Black Mountain Brouhaha:
Much Ado About Nothing

by Dinesh Desai

The summit of Black Mountain in northwestern Santa Clara County, California

"This is Lauren from the Town Crier. I can join you tomorrow or the day after. Didn't you say that every day you hike with a person from a different age group?"

"That's correct."

"Who are your hiking partners the next two days and how old are they?"

"Tomorrow, I am hiking with John, who is fifty, and the day after with Don, who is eighty."

"Don is eighty?", she says, sounding somewhat surprised. "I would like to join you and Don."

Lauren is in her twenties and probably can't believe that any eighty-year old can do anything more than just a stroll, let alone a strenuous hike.

My wife, Joy, had undergone minor foot surgery in late July, 2004, but as of the end of September she still wasn't able to walk more than just a few miles. As such, we had scrapped a planned hiking/backpacking adventure for the summer and fall. That left me scrambling for a substitute outing that I could undertake before the onset of the rainy weather, now just a few weeks away. And, why did I have to have an outing anyway? Plain and simple, it's the human trait of getting obsessed with trivial things. Herb Caen, the former San Francisco Chronicle columnist, was obsessed about not missing a column. A congressman had never missed a roll call in the House of Representatives and he worked hard to keep that record intact. It's the same with me. I have been doing some sort of a creative outing every year since my retirement in 1994 and I get asked the question "what are you going to do this year?" quite frequently. I just can't let those people down, can I?

The French are known for undertaking the most extreme adventures. A Frenchman once tried to swim the entire Atlantic Ocean, from Africa to South America. They define an adventure as an activity where there is some chance of dying. Though a few of my undertakings fall into that category, most are just plain outings, albeit somewhat unusual. This year, because of the short time frame -- excuses, excuses -- I had to give up all pretenses of an adventure. I was just going to hike to the top of nearby Black Mountain for eight consecutive days utilizing eight different routes.

Black Mountain, elevation 2,800 feet, is the highest peak in the northern Santa Cruz Mountains. The mountain and much of the surrounding land are part of various open space preserves. It is possible to hike to its summit by eight substantially different routes. Since none of the routes requires very demanding hiking, I decided to make it somewhat interesting and challenging by trying to recruit a person from a different age group to accompany me each day. Furthermore, I would take each of them on a route, including an old one that had a lot of poison oak, that he or she had not hiked before.

Dinesh observing a poison oak shrub with its leaves in bright red fall color

Dinesh, don't fall for beauty. That's poison oak in its fall glory.