Monday, May 12, 2008

Cuyamaca Mountain (2008)

Cuyamaca mountain towers majestically over the southern Californian desert. A forest fire four years back has diminished some of its glory, but the new landscape is no less striking. Skeletons of burnt trees stick out like pine needles on a lush green carpet of shrubs and grass. It's a grim reminder that, in spite of all our advances, mother nature still dances to her own tune. Srujan first proposed that we hike Cuyamaca two weeks back. I wasn't sure. My last hike was a very painful experience. I was shown up by Kanush, then 18 months old, who beat me to the top of the mountain. I was discouraged, demoralised, ridiculed and outright humiliated. Of course I blame Pratibha . What are wives for if not to shoulder the blame? She feeds me too much. She should make me work .. push me off that armchair every once in a while. By selfishly doing all the house work all by herself, she tilted the scales in Kanush's favour. It's all her fault. poor poor me. But that incident served as a trigger, and ever since I have made it a point to hit the gym regularly. Consequently, I am now proud to say that I can beat an older and stronger Kanush (she's 2 years now) to the top of any mountain of her choice. The problem I had with Srujan's suggestion is that the hiking group he had in mind were not toddlers. So where did I stand in the middle of that? However, the pictures were spectacular and I decided I had to do it.

Twelve of us were to gather at the base of the trail at 6:30 sharp .. Indian time. haven't heard of Indian standard time? To make it to a trail at 6:30 sharp Indian time, you should get up at 6:35. Then, take your own sweet time dressing up and be out of the door at 7:30. If you reach the trail before 8, you'll be the first one there. Srujan had sent out driving directions. If no one knew the way to the trail it wouldnt have been a problem but as it was, there was only one car of four people that dint know the way and had to follow Srujan's directions. Therefore, two cars reached the trail head and this one group ended up in a remote outpost with more coyotes than cars around them. They also saw a huge snow capped mountain that they thought was the one they were supposed to climb. Frantic phone calls to the rest of the group allayed their fears and by 8:00 we were all ready to start the hike. By now I was an experienced hiker. There was no way I was going to underestimate the height of the mountain or overestimate the limited capacity of my lungs. I took it slow, real slow. After a while, the long shadows of the trees and the eerie noises of the forest started to affect me. I was wondering if I should try and catch up when a friendly rattle snake nearby rattled it tail in greeting. I shot off in pursuit of the group and caught up with them beside a burnt out hollow tree. Dang .. these trails .. wont even let a poor soul take it at his own pace. My next best option was to fall in step with the next slowest group, Suneel and his wife Sindu. Suneel was going slow because 8 miles, by his standards, wasn't even worth going fast. He was a marathon runner. Sindu and I were on the same boat. 8 miles would be the average distance we cover in one year. I fell in step with them and Suneel and I got talking. Suneel had also trained for Badminton and the poor fellow did not realise what he was getting into when he told me that he used to play. All exhaustion left me as Nishant- former National champ took over. I started off with my tall tales.. the workouts, the glory, the pain, in short .. the full 25 course meal. 8 miles .. heck I could have gone 800 miles like that. But after a while Suneel started to feel the strain and so I stopped once we reached the top. The view was great. The rest of the group had this odd impatient look on their face which told me that had probably reached there a few hundred minutes before me .. but I assure you, if Kanush were there, I'd have beaten her.

We started down in a few minutes and I tortured Suneel with another couple of quick rounds of stories. He was saved by a group on horseback that we met. They told us the history of Cuyamaca and how beautiful it was before the fire. The were a riding club with a difference. Every week they would read some book, then ride up a trail, have a picnic and discuss the book. They were also very involved in work to restore Cuyamaca to its old glory. They worked with groups to plant trees all over the mountain. It would be another fifty years before they grow, but it's a start. A very erudite group, they had such beautiful tales to tell us that even I forgot to boast. Time flew and I was at the bottom in no time at all. I couldn't believe it when I was told that the trek had taken more than 5 hours.

I loved the trek. This group is going to Hike the half dome in Yosemite in June. I'm joining them, but for some reason Suneel has decided not to come.