With Fall in full swing, and Winter soon approaching, I wanted to get one last hike in to the summit of San Gorgonio before the snow really starts to pile up. Even though the news keeps reporting about an epic El Nino year, we’ve hardly received any precipitation here in Southern California. Because of this, I hit the Vivian Creek trail thinking it would be bone dry and easy to navigate. I was happily proved wrong in the first few miles. After climbing the first set of switchbacks over the first mile, the snow and ice on the trail really came into view.
Having not started until 9AM, I was a little bit worried about my timing now that the sun sets before 5PM. The snow and ice was not helping, but I was pleased with the pace I was able to keep over the first 3 miles. The 3 mile marker is the Halfway Camp junction, which was free from snow due to it’s sun exposure. I had already passed about 5 or 6 people, and it made me start wonder how many would be hiking in the dark later that night. After the Halfway Camp junction, there is the second of 3 sets of switchbacks on the Vivian Creek trail. The trampled snow here, was starting to get a little slick due to the ice, but did not require me to put on my microspikes.
After finishing the second set of switchbacks, I arrived at High Camp and the High Camp Creek. I passed a few groups on the final stretch of trail over, and was surprised with how many people were out hiking. I took a break at High Camp and drank some Tailwind and Perpetuem. It felt good to hydrate, as the dry cold air is deceptively dehydrating, even when I’m not sweating.
The final set of switchbacks on Vivian Creek Trail faces north, and was the most snow and ice laden stretch of trail on the day. In the dead of winter, there is a direct snow chute that bypasses the switchbacks, but it was not solid enough for me to take my chances. I’m actually glad I took the switchbacks, as the lighting made for a beautiful hike up.
At the saddle above the final set of switchbacks, the elevation is just over 10,000ft. The trail from here makes for a much more direct and steep climb towards the 11,503ft summit of San Gorgonio. The stretch of trail gets a lot of direct sun exposure throughout the day, and was mostly dry.
I would love to take Isla on this trail one of these days, but am always put off by the fear I feel when considering it’s length and steepness. At 17.5 miles round-trip and 5500 feet of elevation gain, it’s no walk in the park. I was encouraged on this day though, as I saw two Australian Shepherds charging towards the summit with about half a mile to go. They were definitely in much better shape than any of the humans on the trail.
After hiking for a little more than four hours, I reached the summit of San Gorgonio. It was a beautiful cloudless day, and the temperatures were very stable due to the lack of strong winds. I took off my pack and gave my body a good 20-30 minutes of rest before heading downhill.
It was already 1:30 when I began to hike downhill. I’m a fast hiker, and knew I could make it to the parking lot by sundown. I was surprised though by the number of hikers I passed still moving uphill. There were a good 10-12 people that made the smart move and turned around before summiting. One of them unfortunately, had a severely sprained ankle. I saw him when there were still 5 miles of an icy downhill left to go. Hopefully he made it down alright.