A Reader's Guide To Mountain Climbing

by Calendar Hacksaw

Last Saturday morning, which for the purposes of this publication in general--and this column in particular--could have been any Saturday morning in recent fictional history, I awoke with a severe case of altitude sickness which prevented me from remembering why I had come up to the ranch in the first place, and what work I was obligated to perform.

Lacking any recognizable agenda, I set out to accomplish a long-held goal: that of ascending a mountain peak, all the way to the very top.

Now in my life I have accomplished a few worthwhile goals. I've physically slapped around a few U.S. Presidents, some still living. I've fought the bulls in Tijuana. I once had dinner with Jacques Cousteau, Rudd Weatherwax, and Sony & Cher, though not all four at the same time. But somehow conquering a mountain had eluded me, and I was tired of reading news accounts of 82-year old sightless and paraplegic great-grandmothers successfully ascending Mt. Whitney for the 15th consecutive year. No; I would climb this darn mountain myself, on ol' Calendar's own terms, which are disgusting by most peoples' standards, thank goodness.

So I stood in my "driveway" and looked toward the mountain, trying to see it through the trees, which certainly obscured the view. It occurred to me that mountains would be a lot easier to see if it weren't for all the vegetation; hikers wouldn't get lost nearly as often, and forest fires would go the way of dinosaurs.

I settled on a course, and started putting one foot in front of the other, suddenly discovering that it was all uphill. At the end of the driveway, I took a well-deserved rest for thirty minutes, then set out again.

In seemingly no time at all, I had covered one-eighth of a mile and was into very unfamiliar terrain, clambering up the mountain-side while trying to follow an old mining road which hadn't been traversed in many a decade. But there was ample evidence of those who had gone before me; old mining equipment was apparent everywhere, the type of stuff that today's "theme" restaurants would pay big bucks for as a centerpiece.

Occasionally I would hit a clearing, or climb atop a rock pile, and take a reading off old Zanutto's barren field, and compare it with the rising sun to ensure that I was still on the right track. Secure in the knowledge that my bearing was correct, I continued to beat around the bush and fight an uphill battle against impossible odds in my cliche-ridden quest for a decent column.

Various obstructions, serious mental errors and near-fatal hallucinations caused me to change course a number of times, and several paths led to nowhere, which isn't on the map. Every time the peak seemed to be within easy reach, it would disappear only to be replaced by an even higher point further on. This reminded me a lot of my high school experience, not to mention my courtship with Betty.

It was time for another short rest break, and I was reminded of an experience my Aunt had long ago while climbing old Palomar in San Diego County. She heeded the call of nature, and ventured a short distance from the trail to "take care of business." No sooner did she "assume the position" (to coin a phrase), along came a bunch of Sierra Club hikers. In her haste to regain her footing, modesty and composure, she tripped and fell down the stupid mountain, fracturing an ankle and shattering her tranquility. There's a lesson to be learned from that, but it escaped me several times on this hike.

Grasping my walking stick, I resumed my slow stroll, ultimately arriving at what I perceived to be one of the mountain's six high points; not the highest, I'll admit, but at least high enough to have a rock monument. I climbed to the peak and did a 360, admiring the view of surrounding peaks and the desert below, and wishing I had a photograph of me doing so. How majestic I must have looked standing there; so full of myself, like a yuppie on a jet-ski.

Looking down at my feet, on ground covered by an amazingly deep accumulation of pine needles, I noticed that I was standing next to a very large old cow pie. Next to the pile of old manure was an equally old beer can. Strange.

I wished I could have been there to watch that cow drink beer. The container was one of those pre-war models, from back when beer wasn't "Lite," and had taste. Like maybe a "Lucky Logger." It featured that triangular hole in the top of the can that cows left whenever they opened one with their teeth.

My mission accomplished, I was preparing for the long descent ahead when something caught my eye from beneath a nearby manzanita. It was a pile of bones, bleached near-white by the years, sun, and the elements. Upon closer examination, I found it to be the almost complete skeletal remains of a cow. The skull was intact, and my eyes followed the spine to the lower back, then down the legs. I wondered how she'd met her fate; perhaps a hunter? Nope. Any amateur forensic scientist could spot the fatal injury in a flash.

The poor animal's broken ankle bone rested atop a long-faded pamphlet from the Sierra Club.

Calendar Hacksaw's e-mail addresses are <calendar@usa.net> and <twistedsisters@hotmail.com> and he'd love to hear from you. Unless specifically stated otherwise, all of Calendar Hacksaw's writings should be considered.

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