We begin our hike to the 16th annual Mt. Waterman picnic with a scramble up the rocky ridge behind Camp Valcrest, intending to tag the top of 7 or 8 rock formations along Valcrest Ridge before crossing back over Highway 2 for the hike up Mt. Waterman.
It is extraordinarily hot, even this early in the morning and there is a slight sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I hustle up the steep, sandy wash behind the others. There are 16 of us and the hike leaders encourage us to stay in tight formation, pausing frequently to count heads. This is a new experience for me and I fight a growing sense of irritation at being so closely watched.
However, the view across to the western edge of the Mojave is spectacular, and the scent of sun warmed granite and dry pine needles is a soothing and familiar one.
But as we foregather at the bottom of the steep, sun baked trail up the side of Mt. Waterman, the sinking feeling increases to full blown nausea. I realize that I don't want to hike that trail - I want to go home. But before I can act on that thought the other hikers begin to sprint effortlessly up the trail, chatting all the while. To my shame the group is eventually split into two: "Fast" and "Slow." The very nice woman sweeping the "Slow" group encourages me to "take your time, hike at your own pace" which is a good thing because there is absolutely no way to force myself to go any faster than I am going.
Eventually the Hike from Hell does reach the top of the mountain. There are maybe 75 or 80 other hikers there - enjoying the lovely picnic lunch spread out under the pines. The heat is unbelievable, so we retreat to a thin band of shade along the base of some boulders. Sweet Shasta, panting heavily, presses close against me - adding the heat of her body to mine - and cold water is poured for her to drink.
After a delicious homemade hummus and some cool (and heady!) orange wine we are ready for a group shot:
and then the long, steep descent back to the cars. The hike back is punctuated with much laughter and a wonderful feeling of camaraderie.
Would I do another hike with the HPS? The jury is still out on that.