That time I climbed the highest mountain in California

I’ve been experiencing a minor communications blackout, thanks to being largely stranded in the middle of nowhere for the past week. I’m currently in Palm Springs, a town of 40,000 people in the centre of the Californian desert. I walked the two mile journey from my hotel to this branch of Starbucks, so that I can once again spout my babbleshit to the world via the global tubes. During that two mile walk through the centre of what is the biggest city for 100 miles, I didn’t pass a single person on the streets. Everyone drives. It’s dumb and it winds me up. Needless to say, I had the last laugh, because the traffic was basically as slow as walking was.

American society is so dependent on cars, they even have drive-through pharmacies. This Starbucks is a drive-‘thru’ too, believe it or not. There are also a silly amount of chain stores here too: there are no fewer than twelve Starbucks in this town, a place less than a sixth of the size of my hometown of Brighton in terms of population. Anyway, more on cars, laziness and walking later.

So yesterday I decided to climb the tallest mountain in California. It was my first day alone for a while, so I was looking forward to the freedom afforded by the isolation of Mt. San Jacinto. My hotel was a mile away from the aerial tramway that takes you up the first couple of thousand feet, so I set out into the streets and walked down the road to the base of the mountain. When I got there, I was told there was a further five miles to walk to get to the tram station itself. They couldn’t really understand that I had walked there, so were probably surprised to see me wander off up the road to the tramway proper. Needless to say, I had the last laugh, because I was likely the only person that day to actually walk the whole of the mountain, and not drive the first bit.

It was a fairly tough ninety minute walk, finishing 2000 feet higher than when I had begun. It wasn’t long before I saw a bus, which was ferrying people from the car park to a point further up the road. I got on it, only to discover that the station was literally fifty metres away from the car park. I just cannot see the point in a bus service for such a short distance. Needless to say, I had the last laugh, because the bus was too full to let some of the lazy drivers on.

So on the tram, up the mountain and about six miles later I was at the summit. The trek was supposedly a nine-hour return trip, but being the arrogant, competitive prick that I am, I basically ran the whole thing, reaching the top in two hours. The air was rather thin, and I only had a litre of water, but I stubbornly refused to stop. Why do idiots like me always have to be such a cocky arsehole about everything? Needless to say, I had the last laugh, because I was overtaking all sorts of pros, clad as they were in their expensive climbing gear and struggling in the heat.

When filling in the permit that helps the rangers know which people need rescuing and so on, it had a line where I was supposed to fill in my car registration. I told the guy I walked here, to his disbelief, and he had to go and get one of his superiors to work out what to do with the form. Walking, even to a mountain trail, is apparently rare in these parts. Turns out most people get the tram to the middle of the mountain so they can enjoy burgers and fries with a lovely view, rather than actually do anything on the mountain.

It was weird that there was snow in 30 degree weather. Red Dead Redemption kept springing to mind. The peak is nearly 11,000 ft above sea level, which is 3600 metres. I’ve also converted it to how many Chinese blokes standing on each other’s shoulders it would be for you. It would be about 2250 Chinese men high. I hope that was of some help in enabling you to relate to that height, in human terms that you may be more comfortable with.

By the time I returned to the mountain tramway station, it was around 6pm. Now, I was somewhat aware that the $24 I paid to get up here was for a one-way ticket, but I also noticed that their signage was very ambiguous and deceptive, presumably to dupe as many people as possible into not buying a return ticket. I kicked up a classic English gentleman’s fuss when I was asked to pay another $24 to return to the base of San Jacinto, and articulated my way back down for free in the end. They weren’t best pleased when I told them I didn’t bring any money with me, but fuck ‘em. Needless to say, I had the last laugh because in reality I had over $100 with me.

Back at the bottom, I remembered I had to get back into Palm Springs. I’d walked about 20 miles at this stage, so my feet were burning and my legs were exhausted. I asked the bus driver if he goes all the way down, and he lied that it would. He went ‘all the way down to the car park’. Brilliant. Cheers.

I asked a couple of people for a ride, but they claimed they had full cars. I started walking down the hill, and stuck my thumb out each time a car passed me. The fifth or sixth car stopped and rolled down the window, before zooming off when they realised what I wanted was a lift. It was a straight line to the bottom, so there was no chance it could have been out of their way. Sadly at least fifty cars passed without picking me up.

Side note: on the walk downwards I was stalked by a mountain fox, which froze or disappeared every time I turned around. If it was a wolf, which is almost is, I would make a joke here about ‘what’s the time Mr. Wolf?’. It wasn’t a wolf though. Needless to say, I had the last laugh, because my watch was broken anyway.

The vehicles passing me were not just cars either, we’re talking great big SUVs with only two people in them. The lazy bastards just weren’t having any of it. Getting myself worked up, I began swearing at a couple of the cars as they sped past me.

One driver slowed his truck down and shouted “get out of the road, you bum”, so I quipped back sarcastically “shall I walk in the [non-existant] pavement instead, ya silly prick?”

Unfortunately, said prick slammed on his brakes and got out the car. He proceeded to hurl abuse at me, calling me every name under the sun. I wasn’t really listening, but as he was an American, he probably used extremely offensive words like ‘jerk’, ‘jack-off’ and ‘douchebag’. After a minute or so, I interrupted him, asking him whether he was going to give me a lift, and if not then would he kindly go fuck himself. He asked me what kind of Australian scumbag I thought I was anyway, which was the final straw for me. I’m not Australian.

I told him to get back in the car, which he agreed to do. “Oh, I’ll get in the car alright”. He opened the boot of the truck and pulled out a shotgun. Uh-oh.

He shot me in the chest. Oh yeah, did I forget to say? I’m dead now. I’m writing this is Hell. Yeah, Heaven and Hell exist in America. I didn’t make it into heaven because I didn’t put one of those Christian fish things on my car. And because I didn’t have a car to put it on.

Needless to say, I had the last laugh, because some of this story isn’t true.