Thursday, September 29, 2011

San Gorgonio Mountain via Vivian Creek Trail - 9/25/11

Everyone who writes about climbing Mt. Whitney makes sure to include a reminder that the hike is 22 miles, not 11; you need to be prepared to hike not just to the peak, but back down to the trailhead. This is a concept that Matt and I can't seem to learn, no matter how many mountains try to teach it to us. On the summit we'll be like "hey that wasn't nearly as bad as I was expecting" and then end up hobbling down the last half of the trail.

San Gorgonio Mountain is supposed to gain 6000' feet in 8 miles and we read that is starts out steep, ends steep, and it's a jerk everywhere in between. It's definitely a jerk the entire way, but we got to the summit in around 5 hours and could've easily continued. We figured we'd run down in about 3 hours, but I'd say the descent was actually tougher than the ascent, and took us just over 4 hours. It's impossible to give an objective difficulty rating for a hike, but this has to be one of the easiest big hikes I've done in a while.

After the first creek crossing around half a mile in, there's about a mile of very steep switchbacks where it felt like we gained at least 1000' (our gps decided to take the day off). There are some short steep stretches scattered throughout the next few miles, but it's pretty flat for the bulk of the trail. We kept waiting for the trail to get harder, and thinking that the longer this section lasted, the harder the end of the hike would be.

The 3- or 4-mile flat section goes through a lush forest with some unique views of the San Gabriel and San Jacinto Mountains. There are a few spots where you can leave the trail and look out to see the surrounding peaks. I kind of liked the suspenseful build up of hiking just below the ridges, waiting until I'd finally get some views in other directions. In a way, it's more exciting than a hike like the Whitney Trail that has amazing scenery the entire way; the view from the summit can't possibly be that much more breathtaking than what you've already seen (Although everything about Mt. Whitney is exciting, amazing, and breathtaking. Yep, I've developed a bit of a crush.)

Vivian Creek

Lush forest

Clouds and San Gabriels

View to the south

To the east

San Jacinto Peak

Once you get out of the forest, you finally see the summit for the first time and there's another steep mile just before the summit push. This part of the hike reminded me a lot of Alta Peak (complete with hot shirtless dudes), which we hiked exactly a year before Gorgonio. Unlike Alta Peak, the final 1/3 or 1/4 mile to the summit almost feels like a joke; I wouldn't have believed I was on the peak if I hadn't seen the summit register(s).

Hikers about a mile from the summit (the hard part)

My turn

It turns out that in San G's case, the suspense isn't really building up to much. It was cool to see views we hadn't seen before, this being our first peak in the San Bernardinos, but I wasn't really impressed. We spent about an hour on the summit and Old Greyback bored me so much that I fell asleep on top of him. I did appreciate the silence and solitude of the summit approach though--for at least a few minutes, there wasn't another person in sight and the only sound was the wind.

Easiest summit push ever

Almost there

Mountains to the north

San Jacinto from the summit

I don't hate this mountain like a lot of other hikers seem to, but the hardest part of the hike (or most painful at least) was descending the steep section at the very end of the trail. After 15 miles of hiking you really don't want to have to put that much pressure on your knees and I'm pretty sure Old Gorgie put that section there on purpose just to be a dick.

Two years after hiking Mt. San Antonio for the first time, and one year after San Jacinto, I was happy to finally hike San Gorgonio if for no other reason than to complete the Three Saints and stand at the highest point in Southern California. Next time we'll make a weekend out of it (it's about 90 miles east of LA and I'm not a big fan of waking up at 4:30am) and try one of the less popular routes listed here.

Matti took the pics.


  1. Very nice. For some reason, I thought it was longer than 8+8. Still high altitude, of course. And I do still remember how San Jacinto wiped me out, despite it being way shorter than 8 miles. Still, with an early enough start in the summer. . . . Had I not ended up leaving the state to work this year, Gorgonio was on my lists of "maybes." ;D

  2. nice pictures, take me with youuuuuu ;)

  3. The word on the internet is that the map is wrong and it's actually more like 8.5 miles. San Jacinto is only supposed to be 6 miles but it felt so much longer. I thought it was much more strenuous than Gorgonio. One of these days I'll do San Jacinto again so I can compare the two since it's been over a year and I have a bad hiking memory.

  4. Doing this hike this week.. Did San Jacinto via Deer Springs trail last week... That was 9.3 miles with 5,000ft gain... It wasn't easy 6 hrs to summit (It was a hit day).. I wonder how San G via Vivian creek compares to it

    1. Gorgonio is a few miles shorter and a few more feet of gain per mile, so it might be a bit harder, but most of the elevation gain is towards the beginning and end of the hike with a lot of flat trail in the middle so it might not seem so bad. Good luck!

    2. it was a great hike! I actually think it was easier than the Deer Springs trail to San Jacinto. I've never been so unimpressed on a peak in my life... Favorite part was the vivian creek portion of the hike.
      Alex G