It was my first time hiking above the clouds on that mountain.
That treacherous mountain.
But it was not Duy’s first time. For you see, he climbs these mountains quite often.
Once a week, twice a week, or three times a month- it depends. Although what he was searching for all these years, I could not tell you.
And there he was yet again, back at the base of the mountain. Except this time, he had three others with him.
On that cold morning, Larry, Vouy, and I took the road less traveled with Duy, hiking up Bear Canyon Trail to the peak of Mt. Baldy (12.8 miles round trip).
Bear Canyon Trail is empty for a reason- it’s the most difficult trail you can take to the top of Mt. Baldy.
The steep dirt paths and elevation gain made the rocky climb tough.
No wonder legends referred to the Bear Canyon Trail as… The Fury Road.
Just about 30 minutes into our hike up, we already had a spectacular view of the sky.
It was an unusual day. Normally, Duy said, the skies are clear with no clouds in sight.
We journeyed on the mountainside where the road eventually flattened and the air grew thin, transforming the landscape into a seemingly endless desert.
The scene looked something like this: four travelers searching for something. Four travelers hiking above the clouds in the vast desert sands, amidst a hill of rolling gray clouds.
My knees were hurting and I was feeling the pressure on my right ankle. The struggle was indeed real as we were hiking above the clouds of Mt. Baldy.
The thought of stopping was tempting, but once we had reached this breathtaking view at 12pm, our energy was replenished!
This utterly glorious sight of pure bliss. It was fucking incredible.
The entire place was heavenly. The four of us peered over the edge after hiking above the clouds, admiring the beauty of it all.
But we were only halfway to the top.
Nightfall was getting closer so we continued. The speed of the winds started to pick up as we gained elevation.
One mile later, our leader Duy stopped us as he scanned the perimeter.
“Guys, I’m sorry but I can’t let you go..”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I can’t let you continue. This is too risky!”
“But we’re so close!” Vouy said.
“If the clouds keep gathering like this, it’s going to pour up there… and you’re going to get summit fever.”
The ominous clouds loomed over us, beckoning us to come closer.
Vouy, Larry, and I stood our ground. We were DETERMINED to brave the wind-scorched conditions.
We did not just hike 4.58 miles above the clouds to turn around. And I- I did NOT skip NFL Sunday to be defeated.
No, not like this.
Victory was so close. I could taste it. I could also suddenly taste the Hot Cheetos and 5 drinks I had last night.
I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for but I was determined not go home empty handed!
We stood at the side of the mountain patiently and watched the monstrous clouds blow. Vouy, Larry, and I convinced our leader to let us march forward.. INTO OBLIVION.
“Look the clouds are blowing away really fast” Vouy said.
“Redemption is still possible!” I cried.
Duy stood in front of us, hesitant, feeling worrisome and responsible for our lives.
And then after seeing the look on our faces, he said
“As you wish.”
Then, our solemn faced Duy led us into the unknown.
I put on my face mask, ready to head into the mystifying abyss.
Yes, I did just compare myself to Charlize Theron in Mad Max: The Fury Road, although I am nowhere near badass and gorgeous as she. Anyway..
What lay beyond those clouds was unclear.
But I needed to go.
Higher we went into miles of pure agony with not enough breaks.
Oh, we were in for it now!
So fasten your seatbelts..
Not one person said a single word as we were hiking above the clouds.
That’s when you know it was hard. When nobody wants to waste their energy on talk. Our primary focus remained on getting to the top as we marched through sheer chaos.
We went up, struggling as we entered high winds and colder climates.
The cold was unbearable hiking above the clouds. Frozen icicles dangled from shrubs and trees.
Yet it wasn’t the cold that was the problem- it was the winds that made the situation even worse.
Up and up we went, ascending into the clouds. Gasping for air and covering our faces from the harsh winds. The atmospheric pressure compressing every inch of our bodies.
On the way up we crossed paths with a few daring travelers who were ahead of us earlier. They did not summit and had to turn around due to the conditions.
Larry, Vouy, Duy, and I continued hiking through a narrow pathway on the ledge of the mountain to cross to the top.
My legs wanted to fall off as we were hiking above the clouds. The journey felt so long.
Just when I thought I was going strong, I collapsed.
Just kidding. I didn’t, because 10,064 feet later, we summited. We had FINALLY made it to the top!
We were four travelers on a mission, hiking above the clouds to conquer Mt Baldy.. and conquer we did!
Even if only for just 15 minutes at the freezing top. We huddled in a circle behind a wall of rocks using it to shield us from the mighty winds.
I was shook. My lips trembled as I devoured my banh mi sandwich.
We had to get out of there fast!
But before turning around, we stopped.
The clouds were blowing clockwise in spirals, as if dancing with one another.
“This feels cinematic, like we’re in a movie,” Larry said.
We took one last look of the view, taking in all the beauty, uncertain when we would see this normally hot and dry place like this again.
Lucky to witness this. Lucky we had conquered that treacherous mountain, barely avoiding a snowstorm or even worse- summit fever.
Although we had reached the top and survived the high winds, the question I had at the beginning of our journey returned.
I thought to myself
What was it on this mountain that our mysterious leader Duy was searching for all these years?
Had he found what he was looking for that day?
Was he trying to show us something on that mountain?
Vouy, Larry, Duy, and I were all on a mission that day above the clouds of Mt. Baldy via The Fury Road– each one of us had a mission unspoken and unique to ourself.
I kept pondering, looking for an answer. I was unsure if each of our own missions were found that day..
A moment of silence.
And then, it was as if he had read my mind.
The mysterious Duy stared into our souls and asked one final question before departing
Where must we go, WE who wander this wasteland, in search of our BETTER SELVES?
My reaction to this was:
Before any of us could say more, Duy nods, turns around, and disappears.
Into the dark abyss, back into parts unknown..