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Sugarloaf Mountain

12 August 2001

By: Karen Isaacson Leverich


(Almost)
Leaders: Ginny Heringer, Sherry Ross, Southern Courtney, Byron Prinzmetal

George: To properly study sedge, you need a special tool: a sedge hammer. Ginny or Sherry, contemplating a difficult to identify flower: Plants don't move around - but they make up for it in other ways.

I wasn't intending to hike last Sunday. After making a fool of myself panting my way up Kratka Ridge, I'd intended to just relax, loaf around the house, smell the flowers, work on my tan, something. But Brian's interested in obtaining leadership training, and a natural science credit was on offer for this interesting sounding natural science hike. And really, to be honest, sitting around doing nothing sounds pretty boring when compared to going on a hike. I'm hooked, I was an easy sell.

So after collecting a couple like minded companions at the Pomona rideshare point, we were off to Sugarloaf Mountain, southeast of Big Bear Lake. The natural science was to take priority, but we were kind of hoping to bag the peak. Especially true for Doris Duval, who had almost but not quite made it last year.

There were eighteen or twenty of us, including Ginny Heringer, Sherry Ross, Byron Prinzmetal and George Wysup. We slowly sauntered up the trail beside a creek, being introduced to different types of pine and oak, the mountain mahoghany, scarlet buglers and other confusingly similar red flowers, nettles and sedge and reeds and clover. Not to mention a DYC (da-ned yellow composite), apparently very tough to properly identify. (So just call it a daisy and be done with it!)

They showed us how, on willows and other plants, certains wasps will inject a chemical that causes the plant to grow a protective gall. The wasp inserts an egg at the same time, and the grub feeds on the gall as it grows. So we watched for galls, and when we found some, opened them to see if we could find one with a grub. Eventually, success! We were told the grubs were edible, and darned if someone didn't eat the one we found. Me, I think I'll just take along a few extra packets of Power Gel in my Ten Essentials, ewwww!

Normally, I'd've just tramped by, with a pleasant impression of green and forest, so was pleasantly surprised at the diversity of plant life we were shown, and the diversity of habitats, none very far removed from the other. Thanks to Ginny and Sherry for sharing their enthusiasm with us!

After awhile, we stopped for a rest break. I have one of those Suunto wrist altimeters, so glanced at it to see how we were doing, if we had much further to go. I suppose this was due to the unstable atmospheric conditions, but whew! over the course of a few minutes, simply sitting there on that log, I gained then lost two or three hundred feet of elevation. I almost felt motion sick. Crazy weather.

Eventually we arrived at the top of the ridge, and juncted (so it's not a word: it should be) with the trail coming up from the south. Byron asked for a show of hands of those who had a map of the peak, a map being one of the ten essentials. Very few hands showed, but Brian and I had maps, and held ours up. Byron: "Right. No one has a map. Everyone is depending on the leaders to find the way!" Anonymous participant: "Where the he-- is Mars when you need him?" Because part of the purpose of this hike was to train new leaders, Byron told an anecdote of a group that straggled into three clumps while hiking on a trail, the first with a leader, the last with a leader, and the middle without, and how the middle went astray and got lost. So keep your group together or pause at tricky intersections or leave at least one person at the intersection to make sure the next clump makes the right turn.

Well, enough of that pedagogical stuff! For me, the real treat came at the top of the ridge -- a change in the trees. The forest we'd been exploring gave way to one unlike any I'd ever seen before: huge ancient junipers. I normally think of junipers as being a bit on scrubby side, growing in the transition area between desert and denser woods. But these were both majestic and dramatic. Wonderful! Then later on, higher up yet, the parklike forest of lodgepole pines that I've seen elsewhere in the San Bernardino mountains, and loved each time, like a forest in a fairy tale, somehow poetic and unreal.

Unfortunately, clouds had been building and looking more dramatic (dramatic is good in the context of junipers, bad in the context of clouds) all morning, and while we were on the ridge, a fraction of a mile from the peak, they started thumping and banging over San Gorgonio way. The leaders conferred, and decided we really ought to head back. Quickly. "What about lunch?" the hikers asked plaintively. "After we get =off= this ridge," responded Byron, more focussed on our safety than our stomachs. He was willing to take us down cross-country on a nearby promising ridge, but many of the participants had come prepared only for a walk on a trail, some were wearing sandals, and weren't too pleased by the prospect of cross-country. So we scurried back on the trail, until we dropped down off the ridge, then settled in for the long awaited lunch.

Somehow we ended up discussing the ridge down off of Shields Peak. Someone proposed the ridge be named Sandy's Ridge, because Sandy busted her ankle there. (I'm sure she'd like that to be memorialized for all time?) Brian suggested instead it be called Burnside's Bane. Turns out that of the group up on Sugarloaf, only Byron, George, and I had ever been there. One of the hikers who had balked at the idea of descending a random ridge off Sugarloaf looked at me with awe-filled eyes. "You went down a ridge, off trail? Oooooh! But wasn't it dangerous? brushy? How did you get through?" Gee, I felt like Superwoman for a moment there. But quickly (little realizing how soon, as in within 24 hours, I'd be eating these words) reassured him that our leaders carefully selected ridges, prehiked them, scoped out in advance how to make it through the brush, so really, me being a humble participant and a follower in others' footsteps, it was no big deal at all. Try it, you'll like it. Much more adventurous than simply following a trail.

Coming next: Byron's and Mars' Excellent Adventure. (Our hike the next day to Grinnell and Lake, and down a totally new ridge or two.)

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