San Gorgonio on Ice
LA's highways, usually a nightmare sea of brake lights swimming with type-A jerks darting from lane to lane in an effort to get ahead, are blessedly calm before 5:00 AM. The dull ache of waking too early had faded by the time we got on the 10, headed east to the San Bernardinos. It was cool and rainy in the valley, and the forecast said "snow showers," but we had already scraped ourselves out of bed and scraped together gear (including the Fearsome YakTrax). So a surprisingly clear dawn found us shivering at the Vivian Creek trailhead, aiming for San Gorgonio or, time permitting, the Gorgonio-Bernardino loop. Having done the loop two summers ago, I thought a day trip would be just doable.
San Jacinto above a sea of clouds, from Vivian Creek trail.
The snow started early, and while it was hard enough to support me, Noah had a rougher time of it, regularly punching through ankle- to calf-deep. The trail to high camp was well-traveled by feet and at least one pair of snowshoes (even on bare dirt), so there was no trouble finding the path. As we reached the first ridge, we were greeted by views of San Jacinto and the San Gabriels rising from a sea of clouds, and of ice-covered trees on the ridge above us.
Our intrepid dry-land snowshoer turned back at high camp, and we followed sporadic old bootprints up the slope to our right to gain the second ridge. Though it was still t-shirt weather, the snow hardened considerably, and while I comfortably cramponed up the slope, Noah's YakTrax began to awaken in him a fear of cold, sliding death. Cautious walking got us both to the ridge, with views of San Gorgonio and the edge of the cloud sea to the North. It was clear at this point that we were not moving fast enough for the traverse, so we took a break to enjoy the views and unseasonable warmth.
Sea of clouds northwest of San Gorgonio. Iced-over tree on the second ridge on Vivian Creek trail.
The snow on the ridge was hard but YakTrakable, and while we saw evidence of a recent ice storm on the trees, we failed to fully appreciate what that would mean higher up. On the open traverse from the ridge across to San Gorgonio, the ice became harder and the ice storm's results more dramatic. The man with the YakTrax's fear of sliding death looked increasingly well-founded, so he wisely retreated while I continued to the summit. The wind rose and temperature fell dramatically as I neared the ridge, though the summit post's 6-8" horizontal icicles showed that present conditions were relatively mild.
The summit stake on San Gorgonio, with 6-8" horizontal icicles. Galena Peak (?) looking especially rugged through a dissipating fog.
I took a few photos and dug around in the snow in a futile search for the register, then caught up to Noah as he carefully made his way down to high camp. We continued down the seemingly endless trail into a cold, creeping fog, reaching the car around 3:30 amid surprisingly dramatic views of the surrounding peaks.
Running shoes with strap-on 10-point crampons, warm socks, an ice axe, and a shell jacket and gloves for the summit. Fearsome YakTrax for comic relief.
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