On Family and Falling: 254 Species

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My younger brother and I have a history of adventuring through the wooded hills of Ohio. Through a series of both fortunate and unfortunate events, we have spent much of our adult lives separated by as much as half of the planet Earth, and even when he ended up in northern California several years ago, other obligations meant that we saw each other infrequently. Recently, however, after a stint in the Middle East, he was stationed in San Diego and - coming to the end of a long military career - we are trying to make a point to reconnect in the outdoors. This weekend we camped together at Guffy Campground in the San Gabriel Mountains of the Angeles National Forest. Located at the eastern end of a rough drive across Blue Ridge at about 8,000 feet, and overlooking the western slopes of Pine Mountain, it is about as un-Los Angeles-like as any place you can go to in Los Angeles County. This, and Blue Ridge Campground situated further west, are two of my favorite places to sleep when I'm not in my own bed. If you can't find peace and tranquility here, you are certainly doing something wrong.

While we intended to begin our adventures on Friday afternoon, my brother's train trip from San Diego was substantially delayed by someone chaining their bike to the train as a protest. We decided to stay at my house that night and set out Saturday morning. On Saturday things went much as we planned, and we set up camp and then started up 9,407-foot Mt. Baden-Powell from Vincent Gap, an eight mile round-trip route that I have done plenty of times, as Baden-Powell is part of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run course.

We took the climb slow and steady. While my brother is in excellent shape because of his military training, that training does not include time spent in the relatively thin air above 7,000 feet. We talked about life. We talked about plans. We talked about a lot of things that close brothers talk about when spending time in the wilderness together. We also enjoyed the view and took lots of photos. I, of course, kept track of my bird sightings. On the climb up, I got county year species 252 in the form of a "singing" Dusky Flycatcher. On another part of the climb, I heard the calls of a flock of Red Crossbills, and got fleeting looks as they flew from one tree top to another downslope, becoming county year species 253. It took awhile, but we eventually made the summit of Baden-Powell. While I do this stuff all the time (I was on the summit of 10,800-foot Mt. San Jacinto with my wife last weekend), my brother's only previous climb to a big peak was Mt. Fuji when he was stationed in Japan at the beginning of his military career. We spent some time up there to take it all in.

On the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. Photo by Marcus C. England.

We eventually, and perhaps grudgingly, decided to make our way down. The clouds that had been building throughout the day started rumbling with distant thunder, and we hoped to make it back to the Jeep before getting caught in bad weather. Our pace was slowed, however, when I saw a male Williamson's Sapsucker - species 254 for the year - actively foraging for insects nearby. I pulled my camera out of my pack and snapped some photos. As I noticed bird activity seemed to be increasing, I decided to keep my camera around my neck. While the decision seemed innocent enough, it ended up being a mistake. After 8 miles of climbing and descending, with less than 50 feet until we reached the parking lot, my feet slipped from under me on the steep slope at the bottom of the trail. I tried to catch myself, but fell face-first, head below my feet, onto the trail. I went down hard, crushing my camera and scratching the lens, badly bruising my upper right thigh, and jamming my shoulder bad enough that it was hard to lift my right arm. I will ultimately be fine. I'm not sure about the camera. I'm also not sure about how - if it all - it will affect me when I run the Mohican 100 in Ohio next weekend.

Male Williamson's Sapsucker on Mt. Baden-Powell. Photo by Marcus C. England.