I should have guessed that the day was going to be one of the epic biting-off-more-than-I-can-chew variety when it started with a series of tactical errors:
1. Stay up until midnight the night before finishing some writing because procrastination.
2. 4:30am wake-up becomes 6:30am wake-up because OMG SLEEPMONSTER.
3. The trailhead I’d picked was closed because of a fire, which I discovered when I pulled up in the parking lot at 8:30am. It was already 75 degrees out.
4. Turns out that I need a wilderness permit even for day use. Apparently these things are normally reserved a week in advance, but thanks to the ridiculous heatwave, I’m still able to get one.
5. The only trail to the summit of San Gorgonio is the one that gains an extra 1000 ft of elevation with 2 miles less one way distance than the one I’d picked.
6. It’s already 85 degrees when I pull up to the Vivian Creek trailhead (elevation 6000 ft) at the decidedly non-alpine-start-time of 9:30am.
So. There I was. Not one to back off a challenge, I set off. The Vivian Creek Trail gains 5500 ft in about 8 miles of trail, which works out to an average of about 700 ft/mile, meaning that there are a lot of sections that are much steeper than that. Also, it was really hot. I was immediately concerned about running out of water. I was carrying 2 Liters, which I didn’t even finish when I did Langley a couple weekends before. My original trail plan was quite comparable to the Langley route in terms of distance and elevation gain, plus the (apparently sadly out of date) trail info suggested that all the water sources were dry (on my original route), so I made the dumb choice to leave my Steripen at home. Always carry the Steripen, kids. It’s super light. But with the late start and extra steepness/elevation gain, I was very concerned about running out of water.
This led me to probably err on the side of dehydration on the way up, which started hitting me pretty hard around mile 6. Conveniently, this was the same time that I started feeling the elevation. I’d imagined that the temps would be much more comfortable about 9000 ft, but I’d imagined wrong. On the right slope aspects, there was an amazing cool breeze, but on other slopes, I was in an oven. But by this point I only had about a mile and a half to go and it was going to be stupid hot on the way down either way, so I was going to summit, damn it. I stumbled up the last section, pausing to stand in the puny shadows of trees and ponder how awesome I didn’t feel.
I took some photos and ate a snack on the summit, then set off back down, feeling much better after the break and the lovely cool temps of 11,500 ft. A quarter mile down, I remembered that I’d carried my Seahawks cape so that I could wear it running down, so I stopped to put it on. I checked my water to find that I had about half a Liter left for the remaining 8 miles of oven running. I knew I had 3 miles until the highest water source and I immediately began weighing the pros and cons of drinking unfiltered water. Feeling shitty resumed about a mile down from the summit, beginning with a faceplant onto the trail, so I decided to drink as much water as I wanted and refill at the spring. It’s been several days now and it seems like that was not a terrible decision. In the moment, it was the best decision: the spring flows out of the mountain from just above where it crosses the trail, so chances for contamination seemed low; the water was COLD; I collected about 1.5 L of additional water and drank all of it in the remaining 5 miles.
I can only imagine how much more miserable the remaining miles would have been with no water, because they were pretty miserable even with (delicious, amazing, cold) water. In retrospect, I think I was probably on the brink of heat exhaustion. Although I am a perma-cold person, my body turns into a furnace when I run. This is why the pictures of me from CCC show me running in shorts and a tank top while all the Euros are kitted up in pants, long sleeves, jackets, and hats. It’s a great thing when it’s cold, but it’s not a great thing when it’s hot. By the time I made it back to the car, I felt significantly more wrecked than after Langley (even though that was longer in terms of mileage and time and involved climbing to 14,000 ft). Then blasting the A/C as I drove back down into the valley made me feel immediately better. I guess I have a while to try to address this issue while I’m living down here. But maybe I’ll stick with the High Sierra for the rest of the summer.