Lessons Learned

(For anyone not able to read their e-mail, just click here: https://gerisroom.wordpress.com)

When I was in the first and second grades, I lived in Spring Valley, California, in a house right next to my cousins. Mt. San Miguel loomed over us in the south as a magnificent tower, and I would imagine a magical kingdom of kings and queens and castles in a far away land. Over the years Mt. Miguel did not seem to get smaller as I got taller and older. It still looms high in the skyline to the southeast of downtown San Diego. I live about twenty minutes north of Mt. Miguel and can see it any time I am on the freeway.

In last couple of years, and especially this last year, since I am only working one job, Saturday has become my hiking day. On a recent Saturday I had a meeting in the vicinity of Mt. Miguel, and I wanted to use the opportunity to hike up the mountain. I usually hike on the weekend with friends, but this was going to have to be a solo hike because of the logistics, so I arranged with one of my hiking partners to be my phone buddy and would check in with her periodically.

I changed into hiking clothes after the meeting and drove towards Proctor Valley Road. I had read on the internet blogs that it was difficult to find the trail, but I followed directions, parking in a residential area, walking about 1/4 of a mile east and seeing a tiny dirt path heading off into an empty field.

I was totally on my own, no map, no previous experience on this trail. Within about twenty feet I ran into a fork in the trail. There were no markers. Mt. Miguel loomed straight ahead of me across an empty field to the north, but the path went either east or west. To the east, would it then lead along the fence and then to the north? To the west, it headed straight up a little knoll. Would that turn north and head up the mountain? I chose west just by hunch. I was right.

Sorry, friends in the South Bay. This was not a pretty hike, not this time of year. It was like being on a military base, everything the color of  grey or faded army fatigue-green. But I was excited. This was an adventure. I was going somewhere new, by myself. I could take a long time taking pictures, or go fast pushing myself to the max (my “max” is the average hiker’s “slow”). I entered the trail at 1:10 in the afternoon and told my phone buddy I would turn back at 4 pm—I had nothing to prove by getting to the summit; this was just a fun discovery hike. I could come back later with my friends and go all the way to the summit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I stood at the top of the knoll and looked down at the first fork in the road and knew I was just lucky to have turned the correct way. The road on the right is Proctor Valley Road.

Mt. Miguel, now filled with radio and cell towers, actually has two summits. The first summit has an American flag proudly displayed and views of the entire South Bay communities, the Pacific Ocean, Mexico, Sweetwater Reserve and downtown San Diego.

The hike to the flagpole took me two hours. There weren’t many people on the trail, but I asked those descending if they had seen any rattlesnakes, or if I was on the right trail, etc. (no rattlesnake sightings) The trail in the beginning was rather wide, without many rocks–easy walking.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I am sorry to say, but I think that is someone’s underwear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking back where I just walked, getting higher.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trail up. The peak above the trail is the flagpole summit, the one to the right is Mt. Miguel. I don’t know what the mountains are to the left of Mt. Miguel, but they are in the distance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Zooming in to the top of Mt. Miguel.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hiking up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking to the south, this is where there is an opening in a barbed wire fence.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The power line tower and the trail up to the flagpole.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That is what I have to walk up.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking behind me and to the west.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The only one who passed me going up. I did not see him coming down.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking behind me to the southeast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

To the west.

After an opening in a barbed-wire fence and passing a large power line tower, the trail goes straight up. I stopped about halfway up and rested on a rock, took a water break and enjoyed the view to my south of Otay Lakes. The visibility was not exceptionally good on this particular day, but the weather was perfect—about 70 degrees with a cool breeze coming right off the Pacific Ocean.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My view, when I was sitting on the rock for my break. Looking south.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Remnant of the 2003 Cedar Fire.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trail before me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Zooming in on Otay Lakes.

The last half of the trail to the flagpole was even steeper with large rocks to climb over and trails going in every direction. Most of the time I only knew I was on an” okay” trail by the footprints in the dirt. I could have never made this trip without my hiking poles and hiking boots. Many a time the boots and poles kept me from slipping as I climbed up and down and over boulders on the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The flagpole and the rocks I must wind around or climb over, not a well marked trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Rocks I just climbed over.

I took a lunch break at the flagpole, enjoying the cool breeze, the waving flag and the peaceful isolation. The towers of Mt. Miguel still loomed above me to the east. I rested until 3:30 and knew I could only walk another 30 minute before turning back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Made it! Looking south.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I know it is hard to see, but I am looking northwest and behind the marine layer are the downtown skyscrapers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking north to Cowles Mountain in the center and Mt. Helix on the right.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another attempt to take a picture of downtown. See what I mean about the visibility?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Is it raining somewhere to the south?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Downtown

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Downtown

  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just as I was leaving the flagpole, a gentleman and his two small children approached. I mentioned climbing to the summit of Mt. Miguel but getting back before dark. All he said was, “Gosh, you’re almost there, it’d be a shame not to try.”

That’s all it took. I got into some crazy thinking. I think a psychologist might call it denial. I had planned on turning back a 4:00 p.m., but I thought, well, maybe . . . I could walk until 4:30 and still make it back before 6:00, just as it was getting dark. The beginning of the trail could be easy in the twilight. Denial. Rationalization. I think this is the sort of thinking that led to some very strange decisions and consequences in my earlier years; but I digress—that’s for another blog. Full-blown in denial and challenge, I headed toward the summit of Mt. Miguel at 3:30, two and a half hours before dark. I had one hour to make it to the summit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trail after leaving the flag.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Tracks – bike? boot? snake?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sun is shining on the mountains to the northeast.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The trail, heading to the summit. See the towers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I think this is Sweetwater Reservoir to the west of me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is the trail I am on, the direction I am heading toward the top of Mt. Miguel. Can you see the trail? Straight up, no switchbacks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Finally a marker, top rock is mine. At the base of the summit.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sweetwater Reservoir, far below now.

  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It took me a half hour to get off the ridge that hosted the flagpole, tricky with winding trails to the base of the Mt. Miguel summit. I stood at the base, the summit towering above me—the trail went straight UP, no switchbacks. It looked very challenging. It was. I had a half hour to make it. The trail, steep and rocky, was very difficult for me. My poles kept me from sliding backwards several times. I almost felt like giving up walking and just crawling, it was so steep. I heard voices above me, and soon there was another family, a man with two teenage boys. They told me I was about twenty minutes from the top. It was going to be close, but I thought I would make it. They also told me there was no one else behind them. I really concentrated, going as fast as I could without slipping. I had never tried so hard to combine speed and safety, but I had to hurry! The next half hour went so fast, I hardly took the time to look at my watch, I was concentrating so hard on hurrying and not slipping. Finally, when I looked at my watch, I was shocked! It was past 4:30 and I wasn’t at the top. I couldn’t go back now. I could see the towers, I could almost touch them. Surely I could make it in five or ten minutes. More denial. More rationalization.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The rocky, narrow trail, straight up.

The next half hour was the quickest 30 minutes of my life. I put one foot in front of the other, weary, tired, stressed, worried now about the trip back, but I would not turn back. I worried about coyotes, coming across them on the trail back. I was alone on a mountain and I knew I would not get down before dark. But, I foolishly kept heading upward.

I made it to the top, stumbling up out of a ditch and turned around to see the view. It was 5:00. It took me one full hour to hike what the father and his teenage boys told me would take twenty minutes. Shock! Fear crept into me for real this time.

While I was climbing and watching the trail, the fog came in behind me. The ridge to my west, where the flag was flying, was no longer visible. I was above the clouds and the fog was moving in quickly, higher and swirling around me. I am not a very fearful person. That is not necessarily a good thing; it causes me to take chances sometime I shouldn’t, but I don’t have a lot of natural fears. But right then I was full of fears. And they were no longer about rattlesnakes and coyotes. Those seemed harmless compared to trying to find my way down a steep mountain that I was not familiar with, with unmarked trails and no visibility. Fog and darkness—a bad combination. I quickly took a picture to show I made it to the top, sent a text to my phone buddy (too embarrassed to call her and tell her I was just now turning back) and hurried down the steep trail, fog swirling around me, dropping the temperature by ten degrees. It was still daylight. I whispered a desperate prayer, my heart beating with fear: “Lord, I know I have been stupid, but please protect me on this mountain by myself.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Above me the sky is blue.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At the top, looking at the clouds to the south. There is a paved road all the way to the top on via Miller Ranch Rd.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking at the clouds below me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Fog coming in, I can no longer see the flagpole below me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking northwest. Downtown below the clouds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I think looking north, over Spring Valley and Lemon Grove, below the clouds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My hand, just to put myself in the picture; no time to pose.

Ever tried hurrying down a trail at a 45 degree angle? When I was a child, I would have just slid down it. However, this was rocky and I am not a kid, so I just did my best, walking carefully and quickly, my legs tired and wobbly by now.

About ten minutes from the summit, I was surprised by another hiker coming up towards me. I teased him and said, “Are we going to make it back by dark?” He answered, “I don’t know, it’s going to be close.” I said back over my shoulder as he rushed past me, “Well, I’ll be the one groping around in the fog.”

I continued hurrying down. When I got to the base, I had to go straight up the flagpole trail. My legs were working so hard, fog swirling past, but visibility was still good. It was about 5:45, twilight. I went up that hill as fast I could. Soon I heard a voice behind me, “Hey, looks like I have someone to walk down with me.”

That hiker, probably 30 years my junior, did not rush past me this time. He decided to walk down with me. Instead he was the first of two miracles that night. The second one: the fog lifted. Suddenly, just before the day disappeared into total darkness, the night was clear. We walked down the mountain on rocky trails with our flashlights, the sun setting behind the marine layer to the west, displaying scarlet splashes of an evening sunset. Above us the sky was clear. Soon we saw the stars and maybe Venus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Losing light, the sunset became more vivid when it was darker, but I was walking too fast to snap a picture then.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Clouds or fog below me.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My view from the trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

What could have been a disaster turned into a lesson learned. I may not be so fortunate next time to have a hiker willing to walk alongside me in the dark. I will say the lesson I learned is the sun will set when it is determined to set, and I have to turn back at a predetermined time. Those are the facts of life. I can’t race against time and think I will somehow change the forces of nature. Again, I know it was denial, rationalization and foolish. I won’t do it again.

On a residential street, we walked our separate ways to our cars. I thanked the hiker; his name is Bill. I told him he was my protective angel. He disappeared into the dark.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My view at the end of the trail

Lessons learned.

Back in my car, it was 7 pm. I was weary by safe. I sent a text to my phone buddy.

“Thank you Lord.”

Lessons learned.

I’ll still think of Mt. Miguel as a magical place with knights or angels rescuing damsels in distress.

A picture of Mt. Miguel taken a couple of days later from Pt. Loma near the Cabrillo Monument.

Mt. Miguel - the one with the towers..

Mt. Miguel – the one with the towers. In the foreground; Coronado Bride, Hotel del Coronado and San Diego Harbor/Bay

Slide show:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For anyone interested, this is an eight minute video I found on you tube of a ride up Mt. Miguel from the north (I came up from the southwest).  http://youtu.be/ZwTavRl08CU

Advertisements

6 comments on “Lessons Learned

  1. Cora Remer says:

    Lesson here is never hike alone always have a buddy with you. Same goes with diving and surfing.

  2. Tammy says:

    Glad you made it home safe!! The a lord provided 🙂

  3. Geri Wilson says:

    Thanks for your comment Cora. I know the general rule is not to hike alone, but I really can’t say I won’t hike alone again. Although I rarely do, sometimes circumstances happen. But I will be more careful with the daylight and time factor. I won’t walk in the wilderness by myself, etc . . . I will be careful, choosing wisely where I go by myself. I wish I could say I always have a partner, but I don’t.

  4. marsha says:

    Throughly enjoyed reading about your adventure, but the story was even better as you told it to me in person while we walked the glorious trails of Cabrillo. Rick called and said yes to another walk with us. Marsha

  5. Geri Wilson says:

    Marsha: You mean I don’t write as well as I talk?? Ha! Ha! I’ll get back to you via email regarding some hiking dates.

  6. Anonymous says:

    what an adventure Miss Geri, I loved reading & seeing your story, but I was so scared for you, but at the same time, realized, you wrote this story, so of course you were going to make it, thank God, Bill was there….they say, most people die doing what they love best, hope this won’t be your destiny…Love you Geri, Please be safe, Love, Alicia

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s