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The Walking Stick
At 9,400 feet
elevation, Mount Baden-Powell is the second-highest
peak in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern
California. A portion of the Pacific Crest Trail
leads from a trailhead on the Angeles Crest Highway
at 6,500 feet to the summit. The trail is a series
of steep switchbacks along the mountain's north
face, with spectacular views of the Antelope Valley
and the high desert areas to the north and east.
From the summit, the hiker can view most of
southern California from the mighty San Jacinto
range to the Pacific coast. Few hikers, of the
thousands who make the trek annually, know for whom
the mountain is named until they read the plaque at
the summit. To Scouts, of course, the peak is
synonymous with our founder. In some ways, a hike
to the summit and back is much like a journey over
the Scouting trail, as the following story tells.
The sun was already high in the morning sky when I
pulled from Angeles Crest Highway into the Forest
Service parking area. A balmy pine fragrance
floated on the crisp mountain air and Los Angeles
seemed like a million miles away. I stretched
momentarily before putting on my daypack. The trail
to the summit was only four miles, but I knew I
would appreciate the sandwich and jacket if I made
it to the top.
I paused at the trailhead to read the National
Forest posters before starting out. As I stood
there, I caught a glimpse of the old man coming
down the trail toward me. "Good morning, sir," I
hailed, not wanting to startle him. He stopped,
planted his walking stick firmly, and glanced up.
He acknowledged my presence with a wave and
carefully resumed the descent. I watched as he came
down the last few treacherous steps of the steep
trail and onto the pavement.
"Beautiful day for a walk," he said.
"Yes," I replied, "I'm really looking forward to
it. Did you make it all the way to the top?"
"Why yes, I did," he answered. "It was really worth
the effort. How about you, are you going all the
way to the top?"
"I'm not sure," I replied. "This hiking stuff is
new to me. I'll go up as far as my legs allow, then
rest on the way down." I felt embarrassed that this
old man could probably hike circles around me.
He looked at me and grinned. "You know," he began,
"You might think that going uphill would be the
hard part, and that coming back down would be easy.
But it kind of works the other way around."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well," he said, "Think of it this way. You start
out all fresh and full of energy. The beginning -
even if it is all uphill - is fun and easy. It's
finishing the hike - the coming back down - that's
"I guess I never thought about it that way," I
replied. "Maybe I should find an easier trail to
start out on."
"Well," he said, "There are easier trails you might
consider. But, then again, none of them are quite
as rewarding as this one." I must not have looked
totally convinced, because he continued on, "I
wouldn't worry about it too much if I were you,
though. You look like you're in fairly decent
I still wasn't sure if he was serious, or just
trying to ease my concerns. "Besides," he added,
"There are plenty of other hikers on the trail this
morning. It's not like you're out here all alone."
I glanced around the parking lot and felt comforted
by the sight of other empty cars. "Here," he said,
handing me his walking stick, "Take this with you.
It'll help, especially on the way back down."
I looked closely at the stick. It was nothing more
than a relatively straight section of an aspen
sapling, about an inch or two in diameter and about
four feet in length. Most of the mottled white bark
was still attached. The numerous black blotches and
chevrons along its length looked liked thousands of
tiny signatures. The smooth handle was polished and
well worn, and the bottom was cut and splintered
from multiple encounters with hard unforgiving
"Why, thank you," I exclaimed as I accepted the
gift. "Did you make this?"
"No," he said. "In fact, someone gave it to me
earlier, when I was first starting up the hill.
Enjoy your hike."
He was right, the stick really did make a
difference. I made it all the way to the summit
without too much difficulty. And, just as he
forewarned, the trip back down was indeed a bit
I had the stick to steady myself over the rough
spots. I actually felt pretty good as I neared the
I really wasn't paying too much attention when a
voice called out, "Good afternoon, sir." I stopped
and looked out to see who was hailing me. There by
the trailhead stood a young man, looking
apprehensively up the trail. I waved to him. He
watched me carefully as I made the last few steps
down to the parking area.
"Beautiful day for a walk," I said.
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