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The White City
Notes on motivating morning-me out of bed and into the mountains on the heels of LA's historic snowfall.
“The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.”
That line from Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals bounced around my head as I hiked up a thousand feet of switchbacks that retrace the steep incline of the old funicular railway to the former site of the Echo Mountain House.
Wonder-seeking and hiking often go hand in hand, but at that moment I was slogging up the steep, long route to the top of Echo Mountain and wasn’t sure this was the experience of wonder that was particularly worth waking up early for.
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In case you’re just emerging from a two week meditation retreat and this is your first contact with the outside world, California has been absolutely pummeled with snow lately. Joshua Tree became a Dr. Seuss inspired winter wonderland and closed briefly due to the severe winter conditions.
Yosemite received up to 15 feet of snow in some areas and closed in late February with no estimated reopening date. Mammoth Mountain has a monstrous 120 inches of snowpack, compared to the seasonal average 45 inches.
Here in Los Angeles, large sections of the Angeles Crest Highway are closed with drifts up to a dozen feet high. Big Bear received 134 inches of snow in the last week, a record high — but most notably to me: on March 1st, a few flakes of snow fell on the sleeves of my jacket while I waited in line for a burger in Pasadena, CA.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there is no need to relocate to Colorado or the Pacific Northwest for a world class outdoor experience. Los Angeles is a sleeper mountain town like no other.
All this new snow is why I groaned my way out of bed for an early morning hike up Echo Mountain to see it for myself. I’m falling more in love with morning hikes these days. No other time bears witness to quite the dramatic transformation of weather and landscape as an early morning. There’s something spellbinding in the air while the earth takes its first deep breath of sun, warmth, and light after a cold night asleep. Plus it’s my wife’s favorite time to hike, and hiking with company is always nice.
Sagebrush, yucca, and other telltale signs of the desert SoCal landscape disappearing underneath pillows of snow is a wild sight to behold, and it felt especially fitting to see the White City Ruins covered in a white patchwork quilt of snow.
It was easy to imagine what it must have been like for guests at the Echo Mountain House to stand on their balconies overlooking Los Angeles while a light flurry swirled around them. We enjoyed our peanut butter tortillas and thermos of coffee at the summit, but I couldn’t help dreaming of room service eggs benedict and a mocha.
Some adventurers don’t seem to struggle with popping out of bed on a cold morning to go bag a peak or snag a sweet wave or whatever. Not this guy. Evening-me and morning-me are two completely different people. Evening-me is a huge fan of AM yoga, sunrise hikes, and dawn patrol bike rides. Morning-me really likes blankets, pillows, and the snooze button.
My truest self knows heading out to the snow-covered mountains before work on a Monday morning will leave me more energized, joyful, and fulfilled than sleeping in a few extra hours. Evening-me knows this too, and even has strategies to help kick morning-me in the right direction. Here, morning-me, your hiking boots are right by the door. Look, I’m filling up your hydration bladder ahead of time. Check it out, your favorite socks are right here next to the bed for you.
Nevertheless, morning-me has very little trust that evening-me has any clue what he’s talking about. Even with so much preparatory action taken by evening-me, morning-me wakes up with no residue of evening-me’s excitement. Instead, morning-me has to wade through a snowdrift of existential doubt weighing the net-human-value of hiking.
It all disappears the moment I step foot on the trail. But still, there is a massive disconnect between the part of me that loves the idea of sunrises and the part of me who is responsible for making moves to experience them.
Resistance, Stevan Pressfield calls it in The War of Art. It’s disconcerting how often resistance gets in the way of morning-me doing something that evening-me knows will be good for him.
There’s so much out there to go do, see, touch, taste, and feel. All it takes is to go and do it.
I think evening-me feels the way he does because he’s sat on the couch at the end of thousands of days where he didn’t hike into the mountains, and wishes he did. Morning-me feels the way he does because, well - it’s infinitely easier to not-do something than it is to do something, and he still has a whole day ahead of him. What difference will these few morning hours really make?
The answer is always more than you think.
In any case, I feel grateful that this week’s Monday-morning-me listened to the advice of Sunday-evening-me and dragged himself up into the San Gabriels on the heels of one of the most incredible winter storms LA has experienced in recent history.
As it often does, the wonder hit me right on cue — when the switchbacks were behind me and I had some food in my belly. As we ascended from Echo Mountain toward Inspiration Point, the slight drizzle that had started at the trailhead turned into a full-on SoCal snowfall.