Ultra-endurance athlete, outdoor-adventure blogger and social media expert based in San Diego, California.

When I'm not online connecting people to the things they love to do, I'm out training for my next big adventure.

Check out my blog and connect with me on the social web.

9 Peak Challenge

Posted by Unknown Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On Friday I drove up to the +San Bernardino National Forest+ to take on the San Bernardino Traverse / 9 Peak Challenge as my final peak training weekend for the Vermont 100 Endurance Run. I checked in at the ranger station, cached a jug of water at the +Angelus Oaks+ trailhead (5,960’), set up camp at the +Vivian Creek+ trailhead (6,080’) and prepped my gear. I decided to go with a 2 a.m. start time to try and reach the summit of +San Gorgonio+ for sunrise, so I slept at 7:30 p.m. and set my alarm set for 1 a.m.

9 Peak Challenge 066

I never sleep well at altitude, and this time was no different. After quickly breaking down my camp, I geared up at my car and was on the trail by 2 a.m. for a 5,400’ ascent up the 8-mile trail to the peak of Mount San Gorgonio, the highest peak in Southern California (11,500’). My pace was fast because I was convinced I was going to be mauled by a mountain lion or bear, so I wanted to reach higher altitude where I know they don’t travel often because there isn’t an abundance of “food.” On the way up, the only wildlife I encountered (thankfully) was a little scorpion and a sizable spider. Besides that, when I got above the tree line, I was greeted with an unreal view of the crescent moon—so big and close, it felt like I could reach out and touch it.

Above the tree line, the wind gusts picked up speed, and I started to get cold. That was when I noticed the distant glow of a headlamp on the trail above. Humans! I overtook the pair of hikers in the final half mile before the summit. One was in really bad shape from the altitude. He was resting his head on his trekking pole when I greeted him. His speech was slurred, and he struggled to complete coherent sentences. His buddy was in better shape and wanted to chat but I was freezing at this point and told him I had to keep moving. Here’s a video of the final stretch to the top:

I thought that watching the sun rise from the highest point in southern California was going to be a treat but it was painfully cold at this point with powerful wind gusts cutting right through my clothes and chilling my sweat. So with one peak down and eight to go, I set off to the west across the ridge of the San Bernardino mountain range.

9 Peak Challenge 097

Once the sun got high enough, it was comfortable. Well, as comfortable as running at 10,000+ feet above sea level can get :). I ran the flats and downhills, but walked the uphills to keep some energy “in the bank” for the long day ahead.

9 Peak Challenge 093

*San Gorgonio* (11,500’)
*Jepson* (11,205’)
*Little Charlton* (10,676’)
*Charlton* (10,806’)
*Alto Diablo* (10,563’)
*Shields Peak* (10,701’)
*Anderson Peak* (10,864’)
*San Bernardino East Peak* (10,691’)
*San Bernardino Peak* (10,649’)

This was pretty much the story for the run across the ridge, until I accidentally took a wrong turn and ran a half-mile in the wrong direction. Luckily, I crossed paths with a group of backpackers. Our conversation helped me determine where I went wrong, so I backtracked--only adding an additional mile to my day.

9 Peak Challenge 115

Aside from this group, I was alone on the ridge until the descent to Angelus Oaks after San Bernardino peak. My knees started to ache on the long and technical descent, so I was excited and relieved to reach the trailhead just after 10 a.m., having just completed the 26-mile San Bernardino Traverse / 9 Peak Challenge in under 8.5 hours (actually traveling 27 miles) and gaining more than 10,000 feet according to my Gamin data.

9 Peak Challenge 124
Looking back over the peaks

But my day was far from over, so I filled up my hydration reservoir with the water cache I left the day before and ran to highway 38. Most folks who attempt the traverse shuttle their cars, leaving one at each trailhead. But I traveled solo, so 10 miles separated me from my car at the Vivian Creek trailhead. Running this section of the 38 would have been too dangerous because it is a winding mountain road with little to no shoulder, so I hitched a ride with a local and got dropped of 5 miles later at the turnoff for Forest Falls.

With 27 extreme miles and well over 10,000’ of gain already under my legs, I had five more miles of uphill to travel with 1,400’ to gain. My Achilles tendon was inflamed from the 10+ times I rolled my ankle earlier so I walked the whole way, determined to suffer through it. I took a break at the Elkhorn general store and treated myself to a root beer (my favorite ultrarunning beverage) and was back to my car at the trailhead before noon. The 32-mile adventure took roughly 10 hours to complete.

9 Peak Challenge 057

I went straight into the mountain stream and soaked my throbbing feet in the crystal-clear, cold mountain slow melt while lying on a warm rock in the sun. After that, I was feeling good to go, so I packed up my car and drove back to San Diego. I treated myself to a huge fish burrito and downed a few tasty beers for dinner :)

The hardest of the work is done, so now it’s time to recover, maintain, taper, and get super organized mentally and logistically for the VT100 on 7/18 – 7/19! My trip back east starts in a little over two weeks, and I feel like I’m on target for a solid performance on race day!