This past summer the NFF sponsored a blog contest to celebrate local community connections the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument outside of Los Angeles. Special thanks to REI and Southwest Airlines for helping to sponsor the contest and providing prizes for the winning entries. Read Jessica's winning entry here.

My hand gripped my friend’s arm as the rest of her body dangled above the jagged rocks below. How could we be so stupid?, I thought after I swung her up to more level ground. We took a moment to catch our breath, and then we continued our dangerous descent back down into the canyon.

I was not a stranger to Bailey Canyon or its neighboring San Gabriel Mountains National Monument trails. In fact my high school years were spent in these mountains. They were the perfect backdrop for asking a boy to prom, consoling a mourning friend, playing “post-apocalypse-survivor” with said friend, or simply snacking; however, despite the life these trails have offered, this time they might just be the death of me.

A few hours prior to the aforementioned hoopla, my friend Monica and I began the hike. We were friends who went to the same high school just walking distance from Bailey Canyon, Mt. Wilson, and Chantry Flats. Now that we were in college, these mountains were a quintessential part of a home visit.

“Hey you wana go up there?” I pointed up to what looked like a fire trail loosely carved onto the mountainside. “Ok,” she responded aloofly. And just like that we made one of the dumbest decisions of our lives.

While we started our climb up the “fire trail” I thought about the other times I veered off trails before. It was never my idea. As a painfully shy high school kid, I was attracted to friendships with the adventurous type, the type who never stayed on the trail, literally and figuratively. They opened my eyes to the outdoors, new ways of thinking, appreciating a hike as more than just a means of exercise. No longer did I desire to get in with the “in-crowd” and their fancy dinners in Pasadena or shopping trips to the mall. Instead I looked forward to playing with salamanders at First Water on Mt. Wilson, or racing my friends through mud somewhere off Chantry, or sitting with them on top of one of the Monument’s peaks while coming up with names for this new mountain we rejoiced in having discovered.

“OHH THE TRAIL WE BLAZE!” Monica sang, interrupting my flashback. We made it to the top of this “trail,” took in the view and started to head back. Sliding down on our bellies, we gripped nearby rocks to support the steep climb down.

And then all of the sudden, I was stuck.

“I CANT. CALL FOR HELP,” I yelled. My entire body wrapped around a single rock. “Don’t panic! You’re okay! Just go where I went,” Monica coached. By the time I mustered the courage to continue, my rock peeled off the mountain, and I was falling.

During what felt like a ten-minute fall I was strangely conscious. I coherently reminisced on the other reckless hikes I did in high school that never ended badly. In fact, the recklessness fostered my connection to these mountains. For a kid who did everything by the book, I now had incredible adventures to tell after every hike with those friends. “The trails are only suggestions. The best stuff is hidden,” they would say. I took that to heart, but it wasn’t until after this fall that I realized the adage was best used only in a figurative sense.

“JESSICA, WATCH OUT!” Monica screamed at me as a tree broke my fall. Monica fell down the mountain too as she ran to my aid. And then by some miracle, two doctors on the trail saw the whole episode, called 911, and next thing you know we were at the hospital. “If anything, this’ll be a great story. You should write it, just don’t make us sound too stupid,” Monica said, sitting by my bedside. We laughed till it hurt.

The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument has taught me the value of exploration, calculated risk, and adventure beyond hiking. Since graduating from high school, I’ve lived abroad, spearheaded projects, and always made an effort to get outside, but often times with just myself.

The lessons I learned from the Monument carry on throughout my life, and now that I am back home, I realize I don’t need these mountains the same way I used to. I didn’t need them to make me sound interesting. Now I can explore the Monument with fresh eyes, anticipating the new lessons it’s bound to teach me, but this time I’ll make sure to learn them from the trail.

About the Author

Jessica Legaspi, a marketing coordinator by profession and writer by passion, hails from Los Angeles, loves the outdoors, and dreams of her own social enterprise.

National Forest Foundation