I like to be out of doors and doing things. I am very active, but more than that, I am curious. My curiosity invites trouble but I will never regret it… even if the forces of nature are against me.
In order to avoid the crowds, I woke up early, and headed out for one of the trails not on the map. It was 6AM on a weekday morning. The sun was warm but hidden behind the mountain. There was a cool breeze coming down from the peak of Mt. Wilson. I only passed one person coming down as I was going up. I asked him jokingly if he had seen any bears. He said “Just the one in my yard last night. Nothing on the trail.”
Local maps of Mt. Wilson show six different trails but there are many more than that. Hiking the main trail just off of Baldwin avenue, in Sierra Madre, I ran across several groups of greater than five… on a Monday afternoon… during working hours. That is what made me decide to go on the lesser known trail behind the monastery.
They are both steep climbs but not so steep as to need special equipment. For my gear I pack a walking stick, a lighter, a Swiss Army knife, a backpack with some rations for my dogs, a cell phone, and some water. There is water along the trail but you should not drink it. It is usually safe but you never know if there is something rotting in the water just up stream from you.
Local rumor says there is a mountain lion in the area but that rumor is always around. I have my dog, a german sheppard, and my nephew’s dog, a pit bull with me, so I am not too worried. The combined weight of me and the two dogs is about 400 lbs. but just to be safe, I always carry a shirasaya with me.
After the first mile of hiking the sweat is starting to pour out of me. It’s pretty steep to start with but the Southern California warmth keeps me very red. At the one and a half mile marker I see something of interest. My dog is sniffing what looks like bear scat. Looking around I notice there are several bear paw marks in the soft dirt all around. The prints are big, but not grizzly size. They are probably from a two year old California Black bear. I wasn’t expecting this. Quickly I try to remember if black bears or brown bears are aggressive. I know it’s not a grizzly because they were wiped out in 1922 by hunters.
I decided to keep going because bears are nocturnal for the most part and it is definitely day time, judging from the glaring heat. I chuckle to myself “maybe if I’m lucky, the mountain lion will attack the bear, instead of me.”
As we continue onward, patches of sun are coming in through the trees, and shining down on me. I don my hiking hat. A little bit after the two mile marker, me and my dogs reach the ruins of a stone house. There is a little stream here so I decide to water the dogs. Coming around the slope to the water I raise my head and what do I see? It looks like a coyote but it is too large to be. It can’t be a wolf because they are almost extinct as well. It trots away into the woods before I can get a good look at it. Wolves are scary because they can run twice as far and twice as fast as, not only me, but the fastest human ever recorded. Luckily, for me and my dogs, they are afraid of people.
I will never know if it was a wolf or a coyote so we continue on. After the dry, hot, rocky area, we come to an outcropping of lavender plants all along the hillside. The smell is wonderful and fills the air for a half mile. Coming into some tall pines I notice there is poison oak all along the sides of the trail. The dogs are playing in it. After another half mile it turns into a forest. It has cooled off in the shade from the trees, and the moist smell of the forest creek below us, fills my nose.
We finally reach the five mile marker where there is a stream and a place to rest. The dogs head up stream to drink out of it as I stretch my legs. I am tired, red in the face, and a little dizzy. There is something wrong here. I’m not sure what it is but something doesn’t smell right. It smells rotten. Just then, I notice that the dogs aren’t drinking the water. As I look around and attempt to figure it out, I realize that the dogs are sniffing a deer, well… the upper half of a deer. I guess there is a mountain lion on the loose. Just then I hear a low guttural growl. My eyes dart around the bushes and trees looking for the source. My walking stick flies off to reveal the sword hidden within. I pause a minute, sword raised, sweat pouring, and listen. It sounds like the engine of a plane. I say to my dogs “wait a minute, it is the engine of a plane” as I look up. It has just come out from behind the hillside. The dogs are not on their guard so I guess there is nothing in the area to be afraid of. What ever killed this deer is not around at the moment.
That does it for me. We have pushed our luck too far. We have crossed bear tracks, seen a wolf, and have seen evidence of a mountain lion. I know that to tempt fate, mother nature, and murphy’s law any further is only to invite disaster. I sheath my shirasaya and we head back down. Just as we are passing the lavender that we saw earlier, I notice a humming sound. It is a hive of roaming bees stuck to a tree branch. Just then, a bee lands right on my neck and stings me directly on my carotid artery. I pull the bee off and start running full speed down the trail. The reason is; when a bee stings you, it releases a hormone that tells all the nearby bees to attack. I do not plan on sticking around to see if they do.
The last leg of the trip, with about a half mile left to go, my nephew’s dog walks right over a five foot Mojave green. I don’t notice until I am right on it. I make a huge leap over it and at the same time yell at my dog “WAIT.” My dog freezes in its tracks. She knows exactly what the tone in my voice means.
This snake is ugly. The Mojave green is a local abomination. The story goes like this; the CIA cross bred poisonous snakes to make the most deadly species they could.This snake is the result. Once they were done with the snakes, they turned them all loose, and now they roam around So Cal. If it bites you, you have 20 minutes to reach the doctor or its all over. It is something to be aware of if you plan on enjoying nature between Death Valley, the Mojave Desert and Los Angeles.
This is Murphy’s Law trying to catch up with us. The animal kingdom threw everything it had at us. Luckily for me, and my dog, she is well trained. The snake wasn’t as hostile as rumored but it was very mobile. It first squirmed towards me and then away. The whole time it had its rattle blazing like an over weight mariachi musician. It took a couple of strikes at my stick but has a range of under two feet. I was able to fend it off with my walking stick and drop it down a 200 foot cliff.
The dogs, having no clue what I had gone through, wagged their tails and smiled. I could feel the bee sting turning hard on my neck as we finished up our ten mile hike.
Those of us who know the joys of being out of doors know exactly what I’m thinking. We would never give up these hikes for all the animal dangers in the world. These hikes are how we stay fit, keep healthy, see nature, and most of all, get away from the everyday burdens of busy city life. More than that, they are the most adventure we can have, short of joining the army and going to Iraq.