Getting High with a Little Help from My Friends

On Friday June 22, 2012, at approximately 3:00 p.m., two friends and I were the highest people in Southern California. Not that kind of high, silly, the real kind. The legal kind. The awesome, natural high, kind. We spent the day hiking up Vivian Creek Trail to the top of San Gorgonio Mountain, the highest peak in Southern California. We tried to get an early start, and hit the trail before 7:00 a.m.

Happy shiny hikers off to an early start.

Crossing the creekbed at sunrise, 7:10 a.m.

Forty minutes later we had already ascended high above the trailhead parking lot.

Looking down on the trailhead parking lot, can you spot it?

By about 9:00 a.m. we had gained 2,100 feet and made it to the Halfway Camp junction. Halfway Camp is really just a tease, since we were only three miles into the 9 mile ascent to the summit. I guess it should be called One-Third of the Way Camp.

Halfway Camp, 9:10am, about 8,100 feet elevation. We gained 2,100 feet in about two hours.

We took our first break at 9:40 a.m., and enjoyed the view toward the West while ate some sandwiches, cherries, and fancy tech food to replenish our fuel for the next uphill push.

Our first real break, 9:40am. Looking west toward San Bernardino.

Any guesses what the “NP” stands for? Looks like someone was determined to put it there.

Back on the trail, 10:00am. Thankfully, that tree stayed put.

We got our first glimpse of the east side of the ridge at 12:30.  We were at about 10,000 feet at that point, and feeling pretty good about our progress. The trail turned north and we hiked along the ridge and enjoyed an expansive view of the desert to the east.

Our first view toward the East!

An hour later, we reached the tree line, and things got serious. The last thousand feet of ascent toward the summit is an uphill slog along a rocky slope. By this time, my head and my lungs were feeling the altitude, and for a minute or two, I questioned whether I was going to make it. I took frequent rests to try and fend off the headache, and took a few photographs while I caught my breath.

Heading up the most brutal part of the uphill, past the tree line,1:50pm. Looking down on the lucky guy going downhill.

Thats where we’re headed!

After hiking in shade and tall trees for over four hours, it seemed that there wasn’t much plant life above the tree line aside from these pretty piney shrubs, and these funny broccoli looking plants.

Pretty piney shrub.

Broccoli plant.

Broccoli plant flowers.

After 8 hours, we made it to the summit at 3:00 p.m. and pulled up a boulder to sit down and take a rest while enjoying the view from the highest point in Southern California at 11,471 feet. It was a pretty proud moment. I think all three of us pushed ourselves considerably to get there, and it felt so good to relish the fact that at that moment, we were taller than everyone else in Southern California.

We made it!

From the summit, looking North.

Looking East.

Looking South.

Looking West.

When we were at the summit, we heard some hikers talking about their friend, we’ll call him M, who had been struck with some altitude sickness and didn’t make up to the top. They had left him along the trail with the intention of picking him up on their way back down. We offered to check in on him when we started our descent. We found him about 15 minutes down the trail and it was apparent that he needed to get down to a lower elevation so we convinced him to hike down  a ways with us. Thankfully, he started feeling better once we got down a thousand feet or so.

Our new friend, who hiked surprisingly well for someone who had been puking in the bushes for a couple hours before we found him.

His friends were fast hikers, they caught up with us and passed us by, but M opted to hike down at our slower pace. We were glad for that, he was a great hiking companion and charmed us with stories of bear encounters and Boy Scouting, among other things.

Heading down the switchbacks.

One of the great things about this hike is that we got to see the landscape with the sun rising in the East on our way up, but got another view of it all on the way back down with the sun setting in the West. We enjoyed the wildflowers, meadows, and streams bathed in the light of the sunset peaking through the trees.

Pretty wildflowers, Indian Paintbrush, I think.

Beautiful sunbathed green view.

Hiking creekside, enjoying the sound of the water.

Pinecones, pinecones, everywhere!

Our descent was slower than we had anticipated it would be, given our sore legs and feet, and the steep rocky terrain. Thankfully, we all had our headlamps handy, because the last 45 minutes or so of the hike was in the dark, and we were hiking through the pain with a lot of mind over matter at that point. We weren’t too bummed about our late arrival at the bottom, because we were rewarded with this fantastic scenery when we crossed back across the creek bed to the trailhead.

Our reward for making it down the mountain in one piece, just in time for twilight.

At about 9:30 p.m. we made it back to the car after a grand total of 19.57 miles. I can say, with confidence, that this hike was the most physically demanding thing I’ve accomplished since nine months of pregnancy. This hike was TOUGH. I am so proud of my hiking pals, and so excited to get back out there and conquer another peak! (I’m looking at you, Mt. Whitney!)

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About PGMG

Mama. Bookworm. Hiker. Music lover. Retro enthusiast. Eater of nachos.
This entry was posted in Photography, The Great Outdoors and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Getting High with a Little Help from My Friends

  1. Kelly says:

    Great pictures Tricia! What an awesome recap of the day…thank you!

  2. eric.rial says:

    We’ve backpacked up the same trail to High Camp twice. Not enough time (or energy) to go to the summit the first time. Too much snow the second time. It’s a beautiful hike.

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