San Bernardino County High Point Trip Report

Mount San Gorgonio (11,499 ft according to 1996 topo, 11,502 ft according to USGS BM)

Date: September 2001
Author: Scott Surgent

My route was the popular Vivian Creek trail, at the end of the road out of Forest Falls, about 10 miles east of Redlands. The trailhead elevation is 6,060 feet according to USFS literature. I started at 6:30 a.m. in cool clear weather.

It's a 7.8 mile hike one-way to the top with over 5,400 feet of gain, so it's best to take this hike in segments. The first portion parallels Mill Creek a short bit, then crosses Mill Creek and up a very steep series of switchbacks to the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area boundary sign at elevation 7,000 feet, less than a mile from the start. This is the steepest part of the entire hike.

The next 2 miles or so gain at a very moderate grade, paralleling Vivian Creek much of the way and passing two designated camping areas along the way. At roughly the 3-mile mark and about elevation 8,200 feet, the trail starts a section of long switchbacks up out of the Vivian Creek canyon, eventually reaching High Creek Camp at mile 4.8 and elevation 9,400 feet. It took me exactly 3 hours to get this far. I stopped for a long break and met a couple, Chris and Jennifer (and their dog Otis). They allowed me to cache some of my stuff at their site to lighten my load for the final push.

After about 30 minutes at High Creek, I started up another set of switchbacks to gain the main ridge at elevation 10,100 feet. (The topo seems to indicate just a few switchbacks. In reality, there are well over a dozen, making for an easy grade but a longer walk). The trail stayed high on the ridge and started another series of little switchbacks past a knob at 10,500 feet. San Gorgonio's mass was now in full view.

The final portion traverses a scree slope below peak 11,171 and meets up with another trail at about 11,240 feet. The final 260 feet is very easy. The actual summit isn't visible until the last 1/4 mile of hiking. Two large American flags were at the top, and I stayed there about 45 minutes. About a dozen others were there with me at one time or another. It took me 6 hours to make the top. It was 1:15 when I started down. Perfect weather the entire way!

The trip down went fine. I stopped again at High Creek Camp for another extended break, then hiked with a fellow named Peter who has done San Gorgonio a few other times. He had some good knowledge of the area. The steep switchbacks at the bottom were particularly grueling after almost 15 miles of hiking. I was back to my truck at 5:30 pm, an 11 hour day and 5,440 feet of gain - a new one-day record for me! This also completes Southern California for me, especially sweet since I lived in San Gorgonio's shadow for most of my childhood and college years.