Posted by: martinworster | May 28, 2016

San Bernadino Peak (10649)

Distance:  15.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 5860 feet


Mount San Berandino

Mount San Berandino

San Bernadino Peak always filled me with a slight trepidation as it involved an overnight camp. At almost 17 miles return I thought it might be too much in one day for ten year old Tristan (and possibly me). Plus I wanted the experience of wilderness camping and taking everything you needed up with you strapped to your back. We were meant to ascend Bernadino last year but it got closed due to forest fires. Hence our mission of doing the So Cal Six Peak in height order was thrown slightly out of sequence. We did Mt San Jacinto last year which is the second highest. Tristan has yet to compete Mount Baldy which is the fourth highest (although I’ve already done it twice).


San Gorgonio Wilderness

The drive up to the trail head takes you through inland Orange County, River Side County then San Berandino county up into the foothills by the small town of Mentone on the 38 which is a back route to Big Bear ski resort. The hike starts near the small town of Angelus Oaks. I was a bit worried as the camp site was five miles into the hike – a steep climb up  a mountain with enough water, food, tent, sleeping bags etc for two people as I couldn’t expect Tristan to hike up with all this. I also fretted over whether we had all the right gear. Don’t forget your tooth brush.


May 22 – still lots of snow

We parked up and started on the trail at around 1.30 pm. I made sure we had our permits for the hike. They love a permit in the US. Feels like any small activity requires a permit which I find a bit ironic in the Land of the Free. My backpack was heavy. It was an old skool ruck sack I’d had for years, more suited to Inter Railing than steep mountain ascents. The first mile was a steep climb as we entered the San Gorgonio wilderness – a couple of miles of switchbacks. It was pretty tough going but as it was the beginning your legs are still fairly fresh. The scenery was breathtaking, helped by the agreeable weather, sunny but not too hot – although I was still sweating like a glass blowers behind.


Into the wild we go…

As a worrier a lot of thoughts were racing through my mind. Thoughts like ‘who’s idea was this? Will we get to camp in time before it’s dark? Was that snapped twig sound to my left a mountain lion tracking us? Will Tristan be able to make it all the way? More importantly will I?’ Most of the thoughts illogical so you steam through them and keep going onwards and upwards, what what…


Backpacks at the ready

Thankfully, after the first steep mile or so things evened out as we headed through Manzanita Flats, a high meadow packed with the hardy and native Manzanita plant with it’s distinctive dark and spindly branches. This section went on for a couple of miles. Tristan was keeping up like a trooper. I wanted to go faster to guarantee not setting up camp in the dark. Temperatures were really dropping and clouds had started to roll in, although thankfully as we keep getting higher we managed to stay in the sunlight which kept the temperatures up.


Artsy wood grain close up

Then the last couple of miles to Limber Pine camp really started to drag on, not helped by the increased steepness and a bit of wind on more exposed stretches. Finally we reached camp around 7pm. It was freezing. We hadn’t bought gloves which was a school boy error. We found some shelter behind a tree and set up our budget (and hence heavy tent). I actually really started to feel the altitude and had to take a break from setting up due to dizziness. We had started out the day at sea level and the camp was at 9320 feet. Once set up there was nothing to do but sit in it. It was too cold to be outside – it actually got to minus 4 in the night. I didn’t sleep a wink. I’d failed to bring extra socks so our feet were freezing. Another school boy error. I kept hearing what I thought might have been a large mammal (bear or cat?) sniffing around inches from my head, then realised it might be my paranoia and it was actually the wind rubbing against tent material.

2016-05-21 19.47.49

It feels good to be above the clouds…

The ground was cold and hard. I needed to go for a wee but the thought of venturing outside was too much. I hardly slept at all. I don’t think Tristan did either, not helped by being in a Thomas the Tank Engine sleeping bag he’d had since a toddler, and hence wholly inappropriate for a high altitude mountain camping expedition.


Quite an in-tents experience

We probably ventured out around 6am as the sun started to warm things up. I have to say the camp site was perhaps the most beautiful one I’d ever been to. Clouds rolled down beneath us, untrammeled wilderness, alpine meadows and mountains on one side, a hazy Riverside and Orange counties spread out below us. Mount Baldy grinned at us from across the valley. We had a quick brekkie and then set of for the peak around 9am.


Are we there yet?

If felt like we’d done all the hard work as we’d already done 5 miles with backpacks and the peak was a mere 2.5 from the campsite. We stopped of at the mountain spring near the camp and splashed our faces with ice cold snow melt. There was a lot of snow now, patches of the trail were covered in it. The switchbacks continued taking us higher and we turned a bend at the top to show insane views over San Gorgonio (the highest mountain in Southern California and our final peak to bag). The last half a mile snaked up the spine of the mountain and we finally hit the peak. We did it! The views were gorgeous. It was nice to have the whole day to enjoy the scenery and not be rushed as we’d camped up the mountain.


Peak time rush

As always the return journey dragged on, particularly the last two miles as my knee started to jar, not helped by the weight of the backpack. Tristan was a trooper, no complaints or grumbles. I couldn’t have done such a hike at his age. I’m very proud of him. Two more mountains to go and he’s done the So Cal Six Pack, a major achievement.


Top O The World To Ya.


San Gorgonio in the distance – our next challenge


Cloud 9.. and 10, 11, 14, 24 etc etc


Twisted trunk atop lonely knoll


Manzanita meadow


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