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