San Bernardino County Highpoint Trip Report

Mount San Gorgonio

Date: July 24, 2005
Author: Robert Greene

Day tripped this big one over the weekend via the Vivian Creek route. Scott Surgent's note on is fairly accurate.

One important point (for folks only reading these online reports): This mountain requires permits! You need an Adventure Pass to park there. It costs $5 and can be purchased at the General Store in Forest Falls. It's easy to get.

More difficult is the required (free) wilderness pass for hiking. There is a quota on the San Gorgonio wilderness, which is filled in advance during the summer (especially on weekends). See here for wilderness pass information -- there are a limited number of day permits issued each day. On our particular Saturday, the day permits were all issued at 7:04 (the ranger station started issuing them at 7:00). We were immediately stopped by a ranger (well short of the wilderness), and turned back for lack of permit. I was having flashbacks to Whitney.

Luckily for us, a couple of guys down at the parking area bailed on the hike just as we were starting because one of them had an ankle injury. Armed with their permit, and after (illegally) hiking about 2 miles into the wilderness, we were able to catch up with the ranger and convince her to sign off on our new acquisition. All of this contributed to getting a later start (about 10:30 am) than we anticipated.

Next point: the trail has changed significantly from that shown on the topo maps. There is a long area of relatively straight trail shown under High Camp. This is now switchbacked. All of the switchbacks in the San Gorgonio wilderness section of the hike are long and not really too steep. The hardest (steepest) section of trail is the 1-mile climb to the start of the wilderness area.

The two camps en route to High Camp mentioned in Scott's trip report are Vivian Creek Camp and Halfway Camp. No comment on either of those, we blew through them at a rapid pace, just looking at the signs as we went by.

We reached High Camp at 1:30 pm. There were a lot of thunderstorm-related cloud coverage coming in, so we took an extended lunch/nap break until 3 pm. By 3 pm, after having started in 95+ degree weather, I found that I was actually verging on hypothermia (despite having on my fleece and my Gortex windbreaker). I roused my partner and told him we either needed to continue onward or call it a day. We surveyed the cloud coverage; it looked like it was breaking, so we opted to continue onward.

The route above High Camp is pretty much as Scott described it. After going up the traverses and through the wooded section on top, at the tree line (where you can see the scree ascent), we dropped our day packs and went on with just windbreakers and water. Prior to the scree, there is one small, relatively level and heavily boot-packed snow field to cover (I'd guess about 100 feet wide). On the scree slog, clouds started moving in again. We summitted at slightly before 6 pm in dense cloud coverage. So much for the legendary views all the way to Catalina and the Salton Sea.

The trip down was pretty uneventful. We made good time to High Camp, clearing it before 8 pm and then slowed down greatly as darkness descended. The trail was a bit more treacherous in the headlamps and my buddy wiped out an ankle pretty badly at one point. The last mile was (as on the ascent) the crux of the descent. We also had a fun final creek crossing at the bottom (due to higher waters from the rain earlier in the day).

All told, my GPS faithfully reported our total distance was 20.1 miles, approximately 5,920 feet total gain -- we blame the back and forth between the ranger checkpoint and the car multiple times plus the new longer switchbacks for the longer round trip distance. It looks like the real trail one-way distance is definitely now closer to the 8.5 mile number than the 7.8 mile number.

Total elapsed time was 11.5 hours (including about 2 hours of lunch/nap/summit register signing).