The Big Tahquitz: Raw and Exposed

By Allan W..

Tonight, as I was laying in the tub pregnant with Epsom salts, I closed my eyes as my sore muscles began to relax. I tried to think of nothing in order to simply concentrate on my breathing. But, soon, I saw Glen pirouetting gracefully in hiking boots, Bill sunning peacefully upon a large rock against the backdrop of Hidden Lake, Alan sitting on the huge log, silently taking in the majestic scenery at our campsite, Donnie swimming effortlessly across Hidden Lake in his Screw U underwear, Mike B. laughing his deep, resonant, infectious laugh, Andy proudly showing off the blue card that certifies him as a member of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Squirrels after we had climbed to the Lookout Tower at Tahquitz Peak, vegetarian Mike scurrying expertly along the ruby rocks of Red Tahquitz, and ...

The images, as if in a photo album, depicted an awesome weekend. For me, it started on the car ride. Glen, Bill, and Andy immediately made me feel comfortable. Once everyone arrived at Humber Park, I evaluated my surroundings ... and, I was intimidated. These 7 strapping men, rugged, adventurous, seemingly unfazed by the fact we were about to embark on a 20 mile backpacking trek. By the way, I'm Allan, dubbed 'Cherry' by Andy because this was my first backpacking expedition ever. But, let's get back to the men. We started strong and within the first 10 minutes, I was thinking I am in so over my head. But the lush greens of the forest coupled with the smells of verdant growth motivated me.

Upon reaching the first peak of our journey - Tahquitz Peak - and looking out at the earth below, all my doubts disappeared. To be able to breathe true mountain air and be eye level with the birds was spectacular. The veterans asserted which peak was which while recounting previous trips. I listened and was taken by their extensive experiences. Almost forgot. We had the pleasure of seeing this cute guy in running shorts who turned out to be Andy Skurka, Backpacker Magazine's 2005 Person of the Year. He just embarked on the PCT. Bill and Donnie made time with him and were very impressed with the size of his package ... his go-lite package, that is.

Our next hike led us to Red Tahquitz. I really thought I wasn't going to make it a few times, but Andy was there the whole way, silently supporting me. All that strain was tucked away as I reached the summit. Once again, the view was awe-inspiring and it was made more so because I had fought so hard to get up there.

The group was great lots of laughter, friendly gibes, and conversations that attested to the fact that these guys were worldly, intelligent, honest, and all the other cool attributes one looks for in friends. As the earth goddess remarked, we were definitely not boy scouts.

Speaking of honesty, I was ecstatic to finally be at our camping destination. I was thoroughly exhausted. At the impromptu slumber party, we gathered on Mike's tarp and talked and laughed even more. We were treated to a gourmet ion of salmon and fettuccine with a spiced cream sauce (there were actual capers in the dish - yum yum) or Thai chicken and rice. I'm not one for specifics and, because I was so tired, I remember even less but I do remember the plans for designer walkers and how Mike was going to metamorphose into a beautiful butterfly in the morning and the debate about whether or not pink lemons really do exist. Yeah, we were silly and happy and ... well, then I passed out. Did I really see Donnie's naked butt in the middle of the night? Hmmm.

Everything about Sunday morning was casual and leisurely - except Andy. I think a bug crawled into his tent during the night and ... well, you can imagine. He was lively and ready to go which definitely forecast the energy I'd need for the day. We hiked at a quick clip, stopping every so often to gaze at the views. And like that, we arrived at the wooden phallus, which, by the way, seemed to be a reoccurring theme - you should have seen that tree fungus and, oh, the topo map. I digress, though. After a quick hop over a small mound, a pristine lake appeared with tall grass, sprinkled with ladybugs, shooting out of the water. The view, once again, was spectacular - a panorama of Palm Springs. Blue-violet birds, red-crested woodpeckers, tadpoles, butterflies, a red-tailed hawk (at least that's what we thought), dragonflies, etc. cohabitated in this lush and serene environment.

We descended and met up at the vehicles where Glen, who had run down the mountain trail, was cleaned up and had cold drinks available. Aaahhhhh! It was a great feeling to have completed my first backpacking trip, a strenuous one no less, in more or less one piece (my knees were killing me).

We ate at Joanne's in Idyllwild, heard great karaoke, reminisced, and relaxed. I felt good. I felt part of the group. I felt even better after 2 glasses of Merlot. We hugged and went our separate ways but not before stopping off at the candy store.

I learned a lot on this trip. I kept my ears open and drank in all the great wisdom that was passed along. The one comment I remember and one day aspire to say myself is from videographer Mike (also known as vegetarian Mike above). He said what he loves about hiking is that he can count on the views like he does with friends, he knows their names, and he can identify them from any vantage point.

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