This was a long and silly day. Kam was off in Colorado at a bachelorette party, I think, so I was solo for my birthday and wanted to hang with John and friends. So, as per usual, we made some half-assed plans and shook the magic eight ball. Who knew things could go so wrong?
First, it was forecast to be 115-118 or something ridiculous in Palm Springs, and it was over 80 at night. Maybe over 90. It’s been a while, but it was hot. I met John in Huntington Beach at 10 pm the night before, we talked and packed, then slept for like an hour, and headed toward Palm Springs. As I recall, we started around 3 am with lots of water and foolish energy. Did I mention it was hot? Well, it was. Pay attention.
Skyline Trail to the Tram
The plan was to hike from Palm Springs to the tram, meet my friends Marek and Joanna (siblings) at 11 am, eat a bit, then continue onto the peak as a group. We’d then come back to the tram, celebrate my birthday with beers and debauchery of all kinds, and somehow end up back in Huntington or a hotel in PS that night.
This gave us a solid eight hours to do the Skyline Trail (3 am to 11 am), a hike of some 8,500′ in about 9.5 miles that I’ve done in under four hours. I think John’s best time is around 6.5, so we left an extra 90 min leeway to make sure we go to the tram in time to meet J&M.
Things started off well. They always do. John is a monster sprinter with monster sprinter legs so the first 3-4 miles are always a tear; he just rips it up, even if he is coming right off the couch. Then things break down, and rapidly, so there’s a certain amount of…slowness…that occurs in the later parts of our hikes. It’s expected. You just plan for it.
What we didn’t plan for was the cramps. It was hot. Did I say that? Anyway, we made good time up to the 4,300′ marker and then rapidly slowed, then more, then the cramping began. John’s big o’l legs cramped in the calves, then the quads and hammies, then just sort’a everywhere. I encouraged electrolytes. John took them begrudgingly. Not sure it helped.
Net result, we got to Long Valley about 15 min late. I texted J&M to let them know we were running late, but I wasn’t sure they’d get the message or that it mattered. John looked crushed. Would we go on? No way to tell.
At Long Valley, we were met by a ranger who asked how we were and if we’d seen anyone (I don’t think we had, or not many) and if everyone was all right. His questions were odd, but I figured maybe he had heard about someone in distress. He asked me to let the other ranger at the permit station know when we went up, presumably just to let him know that all was well, and I said sure. Why not. Then I ran-climbed up to the back of the tram, dropped over the fence and went inside to find J&M while John took the longer easier route.
Sweaty hugs all around with J&M, as they finished packing and we chatted. I got some water. John showed up looking shell-shocked, and then went off to get himself some food. I wasn’t convinced; he was really wrecked. I felt bad at the time that we might really slow J&M down. This turned out to be dramatically ironic. After some soup and crackers, John perked right up. An act? Maybe. But it was convincing.
Somewhere in here Joanna mentioned that she has bad knees, specifically two unaddressed ACL tears from volleyball, and thus might be a little slow on the way up. And the way down. I didn’t really think that much of it as she was young and healthy and it seemed like, if it was that big a deal, she would have mentioned it earlier. Yeah.
Tram to San Jacinto Peak
We started our leisurely hike up to the peak around noon, stopping almost immediate at the ranger station to get a permit. Like a good little boy, I checked in with the ranger while the others went ahead. I thought I was being a good citizen, but it turns out I was sent there fore a lecture.
How dare I come up in this heat, he said, or something like that. He was standing arms akimbo with his firearm clearly visible, so it was like being addressed by the town sheriff. There are rescues, he said, and deaths. There are costs and thoughts of closing the trail. Apparently, he didn’t approve of our hike up from Palm Springs.
I should mention that both John and I have serious problems with male authority figures, being told what to do, and generally with lectures of any kind. I’m sure there’s an issue in there somewhere. But as a result all I heard was blah, blah, blah, oppression, blah, blah, bullshit and hypocrisy, blah, blah, snort and harumph. Get off’a my lawn!
I was about to retort about experience and how many times we’d done the trail and how much water we had and how, if they really wanted to decrease rescues, maybe they should charge for them instead of giving free helicopter rides to every idiot to stumbled into the wilderness, but I wasn’t sure that would go well. My friends were long gone and I just wanted to get out of there, so I bowed my head and said something contrite and got the heck out of Dodge.
When I told John about this, he wanted to go back and have some words with the ranger, and this would have been really easy because the pace they set was not speedy, but we decided to take a deep breath and enjoy the woods. I did a quick calculation. At the pace we were going, it would be about a six hour round-trip; a bit pokey, but I was there for my friends, not the time, so onward!
The hike up to the peak was actually quite pleasant. I hadn’t seen Joanna or Marek in years, and it was great to catch up. We encouraged them both to drink (more) water, but there was little compliance and you don’t want to bully; people have to know there own bodies.
We got to the peak at something like 4:30 pm, so it had taken more than four hours to climb up. Most people were already heading down, but we had headlamps and I wasn’t worried. The last tram down was at 9:30 pm, so we had five hours to get down. Well, first we had to sit and eat and talk and then we had a little over four hours to get down. Joanna had brought awesome little sandwiches for everyone. And it was a beautiful view.
San Jacinto Peak to Tram
I’m really not going to say much here. There was a certain breakdown in team cohesion. There was some throwing up and prolonged periods of rest. There was some complaining and complaining about complaining, but all I really cared about was getting to the tram. It was nine-ish before we even saw the light of the tram, and things were getting ugly. Joanna was seriously ill, probably dehydrated but mostly altitude sick, and I wanted to get her on the tram and down quickly.
Fortunately, we just barely made the last tram after slogging up that (*&(&!!! ramp at the end. Hurray, we made it!
Tram to the Valley
Well, sort of. As the last tram on a weekend night, it was fully of a large number of drunken partyers who had spent their evening at the bar (you know, like we had meant to). So the tram was cramped as all get out and smelled like booze, and Joanna pressed herself against the side to cling for dear life. Just get me down, she kept saying, just get me down.
What I didn’t know was that Marek had started getting nauseated as we neared the end of the hike, so he was also in bad shape, and that the tram would still be rotating at night. Yes, it rotates. So /a/ Joanna could not hold onto the side or keep her head out a cracked window and /b/ John promptly got motion sick and ended up sorta sitting on the floor. Or close. I don’t know. It was chaos. People were screaming. I smelled like a sack of donated organs. Ahh, nature.
My birthday had not gone quite as planned, but at least we were almost down. We could get dinner and some beer in PS after Joanna recovered. It would all be good.
It Was Not All Good
By the time the tram disgorged us at the bottom at around 10 pm, I was the last man standing. We carried Joanna off and then John and Marek went to the bathroom or something. Somewhere in here we came up with a plan. Both Marek and Joanna had parked in the tram parking lot, but our car was over by the museum in Palm Springs. So I would drive Joanna to our car, and then we would drive separately to FOOD. I may not have mentioned that I hadn’t eaten in a while. I was HUNGRY. John and Marek would drive directly to FOOD and meet us there.
This was all premised on the assumption that Joanna would recover quickly now that we were at below 3,000 feet instead of 8,5,00 – 10,000 feet. This was based on an oddly similar experience I’d had with my niece a few weeks earlier. She had recovered in minutes after getting down. So, I figured, we get Joanna into her very nice car and turn on the AC, bing-bang-boom, wellness and joy.
There was no joy. There was some more throwing up.
I called John and Marek after we got into cell phone range that instead of FOOD there would be HOSPITAL. So I drove Joanna to the emergency room in Palm Springs, parked, got a wheel chair, and wheeled her into the lobby. We checked in. There was some tension. John and Marek showed up (having gotten our car) and I decided it was time for FOOD. So I took my car to a burger place that is now sadly gone and got burgers, fries and shakes. Delicious shakes and fries went in MOUTH. It was good.
Back in the ER, we ate more while John and I waited and Marek went in the intake area with Joanna for assessment. Don’t remember really. John looked pale. It was not clear that we looked any better than the actual patients, and we certainly smelled worse. I think this is around midnight.
Then there was screaming. Some dude slammed into the intake door right next to me, screaming something. I’M BEING OPPRESSED! He yelled again and then fell through the intake door into the lobby, dragging his IV hanger with him. A small amount of blood flew across the room as he ripped out said IV. Orderlies appeared. There was more screaming. I’M BEING OPPRESSED! Dude, I know the feeling.
John just looked at me as security arrived and dragged the very drunk and very oppressed man down the hall.
“Happy birthday,” he said.
“Fuck you,” I said, and we laughed.
At some point Joanna came out. Turns out she was just severely dehydrated and her blood sugar had crashed from all the reverse eating. She had this angry look on her face like an injured animal just before he claws your eyes out, so we decided to get her a hotel. I drove her some very nice place that Marek had found, and where apparently Joanna had oodles of points she could use for an upgrade. A serious of events with valets and other very nice young men resulted in her transport to a comfy room. We all hugged, ish, and said good-bye and “Let’s do it again soon” and then we departed.
The Drive Back
I don’t really remember what time it was. Let’s say 1 am, but it might have been 2 am. We were in my newish car with it’s crazy lane-departure warning beeps and I planned to make full use of them as I Zombie-drove out of PS and into the 10 west. John was asleep instantly in the passenger seat. I think I made it to Banning when the beeping got rather insistent; apparently I was not in any particular lane for any particularly long period of time.
“John,” I said, poking his leg. He looked at me in that “What part of I’m sleeping did you not understand” way and I poked him again. “Can you drive?” He said Yes, and I think he meant it at the time.
After we swapped, I put my seat back and tried to sleep. There was some beeping. Whatever. I dozed off. Fifteen minutes later there was a lot more beeping, a violent freeway exit, and a somewhat sheepish declaration. Apparently, John was done.
I drove the rest of the way back, using a combination of loud music, open windows, beeping, pinching, some head banging and maybe a prayer or two to stay awake. If there was a PSA for sleepy-driving, we would have been the stars.
We arrived in HB. We collapsed. We made it!
I woke up at 5am or something in the sun and couldn’t sleep anymore. So I got up, said good-bye to John, drove to McDonald’s to get a lot of very, very bad (good) food a ridiculously large coffee, and drove back to San Diego.
Truth be told, it was kinda fun.