Last Wednesday I woke up to dark cloudy skies with no sunshine in sight. Rain looked imminent. The clouds were low and I couldn’t see the peak of Mt. Lukens behind my house. The forecasted storm appeared to be arriving on schedule. I checked the weather channel application on my phone and noticed an interesting change from the forecast of the night before. The new weather prediction at my house (indicated with a cloudy icon with rain) was for a 50% chance of rain. On the other hand, Mt. Wilson (a half hour away) showed a 10% chance of rain (indicated by a sunny icon with some clouds). I contacted my friend Lorenzo who lives on the Mojave Desert side of the San Gabriel Mountains and learned that he was seeing sunny skies from his house. Being on the front end of the incoming storm, it looked like a prime opportunity to do some cloud chasing. Even if I didn’t find myself touching clouds, I imagined that the sky would be magnificent.
I decided to drive up to Eaton Saddle and hike up to San Gabriel Peak (next to Mt. Wilson). San Gabriel Peak is only a little more that a mile from Eaton Saddle. Therefore, if the weather changed on me I wouldn’t be that far from my car. The view from Eaton Saddle was promising. Clouds were making their way up through Eaton Canyon below me and clouds were forming over a thousand feet above me. It appeared the clouds from below would make it high enough up the mountains to cover some of the peaks. I quickly hiked the short way up to San Gabriel Peak hoping to get there before it was covered in clouds. Once on the peak however, the clouds below started to look like they would burn off and they were closer to looking like a layer of smog as they formed a fairly uniform surface. I couldn’t see the city below, but I could see the ocean off in the distance. Initially I was disappointed. While it was a great view, the promise of having an exciting day of clouds overtaking the peaks below like I experienced before was unlikely to be replicated.
San Gabriel Peak at 6,161 feet is the tallest peak in its immediate vicinity and it’s also small in area at the peak (about the size of a large living room). I find the ability to stand in one spot and look down on the terrain far off into the distance in all directions makes it one of the forests best places to be. So, I didn’t remain disappointed long. I was unsure what to do however. I didn’t have enough time to go on a much longer hike. I couldn’t possibly get beyond where I had been a couple days earlier with family and friends and my preference for variety made me resistant to simply doing that again.
Normally I don’t stay in one spot longer than a half an hour, and staying that long usually involves eating lunch. I’m usually trying to get my hike completed before I run out of daylight, or exploring new areas and want to see more, or I have somewhere else I need to be requiring me to get down the mountain. As I was starting to get a little antsy walking around the summit, taking in the views, and trying to come up with a plan of what to do next; the phrase don’t just do something, sit there popped into my head. So, I sat on the bench made from a steel c-section beam and enjoyed being on the summit. By that time the clouds were starting to get a little more puffy below me and more clouds were starting to form above me. I decided to stay a while and see if something interesting developed.
Fortunately, I remembered I had a small journal and pen in my backpack. I realized I could invest some time jotting down ideas and working on clearing up my thinking on a number of things I’m trying to figure out. Among the many things I worked on was fine tuning my ideas to create two new weekly series of blog posts which I began a couple days later (Weekly Gallery Update and Weekly Nature Question). While jotting ideas down, the clouds slowly began getting more dominant in the sky. The progression moving from mostly sunny skies to two layers of storm clouds was something I found exciting to behold.
The timing of this progression was perfect. It didn’t start to sprinkle on me until it was time for me to leave anyway. It had turned out to be a gorgeous and unexpectedly productive day on the mountain. As I turned to leave the peak, I admired the view of Mt. Wilson and the sunny skies beyond to the east. A few minutes later I saw a rainbow looking north. The rest of the way back to my car I thought about the fact that I was actually fairly productive while having this wonderful day on the mountain. I could easily bring some reading and plan to write and think through ideas on future outings where the hike isn’t the central component–this one being just over two miles round trip. While I will continue to mostly go on longer hikes where the focus is on either training or exploring new areas, I plan to try a couple days a month that are more like this experience and see if I’m as productive.
I hope that in my lifetime I get the opportunity to hike in the places you write about …
you’ve persuaded me — i gotta put that hike on my hit list. beauty. by the way, i got a nice picture or two on that same day of the dual cloud layer — one above me, one below — while i was doing a trail run up to Inspiration Point/Echo Mtn. A strange and beautiful day
I’m sure it was a pretty good view from there too. You could do a trail run from Eaton Saddle down to Inspiration Point and bag Mt. Markham and Mt. Lowe and then finish the day on San Gabriel Peak before returning to Eaton Saddle. Mileage and gain would be close to the same. San Gabriel Peak won’t disappoint.
. . . close to heaven!
woah this is dope. first, i love writing and thinking about life after hikes. and the clouds look so awesome. One time when i was coming down from baldy i was literally surrounded by fog and the wind blows them past the mountain. it was a bit scary but cool.
Thanks, Baldy would be an interesting place for that. In 2011, it was one of the places I learned firsthand how quickly blue skies could turn into a lightening storm in summer. Got caught in one about a mile away from the summit on the trail from the Visitor’s Center.