San Gorgonio Trip Report (#9070)
- Signed By: Robert
- Date submitted: February 17, 2003
- Date(s) climbed: 02-16-03
- Number of People Encountered:
I had completed my other three climbs (Santiago, San Jacinto, and Mt San Antonio) and had been eagerly anticipating climbing San Gorgonio. With 16 miles and 5,700 feet of elevation gain it is the most formidable of the 4. But I was not just going to hike it - I was going to go for a solo winter climb.
It had just stormed for the entire week prior to my climb and I kept an eye on the weather to insure that it would be doable by the weekend.
I created my maps and read as much as I could about the trail itself.
I decided that if I didn't feel good about any section of the climb I would turn back. I also gave myself a 12:30 turnaround time. I didn't want to have to try and navigate any of the steeper snow slopes or the lower sections of the trail in the dark. (Even with a headlamp some of the trail is pretty obscure.)
I didn't get started until 6:35 - almost an hour and a half after my desired start time.
I got my gear ready and started up the paved trail which soon turned into dirt which soon brought me to the Mill Creek crossing. There was little more than a trickle going through the creek bed. With a hop, skip, and a few jumps I was on the other side ready to start up the grueling 1000 feet in a mile section of the trail. It seemed like no time at all before I was at Vivian Creek. I took some pictures, checked my altimeter and map, and headed up the trail to Half-way Camp at 8100 feet. The hiking was fairly uneventful save for the scenery and running into a few snow/ ice patches along the way. At about 8700 feet I donned my snowshoes and made my way up to High Camp at 9200 feet.
The area was beautiful and soon I was faced with a decision: Do I try switch-backing my way up the side of the mountain to the 10,000 foot ridge or do I follow the steep gully that's in front of me? Well, it's my adventure so I started up the gully. Steep indeed. I followed the techniques that I had read about in books and seen in videos. Plunge the poles into the snow and ice, then step aggressively up with one foot then do the same with the other. Always having three points of contact and not making any moves until at least three points were secure. (I looked back and saw another team of two strapping on crampons to follow suit.) I repeated this up the gully to 10,120 feet. If my legs had been able they would have kicked me in the butt for this. Little did they know that I had a whole new level of punishment awaiting them.
Ahead of me I saw a pair of climbers. I was quickly gaining on them and they let me pass. I was traveling light and moving as quickly as I could. Soon my biggest goal was to get out from underneath all of the trees. They were dropping huge chunks of ice down onto me. The last thing I wanted to have happen was to have to turn back due to being conked on the head by an overly-aggressive tree.
It wasn't long before I was above tree line and though I was away from falling ice, now I had to deal with incredible winds and bone-chilling cold. Not to mention the long traverse ahead on a 40-50 degree slope. I was nearing 11,000 feet.
There were no trees save for the ones below me, looking up as to beg me to slip and slide over 1000 feet through snow and ice into their clutches. I was not at ease. I kicked steps as I went along. My adrenaline was pumping so I didn't feel like it was much of a struggle. Just a slow process.
I looked at my watch - it was nearing 12:00. I had 30 minutes and a lot of ground to cover to make it to the summit. I altered my turn-around time to 1:00.
I slowly made my way to the gully that leads up to the summit. By now everything was mostly hard ice. Working my way up to the summit I followed the same process as I had for the gully earlier. My mantra had become "Plunge the poles into the snow and ice then step aggressively up with one foot then do the same with the other. Always having three points of contact and not making any moves until at least three points are secure."
Next thing I know, I'm on the summit!
It was incredibly cold and windy. I took a quick video. Then I looked down and saw the team of two, that were strapping on their crampons at the gully, coming across the traverse,
I headed back down and met them just as they finished the traverse. One guy thanked me for breaking trail and congratulated me with a "good work man". I worked my way back across the traverse. But by this time with three pair of feet walking across, the ice had become loose...too loose for my comfort so I headed uphill a little ways. It was a long ways down on a steep slope and I didn't want to make any mistakes.
I got back to the other side and at about 10,200 feet I found a lone crampon. I picked it up figuring that it was probably one of the guy's that I had passed earlier and perhaps that was why they did not try to cross.
I did a lot of glissading back down towards the top of the gully. I started to glissade down the gully, picking up too much speed I rolled over onto my left elbow and dug into the snow and ice, but I wasn't slowing so I took my right trekking pole and dug it into the ice. This slowed me down and I was finally able to stop but not before bending the lower section of the pole. Oh well, I thought, better it than me.
I caught up with the two climbers at about 9000 feet and asked if they had lost a crampon. The guy nearest me regretfully said that he had. I turned my back to him as I had strapped onto the back of my pack and told him to take it. He was delighted and offered to send me money. I declined, took off my snowshoes, and made my way down the trail.
The rest of the downhill was pretty much a reflection of the morning. Looking back up the slopes to the ice covered trees, knowing that I had been there and above. I was happy.