click on any picture in a post for a larger view

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Santiago Peak

Santiago Peak (known also as the “talking peak”) is the highest point in the Santa Ana Mountains.  It’s one of the two peaks of the region we call Saddleback Mountains, named after the two peaks that form a “saddleback” up there.  We can see it from miles and miles away.   When I moved out here more than twenty years ago, I never dreamt that I would “run” up to it.  I would have thought someone who did was a little bit insane.

I have never run to Santiago Peak as a trail runner.  I have never been to Santiago Peak.  But I needed to get up there, because a friend has asked that I pace him for the last twenty miles of a 50 mile race (the 50 miles has 17,000 of elevation gain!).  He will go to this peak twice; I will accompany him on the second time.  Honored to be asked to pace, I gladly accepted.  So, I figure it’s my JOB to get to know that peak well.  Time is fleeting.

I was very lucky to have three others accompany me:  (from left to right – Me, Tom, Michael, Jeremy).SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

I didn’t feel my strongest this morning.  I plugged away up Holy Jim which was nice and dark from shade at first.  The gnats came on strong at first too.  As soon as we got out of the shade and the climb began to increase, I fortunately lost those annoying gnats.  They focus on the face, fly into your mouth, up your nose, into your ears.  I spit out several.  And at one point, I felt something on my front tooth and upon investigating found a smashed gnat.


The run up Holy Jim was fun too.  I felt confident that the heat would not attack us as everyone feared.

Running Holy Jim before the climb steepensSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Notice the gnats on my face – just wait.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Digging deep to finish running Holy JimSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Jeremy was waiting for me at Bear Springs (on the Main Divide).  The gnats were out in extreme abundance, which is why Tom and Michael just kept on going.  As soon as I hit the Main Divide, I continued on up with Jeremy.  We stopped in the shade a ways up (when the gnats left)  so that I could pack an empty water bottle, put on a bandana.  Then all of a sudden, as we took off, a terrible, severe pain hit my calf.  I couldn’t figure out what happened.  If I had been alone, I would have turned back then and there because I really didn’t think I could take the pain all the way to the top.  I told Jeremy to go ahead, that I’d either catch up or text him if I turned back. 

I stretched, but could barely hold it.  I took some salt pills, and I moved onward.  Hiking.  I had come this far, I decided that I was going TO THE TOP.   I didn’t know how I was going to do it, when suddenly I realized something I read recently – that pain doesn’t exist in the present.  I know that sounds extremely odd.  Without going into pages on this concept, I’ll just say that I  focused on staying in the very moment I was in.  Surprise, surprise!  When I was able to do that, my pain completely disappeared!  Not for long though.  I couldn’t keep it up – staying in the moment that is.  The heat was growing and the climb grew steeper.

The Main Divide going up to Santiago PeakSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Tom meets me on his way down from peak in hopes to beat the heat.  SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Sweating it out while the gnats attack full force (they don’t bite – they’re just annoying as heck!) If you click pic for a larger view & look very closely you should see gnats EVERYWHERE, look to chin, shoulder, bandana – you can even see their shadows.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Finally, we reached the peak.  All 3 of us meandered around the towers, took photos, readjusted, basically taking our sweet time before taking off.  I was WORN OUT.  The pain in my calf continued to bother me, but to a lesser extent.  The gnats were not at the top thankfully.  There were workers installing new generators.  There were motocross riders, motorcycle riders, mountain bikers.  No other runners, or even hikers. 

Why it’s known as “Talking Peak.”SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA



The view from Santiago PeakSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Locating landmarks, our neighborhoods, etc.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

Then it was time for the run down.  It had to be 100 F.  We took upper Holy Jim down to the Main Divide.  Spreading apart quickly,  I ran that single track alone.  It grew quite technical at the end with boulders and lots of twists and turns, not to mention steepness.  With that heat bearing down, I wanted nothing more than to reach Lower Holy Jim.  That’s when I would finally get some shade. 

I didn’t see either of the guys at Lower Holy Jim, so I focused on running quickly, careful not to trip.  I imagined the two were already down at the truck waiting for me.  I do not think that I can adequately describe just how hot that run was going down Holy Jim.  It felt like blow torches were scorching my legs.  My bandana had completely dried.  I guzzled down so many fluids (with Nuun tablets dissolved in it) that I feared that I would run out.  I brought with me 100 fl. ounces.  And I had one handheld left tied to the back of my pack.

After about a mile down this five mile trail I came across Michael in a shady part as he wetted down his shirt in the tiny creek that ran across the trail.  I was so hot I was a little confused and had just drank the last of my fluids in my pack.  Michael stood up and said, “I’m out of water.”  I told him that I’d split my remaining handheld with him.  Then I said, “Where’s Tom?”

Michael looked at me with a funny look.  “Tom?” he said.  Then, he seemed to me that he was confused at my comment.  “Ah, he left . . . Tom?” 

I had forgotten that “Tom” (the one who had already run down).  I was confusing Jeremy’s name with the other Tom I knew.  Finally, it dawned on me.  “Jeremy!  Where’s Jeremy?”  I don’t know if you realize my surprise that I even found Michael and then learned that Jeremy was behind me.  I was imagining they were way, way ahead of me.

So, there Michael and I were, stooped down in the shade, splitting up hot water when Jeremy came running up.  “I’m out of water,” he said. 

Yikes.  Now it was time to split up my water 3 ways, when Jeremy noticed that the source of the creek was coming from a spring in a small cutout in the mountain wall.  “This water’s filtered,” Jeremy said, “It’s coming from the ground.”  He filled up his handhelds, saw that it was clear and drank up.  Michael and I were reluctant.  Then I finally gave in, filled my handhelds and guzzled down delicious ice cold water.  I really couldn’t have cared less if I was going to be vomiting for it later.  Michael gave in too, and we were off running again, refilled for the remaining 4 miles.

Those four miles downhill were the longest, most difficult four miles I can remember in a long, long time.  Though I was able to keep heat exhaustion at bay, I fell once (more like slipped) and my ice-cold water turned downright hot.  No kidding! 

As I ran down Holy Jim, I got a view of the trail like I never had running up it.  I thought to myself, “I run up this thing.  I. AM. CRAZY.”  I felt like I never, ever wanted to run again. 

I came in right behind Jeremy to the truck.  And we both looked at each other as if to say “O. M. G.”

We found Michael laying down in the creek.  He had found a nice pool down stream that we couldn’t even think of walking to.  So we simply sat in the stream where we were to cool down. 

When I finally got back to my truck (parked about 5 miles away), my limp was strong.  Only after a cold bath at home and some stretching has the pain subsided a great deal.  I can now walk around without a limp.  And I’m pretty sure it’s a cramp not an injury.  I’ve just never had a cramp like this. 

One more thing, my little delusional moment when I thought I might never run again is gone.  I just probably won’t run tomorrow.  In all, I’m glad I made the trip to Santiago Peak.  And I plan to again.  The views were breathtaking.  The company was great.  I did feel a little badly being that I planned today’s run and it ended up so dang hot.  Hopefully today’s experience will make us all stronger. 

Approaching Holy Jim endSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

At creek, assessing leg for wounds due to fall earlier (nothing major, just two tiny cuts)SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

16.61 miles logged

+4,704 / -4,749 feet

My Activities To Santiago Peak 8-28-2011, Elevation - Distance


  1. Holy crap those gnats would drive me bonkers. I was thinking I could relate because when I was camping this summer there were all these annoying gnats everywhere... until I saw the picture of them on your face. They are huge!!!

    You and your friends are SO impressive! Running elevation like that in such hot weather is intense! Glad you didn't get too injured when you fell. the pic of your legs looks like you are wearing stretchy tan pants. :)

    Congrats on reaching the peak!

  2. Wow, awesome run/adventure Lauren! You are hardcore for sure. Impressive how you did so well and could stay with the others. You've come a long way with your running and will be a fantastic pacer.

  3. Thanks Kate. I appreciate your comments. Yes, those gnats were giant, and I wasn't exactly smiling in the first photo. I had to take the second photo with the forced smile.

    Funny comment about the tan stretchy-pants. Most of it is dirt, but I still have that distinct line at my ankle that looks really funny when I wear skirts or dresses (I just can't put myself through pantyhose.)

  4. You keep impressing me with the killer tough runs. That climb is no joke and you should be beaming over running most of it...I would have been hiking all of it. I know you will do a wonderful job pacing at TP.

  5. Thanks Rachel. You are super nice to say that. Great doubts enveloped me today over pacing. I really felt that I couldn't do it come Oct. I'll keep plugging away at it. I am very lucky to have a friend that would chose me to pace. I don't feel worthy. ps. If you are back, I posted lots of OCTR runs for Sept. to help me do this. If you don't feel up to the mileage, toward the end of the month I posted a 10 mile out and back up Holy Jim. Thanks again for your confidence. I need it. Really : ))) pss. My fellow runner stays ahead of me by hiking. So if you want to go to the top, I promise you will not be alone! I will be at the back of the pack. Join us. : )

    Thanks again for your confidence. I really don't feel like I deserve it. But it really helps.

  6. OK, the gnat were so bad I did not realize until I got home and was trying to take a nap. I would close my eyes and all I could see and feel was the gnats flying around my eyes.

    This run was a great accomplishment for all of us, with that heat we had to endure. Glad we found the natural spring, because that helped a lot. This weekends run looks to be really tough. Be safe and enjoy.

  7. Thanks Jeremy for coming out and for finding that natural spring for us. It was YOU who found the natural spring. And I kinda felt badly for posting this run and having us enduring that hellish heat. I am really grateful for you. I asked you to come out to accompany the other runners, yet you were most helpful for me. You are a great trail runner. Best of luck on your races this weekend!!!

  8. That is a tremendous run! You know- the Orange County Council of the Boy Scouts has a special award for making it to the top of Santiago Peak from Holy Jim. *BUT* they will not recognize any ascents of the peak during July, August and Septemeber because too many kids were having issues with heat exhaustion!

    By the way - have you thought about getting a steripen for water purification?

  9. JOHANN Thanks so much for your inspirational comment! I didn't exactly keep up with the others. It was so, so tough for me. And today the depression over that hit. I suppose that's natural. One thing I didn't put in the blog was that when I reached the top, I said to the 2 guys still there, "I'm in DEEP SHIT." Because I knew that I let myself down not being able to run the whole way. But that was my first time. I've got a month to improve. I REALLY appreciate your confidence.

  10. Glenn -- do the Boy Scouts give awards to non-Boy Scouts? I was a Girl Scout, and we would have never attempted such a climb. I haven't thought about steripen. I not even sure how it works (remember I've always been a girly-girl, so I don't know about these matters), but I will definitely look into it.

  11. A steripen uses UV light to kill bacteria and viruses in water. You fill up a container, submerse the tip of the pen for a minute or two, and your water is purified and drinkable.


    Beats the crap out of having to carry a pump or the tast of purification tablets.