San Bernardino East Peak – My First Overnight Trip

San Bernardino East Peak – My First Overnight Trip

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 34.12220°N / 116.9225°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Jul 22, 2012
Activities Activities: Hiking
Seasons Season: Summer


To begin, let me introduce myself. My name is Jacob Posner, I am fifteen years old, and I like hiking. Only recently, however, I suddenly began to enjoy hiking to the tops of mountains, and thus came about this trip.

So, why did I suddenly like mountains? Well, in my English class last year, we watched the documentary movie Storm over Everest. Our assignment was to use the dialogue in the movie, in addition to other sources, to create a cohesive and logical essay in which the students would describe who had the most reliable account and who had the least reliable account of what actually occured on that fateful night. I recieved a good grade on that essay, but that isn't the point here. I was captivated by the grandeur and beauty of the highest mountain on Earth.

I started researching online about different mountains and ranges, and eventually my sight was drawn upward to meager Black Mountain, which towers over my home in Rancho Penasquitos, San Diego with a whopping 1,558 feet of elevation. I hiked this mountain about eight times and nearby Woodson Mountain one time before deciding that I wanted to climb a real mountain. I aimed my sights at the 10,000+ feet San Bernardino Mountains near Riverside, about two hours north of me by car.

However, I had one small problem: namely, that fifteen-year-olds are not allowed to drive. Before I lost hope, though, my father told me that his best friend since high school, Dr. Willard, was a hiker too, and that I should go speak to him. I took my bike and traveled the one mile to his house, and asked him about it. I was quite surprised when he told me that he had climbed Mount Whitney, Mount Shasta twice, and Mount Rainier twice. I could not have been happier!

In the following weeks, I hiked Woodson Mountain with him and talked with him about hiking whenever I could. When he offered to take me on an overnight trip along with his three boys (in order of descending age: Eliot, Ethan, and Eric), I could not decline the invitation.

After thinking about different hiking destinations, we decided on San Gorgonio Mountain via Dollar Lake, but could not recieve permits only a week in advance (for such a busy trail, the quotas fill up more than a month in advance). Dr. Willard did some more research and reserved permits for San Bernardino East Peak, at 10,691 feet.

There's a First for Everything!

This would be the first time I would experience many things. First and foremost, it would be the first time I would feel high altitude; the highest I had ever been before was at 8,000 feet in Big Bear. However, I don't even remember that. The highest elevation that I can recall is at 5,600 feet on the top of Stonewall Peak.

Second, I had never carried a (real) backpack before. The heaviest pack I had carried before was a 35-lb school backpack, but as you all know, there is a world of difference between a school backpack and a backpacking backpack.

Third, during our planned trip, I would be doing the longest continual hiking I had ever done before in my life.

Despite these challenges (or maybe because of them), I was very excited for my first overnight trip, and I set about learning all that I could of the San Bernardino Mountains, and what I would need for the trip.

Our route would take us from the Forsee Creek trailhead at 6,900 feet to the Jackstraw Springs campground at 9,200 feet, where we would camp for the night. The next day, we would hike to San Bernardino East Peak at 10,691 feet, and then descend 3,800 feet back to the car. The second day, at more than ten miles, would be the farthest I had ever hiked before.

The Ascent

Dr. Willard, with his three boys in the backseats, picked me up at 6:00 A.M. on Saturday, July 21. With permits in hand, and everything packed the night before, we were ready to go! We stopped at an iHop somewhere in Riverside for breakfast before making our way to the Mill Creek Ranger Station to purchase our Adventure Pass for trailhead parking. We had forgotten to bring a trowel, so we bought one in the ranger station, conveniently there for people who forgot to bring their own. We made the drive from there to the Forsee Creek trailhead, did last-minute hydration and organizing of gear, and at around 10:30 A.M., were soon on our way up the 4.5-mile route to the camp.

At a rate of a little over one mile per hour (including rest breaks and lunch), we reached Jackstraw Springs at around 2:30 P.M., where we set up our tent on a nice little flat spot. Our campsite was already a new height record for me at 9,200 feet, but I had an altitude-induced headache for the 24 hours I was above 9,000 feet. Eliot was not feeling well, so he retired to the tent immediately after eating dinner. The rest of us watched the sunset, and were in our sleeping bags by 8:30 P.M.

I probably slept for about two hours total that night. I kept waking up after only about fifteen minutes of being asleep, and then not falling asleep again for several hours. I think that it was from the high altitude.

We all got up at 6:00 A.M., ready for a nice new day of hiking. After eating breakfast, we loaded all of our water and food for lunch into Dr. Willard’s backpack, since he would be carrying our daypack. We started for the summit at around 8:00-8:30 A.M. On the way, I was rewarded my first view of our destination, still about 1,000 feet above us. Big Bear Lake, which had been above us for most of the hike so far, was now below us, and we could now see over the ridge to its south into the town of Big Bear. We reached the saddle between San Bernardino East Peak and Anderson Peak, and were soon on the top. We could see San Gorgonio Mountain near us, along with all of the San Bernardino Mountains; we could see San Jacinto through the haze, although it was more of an outline; and we could spot Mount Baldy in the distance. It was absolutely amazing. There were a couple of clouds hanging over San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, and it looked like the huge mountains were reaching into the sky.

At such a high altitude, I had to breathe deeply so that I would not be out of breath. Even at rest, I would forget to breathe deeply for a couple of seconds, and then would need to do a couple of fast breaths to force more oxygen into my lungs. It was a completely new experience, one that I would like to repeat soon (minus the headache), but at even higher elevations.

What Goes Up, Must Come Down

I would have happily stayed up there forever, but we had to descend, pack up, and leave. We left the summit rocks at around 12:30 P.M. and were back at Jackstraw Springs about one hour later. We then packed up the tent, repacked our backpacks for the descent, and finally left at 2:00 P.M. The constant downhill hurt my ankles a little, but my hiking boots helped a lot.

What had taken us four hours to ascend took us less than two hours to descend. We hiked at a clip, pausing only once for water, constantly exclaiming, “I can’t believe we hiked up this thing!” We reached the trailhead at 4:00 P.M., and the hiking was over. We had had a good, fun trip, but we had to leave and get back home.

Driving out, I caught a glimpse of San Bernardino East Peak 6,000 feet above us. It looked imposing, majestic… I couldn’t believe that we had hiked up it only a couple of hours before.

On the long drive back, Dr. Willard’s boys wanted to go to In-N-Out for burgers, so we took an off-ramp from the highway into a little shopping center surrounded by fields, with nothing but landscape in sight. The thermometer read 98°F, and I was grateful that we had been high up in the mountains, where it was cooler, rather than on the valley floor. With burgers and milkshakes in hand, we returned to our homes in San Diego after a long day of hiking and fun.

So was it a successful trip? We had fun, we were at altitude, and my feet hurt at the end. So, yes. It was successful. So successful, in fact, that on the drive back, I was already looking at different overnight trails in the Golden Trout Wilderness (southern Sierra Nevada) for our next trip.

Hopefully, it’ll be as fun as this trip was, although I don’t think that is possible, just as it isn’t possible for something to be more perfect than perfect.


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