“We show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multimedia and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50 percent,” – Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings.
The last few weeks at work had been pretty stressful so I decided, mid-week, to do a quick overnighter to one of my favorite mountains in Southern California; Mt. San Jacinto. The plan was conceived Wednesday and by Saturday morning I was making it happen.
I woke up that Saturday morning a few hours later than I had planned. The tickle in my throat confirmed my worst fear; I was sick. Not wanting to feel lazy along with being sick, I decided I would suck it up and make good on my plans. I quickly threw my bags I packed the night before into the bed of the truck and headed out.
It was 2:00p.m. and 95 degrees by the time I reached Idyllwild Ranger Station to inquire about available permits. I was lucky enough to grab the last available permit for Saturday evening at Strawberry Junction Camp. This camp is on another part of the mountain I had not explored so I was excited about this new start.
I setup camp at Strawberry Junction around 4:30p.m. The camp is 4.8 miles from the Deer Springs trailhead and seemed like a great spot to setup for the night and take a break from the extreme heat. After dinner and a short break in the hammock, I set off for the summit of Mt. San Jacinto around 6:45p.m.
After a few hours and time spent taking photos from lookout points, it had gotten dark. I estimated my pace to be between 2-2.5 mph so the fact I had not passed the Little Round Valley campgrounds after a few hours of hiking made me nervous. Further, rangers mentioned there was no water available on the trail yet I had crossed 2 lightly flowing streams. It’s near 9:00p.m. and I am not exactly confident I am on the right path to the summit. Considering my options, I decide it’s wise to go back to camp and not further confuse myself in the dark.
The hike back to camp was long and spooky. I made sure I was crossing recognizable markers on the trail I made mental note on the way up, however it being very dark (hiking on the west side of the mountain – moon rises in east so no moonlight till after midnight) made it difficult to quickly spot marker points even with a new headlamp. My headlamp was very good at picking out creature eyes in the dark corners of the forest but I was not exactly thrilled at that observation. In fact, one set of eyes seemed to follow me along the trail as I walked back to camp even though I was being loud, aggressive and throwing objects…very unnerving. I was extremely happy, and tired, by the time I got back to camp around 10:30p.m. Although I was spooked by the creature eyes, I was too tired to worry about it and quickly fell asleep.
Waking up to the sounds of another beautiful mountain morning was a welcome sound. Birds and squirrels both chirped loudly as if to shout to all things listening about the beauty of the morning. I responded with my own version of celebration then sat down to enjoy a hot cup of coffee next to my squirrel companion.
The hike back out to the truck was much cooler than the previous day and I was glad to be on the trail by 7:00a.m. I packed 6 liters of water with me for the overnight trip and had over 2 liters left on the way down. Near the end of the trail, I came across a group of 3 hikers who asked if I could spare water. Apparently one of their hydration packs sprung a leak and they lost almost all of their water so I gladly gave up a full container (32oz) of water for them to continue on their climb.
On the drive home, I felt sick but was happy I decided to go on the adventure. Although I did not find the San Jacinto summit at night this time, I did find the solitude and adventure I yearned for. I hiked 18.3 miles on a new trail, got turned around yet found my way back safely, had little to no cellphone coverage, and felt good about my setup and gear for future trips. I have yet to be on a trip where I felt I had enough time to do what I set out to do and this may one reason I keep coming back. I also come back because time spent in the woods alone and away from the constant chimes and alerts of a technological world seem to inspire a creativity in me that keeps me fulfilled and motivated.
For a 360 degree photo of the sunset from Mt. San Jacinto check out the Facebook page.