It’s 5 a.m. on a Thursday, and while the world was sleeping, 130 of us were awake at the trailhead at Mt. Baldy. There was a little bit of trail magic that morning. I stepped out and could instantly smell the dirt, hear the sound of the trees and witness the sun rise over the San Gabriel mountain range. dsc_3253-x2I wish I could have this type of dawn patrol every morning in the summer.

The 8000 meter challenge, sponsored by Jansport, was an exclusive hiking / trail-running event for outdoor industry retail staff and brand representatives. Participants climb the three tallest peaks in Southern California in 24 hours, for a total elevation gain of 8,000 meters and trail distance close to 42 miles. The goal is to summit Mt. Baldy (Mt. San Antonio), Mt. San Gorgonio, and Mt. San Jacinto all in a SINGLE day.

The challenge was founded by Mark Fulton, one of the most respected outdoor industry reps in the country. Sadly, Mark passed in 2011 and his infectious spirit is dearly missed by many in the industry.

Talk about a legacy. This was the 21st year of the ultimate hiking challenge and it brought over 130 participants from all over the West Coast. The event was for outdoor industry retail staff from such outlets as Zappo’s, Summit Hut, Adventure 16 and numerous REI locations all over Southern California and Arizona.

I haven’t seen anything like it. A community of individuals getting together to putimg_9881-1 themselves through probably one of the most physically and mentally exhausting experiences one could have. But that didn’t matter and quite frankly is what fueled everyone’s participation.

I didn’t know what to expect and maybe had I known, I wouldn’t have signed up. The challenge was just that: a complete challenge. The elevation gains, never ending trail miles, constant switchbacks, sun exposure, and 90-plus degree temps were taxing on the body.

However, just like any of my experiences on the trail – there is always some magic that happens. Nearly every participant who passed me on the way up or down, would say, “You got this” or “Looking strong” and this was constant throughout the entire day. I was able to spend time on the trail with my friends and industry colleagues, runner girl Jessie and former Black Diamond designer Andrew McClean. Most importantly the challenge raised almost $10,000 for Big City Mountaineers, a nonprofit that supports getting underserved youth from urban environments into the outdoors.

dsc_3405-x2Unfortunately, I did not complete the challenge and missed the last aerial tram in Palm Springs that went to Mt. San Jacinto. However, I walked away with huge appreciation for this strong outdoor industry community in Southern California. Individuals getting together to support each other in a physically grueling environment with a goal and most importantly — continuing the tradition and legacy of Mark.

I want to thank all the participants, support crew, and also event organizer and Marmot rep John Drollinger for inviting me to participate. Without a doubt, I will be back next year!

See you at the trailhead!

– Ladyhawk

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