I keep looking over my shoulder because I feel like something is watching me. The thick clouds drifting up the hillside and through the trees are a little spooky and it is very quiet. I cannot shake the feeling that I’m being watched. It is raining and very cold. I am wandering through the mountains searching for a hidden cliff that has been forgotten by time. In the 1970’s and 80’s local hard-men, “Stonemasters,” put up a slew of first ascents. Unfortunately, as California climbers tend to be a lazy lot and the approach to this cliff is a two-hour strenuous slog, it has since fallen into oblivion.

A small cliff band is blocking my upward progress and traversing around either side is not an option; the only way is to continue straight up the middle. I begin to climb the soaking wet cliff trying to keep my mind off the fact that a slip here could prove fatal. About 15 feet up I see a root sticking out over the top of the precipice. I grab onto it and pull myself over.

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©Isaac Tait

“This probably isn’t the fastest or safest way to go, but it sure is fun,” I think to myself.

I come across several more 4th and 5th class sections but I hardly notice, I am too distracted by the yellow and gold leaves fluttering down from the boughs of wind blown Alder and Sycamore and the rust colored bulbs of the Buckwheat covered in little drops of water like diamonds.

After negotiating the cliff band studded mountainside, I break out of the vertical forest. Before me lies a mountain meadow, choked with Manzanita and waist high chaparral and on the other side I see a cliff peeking through the heavy fog.

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©Isaac Tait

Is that my objective? I cannot tell until I get closer, so I make a beeline straight across the meadow. So far I have stayed pretty dry but after a few minutes of wading through soaking wet waist high brush and the heavy drizzle, I am drenched.

I will just have to keep moving to stay warm. After negotiating a boulder-choked dry creek-bed, I am standing beneath the cliff. It has one tantalizing line but it isn’t the cliff I am looking for. This one is only 20 meters tall while the mystical cliff I am searching for is rumored to be 60-70 meters tall.

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©Isaac Tait

I explore the base for a while and sit down to rest while watching the mist drift up my side of the mountain. After resting for a bit I begin my descent. I am running out of daylight so I decide that I will just have to come back later to find this fabled Shangri-La, that exists only 25 miles from Los Angeles. I retrace my steps back to the mountainside covered in cliff bands. Thankfully, the rain has stopped, which should aid in my descent. After carefully picking my way down I have almost reached the bottom, where the trail is. I stop on a small outcropping to catch my breath when suddenly it collapses. I try to jump back but gravity sucks me over the side. I am falling/sliding down the near vertical mountainside. I throw my arms to the sides, trying to grab anything to stop my plunge, but I just rip bush after bush out of the waterlogged hillside as I gain speed. As my plunge gains velocity I look down and I can see a scree field of boulders, their sharp edges pointing up like fangs.

This is really going to hurt! I think to myself. Suddenly, I am jerked to a halt. I have slid through a tangle of thorn-covered vines and they have stopped me only a few feet above the boulders that had threatened to eat me alive. Several vines have wrapped themselves around my legs and waist, effectively stopping my plunge. I pull out my Benchmade knife, thankful that I’m still alive. The thorny vines have ripped my pants, but I could care less.

At least I am not hurt or worse! I say out loud as I begin to cut myself free. I must have fallen 30 feet sliding on my backside and yet, besides a few scratches I am fine.

 

Phew! That was a close one.

 

Safely at the bottom I brush myself off, thankful that no one was there to witness my fall, when suddenly the feeling of being watched returns. I hear a branch crack and I spin around. There in the trail a few paces away is a bobcat. She stares at me and we are both frozen in place. I smile at her because I know someone has witnessed my near demise and my ego is a little bruised. As she plunges into the forest I think I see her smile too…

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©Isaac Tait
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