Updated: Mar 13
Sometimes, and let's be honest here, many times we fail. There is some form of goal that we want so badly, but it just doesn't work out. This was my recent experience on San Gorgonio Mountain. By all definitions this is no small mountain and after some overestimations of my abilities and the underestimations of "Old Grayback", I learned that no one is a superhero. We have to fight hard to reach the goals we set for ourselves. Whether it is on a mountain or not, there is going to be a lot of work to do.
Full transparency, this isn't an excuse just a gross miscalculation that is actually semi embarrassing, I was coming off a two week vacation (no hiking) and I got covid a little less than a week after getting back. It was 5 days after being cleared of covid that I attempted San Gorgonio Mountain and it became apparent that I was in no shape to be up there. However, I kept going for a couple of reasons. The first being that my wife dropped me off, took the car and I had no way home. The second being the biggest reason. It hurts, but I'm not in danger of dying right now and I came out here to see what I can do. Something in my head let me know as I climbed my way up to camp that the summit didn't seem likely the next morning.
Late afternoon I rolled into camp and began setting up my tent. Exhausted, yet completely in awe of the beauty around me, I settled in with some downloaded podcasts and a protein bar. After a couple hours of relaxing, mostly feeling disillusioned that maybe I could run up the mountain early tomorrow and it would be easier, I heard the tapping and scraping of a deer just outside my tent. Reading of bear sightings in the area just a few days before you can understand why first grabbed the bear spray before peeking to see where the noises were coming from. The false alarm turned into a beautiful moment between myself and this doe enjoying her evening snacks
At about 5:45 am the next morning I was woken up by the grunts and scratching noises coming from directly behind my head. My deer friend had come back to make sure I got an early start to my day of suffering. Packing up all my gear and smashing a quick breakfast took up enough time for me to get on the trail by 6:10 am. I may have taken a minute or two to mentally prepare. Shoving the last bit of my photography gear into my pack, finishing the 57.8 lbs, I heaved it on my back and took off in the direction of the summit.
Attitude is everything. Not just in this, but in life. Metaphorically, we're all on a mountain aiming for the summit. How we take that journey means success or failure. When I stepped onto the trail that morning, I had a bad mental attitude. I all but admitted to the two passing hikers I met that I wasn't going to make it. I was constantly asking myself why I decided to come out here and most importantly I could feel the effects it had on my physical performance. The negativity had made every step agonizing. Hyper focused on the burning in my legs, back and neck it kept deteriorating my performance which worsened my attitude. I knew this was my fault. If I spent the appropriate time recovering and training it could have been a completely different outcome, but overall it was a negative attitude that kept me from succeeding.
I remember stopping for a photo of this opening in some trees lining the edge of the trail. It had an amazing view, but I just couldn't care. It was like I knew I should take the picture, but I honestly didn't care if I did or didn't or even if I just fell down right there. At least then I could relax right? That was my sign. Through all the negativity in my attitude and physical fatigue I still had to make smart decisions up there. It was time to call it and turn around. Far from reluctant in my physical body, I can still hear the little voice in the back of my head telling me just how many miles shy from the top I was, 3.2. To some that seems like a long way, others it's a leisure and no problem. That day it might as well been the entire climb up Everest unfolded right in front of me.
The funny thing is I found it easier in the moment to call it and turn around. Physically just shy of three miles left and I walked away. Now sitting and thinking of it, it feels like a much bigger loss. The same voice that overestimated my abilities, underestimated the mountain and in turn was the voice that filled my head with failure is now telling me I could have. This has taught me one of the best lessons of doing this kind of thing and even just for life. Even if we don't make it to the top, there are valuable lessons to learn from your efforts. I may have not made the summit, but I captured some images that I find to be amazing and focussing on the successes over the one failure can help with getting into a good mindset and ready for round two.
Standing on the peak and sharing a selfie of me bagging Southern California's tallest peak would have felt great, but the lessons were a bigger victory. I learned that our limitations are not where our journey ends, it is where we become better. We learn to overcome negativity, adversity and the incessant need to complete the task. We learn that there is a victory, in a sense, to recognize a weakness and focus on strengthening it instead of blindly ignoring it with the idea that a false bravado can carry you past your limitations.
I am currently back to training and getting ready for my second attempt on "Old Grayback". I am excited to have a sense of clarity on what to expect and where my conditioning should be. Even more prepared, recovered and training for the next time has greatly improved my attitude about this endeavor as well. It is an amazing place to see and surreal as you climb your way to the summit. A combination that will have me obsessed forever.
Written by Cooper Graham