Ascent of San Gorgonio Mountain on 2018-08-26

Climber: Gustav Sexauer

Other People:Solo Ascent
Date:Sunday, August 26, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:San Gorgonio Mountain
    Elevation:11499 ft / 3504 m

Ascent Trip Report

After spending the afternoon in Joshua Tree NP the day before, I car camped at the rest area at exit 113 on I-10. Many other people were doing the same. I awoke at 4am, then drove to the trailhead which surprisingly is just past a little village in the small valley, that even had a school zone. The trailhead said day use began at 6am, but there was already at least fifteen other cars there and a few people wearing headlamps while getting ready. I began at 5:19am. Interestingly, the hardest part of the trail is right away when you have to follow an old road which a wash has taken over. Less than 10 minutes in, the trail becomes a real trail and was easy going the rest of the way. I was a little worried about finding the trail on the other side of the massive wash that I was crossing in the dark, but a reflective sign was straight across, and I noticed it while I was halfway over. The trail then climbed steeply to the wilderness boundary where it says you need a permit. I, however, had read on the Forest Service website that a day-use permit was only recommended and that they have erroneous signs in the field that they have yet to update. I had filled out a permit form online anyway, but wasn't able to print it to have it with me.

I passed a couple at the boundary, then a group of three by the first camping area. Around here there were 100'+ tall trees and they were very big around. Very cool. Next, two runners passed me maybe 20 minutes apart. After the second camp there was a section where manzanita was threatening to cover the trail. I got my last glimpse at the moon here after I had seen it set twice, but my ascent kept popping it back up over a ridge. I couldn't see the city at all due to heavy fog/clouds. A Stellar's Jay, possibly my favorite bird, swooped in front of me. I passed two you women next, then a ranger headed down. She just asked me what time I started. There was a smaller waterfall on the right and a good view of an inhospitable rocky slope off to the right on the next ridge. Quite scenic. Soon after there was the high camp and a stream crossing, only a foot wide. There were a few hikers coming down in this area. Next came the silly switchbacks. They were so mellow that they almost paralleled each other in places. I could see how some might bypass this section. On top of that was the best view, other than the summit. I got to look straight at San Jacinto across the way. The trail then continued working up a slope that seemed to have no end. I heard that there was 400' above treeline, but shrubs were all the way up any slope I could see. I was getting tired and my pace fell quite a bit. I began to take some short breaks. Katrina texted me that she got on a new flight after missing her first one this morning, and that cheered me up. The trail got a bit hard to follow in the bowl area, but soon I was at two trail signs. The trail crested the highest saddle and a couple told me I was looking at the top. The summit is only visible in the last 2-3 minutes of the ascent, so it really is a head game. Also, there are shrubby trees on the summit hill, so I am not sure if you could say the terrain is above treeline. But if there are no trees taller than you, are you above treeline?

I spent 30 minutes on the top after arriving at 9:42am and no one else showed up. Right before I left I noticed that someone carved their name in the rock in 1904. I could see Joshua Tree well, unlike looking in the opposite direction yesterday. San Jacinto loomed, but was clearly lower. The LA basin was socked in and I couldn't see the ocean like I had hoped.

On the way down I encountered people first at the Dollar Lake junction. Over the next hour there were 60-80 people coming up, which certainly slowed my pace while I gave them their uphill right-of-way. Otherwise I was quick on my feet and determined to shave some time. To my amazement, the group of three from early this morning was at the back of the huge wave. Were they going to make it? I got in the background of someone's video on the cool Jacinto Vista and was introduced to the viewing audience as "a miscellaneous hiker". Lower I had the trail almost to myself, which I was loving. I did come up on a doe and two fawns, which I accidentally chased down a ridge. I passed another ranger, and he told me that many of those in that big wave of people were part of a kickboxing club. It made sense since many of them had radios, GPS's, and compasses that all looked similar. Back across the enormous wash there was a hushed commotion with ten people staring off to the side. A woman told me there was a black bear cub, and sure enough, maybe 80' from the trail, was a full grown black bear moseying along. In a couple minutes I was back at the car, and it was time to drive the 5 hours home.

What impressed me about this hike was that my uphill time was exactly the same as my marathon time from 2015. I was feeling it at the top, but once I began heading down my dread of the long descent was subdued by the fast pace I was able to keep. This hike sets my personal record for gain in a day and distance in a day on a hike (the marathon and one training run were longer).
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5544 ft / 1689 m
    Extra Gain:60 ft / 18 m
    Round-Trip Distance:19 mi / 30.6 km
    Route:Vivian Creek Trail
    Trailhead:Big Falls TH  6075 ft / 1851 m
    Grade/Class:Class 1
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
Ascent Statistics
    Time:4 Hours 24 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:3 Hours 1 Minutes

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