Mt San Gorgonio

Mt San Gorgonio (11,501ft) via Fish Creek, elevation gain 3390ft

For those of you who
don’t often hike mountains, the hiking of 11,501.6 feet (and I say that so
precisely for a reason) may not know what an accomplishment the hiking of Mt.
San Gorgonio is for someone who lives at sea level.  Well, it’s a big deal, and I’m going to gloat
for a bit 🙂

OK, gloating done.  Here’s the story. 

Because California backcountry
trails are so regulated I had to apply for a permit to take this hike months 3 ago.  If you’re caught on a trail without a permit
(or a shovel) you can face a hefty fine. 
I was so excited when it came in the mail!

Friday night we left at
about 10:30pm and drove to the trailhead so we could get a fresh start on the
trail in the morning.  We made it there
at about 12:45am.  It was dark and cold,
and we were the only ones there.  This
tired mama didn’t much care, and fell asleep instantly. 

At about 7am I woke up
to noises outside the car.  Other hikers
had arrived and were ready to go. 
Literally.  They just parked their
cars, put on their hiking gear, and were gone. 
I should stop here to note they were all day hikers, hiking with just a
water bottle.  We had heavier backpacking
gear, intending to spend the night at the summit. 

Well, I woke up, brushed
my hair and teeth, made sure I had the map and keys, and we were on our way by

We immediately hiked
through a meadow, and came upon the namesake of this trailhead:  “Fish Creek”. 
When you look at the creek you wonder about the name… it doesn’t look
like any fish could live in that creek! 
It was really more like a trickle, and from the looks of it, even heavy
rains probably don’t make it much bigger. 
Maybe one time someone caught a minnow or something and thought to name
it Fish Creek.  Or the guy who named it
had the last name of Fish and thought it would be a fun joke. 

Well, Fish Creek was the
last place that had any water on the entire trail.  The trees were all dry, and the ground looked
like it hadn’t rained or snowed for years. 
Dry, dry, dry.

Here’s the first glimpse
of the peak.

It looked so far away,
and I knew it was even further than it looked. 
At the halfway point I noticed the trail was really poorly marked, so I
got out my orange marking tape and marked some of the trees.

Here I noticed someone
had left their water bottle (presumably to use on the way back down), which
seemed like a genius idea!  This is so
much smarter than carrying extra water all the way up.  That is, as long as you don’t run out with
what you have and someone else doesn’t take it first. 

We continued hiking, and
came upon a plane wreck from WWII.

It looked like a nasty
crash.  There were plane parts and debris
scattered all over the mountain.  When
the wind blew, the pieces of metal swaying in the wind made an eerie
sound.  We sat there for a few minutes
and wondered if it fell while trying to climb the mountain, or if it hit the
mountain straight on.

Now began the
switchbacks.  As far as I’m concerned,
switchback is a four letter word. As soon as I thought we were at the last one,
another one came into view.  There were
3.2 miles of switchbacks on this trail! 
UGH!  There has to be a better

As you can see from the
topo map, once we were done with the switchbacks we had to circle the mountain
to summit.  That part really wasn’t too
bad, except we were at the end of the hike, and pretty tired by this
point.  Every time we made it around
another turn we just knew we had to be there, only to see more schist, slate,
and shale.

Finally I saw a sign
that said we were .4mi away.  I wanted to
start running, but couldn’t. It was all uphill and I was out of breath.  I took a bit of a break and noticed there was
a lot of Bighorn Sheep scat on the trail. 
I hoped we’d see some animals too.

This was where we were
passed by an INSANE person.  He was all
by himself, dressed in red, carrying nothing more than a water backpack and two
hiking poles.  He was RUNNING across the
trails.  He looked as if he were cross
country skiing sans snow!  This guy was a
maniac, and he was doing all 9 peaks in one day!  Later, when we talked to a ranger below, we
were told he does this weekly.  He parks
his car at the trailhead and leaves his bike at another.  He hikes, runs, and then bikes back to his
car.  Insane I tell you!  And it’s about 50+ miles to boot!

The view from the summit
was incredible! I could see a complete 360 degree view of all of Southern

I saw freeways, and knew
there must be cars on them, even if I couldn’t see the cars themselves. I found
the summit box with journals to write logs of our hike, and to sign the
register announcing I’d made it to the top. 
There was also a box with an American Flag inside.  I was a bit upset to find it all rolled
up.  I took a few pictures with it,
folded it up properly, and put it back into the box.

I met a lot of nice
people at the summit.  Some who hike all
the time and had tales of the Grand Canyon and the like.  I even talked to 3 older men (in their 60s)
who were currently on their way to Mount Whitney.  Can you believe that?  And we thought our hike was long!  More power to them!  There was a group of students there from Cal
State Fullerton who were there for a geology class, and a bunch of brothers who
were on a family hike with their father. 
Everyone was nice, and the conversations were great!  It was a really enjoyable time. 

Being really tired, we
set up and slept in the tent for about half an hour. Then we went out on the
summit again to look for the elevation market (we hadn’t been able to find it
before).  A couple of guys had actually
found it, and clued us in.  It was pretty
hard to find, only about 2 inches in diameter.

It did say the elevation
of Mt San Gorgonio (as of 1989) was 11501.6 feet.  This is a big deal because maps like to quote
it as being only 11499 feet, and so does the patch you can buy at the ranger
station.  When you hike mountains, and
want to brag, every inch counts. 
Seriously, this is a big deal!  I
talked with a ranger after the hike and he told me the mountain is actually
growing, so it’s probably taller now. (Edited in 2017 to add it’s now measured
at 11,503 ft).

The last hikers left at
about 4pm and from then on new had the whole mountaintop to ourselves!  We cooked dinner and ate on the peak and
walked around surveying the area.  Some
really smart people had set up walls of rocks, kind of like makeshift Indian
ruins, to block out the intense winds so you could set up your tent out of the
wind.  So we could hear, but not feel,
the wind all night.

After dinner we went to
bed early.  Mainly because we were
exhausted, and we could go to bed:  no
kids to take care of J  We had
mummy sleeping bags that kept us pretty warm, even in the 20 degree
temperatures.  There was no dew on the
inside of the tent thanks to our waterproofing it last week.  All in all, a pretty enjoyable night… much
better than the one on Mt. San Jacinto.

I woke up at 8am to
bright sunlight and amazing views.  After
breaking down camp and eating breakfast I looked for some small rocks to bring
back for the kids.  I took in a last view
of all of Southern California, and started back down.  We breezed down the mountain.  It’s so much easier to hike down!  We made it back to the car by 1:30pm.  Amazing!

On the way down we saw a
bunch of day hikers.  Mostly people who
had slept at Dry Lake the night before and were hiking the rest of the way
today.  We talked to about 30 people who
had over-nighted it at Dry Lake, and concluded it must be a pretty full
campground. It was cool to know we were the only ones on the peak, with no one
there to bother us.  I don’t think I
would have wanted to camp with so many other people I didn’t know. Interesting
conversation, I’m sure, but not too peaceful.

We also met up with a
guy who was carrying 40lbs of water.  For
just a day hike.  Nuts!  He had two 20lb jugs of water on his back,
and was debating whether or not he could make the climb. He also said he was
sure he needed that much water.  I told
him to leave host of his water halfway up, and he could claim it if he needed
it on the way down. 

Next we came upon an ill
prepared scout troop.  By this time they
were only about 3 miles from the trailhead, and these boys already looked
exhausted!  They had just begun their
ascent, and it was already past noon. 
The boys were red in the face, lethargic, and more than a bit
grumpy.  It was really hot, and they were
thinking only about half of their troop would make it.  I doubt any of them did. They were only
carrying one water bottle each and they were already worn out.  I hope they made it, but seriously doubt they
did.  I told them maybe the guy with
40lbs of water could help them out?

After that it was an
easy hike to the bottom.  I spotted a doe
with two fawns, and some bear markings on trees (but no bears). We passed Fish
Creek again, and caught a frog.

That last mile was a bit
grueling, but only because we had hiked for so long already.  Estimates vary, but we hiked an entire 25
mile hike!  Woohoo!  We made it!

We hopped into the car,
threw on the air conditioning, and drove to the rangers’ station, where we
bought out traditional souvenir patches, and this time we bought pins to put
onto our backpacks (replicas of the marker on the summit).  I looked in the mirror and noticed I had
quite the sunburn.  I was red all over,
and there were blisters on my nose, despite my use of sunscreen.  Oh well! 
We ate at a really greasy spoon, and then headed home.  We were back home by 4pm, greeted by hugs and
kisses from the kids. 

So, compared to Mt. San
Jacinto, I would have to say this hike was a bit easier.  It was definitely longer, but less aggressive
elevation wise. Except of course for those switchbacks!  Mt. San Gorgonio is about 667 feet higher
than San Jacinto, and considered to be more difficult.  So I’m thinking maybe it was easier because
we knew what to expect?  Or maybe because
we were expecting it to be more difficult and thus planned accordingly. 

I found it was actually
easier to hike with a pack than with the water pack around my waist I carried
last time.  (Last time I was always off balance). 

Just remember:  It’s higher than it looks.  It’s longer than it looks. It’s harder than
it looks.  I had a great time, and
besides a few easy backpacking hikes though San Mateo Canyon, Mt Baldy is
next.  Anyone wanna join me?

Author: Laura M Clark

Laura has summited over 500 peaks above 13,000' solo, including being the first woman to solo summit all of the Colorado 14ers, as well as the centennials. After each hike, she writes trip reports for each one and publishes them on her blog, which is read by fans all over the world. Author of Wild Wanderer: Summiting Colorado’s 200 Highest Peaks, which is available to purchase on Amazon.

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