Re-Summitting Mount Gower 5 Months Later

Last Saturday, January 9th, I decided that I was going to attempt the 8+ mile hike up Mount Gower again. This mountain is in Ramona, and while it is not at a high elevation, it was particularly challenging when I first attempted it August of last year. The rolling bumps, the 80+ degree summer weather, and lack of water made for a poison oak inducing excursion that I never want to experience again.

Needless to say, I was timid about approaching this hike. What sold me on it, however, was the fact that the weather was cooler, I had better equipment, and I was more skilled now. My lifesavers on this trip were my new Black Diamond Alpine Ergo Cork Trekking Poles:

Trekking Poles – REI

So, I embarked early that morning in the chilly weather to meet my fate. As I started on the trail, the trekking poles really helped propel me through the winding and mostly flat trail at the bottom. I was charging and making excellent time! By the time I made it past the switchbacks, I saw a trickling stream and clawlike rock formation that really tickled my inner nature buff.

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As I progressed, the trail got more technical and less defined (as I knew it would become). Fear started to set in. The remaining ascent to what I thought was the summit was across steep granite faces and chaparral. I pushed forth, exchanging kind words with people coming down. I slipped a few times, but remained confident in the fact that I was making such great time. Not to mention, my boots were a great help as compared to the running shoes I wore on my last attempt 🙂

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Finally, I reached what I thought was the summit.  I wasn’t nearly as exhausted as the last time, I had plenty of water left, and I could really take in the beauty that surrounded me! I had proved to myself that my skills were improving and that I was getting in better shape.

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Then, I realized that I wasn’t at the true summit after looking at my maps. Damn! All this effort, and I’m not even at the top? I looked for a trail going to the true summit, but couldn’t find any. Great. In my frustration, I was a buzzkill and told the other “summitting” group that we weren’t really at the summit. They decided to not push forward and headed back down the mountain. Not me, though! I had to prove to myself that I could handle this mountain in its entirety. So, I got my bearing and set off through the back country.

At first, I was excited. My ego kicked in and I felt like a badass! Who knew that I would be doing something like this at this early stage of my hiking career? Then, the bushes got really thick and almost impassable. My body was catching on random twigs and branches, and I felt like I was making no progress at all. I compulsively checked my GPS to make sure I was on the right track, and occasionally found open spaces that were easier to traverse.

Clouds started to roll in, and I felt water on my face. “This isn’t good…” I thought to myself. But I risked the rain and continued on to gain that extra 50 feet to say I reached the summit. The pursuit was somewhat ridiculous, given the circumstances and reward, but I got good training for when I have to bushwhack again.

After reaching the knoll and walking around until my GPS indicator laid flat on top of the summit indicator on my map, I reached THE SUMMIT! As an aside, I bet you couldn’t tell that I’m a bit perfectionistic 😉

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Off in the distance of the last photo, is the false summit. Looks close, but it was quite the journey! Coming down, back toward the established trail, I tried finding an easier route. I was mostly successful, but traversing a slanted face without a trail was definitely unsettling; especially when my GPS told me the trail was “right there” but I couldn’t see it yet!

When I did get back to the trail, I sensed that I should probably eat and rest, but I charged forth so I could knock out as many of the steep bumps before I took a break and got more tired. This tactic worked, but I was so fatigued when I got to my rest stop (full body workout with the trekking poles!), that I had lost most of my appetite and had to lay down to recuperate.

After about twenty minutes, I got my gear ready and set off. The steep bumps weren’t as bad as the last time, but I was still pretty tired. The most frustrating part of the trip was coming back to the flatlands with the winding trails. I could see the trailhead, but the trail kept walking past it! It was a lesson in patience for sure, and I prayed for the strength to continue, with a few expletives along the way.

After a winding eternity, I made it back to my car. The trail was amazing, and if anything, was more psychologically challenging than physically. Chasing the carrot at the end of a stick, if you will. I drenched myself in cold faucet water and laid down in the car before taking off. The chill of the water, the relaxation, and the sense of achievement made the whole trip worth it.

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I got to conquer a peak in its entirety, break in some new gear, and challenge myself physically and mentally. These are all worthwhile experiences, especially considering I got a permit to do the John Muir Trail in June solo. I know that will test my mettle, so I may as well build up my physical and mental stamina while I can!

As always, I appreciate you reading and hope you remember to take a hike and spice up your life!

-Doug

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