Hike to Santiago Peak

Inspired by Arash Sayadi’s recent blog about his experience hiking up to Santiago Peak, my friends Jason, Tony and I made plans in December of last year to follow suit and attempt the same hike. After all, I have to stare at that mountain every day on my way to work and I had been wondering what’s it’s like to make the trek to the peak.

Our planning, apart from selecting a date that would work for all of us, revolved around what to pack and wear, navigation and how much water we should bring. After bugging Arash with some additional questions and utilizing his day hike pack list, we had most of the information we needed. I used an Osprey Stratos day pack with 34 l capacity which had enough room to store food, water, clothing and various supplies and emergency equipment. Water was probably the most important factor. Based on the 0.75 quarts per hour formula, I concluded that we had to bring close to 6 l of water each. The pack was able to hold a 3 l bladder and so I added 2 plastic bottles with water separately, with the total being 5.5 l. Quite a weight to carry!
Tony found a web site with current weather conditions at the peak, which was very helpful in planning what to be prepared for. When we started watching the site a few days before the hike, it had just snowed at the peak and temperatures were in the 30s with plenty of wind. So we knew we had to be ready for cold temperatures and hence brought several layers that could be shed in case it wasn’t as cold. Fortunately, as our target date approached, we saw that the temperature started to go up during the day as things warmed up.
Being concerned about navigation, I opted to buy a Garmin eTex (Vista HCx) GPS as well as 24k topographical maps for the unit. I didn’t want to rely on my iPhone and its MotionX GPS app because I had seen the GPS drain a full iPhone battery in about 7 hrs before and the phone was not going to do well in potentially low temperatures and/or moisture/rain. Not a cheap addition to my equipment, but the peace of mind of having a reliable GPS (and a sale at REI) helped.
On the day of the hike (February 18), we left Irvine around 5:40 AM since we wanted to start early and get going while it’s still cool. The weather forecast fortunately promised clear, sunny conditions and little wind. As advised, we took a high-clearance SUV and were able to get to the parking lot by 6:30, despite the “road” being quite bumpy and full of challenges a sedan would’ve found tough to maneuver.
IMG_6278We were the second car in the parking lot and started our hike around 6:40 AM. It was lousy cold with temperatures in the 30s and I was happy I had gloves and an ear band to wear. After crossing a creek a few times, we worked our way up to higher elevations and as we got out of the shady areas, it quickly warmed up and we dressed down to shorts and t-shirt within an hour of starting.
Since the water added quite a bit of weight to our packs, we – as planned – dropped 1l bottles after about 1.5 hours into the hike in the bushes next to the trail and marked the position on the GPS.
IMG_6297Once we transitioned from the Holy Jim trail to the Main Divide Road, we soon started encountering patches of snow and slush. As we got higher up, those patches become more frequent and the temperature dropped, especially in areas where the sun didn’t reach the ground. So towards the end we found ourselves wading though half a foot of snow or slush, which made walking difficult and sometimes slippery and wet.
The least two miles of our ascent were probably the most strenuous. All the while we could see the huge antennas and they seemed so close and within reach, but the road kept twisting and turning and it took much longer than expected to make it all the way to the top. When we reached the peak, we had excellent conditions with lots of sun, little wind, and a great view all around. So we spent about an hour up there and refueled with plenty of water, energy bars, cheese and salami.
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As we descended the Main Divide road back down, we didn’t take it all the way back, but decided to use a smaller side trail instead, which we thouIMG_1239ght we had seen marked as Upper Holy Jim earlier. This trail was narrow and much steeper as it quickly serpentined down the hill. It definitely seemed to be a shortcut going back down. Due the steeper angle, it would definitely not have been a good idea to take this trail up, but going down was quite feasible. When this side trail finally connected back to the main road, we used the GPS to determine which way to go to return to the Holy Jim trail.
The rest of the descent was uneventful and for the most part seemed easier than going up the mountain. We definitely had enough of going uphill and our legs started feeling fatigued at this point. More than ever, I appreciated having hiking poles. Not only were they useful during the ascent and in the snow, they now took a lot of stress off my knees as we came back down.
With the help of the GPS, we located the spot where we had dropped off the water earlier (fortunately, it was still there!) and put the bottles back in our packs.
As we reached the point towards the end of the trail where we could’ve taken a little detour to Holy Jim Falls, we decided that we were too tired and continued back down to where we had left the car. As we reached the parking lot, we saw that it was now completely packed and had filled up with cars throughout the day. When we started off, the location had felt quite remote and desolate, but now it was more like the parking lot of Disneyland with plenty of people making it up the lower part of the trail (few of which – I surmise – would make it very far up the mountain).
In total, the hike took us around 7:45 hours, around 6 of which for hiking the 16.3 miles. So apart from the break on the peak, we must’ve taken around 45 mins of short breaks here and there. I consumed only a total of 3.75 l of water despite my load of 5.5 l. On a hot day though, I would’ve drunk more, if not all, for sure. I didn’t use all layers of clothing I had brought either, but as with water, you’ll want to be prepared for the less favorable scenarios and you never know exactly what conditions you’ll encounter.
Did it pay off to have a “real” GPS instead of just using the iPhone? I think the answer is yes. With its resistance to tougher conditions (temperatures and moisture), battery life of over 20 hours and independence of 3G/data connectivity, it’s definitely a better “fit” for outdoor adventures. Its GPS chip set is also providing more precise location tracking, so it came in handy when locating the water bottles we had dropped.
Driving back from the trail towards Irvine, we stopped at the renowned Cook’s Corner for a beer. I’m sure us three slightly limping, sweaty, and exhausted-looking guys in dusty hiking clothes fit right in with all the hardcore bikers and their leather jackets.
Looking back, hiking to Santiago Peak was definitely a worthwhile and rewarding experience and accomplishment. While I’m personally not inclined to strive for even more challenging hikes like Mt. Whitney, I’m hoping to explore more of the OC mountain trails in the future.
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Once upon a Time…

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away from here, I was a single guy and struggling, like everyone else, with dating. In the process of figuring out this dating thing, I started applying principles from business and science. And I started writing a book about it.

Then I got married and never got around to finishing the book. But I figured instead of letting this unfinished masterpiece never see the light of day, I rather put out on the web – for inspiration and entertaining.

So check it out: the Men’s Guide to Scientific Dating!

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Why Being a Creature of Habit Makes Sense

I have in the past been accused of being a creature of habit, a person governed by routines: I tend to frequent the same restaurants, visit the same neighborhoods and locations, usually eat from a number of favorite dishes, watch similar movies in the same theaters, etc. I like certain types of vacations in certain types of places. Once I’ve found certain products I like, I keep buying them and shop for them in the same places.

While I might be a more extreme example, I am sure that to some extent most people tend to stick to their patterns as well (maybe except for the most spontaneous of people). (Apparently there is even evidence that there are roots in human evolution that prevent children older than 2-3 years from trying new food.)

But what is so bad about trying something new, driving a different route to work, ordering untried menu items in new restaurants? What’s the harm in changing your patterns and doing something different than you’ve always used to do? While there is most of the time an obvious, actual cost associated with the choices we make, that monetary cost may not be overly significant or prohibitive. However, there are other, less obvious reasons, hidden costs, that make us stick with “the same”. So here’s my attempt to argue for “sticking with the known”… (Read More)

Time To Assimilate

The Borg – masters of assimilation

Have you ever thought about how much time you spend purchasing and assimilating things you acquired into your life? It goes about something like this (and I’m not even talking cars or houses here): You need to buy / replace an item. This could be anything from a book, a shirt, a kitchen utensil etc. In some cases you might do research prior to starting the hunt, so you might browse the web, read up on it in Consumer Reports, etc. Then you get in the car, drive to one or even multiple store(s), browse the selection, figure out what you want, buy it, haul it home. Then you unpack it, you might need to read the manual/instructions, dispose of the packaging materials and find a new permanent place for it at home. Basically I’m talking about anything from the initial identification of a need to assimilating an item into your life.

On any given weekend, I may just buy 2 or so items that fit this bill, but I’m spending about 2 hrs doing so from leaving the house to coming back. Let’s say I spend another 20 mins or so unpacking and assimilating the items, so in total we’re looking at 1:10 hrs on average per item. That’s a LOT of time!

Now, follow me on this one: How many items do you own? Let’s break it down to an average of items per room, to make it easier. I’m not sure, but let’s say the average room contains 50-100 distinct items. In a 3 bedroom house with living room, family room, kitchen, garage, 2 baths, that makes 450-900 items, which equals approx. 525-1050 hrs (22-44 days!). So if you had to replace every article you own, you’d have to spend 1 month, 24 hrs a day selecting, buying and assimilating products!

I don’t know about you, but that’s quite a number. Don’t like my assumptions? Feel free to tweak the numbers and run through this exercise again and I bet you’ll still end up with quite an impressive amount of time.

Considering the sum of all the things we surround ourselves with is like a living organism which needs to replace all of its cells every so often, we are spending a lot of time maintaining and replacing our collective possessions on a permanent basis.

I guess, I wish I was Borg…

Irreversible Improvements

Everyone seeks to improve their life on a constant basis. Examples: We buy a bigger car, we move to a bigger house, we get more memory for our laptop, we get a faster printer, we accept a job with more pay and a shorter commute, and we go for the big screen TV (a completely random example). All these things add up to a significant improvement of our quality of life over time. But do you realize that this is pretty much a one-way street? Will you be okay with a smaller TV, less RAM, a longer commute, or less pay in future? Hell no! Once you’ve made the change and gotten used to it, you won’t want to go back to “how it used to be”. This makes all these improvements irreversible. You’ve set the bar higher, now get used to jumping higher too. Not that this is a terrible thing, as long as you realize that there is no going back, or at least not a painless way. This is the one-way street of progress…

Don’t believe me? You’re different? Well, my friend, why don’t you go back to dial-up and I’ll check back in with you in a few days…!?

Weekend Entropy

I’ve finally figured out where all my energy goes on the weekends: creating order from the chaos of the week. Come to think of it, this reminds me of what I recall from the theory about entropy. Any system’s natural tendency is chaos, i.e. disorder. The only way to create order in a system, is to expend energy, which increases the order in a system. Without energy applied, an equilibrium with higher entropy (read “chaos”) results. 

The more I think about it, the more I see the same thing happening in my house. During the week, I’m tired and expend less energy keeping things nice and neat around. Dirty laundry piles up, used dishes gather, things get dusty, the carpet starts needing vacuuming, unread mail lies around the kitchen table, etc. Once the weekend starts, I redirect my energy from the office towards my house: doing laundry, cleaning up, running the dishwasher, filing mail, etc. With this energy applied, the order increases and I feel better about the house. Then Monday comes around and the same cycle repeats.

The unfortunate thing is, if I were to go away for the weekend on a little getaway, the disorder would not decrease because I wouldn’t spend any energy on the house. The weekend afterwards would then be twice as tiring as I’d have to clean up twice as big a mess. That’s one reason why weekend getaways, apart from the cost, sometimes seem less attractive.

So I guess next time someone asks me what I’ve been up to during the weekend, the answer is: reducing entropy!

A Buck a Minute

A few years ago, I found myself going to various stores to find out where a specific item, say a DVD, cost the least. I was driving around from the first to the second store, from the second to the third store and then back to the first store to buy it there after all. And all this to save $3. Or I’d go to one store that I knew had the item I needed (e.g. after shave), but I wouldn’t buy it there. Instead I would drive to a second store for this item only to buy it there $2 cheaper. Been there, done that?

Then it hit me: This was my weekend! And I was spending it driving around, trying to save a few bucks here and there. Then I asked myself: “If someone wanted to hire me on the weekend to do some contract work, how much would I want him to pay me?” I figured that I would at least think about it at $50 an hour. With a little rounding, that comes out to a buck a minute, which is how much my precious weekend time is worth to me. 

This little rule-of-thumb has made a significant difference in my life. Whenever I consider starting another bargain hunt, I ask myself: “How much time will this take and how much will it actually save me?”. In many cases I reach the conclusion that the savings are not worth the time I would spend. So I don’t do it any more. This – over time – has helped me regain quite a bit of “me time”.  I’d rather use my weekend for something more enjoyable than to hunt down little bargains or I invest my time into making a real financial difference, e.g. by looking into refinancing my home or by reallocating my 401k. 

How much is a minute worth to you?