Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Ojai Triple Crown, a 28 mile masochistic odyssey

Welcome to the 2nd (apparently) Annual Ojai Triple Crown. Take Hines Peak, Topa Topa Peak, and Chief Peak, and do 'em all in a day. Here's the stats, and I'll fill in more below:
Miles:  28.9
Elevation gain for the day:  >7,000 feet
Time from start to finish:  12:40

I start walking at 04:30, an hour made even more distasteful by the time change. It is cool and very dark. Patches of luminous moonlight filter through the trees overhead, but the trail remains a black tunnel extending before me. My headlamp is not necessary, but I employ it anyway. The last several times out I've seen cat tracks and this is on my mind in this darkest hour before dawn. Cat eyes reflect light, thus the headlamp. I feel I am moving at a glacial pace, easing through a black world of small rustles and faint breezes. My surgically enhanced night-vision is voided by the headlamp. Every few minutes I pull a "Crazy Ivan", check my six, sweep my backtrail and the surrounding forest with the light, sometimes stopping just to listen. This is not paranoia, this is prudence.
Last year, on the inaugural slog, I didn't quite know how I would feel or how long the day would take, and as a result, I was more concerned with time. I prosecuted it like a war. On that occasion, I felt like I did myself a disservice, like I rushed the day and consequently paid for it in post hike shin-splints and fatigue. Today I choose not to worry about it. I note only the main points, the start and end times and the summits. I strictly ignore my watch for the rest of the day. Time doesn't matter. I concentrate on efficiency, taking constant systems readings, fine tuning my gait, focused entirely on how I feel. I realize that, if I do this "wrong" I could be paying for days afterward. However it turns out, I have to be able to work tomorrow. There is a real world and today I walk it's trails, for tomorrow I pay it's bills in an alternate, less enjoyable reality.

Above and below, Chief Peak at sunrise.

I shiver for a moment in the dark hollow of White Ledge. So far I am feeling this. This crazy thing I've set out to do. I strap into my pack and tackle the stretch before me. Some time later I take off the headlamp and restore my knife to it's usual location on a back pocket ( I had had it clipped to a glove). I'm warmed up now and my pace feels normal for me and, though I don't care, I am sure that I'm already an hour behind last year's time. I pause for a moment under Topa to stash Gatoraid and a PB &J sandwich. No sense carrying these items up Hines if I'm just coming back this way in a few hours. I leave a similar cache at the saddle that separates the two peaks. I am in the weak morning sunlight now. Hines peak is obstructed from view by a lesser hill but that is where I aim myself and that is what I'll climb.

The moon sets on the flank of Topa Topa.

As the miles unfold before me, and Hines Peak gets larger in the windshield, my mind travels down various paths of it's own. I am in synch with myself and my environment. Things are clicking now. Samadhi. My life's true soundtrack sings to me, the crunch of soft footsteps and the whisper of a breeze in my ear. The trail is a lonely space, a laser line through my immediate universe. Where it leads, I go. Soon I stand before the steep slope of Hines. I imagine myself on that unremarkable summit of sticks and stones. I will myself there and I am.

An ancient bit of detritus, found on Hines.
I sign the log atop Hines for the nth time and remind myself that this place needs a new summit journal. The sun is higher now, but brings little warmth. The Stillman apparatus is running at all systems nominal. I note the time in my journal and exit the peak. On the trail again, my mind wanders it's myriad planes while the legs pump and the eyes rove. I retrieve my cache No.1 and move south toward the summit of Topa. Three crows pinwheel across the summit as I roll up to the stone bench. They call to one another as they swoop and dive. I am not alone here. I ingest the contents of my cache, converting carbohydrates and protein into glucose. Installing fresh reactor rods. I take in the view, which, given today's aims, is somewhat dispiriting. The conical summit of Chief Peak is so very far away. The chance to turn back, to call it a day and be self-satisfied, to retreat, lies just below. So easy to return the way I came and stop this madness before someone gets hurt. Clearly I have sat upon this bald summit long enough. My mind is trying to kill me.

A look back towards Topa taken from afar.
Regulation Time Out. Topa Topa.
Rehydrating the organism. Chief Peak.

As I descend Topa the breeze stiffens and my crows are kiting away. It is just me and the winding vagaries of the Nordoff Ridge. I retrieve my second cache of food and fluids. The miles unwind below me. I am well into this now, having long since passed any egress that would allow an easy out. I pass the radio towers, and a little later I turn a blind eye to the junction pointing down Sisar Rd and Horn Canyon. I will be there soon enough, yet there remains business to conduct. The way lies west now, across the great, looping turns of the road. Chief is before me now, seperated from me by a deep cleft. The road continues it's inane series of twists and turns, doubling the distance between me and my omega point, the zenith, the last of the up. I soon stand below the ragged scar which ascends Chief's southern ridge. Soon after I stand above it looking down, down to the Ojai Valley which is obscured in a gauzy haze of moisture. I enjoy my break on the summit. I realize that I feel remarkably good. I have benefited from a disciplined approach to water and calories, reaping the rewards of experience. Many more miles to go, though, before my distant terminus.

My friends, the crows, have returned to honor me with their croaking seranade. My mind again wanders where it will while I trudge down the long slope. The crows have now startled a large red tailed hawk and are harrying her across the sky. I am descending quickly now. I pop my ears. The trail wends its rocky route and I follow. Down low, less that a mile from the truck, I encounter the first humans of the day.  I catch their scent, smell their shampoo and deodorant long before I see them. They are loud and shuffling creatures, enjoying their brief foray into the woods. They are entirely oblivious to my presence until I am already upon them. I see them through cat's eyes. They behave like prey. They are those who do not see and cannot hear.

Here's what helped cut the mustard:
Water {3.75 Litres}
Gatoraid {1 Litre}
5 Hour Energy {2}
PB & J Sandwiches {2}
Tiger Milk Bars {2}
Cliff Bar {1}
GU or Accel Gels {6}
Advil {1600mg)
and as always, everything I would need to survive for 24 hours if I had to.
By the way, that whole "not looking at the clock" thing paid off. I knocked 20 minutes off the last time I did this, probably because I wasn't even trying to. And by the way, I feel capital.


  1. Hey David, I've enjoyed all of your recent writeups and photos. Really great trips. Hope to meet up with you again some time. Take care. Later.

  2. Why didn't you take the long route?

    That is some of your best writing. I really enjoyed reading that.

  3. Hi, stumbled across your awesome blog via Jacks. Did you by chance happen to notice if the trees that were planted at Elder Camp had survived the dry winter? I planted 13 trees around the camp in November and haven't been able to hike up to see if they took. Just curious if you happened to rest there and notice. Cheers.