Ascent of San Gorgonio Mountain on 2014-06-08

Climber: Samuel Hahn

Date:Sunday, June 8, 2014
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:San Gorgonio Mountain
    Elevation:11499 ft / 3504 m

Ascent Trip Report

Having long since resigned myself to the sad reality that this temporary move to the East Coast would prevent bagging West Coast ultra-prominent peaks any more frequently than a few days once a year, I was at once ecstatic and angered upon receiving an invite from my father to accompany him on his vacation to Los Angeles. Didn't he know that I'd already accepted my new life as a flatlander, a life of sea level confinement with only occasional escapes to the gentle ranges of the East? But, of course, the prospect of a few days climbing the dusty peaks of the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains soon replaced my anger with childlike glee, as I realized that this jaunt west would be my best chance to stand atop Southern California's highest peak, San Gorgonio.

A few weeks later, with the necessary permit from the Forest Service secured safely in my cargo shorts, I found myself cruising in a rented Hyundai down Highway 18 heading west to the Vivian Creek Trailhead. It may have been only 4:30 AM when I hit the road, but a combination of mild jet-lag (it still felt much later in the morning--thank you East Coast!) and inexorable euphoria at this unexpected return to the Pacific Crest propelled me down the winding mountain roads and into a nearly half-filled parking lot at the start of the trail. Suddenly nervous that the ease at which I found the trailhead must mean I’d also made a horrible wrong turn (this morning can’t be going so smoothly, can it?), I rolled down my window and asked a group of younger Baby Boomers whether or not this was in fact the Vivian Creek Trailhead. Their positive confirmations and then eventual invitation to join their hiking group assuaged my fears, and before I knew it, I found myself in the company of new friends powering through San Gorgonio’s lower slopes. A later admission from their trip leader that I was hiking with members of one of Southern California’s most respected and well-established hiking groups inflated my ego just a bit more, but when she invited me to join her team on an ascent of Mount Whitney, it damn near burst. Doesn’t she know that the last P2K I ascended was still lower in elevation than San Gorgonio’s trailhead? How am I possibly supposed to keep up with such fit and seasoned hikers?

The answer came soon and unequivocally enough, just as the party ascended past 9,000’ and altitude sickness started to rear its ugly head; a throbbing headache, burning lungs, and roiling stomach compelled me to lag behind the group. I soon found myself at the tail end and then eventually entirely on my own as I dragged one newly heavier foot in front of the other à la Frankenstein’s monster. But still, the unfiltered sunlight reflecting off the stout pines , scrubby brush, and lustrous granitic boulders filled my pulsing head with a sense of serenity (which coincidentally could have been a product of under-oxygenation), and added a lightness to my feet, propelling me above tree-line and towards a jumbled summit pile of white stones. Though sluggish, I managed to snap a smiling photo of the ascent, and then took in the 360 degree views of lesser mountains and desert valleys. Tears nearly streamed down my face, as I realized the improbability of this successful summit gained. Having never climbed this far, this high, or this soon after being removed from such prominent Western peaks, I knew that my chances of bagging San Gorgonio were slim. But for whatever inexplicable reason, I pushed past 9 miles of trail and over 5400’ feet of gain to find myself at the roof of Southern California’s transverse ranges. Soon enough, however, the looming descent all but effaced my exuberance, as I came to the sobering understanding that the true end to this odyssey was still far away.

Still, the length and strenuousness of the return trip surprised me. I’d thought that the steady downhill route to the trailhead would be a breeze, but on several occasions I stopped myself from stumbling off the trail and forcing down energy bars to maintain a steady forward motion. 4 hours later, my zombie shuffle led to a darkening trailhead ,a welcoming pair of flip-flops, and a chance to finally rest my dusty, sunburnt legs.

Not bad for an East Coast flatlander.

12 hours car-to-car
18.6 miles
5420’ elevation gain.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:5420 ft / 1652 m
    Round-Trip Distance:18.6 mi / 29.9 km
    Route:Vivian Creek Trail
    Trailhead:Vivian Creek Trailhead  6079 ft / 1852 m
    Grade/Class:Class 1
    Quality:8 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail

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