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Saturday, August 17, 2013
There is an organization within the Sierra Club called the Hundred Peaks Section, or HPS. It maintains a list of 277 mountain peaks in Southern California that are minimally 5,000 feet above sea level. My friend Bill is close to completing his fifth time hiking all 277 peaks. On July 20, I knocked off Sugar Loaf Peak (6,924 feet) and Ontario Peak (8,694 feet) from the list, bringing my total conquered mountains to 11.
Bill used to play golf. He belonged to an exclusive country club in Los Angeles. Each round of golf there with him was a civilized experience, giving me a hint of what things might have been like had I chosen the same career path as he.
But Bill does not play golf anymore; he hikes — a lot. And there are many HPS members who are much more fanatical than Bill about their hiking. For example, a hiker named Mars Bonfire has completed the loop 19 times. Conducting a Wikipedia search on that name turns up an interesting piece of music trivia, by the way. When I explained all this to my wife, I was once again the recipient of her signature eye roll.
It turns out hiking is the only way these days I can spend quality time with Bill, whom I have known since the third grade. I suppose I could sit around and play cribbage with him, but I am tired of winning all the time.
Whenever I visit, Bill plans a hike so I can check off a few more of the peaks. But at this rate, I will be 300 years old when the list is complete. You would think with the Appalachian Trail running through my town I would set a more reasonable local goal.
When I first considered hiking as an activity, I had images of groomed trails, fluttering butterflies, chirping birds singing songs of hope accompanied by soft beckoning sunlight. Bill, though, has other ideas about the nature of hikes. For example, the communication he put out regarding the July 20 hike stated, “This hike would not be suitable for beginners due to the difficult climb up Falling Rock Canyon . . . .”
Bill went on to explain this was a special milestone hike of some sort because one person was completing the 277 peaks for the seventh time, and Bill himself, a Sierra Club certifiable — oops, I mean certified — hike leader, was completing his second loop as a leader. Fifty hikers were involved, including my next-door neighbor’s mid-30s son (who now lives in nearby Irvine, Calif.), an 84-year-old I have hiked with previously and several people in their 70s. We were separated into four groups. Two were organized for using the easier maintained trail and two for the more grueling off-trail. You can guess which one I was on, because that’s the way Bill likes it.
To prepare, I went on many 5-mile brisk walks, outfitted in my hiking boots and backpack, at Botetourt County’s aesthetic Greenfield Center. At 2,000 feet above sea level, it was not anywhere close to the oxygen-depleted 8,000 feet of the upcoming hike. But I falsely convinced myself the high Virginia humidity would compensate for the lack of altitude.
A week before going to California, I hiked up to McAfee’s Knob from the trailhead along Virginia 311 near Catawba. I highly recommend this 7.8-mile trek for a good workout and to actually experience those fantasized butterflies, singing birds and soft sunlight. The reward for doing so is the spectacularly photogenic spot at the destination.
So, how did I do? Well, I did not throw up. I also discovered that Falling Rock Canyon was aptly named. The first time I stepped on a loose sizable stone and watched it start tumbling its way toward my fellow hikers below I hollered, “fore!” Then I heard the experienced hikers holler “rock!” So I adopted that expression thereafter. I had ample opportunity to use the term.
At the summit, to celebrate the twin milestones, a potluck meal was laid out, including champagne. By the time I staggered into the festive crowd on Ontario Peak, the bubbly was gone, however. My neighbor’s son, who reached the peak long before I did, was wondering why I thought this might be a useful experience for him. I directed his attention to the smiling 84-year-old.
Then Bill reminded me I have only 266 more to go.
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