experience for some.  A rapture.  Cloud-Nine in the ocean.  Hallelujah.

There's a guy paddling out to join them atop an old fashioned donut shaped inner tube, wearing a dark banded cowboy hat.  Maybe a trucker on a stop along the adjoing coast route 101.  Perhaps a rancher out of Montana or Wyoming on vacation.  Maybe a cowboy.  I try to see if he's still wearing his boots but his back is to me.  His arms are flailing, water spraying about him;  he's on a mission.

Slow moving, prehistoric looking pelicans fly over in their V formations under the turqouise sky.  They are large, narrow headed birds, seemingly bulky but perfectly destined for their lifestyle.  Some break off the squadrons, the hungry ones, to dive straight down, wings compressed against their bodies, missile-like, into and under the water to snatch unsuspecting fish.  Terror from the skies.  Alien abduction.  They then suddenly pop back up to the surface, their bill pouches hanging down with their catch inside, and then a long, slow, laborious take-off back up into the blue.  Others skim just inches above the water, effortlessly, for long distances without a single wing flap, using the small amount of warmer air rising above the surface as a highway.

Meanwhile, the cowboy has started paddling backwards towards shore after spotting some dolphins closer in, their light gray bodies and prominent dorsal fins glisteneing wet in the sun.  Tired of bonding with cattle, he yearns to befriend a mammal of the sea.  Then, a sudden sharp, brief glint of sunlight reflects off the far side of the inner tube.  His spurs.  A lasso appears above his head, twirling in the breeze.  Ride'em, cowboy. 

-Ray Monch 2013

               T H E      A N O M A L O U S      MT     W I L L I A M S O N

Mt. Williamson in the San Gabriel range is a mountain with two anomalies.

First, there are two Mt. Williamsons in California, one in the San Gabriels and the other in the Sierra range, both named after the same Robert Stockon Williamson, a Pacific Railroad surveyor/explorer of the Sierras and of the desert side of L.A's dramatic backdrop, the San Gabriel Mountains.

Second, there is the summmit anolomy and controversy of San Gabriels' Williamson. The rounded peak,with its 8214 elevation, is listed as THE summit on the maps; however,just 1/4 mile to the west along its prominent ridgeline is a knob that is actually 30 feet higher at 8244 ft, emcompassing a larger area that the map summit. And unlike a typical mountain summit, bare and somewhat rounded, this rise is anything but.

Numerous trees covers its own summit claim, which has, no doubt, contributed to its mostly unrecognized coup de 'etat over the map summit. Yet, as such, some of the trail books proclaim this forested ridge welt to be the actual summit of the mountain. And as if to sanction its own claim to be the true summit, this 30 ft rise also features a trail register notepad enclosed within a red-capped plastic trail bottle hidden inside the protectiness of a small pile of granite rocks. A typical mountain-top scene. The map-listed peak though, has its own granite cairn, but revealingly enough, without its own bottled up register. Hmmmmmmmmm.

Seismatically speaking, it is known that there are frequent tetonic events in the form of upheavels in the general viciinity of Mt. Williamson due to its location. Geographically, unlike it much higher 14000 ft+ namesake in the Sierras, the bulk of this mountain and its prominent, ridgeline stand somewhat apart, almost alone from the rest of the San Gabriel range, and is its northern most bulwark, standing directly above the chaotic landscape that is the Devils Punchbowl. Thus the mountain is born of the San Andreas Fault as it rises just  above its western boundary, standing on a section of the Pacific Plate, riding along as the plate grinds and slips its way ever northward along the North American Plate, perhaps one day to grace the skyline of San Fransisco.

Thus , it may be that this ridge upthrust, Williamson's other summit, was not even there when the peak was originally named 1918 by USFS surveyor, Don McLain. Because of this frequent seismic activity, large earthquakes such as the one in 1971 have resulted in significant displacement and uplifts, up to an unbelievable 6 feet during this 71 episode.** The McLain connection to the mountain is also interestingly mysterious as he supposedly named the mountain after a friend of his, Will Williamson. When McLain was asked about this and Lt Williamson was mentioned, he reporteldy answered "Well, yes, I named it for him too".***  Add that to the mountain's quirks.  Perhaps best to just let the summit controversy be since the next seismic jolt may propel the now 'false' summit, the map listed one, back up to its former prominence. In the San Gabriel range, as in all mountain chains, peaks and bumps are geologically transitory; here today, gone tomorrow.

Though not the highest in the San Gabriel peak range (Baldy and Baden-Powell are higher at 10,064 & 9400 ft respectively), Williamson is the biggest and highest on the northern border of the San Gabriels where it dominates.  For hikers the mountain is not so high as to lose scenic detail and not too low to see grand distances;  just high enough to discern fine detail in the surrounding spectacular varied topography--the flat multi-colored mosaic like desert in the northern distance juxtaposed against and on the earthquake crushed jumbled mess lying just below along the San Andreas Fault.  It is quite a sight to behold.

In addition to the seismic assault from below, there  are winter blitzes from above as Williamson draws and captures storms coming in from all sides;  from the Mojave side and from the south side, funneled up Bear Canyon.  Once, years back from off of the Angeles Crest Highway in the vicinity of neighboring Mt Waterman, I watched as lightening bolts shot from beneath a black flashing cloud hovering over its summit.

On weekends, sailplanes, with their long white wings against the backdrop of the azure skies will frequent the thermals rising from Mt Williamson's ridge,  the tow planes at times releasing the planes directly above the summit where they will circle hawk-like within the rising thermals produced by warm air rising above the barren summit, looking like gigantic remote-controlled planes, some suddenly dipping to buzz the mountain at tree top level, others circling ever higher before tailing to visit the Mt Throop ridge and the Mt Powell summiters.

It's a moderate, 1500 ft elevation gain, well graded 2 mile trail to the summit via either of the two approaches, both part of the Pacific Crest Trail that begins further south on the border with Mexico and ends up in Canada.  The cooler western approach traverses along a couple of alternating long and shorter switchbacks through a shaded forest of fir while the more exposed, sunny eastern approach has only one prominent switchback, approximately  1 1/2 mile up where the trail makes an abrupt left, ascending through amixed forest of manzanita, fir and sugarpine among scree slopes of shattered rock.

This trail is more scenic for here also resides an aged, magnificent, tenacious Sugar Pine, its roots intertwined around large rocks exposed at eye level;  a marvel of survival among other shattered trees, their remains scattered about.  Continuing on, you climb through a wonderland of wind and blizzard shaped trees, standing firm and defiant, testiying to the harshnesss of the winter alpine environment.  Tenacity reigns supreme here as the beautifully grotesquely shaped trees attest to.

Shortly before the top, both trails meet at a trail junction where the curtain is lifted to reveal incredible panoramic views south into Bear Canyon, west towards Twin Peaks and Waterman, and east to the Mt Islip, Throop/Baden-Powell mountain conglomerate.  This is the "Kings Chair ', the view surpassing that of the summit another half mile distant.  Sit down in the 'Chair', look and wonder;  take some pictures, meditate, contemplate and say,that despite the anoalomies and summit controversy, its all accolades for Mt Williamson.

--Ray Monch  2013

                                                             ON WRITING
                                                              The Word Painting

Stories and essays, 'works of words', are akin to 'word paintings'.  As an artist paints a picture, so,
comparably, a writer paints a story.  Both the artist and the writer use paper as their canvas, and where the artist uses colors and different brushstrokes to bring about the image in mind, so the writer similaritly draws upon 'colors' and 'strokes' through the choice of words and how they are used.  While the artist will employ color and form to convey the image, the writer becomes a word spider, weaving a web of images and colors with words and the thoughts that they represent.  Images form in the minds of both artist and writer;  one uses a brush, the other, a pen.

The usual genesis of my own essays and musings, my word paintings, are at first hastily, sloppily scribbled words;  an attempt at capturing the fleeting thoughts, words and images so as not to lose the rush of thought;  scribbling down general musings and even single words on the subject at hand, resulting in a mixed hodgepodge of sometimes indeciperable scribble-scrabble, along with arrows, circled and underlined words, inserts, cross-outs, stars, asteriks and the like.  A real mess.  Single words are added around which a phrase will soon develop and other and more ideas and thoughts thereof are spawned and added.  Coherent sentences form leading to proto-paragraphs.  Like paragraphs are inventoried, some joined into even longer paragraphs which are then read and re-read, revised, edited,  re-revised and re-edited.

The process of writing and formation of a story or essay is like the birth of a river.  Just as a stream begins from trickles of water at its source and grows to a brook and eventually into a rapid running river, so does the accumulation of words and thoughts begin, form and grow into the work of words.  Side tributary creeks in the way of related subjects and their words may then flow into this river of words and thoughts which eventually culminates into a churning rapid of all the words, sentences and phrases.  From all of this a first draft is drawn, then a second draft, a third, and not infrequently, more drafts may still follow.  And, as with a river, one encounters rapids as well as placids along the journey;  a sudden rush of thoughts and ideas followed by a period of apparent void---'writer's block'.  And yet, even when 'finished', it may remain a work in progress, perpetual progress;  one goes back to it after a few days, weeks or even months to see it in a fresh, renewed light and work on it all over again.  All part of the editing process, the re-working and re-tuning of the word painting.

Ah, the editing process, the real joy of writing, even if one frequently finds the satisfaction of writing itself elusive and frustrating, especially after continually reworking a piece by revising, rephrasing, editing, re-editing, the rewriting, adding, clarifying, highlighting, re-phrasing, embellishing, polishing, scrutinizing, combining, eliminating,and re-arranging sentences and paragraphs.  Sometimes totally revamping the work, other times, as with the artist, tearing it to pieces and starting anew.

As an artist uses the colors on his palette; the choice of words are the writer's palette of colors.  The consummate writer will add and/or mix these colors by using visual and other sensory adjectives.  Rather than frequenting the art store for more colorful paints, the artist will mix the colors he has on hand while the writer hangs out in the theasaurus and dictionary to access more colors and different shades thereof for his work of words.  As an artist my employ different shades of color, such as emerald and verdane for green, the writer will use metaphor, simile and personification.  The selection of words, types of sentences and language is comparable to the artist's brushstrokes and style, using each to provide greater imagery, clarity and color.

And thus, the work of words is painted on paper giving expression to the writer's images through the use of words.  Words, just those few letters used in a well-chosen phrase that are at times more powerful as conveyors of images and thought than painted images themselves.  Though a picture may paint a thousand words, just a few words can paint a picture.......


                                                          The Wally Waldron Tree

The 2,000 year old 'Wally Waldron Tree' stands alone as a sentinel, its gnarly tree trunk-sized roots grasping tenaciously along the exposed Mt Baden-Powell lower ridge just below the 9400 ft summit.  Over the past 20 centuries and through thousands of storms, countless blizzards and untold lightening strikes, this magnificent LimberPine has stood steadfastly and defiantly above every visitor that has passed under its weather beaten, sun-bleached branches.  Already over 1500 years old when the Admiral of the Sea, Christopher Columbus discovered America and approaching 1800 years of age when this country fought its war for independence from Britain, the Wally Waldron Tree is a true survivor.  Tenacity Incorporated.

But who is, or was Wally Waldron?  A historical figure?  An Explorer.  A tree aficionado?  It's hardly a household name like George Washington or Abe Lincoln.  It turns out that Mr Waldron does not even deserve a write-up on Wikopedia;  he's not on it.  Even Donald Duck is on Wikopedia.  So who is he?

What scant information we have is that Wally was a member of the executive board of the L.A. council of the Boy Scouts***.  The entire worldwide internet has nothing else.  There is a 'Wally Waldron' on Facebook, but I don't think anyone on Facebook would end up with their name tacked onto an ageless windswept Limberpine high above the Los Angeles metropolis.

So how is it that his name got attached to this magnificent, persevering, determined, unyielding and seemingly unconquerable 2,000 year old tree 9,000 feet up a mountain?  Was Wally also a persevering, tenacious type?  Did he ever visit his namesake?  Whose idea was this?  And, who approved it?  Questions, questions.  No answers.

A tree of this longevity deserves better.  Far better.  Nothing personal, Wally, but come on!!!  Mt Baden Powell is a big mountain and a great hike, named after the founder of the Boy Scouts, Lord Baden-Powell.  The name of the mountain sounds good;  imposing as the mountain is.  But 'The Wally Waldron Tree'?  The name 'Wally'  just doesn't belong on this,  probably the oldest, most magnificent tree in all of the San Gabriels.  Something more like 'The Enduring Tree' or simply 'The Survivor' would be more apropos.  This tree  calls for a title that goes beyond simply arbitrarily  stamping an obscure bureaucratic person's name onto it.

Consider 'The Tree of Life' in Bahrain, a solitary 500 year old Cineraria standing in the middle of the desert somehow surviving without any known water around;  the 'Giant Sequoias' in the Sierra's,  The towering 'Stratosphere Giant' or 'The Hyperion' in the coastal redwood forest, named after a Greek deity;  the 'Montezuma Cypress' in Mexico and 'The Teapot Baobob' in Africa.  All grand trees with befitting names.

And then there is 'Methuselah'.  Visit the Bristlecone Pine forest in the White Mountains of California, home of the world's oldest living tree--5,000 years old.  Fifty centuries.  Methuselah.  Appropriately named after the biblical figure who lived almost a thousand years.  Now that is a grand name.  No 'Wally' or 'Joe' here.  Methuselah, by the way, is very similar in appearance to the Limperpine on Baden-Powell--put them side by side and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference.  It would definitely look ridiculous having a name like 'Wally Waldron' in the midst of a title like Methuselah. The tree on Baden-Powell cries out for a just name, one that exemplifies its enduring strength, spirit and tenacity.  Save 'Wally Waldron' for a kid's book story character.....


                        Ode to The Jumping Flea

It's small, light and portable.  You can take it anywhere.  You smile when you see it.  Enticing.  The 'Jumping Flea'.  The Happy Instrument.

Current mythology draws on a story from 19th century Hawaii where the islanders supposedly witnessed a Portuguese sailor playing a slightly smaller version of a guitar.  His rapidly moving fingers may have reminded some of the infested viewers of jumping fleas, or maybe the sounds emanating from the guitar just caused their fleas to jump and dance.  In any case, the 'Jumping Flea' was born and was transformed by the Hawaiians into an even smaller version, and into the instrument we know today, sold and played and enjoyed worldwide.  The Ukulele.  A Hawaiian word meaning the 'Jumping Flea'.

I discovered the flea in the large hands and over-sized body of the Hawaiian musician and singer, Israel Kamakawiwo-Ole,  aka 'IZ', while surfing YouTube and was instantly enamored and entranced by its joyous sound.  If a body that big could play something that small, and play it so well, then so could I.  And I would.  And now I do.  A half hour of so each day of happy strumming and picking for the past few years have reaped noteworthy, melodious rewards and an ever renewed admiration, respect as well as a continued unwavering zeal for the instrument.  I'm a jumping flea addict.  I admit it.  And happily so.

The 'Happy Instrument' is durable.  You can play it to death.  I still have my original one from 4 years ago and have taken it everywhere.  It's usually kept in the car, played on everyday before work and during breaks and lunches, wehre it has been exposed to all the temperatures and conditions.  It's a low end soprano cedar-wood 'Kala' brand, still with the original strings.  The sound seems to age well with time.  Though I now also have a few other ukuleles, including a Washburn Oscar Schmidt Tenor (somewhat larger), the Kala is still my favorite 'flea'.

Short of a better of more descriptive word, the ukulele produces a happy sound and one surprisingly guitar-like with the right set of strings and playing style.  The Jumping Flea is very versatile.  From simple strumming off all the major, minor, 7th, augmented and diminished chords. to finger picking pop, jazz, classical, the uke has its place among instruments.  All of the many and various techniques used on the guitar from finger slides to hammer-ons, are easily executed on the ukulele.  And with no wrist of shoulder pain that I used to endure with the much bigger and heavier guitar.

The big plus with the uke is the ease of playability.  This is definitely one of the very few instruments whereby you can just pick it up and begin playing your first songs.  Within a span of only 10 minutes or less, one can easily learn 2-3 chords, allowing you to accompany or sing along with hundreds of songs and melodies.  You go on from there.  But even if you never decide to progress beyond just happily strumming those few chords, the Jumping Flea sounds good.

The Jumping Flea comes in different sizes, soprano, concerts, tenor and baritone, all sorts of different woods, colors and shapes.  They are made of cedar, acacia, spruce, koa, mahogany, maple, rosewood, mangowood and even bamboo, among others.  There is the traditional hour-glass guitar shape as well as square, triangular and pineapple and watermelon shapes.  Some sell for thousands of dollars, many with intricate woodwork, carvings and inlays.  About $70. bucks of so will get you started with a very good quality one.

There have been, for sure, some earlier ukulele pioneers such as Roy Smeck, Manuel Nunes, David Kalakaua, Ernest Kaai and others, who have influenced the many modern day virtuosos including Jake Shamabukuro, Herb Ohta and Aldrine Guerrero in addition to hundreds of other accomplished players worldwide.  The advent of the internet and sites such as YouTube have done much to expose as well as showcase the possibilities inherent within the instrument itself.  Through the virtuosity of a multitude of players worldwide, shard techniques, free online lessons and more, the ukulele has enjoyed a more recent renaissance and resurgence, appearing in my mainstream bands and has even spawned the 'Guitar-lele', a hybrid 6-string combination uke-guitar.  Just check out YouTube.

As a fellow player and afficiando of the Jumping Flea, I have found that there is a great joy of composing and transposing;  a satisfaction of adapting songs and melodies to the ukulele which is most challenging on an instrument with only 4 strings and a limited 2+ octave range.  But it is a very fulfilling endeavor coming up with your own exclusive arrangement of a favorite song. 

And yet, beyond all of this, there are other possibilities and applications for the Jumping Flea.  Simply becasue of their size alone, and the low cost, even some plastic ones for under $20., this instrument could and should be introduced into all elementary schools.  How many undiscovered Mozarts, divas and inborn musicians have never had the opportunity to learn an instrument?  The uke opens the door to another world for them;  performing for themselves, playing an instrument that initially does not require any technical skills.

As such, the Jumping Flea should also be introduced, in mass, to nursing/old-age/retirement homes, hospitals, rehab centers, doctor and dentist waiting rooms and even prisons.  Perhaps even ship a few hundred to the United Nations, all emblazoned with the peace symbol.  'Make Strum, Not War'.  A world of happy strummers.

As Jake Shimabakuro has said, "If everyone played the ukulele, the world would be a better place."  Ode to the Jumping Flea.  The Happy Instrument.

--Ray Monch  2013

                          Hikemaster's August Trail Fatalities Lowest in Decades
                                        Hikemasters Officials Dismayed!!!

Hikemaster's first quarter trail fatality totals are proving to be disappointingly the lowest numbers in years according to Hikemasters Schedule-Master and hiker Peter Piper.  "Unbelieveable, how can that be?"  he stated at a recent press conference, flute in hand.  "I mean, I just could not believe it,"  he continued, "but when 'ET' and I went over the first quarter accident and fatality totals again and again to confirm the low totals, it was still only 9!!  Usually we have much more, I mean, at least a dozen or more at the very least at this point in  every hiking season.  It just defies logic!"  Piper then went on to play 'It's Impossible' on his flute for the assembled reporters.

In a related interview a few hours later from his palace home in Arcadia, Hikemaster's Far East Recruiter, 'ET', expressed shock and was visibly shaken and upset by the first quarter totals.  "It is unprecedented" he stated, shaking his head.  "Usually, as Peter explained, we lose many, many more people to all kinds of terribly exciting, totally preventable accidents.  I don't know what we did wrong this past month.  I am completely bewildered.  There will be an inquiry into this matter, a complete investigation as these low totals are not acceptable.  There should have been many, many more fatalities.  These totals are not good for business."

The nine first quarter fatalities included  (by trail name) 'Moocher', 'Flyer', 'Destiny', 'Turtle', 'Klutz', 'Honey Bear', 'Hard Head', 'Bambi', and 'Shiitake'.

Along with the 9 fatalities, Hikemasters first quarter totals for members lost and/or missing on the trail and not accounted for by midnight, March 31, reached new record heights with 473.  "The lost ones are not of our concern"  stated 'ET'.  When pressed for clarification he explained that  "Unfortunately the missing ones do not count as fatalities.  I mean, they could be anywhere, everywhere and no-where.  But definitely somewhere"  He then went on to add that  'Our hiking organization has always had the highest trail mortality rates, something which we pride ourselves on, and we want to keep it that way.  It makes our hikes that much more potentially exciting and unpredictable.  Overall, of course, the fatality totals, being as low as they are, is very bad news but at least the 473 lost and missing was a definite plus and some of these may eventually wind up as fatalities.  We are very hopeful in this regard."

Hikemasters Fatality Specifics for the 1st Quarter, 2014:

January 5:  'Hard Head'.  Hit on the head by a falling 137 pound pinecone  (on display at the Hikemasters museum, to floor, Mt Baldy Summit Hilton).  He was not hard-headed enough.  May he rest in peace.

January 19:  'Flyer'.  Disappeared off a cliff on the Mt Waterman hike while posing for a photo.  Comment: "He was in the viewfinder when I was taking his picture.  I had just asked him to step back bit"

January 26:  'Destiny'.  Overcome by fumes inside the Mt San Antonio Ski Hut outhouse, falling down into the shit pit.  Comment:  "Talk about 'destiny'"

February 9:  'Turtle".   Could not outrun the bear.  The bear was pissed.

February 23:  'Honey Bear'.  Attacked by a large, nasty swarm of carnivorous ladybugs and eaten alive
(see video on display @ Hikemasters Museum).  Species was 'Eatthem Humans'.

March 2:  'Klutz'.  Nailed by a watermelon-size hail stone on the Devil's Backbone Trail.  This hail stone is also currently on display at the museum thanks to the quick action of Peter Piper, who, leaving 'Klutz' on the mountain, rushed the 87 pound piece of ice quickly down the to the Baldy Notch Restaurant to keep it frozen and intact for the helicopter airlift to the museum before it melted.

March 9:  'Moocher'.  Impaled on his wife's hiking stick (by his wife) after he ate her pineapple yogurt.
Comment:  (by his wife)  "I warned the bastard.  Nobody eats my Trader Joe's Pineapple Yogurt."

March 16:  'Bambi'.  Shot by a hunter who mistook her for a deer.  Bambi will be remembered by all Hikemasters members as being unique, as she like hiking on all fours.

March 23:  'Shiitake'.  Ate the wrong mushroom while explaining and demonstrating to everyone which ones were edible.  Comment:  "Shiitake was our flora expert.  This position is now open.  See Peter."

In addition, there were 179 injuries during Hikemasters First Quarter.  Among the usual injuries such as broken ankles, legs, arms, backs and necks, there were 3 very serious injuries that required immediate helicopter airlifts including a broken fingernail ('Twinkle'), a stubbed toe ('ET') and a blister on the left pinkie toe ('Walkman').

--Ray Monch  2010

                    'Smokey The Bear'  Given  Prison  Sentence

Well over four years after he was prosecuted and found guilty of grand arson, and after countless appeals, 'Smokey The Bear' has been sentenced to 113 consecutive life sentences by Judge Judy, to be served in the California State Prison system beginning May 1 of this year.

Conclusive evidence in the case, including eye witness reports, indicated that he was spotted playing with matches at the origin points of both the recent 'Station Fire' and 'Sheep Fire' which burned large portions of Angeles National Forest in 2009.  'Smokey' appeared in court this past Friday before Judge Judy dressed in the bright orange prison drabs for the sentencings after numerous additional appeals and requests for clemency filed by his attorneys were rejected.

Per case and court records from the 2009 trial records, thousands of cases of matches were recovered from his fire-gutted cabin off of Angeles Crest Highway in the Big Pines area just west of Wrightwood by forest service arson investigators, along with dozens of boxes of Bic lighters, flint sticks, flares, candles, magnifying glasses, Cuban cigars and empty gasoline cannisters.

Other incriminating items found among the rubble were various books entitled 'Ancient Fire Methods'  and 'Pyromania Heaven:  1001 Ways to Start a Fire'.  Also uncovered was a forest service pamphlet entitled 'Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires' which was crossed out and written over with the words  "Only I Can Start Forest Fires".

'Smokey' will also be undergoing trial later this year for a whole series of other miscellaneous charges in the connection to additional evidence retrieved from his cabin site as well as for exposing himself on the trails and in the woods.  "Apparently he has also been engaged and enjoyed watching little kiddies going pee-pee from behind a tree', stated a bewildered forest official while shaking his head in disbelief.  "It is just so unbelievable."

"He is anything but a 'Care Bear', stated the mother of a child who witnessed 'Smokey' running down trails in the vincinity of Boy Scouts wearing only his forest green rayon boxer shorts.  "It seems that at times 'Smokey' has chosen to be a 'Bare Bear'.  Just disgusting", she continued.

Federal and local forest officials were baffled and taken by surprise by 'Smokey The Bear's' arrest and trial in 2009, shortly after the onset of the 'Station Fire', and many openly initially defended 'Smokey' when the charges were first made public.  However, after the evidence from his cabin was made public, it became overwhelmingly clear that the bear was indeed involved in the fires.

"Admidtedly, it is very disconcerting", stated a forest supervisor, "I mean, like, to have our very own, very cuddly 'Smokey The Bear' involved in such shananigans."  Since the trial, all 'Smokey The Bear' posters, toys and stuffed animals have been quietly removed from all forest service visitor centers and all his public appearances were cancelled and were not to be re-scheduled.

"He is getting along in years", stated a local Angeles National Forest ranger in trying to comphrehend the bear's uncharistic behavior.  "He is probably suffering from typical male-menopause-related illnesses as well as probably prostrate problems along with hot flashes.  Of course, it does not excuse what he did to the forest".  'Smokey's' incarceration has also resulted in dozens of forest rangers seeking psychiatric help in trying to cope with the downfall of their life-long friend and forest icon.

According to investigators and the court records, the points of origin of both fires indicated that they were started by the same brand of matches uncovered at 'Smokey's' cabin, though his attorneys, 'Rocky Racoon' and 'Wily Coyote' have questioned the forest service's various investigative techniques, attempting to put fire personnel on trial, afterwards then appealing Judge Judy's rulings and recently also requesting yet another motion for a retrial by a jury of 'Smokey's' peers which were all denied.

"We are pushing now for a mistrial", snapped an angry Rocky Racoon at the gathered media throng at the press conference this past Tuesday evening in front of the courthouse.  "For one thing, we don't think that Judge Judy should have been assigned to the trial.  It was not fair.  Our own investigators have uncovered the fact that she does not even like bears;  she doesn't even have a teddy-bear at home".

Meanwhile, forest service headquarters in Arcadia has been swarming with thousands of people, many of them regular forest hikers, backpackers and campers, many crying and carrying signs reading  "Say It Ain't So, Smokey"!, while still others in a more angry mood shouted "Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire", as 'Smokey' was led out of the courthouse into a waiting prison van which will take him to San Quentin Prison off the northern California coast.

Hikemasters officials were also stunned by the news and most agreed with  'ET's statement, read to the media reporters by Hikemasters schedule master, Peter Piper, which said  "It is very difficult to imagine that after all these many, many years of 'Smokey the Bear' admonishing everyone else that 'Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires' that he himself became a pyromaniac and enjoyed playing with matches and with fires.  Who knows how many other conflagrations he was involved with.  It is a time the forest service gets a new mascot, one that hopefully does not play with matches........."

--Ray Monch  2009

                               Mountain Moonhouse

The Mt. San Antonio Ski Hut hike, ever popular with hundreds of Saturday morning mountain trekkers, is the gateway to the 10,064 ft Mt Baldy summit for some, a Mt. Whitney training hike for others . It is definitely not for the virgin trekker, with its precipituos and challenging 3 mile, 2200 ft elevation gain route to the ski hut, a small yet surprisingly roomy, two-story bright green monopoly-like dwelling, its roof glistening in the distance, beckoning weary hikers ever onward and upward with its promise of a respite via ice cold safely drinkable spring water, pumped in and filtered compliments of the year-round bubbling creek just outside. True Mountain Elixir on tap.

Set at 8200 ft, well below one of the mountain's northeast ridges where other hikers snail along another route known as 'The Devil's Backbone', the Ski Hut sits on a small, breezy shelf; the area above and around it is a postcard; picturesque alpine scenry with a natural, dazzling decor of wildflowers, mainly yellows and reds. Indian Paintbrush, Wallflowers, Pentstemon, stands of Manzanita, some Jeffrey and Sugar pines, firs, and the swift running clear water creek running nearby, narrow side canyons, occasional big horn sheep prints, and a deep blue sky and still bluer Blue Jays.

A couple of steps up the triangular facing of the hut leads one through the door into a place of comraderie and reflection with its open tavern like atmosphere. A large rustic wooden table with room for a dozen dominates the south side of the floor; six-packs cooling in the sink, a wood-burning stove, books, boardgames strewn about, comfy and homey all around. Upstairs, the dozen or so bunks await the exhausted, drowsy hiker.

Fully outfitted Korean, Chinese and Japanese trekkers frequent this trail, and as such, there are various foods and snacks on the table, some recognizable, others foreign. Hikers come in, some looky-loos, others milling about, some more outside peering inward through the meshed windows that frame the surrounding splendors, still others just sitting around, a few taking power naps, the sounds of steps going up the narrow stairway to the bunks above, the late-night-mice-beaten aged wooden floors creaking. Still others, reluctantly, but bravely, make their way outside to the small, matching green, deep-hole-in-the-ground pit toilet out house.  Mountain Moonhouse.

Ah, the Moonhouse.  It stands alone, a good 200 or so feet from the hut and downwind.  And for good reason.  But it receives its share of visitors.  Many of them. Outwards, it is inviting, almost appealing with its forest green exterior, a welcoming yellow crescent moon painted above the door, and its promise of some privacy and intimacy.  Even more so that I am obliged to pay it a visit.

Moving towards it, I stop momentarily to snap a picture of a waving-in-the-breeze wildflower a few feet away when an invisible, aggressive scent cloud, strong and overwhelming, envelopes me.  I catch my breath which makes it worse as I choke on the potent fumes, leaving me hunched over and dizzy, gagging and teary eyed.

I back up a moment, out of its reach, and consider possible alternatives.  But there is no other place.  At this altitude, trees are few and far between, none wide enough to provide any cover d'le derriere, with most situated on steep angled slopes.  Entering the Moonhouse would require a supreme effort, maybe even a Hazmat suit, and I ponder the possibility of holding my breath for a few minutes.  But in the end, the call of nature bespeaks volumes and leads me ever forward.  I take shorter breaths, exhaling more than inhaling.

Just before I reach the door, I am startled as a fellow hiker emerges quickly, leaving the door ajar.  He coughs, smiles and continues on his way.  I forget about holding my breath as I peer inside and take in the total blackness ever more so with the surrounding intense, bedazzling mountain sunlight.  I step inside.  Maybe more daring and challenging than the hike itself.

It's a wonder that anyone comes out alive or that anyone comes out at all.  This is more than just the typical outhouse experience and reek.  This one is loaded and filled with the aroma of all types of special funky ingredients;  a hodgepodge medley in the form of a pastiche brimming over with the horrific stench of a vast mixture of hikers bodily wastes, all constituted into a brew from undigested pieces of peanut butter jelly sandwiches, salami, cheeses, chocolates, raisins, and various nuts, and all seasoned with power and energy bars, vitamins, gatorade, etc.  This all makes for one hell of a stew.

You would not want to strike a match over that black hole, and a black, deep hole it is.  I drop a rock into this black abyss and then vaguely hear it smack into something that sounds like jelly an eternity later, while my eyes sting and flow with tears, squeezed out by a combination of the noxious gases and laughter because it is just too awfully, horribly bad to be true.

With my visit completed, I too hurry out the door and back onto the trail, passing the ski hut and its comforts.  Here the trail winds its way through an immense boulder field, shattered rock and scattered scree, the clunking, clickity sound of my boots resounding acoustically with every step on the rock puzzle trail.  One must exercise caution here;  it is just too easy to loose your footing on the sharp, angular and irregular natural stepping stones.  After a while you are accustomed to the rocking fro and back method of negotiating this section of trail by going with the flow of the rocks tilting forward and then aft with your every step.

You now come to an impossibly steep, dusty and slippery zig-zagging segment which leads up to the next respite, a saddle just little over a mile below the mountain's summit.  Here is another scenic place for a brief rest, the views in many respects superior to those of the peak.  It's a large flat manzanita covered expanse;  bighorn sheep frequently pass over the trail in this area on their traverses up and down the mountain.  For some hikers it's also the point of turning back, the energy expended up this last segment being simply too much, and psychologically unnerving especially with the summit still not in sight.  But for most it is just another rest stop among many along the physically torturing route towards the top of the mountain.  Here are also hikers coming down from the summit, most looking rejuvenated and fresh, trekking, some sliding down the path and through the boulder field towards the hut and then onward down to their cars.

Continuing upward, I enter spectacular alternating ridge and flat segments of the summit trail, stepping up and over numerous large granite rocks as the path winds its way up the final mile.  The trees here assume magnificent shapes, all due to the open exposure to winds, lightening strikes and winter blizzards.  After the brief stop I had at the saddle, I too feel somewhat rejuvenated, although the going is slow.  But every step I take is one closer to the goal.

It is about an hour later that I finally make out the curved summit line;  figures are up ahead looking out and down as I take one final rest stop to take in all the surrounding sights.  It is a rock and rock dust world here;  browns and grays.  All sizes, all shapes.  The sun blazes down and the vistas are almost surreal with the lack of any green.  I have stepped into a painting of immense proportions, becoming just a tiny speck among the granders.  Yet I am part of the whole.  A burst of energy flows through me.  My spirit and that of the mountain is one.

Shortly now I reach the summit where there are dozens of others shuffling about, most sitting or laying about;  others taking photos by the summit slab indicating 10,064 feet.  Hikers continue coming up from the 4 different routes.  Here you are on top of the world with views far into all of the compass points.  A hiker comes over, considering taking a different route down, and queries about the ski hut route, the one you took up.  He has taken the Devil's Backbone Trail to the summit which beings after the Baldy Notch Restaurant and its nice restroom facilities.  Cheerfully, I tell him of the ski hut and the neat, inviting little green shack next to it.  He appears interested and relieved and merrily jaunts down the path in its direction.....

--Ray Monch  2011




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