BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
I did a triathlon last Sunday. Are you impressed? Well, I suppose you should temper your oohs and aahs with the knowledge that I hiked, biked, and swam all in a day, but just a little of each— a triathlon only of my own making all locally in Burbank and Glendale. But hey, the hike and bike parts were in the Verdugo Mountains. Doesn’t that count for something?
More interesting is that the Verdugos have been a lot more crowded lately, this due to the closure of about a quarter of the nearby Angeles National Forest (because of last summer’s huge fire) and people traveling less far afield for recreation due to the pinch they’re feeling in their wallets.
But the composition of these mountain loving folk hasn’t changed. Locally, i.e. the Verdugos, the two largest groups are Koreans and Armenians. A little farther out from the LA basin, say in the vicinity of Mount Baldy, the Koreans are still a noticeably larger group, while in the Sierra Nevada, more and more Armenians can be encountered, at least in the foothills, where our compatriots can be observed camping, fishing, and having a merry old time. My criticism of both these groups is that very often, exchanging a greeting is impossible. Hellos go unrequited. Oddly enough, even when I hear Armenian and pass by with a “parev”, I’ll often get a confused look, or at best an English reply. I guess I look very un-Armenian.
It turns out Koreans have a strong hiking tradition. Many are out in groups or alone, early mornings, weekdays, and weekends. They’ve even got organizations which coordinate outings. I’ve been in the Mt. Baldy area when well over a hundred Koreans are out, each at their own pace, and going as far as their legs will carry them. On those weekends, the owners of the cafeteria at Baldy Notch (skiers will recognize this location, accessible by ski lift all Summer long— for those who are not fond of using their legs that much, or who are developing their conditioning) are thrilled at the bump in business they get.
As I’ve written before, what surprises me is that more Armenians aren’t to be found in the hills and mountains. Most of us who do, seem to have their origins in the Republic of Armenia and Iran. I’ve interpreted that as being a result of having a more settled life versus the other communities who were more extensively, if not exclusively, born of the Genocide. But this is changing. More members of our community are taking the Sierra Club’s Wilderness Travel Course (WTC) and getting otherwise involved in that preeminent environmental and hiking organization. There are also groups forming that bring together hiking Armenians, on-line and in the real world.
As you already know, two groups climbed Ararat this summer. That’s very heartening. One of the climbers was quoted describing the Kurds as very helpful to the climbers, motivated by money, and disdainful of Turkish central authority. Some things never change. I couldn’t help but remember what Roupen Der Minassian had to say in his memoirs about his interactions with the Kurds a century ago.
Another odd event also speaks to our increasing presence in the mountains. Two friends set out to climb Mt. Ritter, the same peak I wrote of last Summer (“The Range of Light”, Asbarez version has photos). They were accompanied by four others who did not plan to climb the peak, but fish and photograph at its foot. Well, our two climbers summitted, and returned. On their way up, they met a man who gave them some directions. They didn’t see him again until they were back at trailhead parking lot. What they did see was a helicopter sweeping the area as if looking for something. On their descent, they met a ranger who told them search and rescue was indeed out looking for a fallen climber. Of course they told him they’d seen no such person on their climb. It all came together upon their return to camp where the other four members of their party were worried sick about them, thinking they might have even died. The man they’d met had evidently come through camp, babbling about two climbers from LA (describing them very derogatorily) who would probably never make it back. His prattling had led to the search and rescue effort, wasting money and resources needlessly. Ultimately, he apologized when everyone was reunited at the parking lot. The moral of this story is, when in the mountains, before you go off half cocked, consult with the people involved. Something like this happened in 1997 as well, when four of our very best WTC instructors were accompanying a very slow moving student to the trailhead during the class’ conditioning hike. Two people took it upon themselves to call Sierra Madre Search and Rescue. The only thing that prevented initiation of the search was the arrival of our band of five at the trailhead just before the operation commenced.
So, get out there and hike. I look forward to seeing you in the hills. But please, go easy on triggering search operations.