San Gorgonio is an impressive mountain and is not to be taken lightly. I started my trip on Thursday May 12, 2005 driving from Medford, Oregon to the Trailhead. It is important to stop at the Mill Creek Ranger Station on Hwy 38 as you leave Redlands. I was surprised that the Ranger Station was nothing more than an old house and I almost drove past it. At the Ranger Station get your Wilderness Permit. This is a free permit but is a mandatory requirement to enter the San Gorgonio Wilderness. You will also need an Adventure Pass to park anywhere in the Southern California Mountains. I arrived at the Ranger Station just before the nice ladies closed for the night. They were informative and indicated I could car camp for free on Evans Flat near the east end of Jenks Road.
I drove up Hwy 38 and took the Jenks Road turn off. I easily found the South Fork Trailhead and stopped to check it out. There is paved parking for about 100 cars and there are nice toilets. The trail starts near the toilets, just follow the crosswalk across Jenks Road. I could see tall mountains north of the TH, but they are not San Gorgonio. I think one of them is Charlton Peak. I then drove up Jenks Road to Evans Flat and selected a flat spot for the night. I was the only one camping here Thursday night.
I got up early the next morning and drove back to the TH. There was only one other car in the parking lot and it only took me a few minutes to get ready and start my hike. It was 5:30AM. The trail is easy to follow and meanders up the canyon past Horse Meadows and in about an hour I reached Poopout Hill and enter the wilderness where the permit is required.
The trail continues northerly to South Fork Meadows and I started to hit patches of snow. By the time I got to South Fork Meadows the trail was mostly snow covered. There is a place where a recent avalanche covered the trail. Just proceed straight across this area. The snow was hard and easy to walk on and there were enough footprints from previous hikers that the trail was easy to follow.
Before reaching South Fork Meadows, there is a little sign on the trail where it forks with one fork heading to Dry Lake and the other fork heads to Dollar Lake. I continued straight ahead towards Dollar Lake and soon lost the trail. I followed my GPS compass and headed directly towards Jepson Peak. Within a couple hundred yards, I passed through an area where a large avalanche came off Charlton Peak and deposited many broken trees and stumps. Watch your footing here because the snow is very rough and full of holes. I still couldn’t see San Gorgonio from this spot.
I took a sighting with my GPS towards Jepson Peak and headed up a clear snow slope to a tree line about 500ft EG up. At the tree line I put on my crampons but continued to use my trekking poles. I was starting to slip a little because of the steepness of the snow and I felt like it would take less energy to climb. I continued up through the trees climbing up to about 9,700ft and finally reached a ridgeline where I could see San Gorgonio and Jepson Peak. At this point, I realized I probably should have navigated directly towards San Gorgonio instead of Jepson Peak. There is a valley between the San Gorgonio – Jepson Peak ridgeline and the ridge line I was standing on. I could see a ridge coming off the north side of San Gorgonio that would be a good path to the summit. I could also see a cornice along most to the ridge from San Gorgonio to Jepson and continuing to the west. I decided that I would stay on the ridge line that I was standing on instead of descending into the valley and losing several hundred feet of EG.
The ridgeline I was on went up to Little Charlton Peak and I could see the saddle between Little Charlton and Jepson Peak. I aimed for this saddle at about 10,500 feet. Most of this route to the saddle was sidehill footing but I eventually got to the saddle. The San Bernardino Divide Trail comes up to this saddle from the west, but it was snow covered and impossible to follow. I headed cross country directly up the ridge line to Jepson Peak. This was good climbing and I was still using my trekking poles instead of the ice axe.
I reached the summit of Jepson and had excellent views of the mountains to the west leading up to Jepson and also Mt. San Antonio far to the west and Mt. San Jacinto to the south. The ridge line leading to San Gorgonio is wide and flat and easy to follow. I continued along, staying several feet back from the cornices and enjoyed the views until I reached the summit of San Gorgonio. My GPS said I had traveled 7.65 miles, but it took me over 7 hours. I was in no hurry.
I had a nice leisurely lunch and relaxed in the warm sun and gentle breeze for about an hour. I reapplied sunblock for the 4th time today just to make sure I wasn’t going to fry. There was a chipmunk next to the summit register and he was the only company I had on the mountain today.
I decided to take a direct line back to the TH when I left the summit. I noticed that where the northern ridge of San Gorgonio meets the summit ridge there was no cornice and I could get down to a steep slope heading down. This ridge is about 1/3 of the way back towards Jepson.
I broke out my ice axe and put away my crampons. It was time to glissade! I found a spot and took off from about 11,250ft. I finally stopped at 9,700ft and gave a hearty Whoop!
From here I took a GPS sighting back to South Fork Meadows and headed off through the woods. Just before I got to South Fork Meadows I met 4 guys who were heading up to Dry Lake to camp for the night. The rest of the hike back to the car was uneventful and it only took me about 3 ½ hours to make it down from the summit to the TH. My GPS said it was only 6.65 miles from the summit back to the car.