Elevation Gain: 5840 ft
Distance: 18.5 miles
This is only the second overnight (wilderness camping) ascent I’ve tried, so there’s always a slight sense of trepidation beforehand. Also, as San Gorgonio is the highest peak in Southern California and our route was an 18.5 miles return I was quite daunted. I’m taking my son into the high mountains. There’s no mobile coverage. There are wild animals. He’s my ultimate responsibilty. Cue lots of good father son bonding opportunity and Man Vs Wild moments. For me this was the sixth and final peak in the So Cal Six Pack. For my son, Tristan, it was his fifth as he’s yet to complete Mount Baldy (watch this space).
I decided to do it as an overnight camp as I was worried the nipper – a mere ten years old – might find the 18 miles return too much in one day. Or maybe I was worried about myself being able to do it. Oooh, me knees. We arrived at the trailhead around 2.30 PM which I thought would give us enough time to hike the 3.5 miles in to the Halfway Camp to break the back of the hike and set up camp in the light. I must have had 50 pounds on my back as I was taking equipment (tent, two sleeping bags, clothes, hiking poles etc) and provisions (water, dinner, breakfast, lunch, snacks) for two. I’d read about how the first mile on this hike (via Vivian Creek) was very steep with a 1000 feet in elevation gain. It was tough, but as it’s the start you have fresh legs so you power on. As we ascended the air thinned and it got cooler. Then the topography evened out and we slowly ascended through manzanita fields to Vivian Creek where the water made it cool and the scenery very green – I bet this place gets busy with animals drinking during dusk.
We carried on the last mile to Halfway Camp and made it in very good time before sunset. Thankfully there was a group of three very friendly young US Marines at the campground which made me feel quite safe and protected from the threat of any encroaching bears, mountain lions or meth heads. The temperatures stayed quite mild even though we were high up and were definitely not as cold as our Mount San Bernadino hike where it reached minus 2. We hung up our food from a high branch (to keep it from the bears) and then hunkered down for the night.
We were on the trail the next morning – achey and stiff after not the best nights sleep – for 8am ready to conquer the peak. The scenery was breathaking. Apart from the chirp of birds and the odd gust of wind in the trees there was total silence. My tinnitus rang through the thin mountain air. Looking back you could see the clouds – of So Cal’s June gloom – swamping the valleys below leading to the Pacific. The twin peaks of Orange County’s two highest mountains – Modjeska and Santiago Peak – poked through the cloud cover like a pair of shark fins. On the other side you could see Mount Jacinto (the big peak that over looks Palm Springs) and I really started to get a sense of the scale and beauty of the mountains Southern California has to offer.
As is always the case with mountain hikes you’re always calculating. How long to the top? How many miles left? How long till the next rest? Not helped by Tristan asking these questions and externalising my inner thoughts. As we got higher the air really started to thin and as you pass through the 10,000 feet mark it got quite tough going – you feel exhausted, your limbs like lead weights, every next step an effort and ordeal. If you stop you really start to feel the altitude so it’s best to keep moving whilst trying to maintain a positive mental attitude. I can do this! Keep going! Who’s ******* idea was this??
As we passed through the tree line the scenery took a lunar turn as things got more barren. There was less vegetation and more rocky. Things were getting very tough. When’s this going to end? You see what you think must be the peak in the distance and it slowly gets closer. Then you realise it wasn’t the peak and there’s another one off in the distance behind it. This must be it? Now there were intermittant patches of snow. Looking around for markers you thing, this must be it, there’s nothing in the vicinity higher than this? Getting closer we could see people taking photos. We’d made it!
At the top you got a 360 perspective of a large swathe of Soutern California – behind us lay desert and eventually Arizona. In front were the coastal valleys (with smaller intermittant mountains) and finally the Pacific Ocean. This place has it all. We took our obligatory photos next to the sign and had a spot of lunch. I’ve climbed the six highest mountains in So Cal. What next? Well I suppose the first thing is to get down off this mountain.
Often the way down get’s really tought as it starts to play on your knees (which in my case are slightly arthritic). But at least you are going down, always easier than up, plus losing elevation means more oxygen. Tristan’s endurance and positive mental attitude really impressed me – no moaning or complaining. Just soldiering on with steadfast confiction and energy. I am one proud dad. I look forward to completing Mount Baldy with him and then he’s also bagged the Six Peaks. Then we move on to the High Sierras. One step at a time.