Mt. San Gorgoinio via Viviain Creek

November 26, 2011 in Camping, Home Page, Mt. San Gorgonio, WillTrek Trip, Winter

Did you know:

Mt. San Gorgonio (also known as old Greyback) has claimed the lives of Frank Sinatra’s mother and Dean Martin’s son, in unrelated plane crashes. Crazy – but it’s true!

On December 1, 1953, a Douglas C-47 Dakota, crashed at 11,000 feet (3,400 m) on the eastern face of the mountain. The C-47 was en route from Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska to March Air Force Base near Riverside, California when it struck the mountain at night in the middle of a storm. Thirteen people died. Then, nearly one month later, a C-47 accident a Marine Corps helicopter crashed on the mountain in coordination of the efforts of recovering the victims. The three crewmen of the helicopter survived the impact.

Most of the wreckage of the two aircraft remain on the mountain and are accessible via the Fish Creek Trailhead or the South Fork Trailhead.

The Facts:

The summit of Mount San Gorgonio is perched at 11,499ft above sea level in the San Bernardino Mountain range. There are many trails to choose from, however the one we chose was the Vivian Creek trail.

The Fish Creek trail is probably the least used and is aprox. 9.1 miles one-way. The South Fork Trail is over 10 miles one-way. The shortest way to the summit, and the most popular, is the Vivian Creek Trail. It’s 7.8 miles (Gary Suttle’s book lists it as 8.4 miles) with almost 5,500 feet in elevation gain. Summertime tends to be the most crowded but it is a great mountain to climb anytime of year. I’ve climbed it many times during winter and have found myself to be the only soul on the mountain. Hard to believe being so close to the Los Angeles/Southern California area.

The TOPOZONE MAP states an elevation of 11,499 feet shown at the trail’s end at the higher summit.

For day use a permit is required on any of the trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. These are free and self-issued. If camping overnight anywhere within the San Gorgonio Wilderness a permit is required. The permits can be obtained at the Ranger Station in Mentone, 34701 Mill Creek Rd. You can also request via fax at (909) 794-1125. The Barton Flats Visitor Center on Hywy 38 and the Fawnskin Ranger Station in Big Bear also can issue these permits. New phone # 909-382-2882

If you want a permit for Vivian for a day hike on the weekend in the summertime, you must get it 3-4 weeks in advance. South Fork camps such as Dry and Dollar Lakes are also filling several weeks in advance for summer camping. As you might expect, if you want to hike during the week, you have a better chance of getting a permit.  Self-issue permits aren’t always available – they oftentimes run out, or get stolen. So we recommend getting your permit in advance! Note that it takes at least 72 hours for processing of permits. And as a reminder, self-issue permits are only good for that day.

In addition to the wilderness permits an Adventure Pass is required for each vehicle; fees are $5.00 a day or $30.00 for an annual pass. These can be obtained from any of the ranger stations or from many of the local merchants.

When To Climb?  Year round. Summer months are the most popular for hikers. Great snowshoeing in the Winter.

Camping is allowed. There are several campgrounds in and around the area and at several of the trailheads. Camping on the mountain or anywhere within the San Gorgonio Wilderness requires a permit that can be obtained from the San Gorgonio Ranger District at 34701 Mill Creek Road in Mentone, CA. Phone is 909-382-2882 or you can request a permit via fax at (909) 794-1125.

Mountain Conditions contact San Bernardino National Forest, San Gorgonio Ranger District, 34701 Mill Creek Rd., Mentone, CA 92359 909-382-2882 or fax (909) 794-1125.

About Vivian Creek Trail:

The Vivian Creek Trail is the shortest and the steepest route to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio. One and two-tenths miles from the trailhead is Vivian Creek Camp (7,100′). Campsites are located upslope to the right of the trail after reaching the stream: one is halfway up the slope, and the other is at the top of the slope (no camping within 200 feet of the trail or creek).

One and three-tenths miles from Vivian Creek Camp is Halfway Camp (8,100′). Water is obtained from the creek 200 yards before camp. Two and three-tenths miles further is High Creek Camp (water available – 9,200′). The summit of San Gorgonio (11,499′) is 3 miles beyond High Creek. The upper end of this trail offers outstanding views of Yucaipa Ridge and Galena Peak, as well as sweeping panoramic views from the top of Mt. San Gorgonio. After the South Fork Trail, this is the second most used trail in the Wilderness.

Vivian Creek Trail on Summit Post
South Fork Trail on Summit Post

Getting to the Trailhead:

The Vivian Creek Trailhead is reached by turning east off Highway 38 to Forest Falls. Continue through Forest Falls to the top end (east end) of the picnic area at the end of the road (6,080′).

Our Adventure:

We set off on Saturday November 26th, from the Vivian Creek trailhead car park, at 6:30am. San Gorgonio Trail conditions, November 2011. Patchy snow above 6,000 feet, snow shoes from 9,000 feet depending on the face. Crampons will soon be used as the trail is being compacted and turning into thick, slick ice.

You start by walking to the end of car park, the trail sign directs you across the wash, where you will then turn left and start-up the switchbacks for about an hour. This section is very steep and strenuous, so maybe take caution not to burn yourself out early. Also, hiking poles may help here.

The Switchbacks on Vivian Creek trail, San Gorgonio mountain. After the wash at the beginning. I am using a pair of REI light poles. Very good, easy to use, shock absorbing and strong! You will cross the creek twice, first using a huge fallen log as a bridge, then across rocks in the stream, after which you will approach Half way camp, (not halfway to the summit). Vivian creek goes left at that fork toward High Creek camp.



Trail Breaking between Half way camp and High Creek camp. Amazing views to take in of surrounding ranges.


You will then arrive at High Creek Camp. There is a sign, 200 yards to camp, follow it up, and the camp is just prior to crossing the creek. We set up our tents pretty close together, on the site, already leveled by park services.




Our base camp at 9,200ft, at High Creek camp on Vivian Creek trail, San Gorgonio.



Hydration is key at this elevation. Air is dry, and your body is working hard coming from sea level. It may be a good idea to hydrate until you are unable to drink anymore. We took 2 litres each and were out of water by the time we reached this camp.

We set up camp at 11am and left at 12:30pm for the summit. From here we needed snow shoes, and trail broke the switchbacks all the way up to the above ridgeline.



We snow-shoed all the way to the top of the ridge, then traversed to the left. You can see the backside of San Gorgonio from here, even the other trails leading up to it. You can see Palm Desert and San Jacinto from here. Be careful, have enough water, it will be 5 hours in the snow before we got to the creek again for water. We brought light packs, and 2 litres of fluid each. Just enough water.


You will also merge with the Dollar Lake trail (be cautious not to miss this turning point on your journey down), continue right and traverse below the ridge, being careful to keep left once on the trail. You will travel through 2 little summits, to the real summit, which is a bunch of rocks, providing a little shelter from the winds if they are kicking up.



You will then arrive on the summit, be sure to have extra clothing, if the winds are up, the temperature can plummet. Covering your ears here would be recommended.

San Gorgonio Summit shots. No Photoshop! Amazing, and is it worth it? You bet your backside…

We descended in the dark with headlamps as the days are short in November. We also cut straight down through the switchbacks descending straight down to camp from the ridgeline to save time. But a recommendation may be to only cut when you can see the trail below with your headlamp as the fallen trees can look like the trail below at night. It saved us about 45mins on the descent.

We had food and re-hydrated, then slept. The next morning we got up at 6am, had food, tea and packed out. By 9:30am we began the climb back to the car park, which is easy to follow from High creek camp. It took us 2hrs 20mins at a fast pace with 52lb packs on. It is a highly recommended hike, great challenge and impressive elevation gain.

Happy hiking and mountaineering.

Philip Sneyd
WillTrek Adventurer

Camping on the Summit of Mt. Baldy

November 15, 2011 in Camping, Mt. Baldy, WillTrek Trip, Winter

We did a night summit on Mt. Baldy and camped on the peak. What a treat!

As the sun rises on us the next morning

The Details:

Mt. San Antonio, also known as Mt. Baldy, is the tallest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California. Mt. Baldy is visible from much of Southern California and much of Southern California can be seen from its summit on a clear day. There are four popular routes to the summit. All are considered moderate hikes of 8.5 to 13 miles round trip and anywhere from 3,600 feet to 6,000 feet of elevation gain. All routes can be hiked year round but you’ll need snowshoes and/or crampons and ice axe during winter months. (Winter can be dodgy).

How to get to the trails:

From highway 10 exit either on Mountain Blvd. or Euclid Blvd. and travel north. Follow signs towards the Baldy Ski Lifts (aprox 15 miles). For the Bear Canyon/Mt. Baldy Village Trail, park on Bear Canyon Road down in Baldy Village (aprox 3 or 4 miles before the lifts). You can drive through the church car park, and there is parking by the gate near the end, where the sign in book is. This trail is the longer trail and the one we chose for our night ascent. Walk to the end of the road where a sign leads to the trailhead. For the Baldy Notch/Devil’s Backbone Trail and the Baldy Bowl/Sierra Club Hut Route park in the dirt pull-outs by Fall’s Road at Manker Flat (1/2 mile before the lifts). For the Blue Ridge Trail take highway 38 from intersate 15 towards the town of Wrightwood. Take the Angeles Crest Hgwy to the dirt road to Guffy Campground and Prairie Fork. Follow the dirt road 6 miles to a junction and go left. Follow aprox 1.7 miles and park in a pull-out and the base of Pine Mt.

Mt. Baldy summit

If coming from the west on hwy 210, exit Baseline Rd. and turn left at the first signal and then right on Padua. Then right on Mt. Baldy Rd. Saves you a couple of miles on the freeway.

Permits etc:

No wilderness permits are required. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required for your vehicle while parked at the trail heads. The pass can be obtained from the ranger station in Baldy Village or in Big Pine. Many local merchants also sell the pass. The cost is $5.00 a day or $30.00 for an annual pass. You can get away without it, but may have to walk a little further.

Camping and a fire/stove is allowed with a free permit, be obtained from the Angeles National Forest District for use of camp stoves or camp fires. You can get them at the rangers station in Baldy town also.

The Hike itself:

Hiking in the dark, just after the switchbacks

So the Bear flats trail/ Bear Canyon is the more strenuous of the hikes. It is a touch over 12miles round trip, but you have just about 6000 feet of elevation gain. Be prepaired for this hike, it is not a walk in the park. During the summer months it can be really exposed to the sun, really hot and there is no water to be obtained, except just as you hit the bear flats before the switchbacks. There is a small creek that runs all year round (Filter needed), but that is it, you are on your own from here. It is common to run into dog owners in trouble, new hikers out of fluids and food, or badly sunburnt hikers on this trail. It can be easy to underestimate it.

So summer hike, 3 litres minimum of fluids, 2,000 calories of fuel (food) and electrolytes, bring tape for blisters (the elevation gain of 1,000ft per mile, tests boots and feet), heavy sunscreen, cap, light outer layer and light windbreaker for summit and good boots, or trail shoes as it is easy to roll an ankle here. leave early and give yourself time, (usually but not always) 8+ hours for the bear flats trail round trip.

Winter and Spring have some different planning rules. There is usually snow, ice and wind. This is not an easy hike in the winter months. The trail is usually fine until about 7,000 feet, where you will probably hit the snow-line. Be sure to prepare, boots, underlayer (Spandex/polyester), outer layer, windbreaker, rain shell, extra food, per day 2,500 calories plus trail food. You will burn the energy up trying to keep warm.


Our story on Mt. Baldy November 2011:

We left late on a friday evening, and began on the Bear Canyon/ Bear Flats trail at 8pm. We began with a 52lb pack, overweight for sure, we could trim it down but we are training. With the sun down, it can be a much more intense hike as you climb by headlamp and moonlight. This trail when dry gets dusty and is also a mind game as it is so intense a trek with a heavy pack. You go about 1.2 miles to the creek up some switch backs, cross the creek, across Bear Flats and then it begins, the dry, slippery switchbacks which will challenge your endurance and balance. This is where hiking poles help, pack on your back or not. Especially on the down hills, it will help your knees out and with slipping as the rocks and stones roll under you.

Winds next morning and our tent behind the rock wall

Once through the switchbacks, you continue along the trail which is steep for sure, not as slippery and with great photo opportunities for surrounding peaks. At night it is cold, it starts off a little warm, but as you move up, be sure to have your next layer handy. It gets a little more exposed the higher you go. The winds can just cut through your clothing and chill you to the bone. We pushed on for the summit, which you can see from about the 4.5 mile mark as you cross the first exposed and bare ridgeline. Then push on for the summit. As we reached the 9,400 feet mark in elevation, coming from the ocean, we began to feel the elevation, so think about bringing Advil or something to help with that.

As we approached the summit, about 1am, it took us another hour in 50+ mph winds to actually set up our camp on the summit. Remember, the summit is BALD, no dirt, so nowhere to stake down your tent. Free standing tents are better, but you can use sticks and rocks to hold them in place. A recommendation is once you have the tent ready to go, out of your packs, put your packs inside the tent to stop it taking off as you put it up. It was so cold on the summit, the wind whipped away any heat you could create. Ear plugs are helpful as the wind can pick up even more and your tent flaps away, keeping you awake.

Once we left the summit the next day, the descent was slow, due to weight and the terrain, which is very slippery, with scree, debris and dirt. The night was so cold it froze us to the core, until we had our cup of tea and mashed potatoes…..

Keeping hydrated is key at this elevation, cold and hiking intensity.

Philip Sneyd
WillTrek Adventurer

Sun is up, but so cold we stayed in the sleeping bags

Mt. Langley Snow Storm Snowshoeing

November 11, 2011 in California 14'er, Camping, Home Page, Mt. Langley, WillTrek Trip, Winter

About Mt. Langley:

Mount Langley is one of the California fourteeners (it’s elevation is over 14,000 feet). Actually there is debate on the actual elevation of 14,026 or 14,032 feet.

During the spring, summer and autumn, this is an amazing relatively uneventful climb. The trails can take you past the Cottonwood Lakes, Golden Trout wilderness and what an amazing view you are provided with. To fish these amazing finger lakes you must have a permit. Not only that, but you must hike through the back-country to get there. This means for the most part, your fishing day may be unspoiled by others as you fish these wild lakes alone, with ample fish. Most lakes are catch and release, however, 2 of them are catch and keep above a certain size of fish.

During the summer months, Mount Langley is potentially one of the easiest California Fourteeners to climb if the Army Pass route is chosen. It is the southernmost fourteener, and the most desert-like of the Sierra Nevada fourteeners. The North and South faces provide excellent technical rock climbing, while Old Army and new Army Pass provide an easy walk-up. In the winter or in inclement weather, that may not be the case. Click here to jump directly to our story and pictures.

To get there:

Take the 395 to Lone Pine, CA, head west (toward the mountains) on Whitney Portal Road. About 4 miles up, turn left for Horseshoe Meadows Road and follow it to the Cottonwood Lakes/Army Pass trailhead. Be sure to turn right at the sign for Cottonwood Lakes trail, otherwise you will end up at the trailhead for Cottonwood Pass. There is a walk-in campground, bear boxes and toilets (they stink) at the trailhead, as well as ample parking. FYI in Lone Pine there are a few outdoor stores. Each has almost everything you could imagine wanting on your adventure there, weather it is mountaineering, hiking, or climbing etc. I swear, even the hardware store sells equipment.

Permits are needed:

Quota from May 1st through November 1st and permits can be obtained from any one of the four Ranger Stations: Mono Lake in Lee Vining, Mammoth Lakes Visitor Center in Mammoth, White Mountain Ranger Station in Bishop or Lone Pine Ranger Station in Lone Pine. 60 spots on the quota, 36 are held for reservations and the other 24 are for walk-in permits. $5.00 per person to reserve a permit in advance. All other times of the year have no quota on trail users, but require a wilderness permit, which can be obtained free at the ranger station in Lone Pine. The mountain is always open, but the road is not plowed during winter. Camping requires Over night permit, all year round, and quotas apply as above.

Great snow shoeing in the winter months, be sure to have all necessary equipment for the route and time of year you choose. People are killed in the mountains almost every year due to lack of preperation. Which leads me to our ADVENTURE.


When there is a snow front moving in on the mountain range, pay attention.

Just like little bobble-headed dashboard divers, we went to the rangers station in Lone Pine, where they shared the front was moving in. We nodded in sync and got our permits for our over night camping by the Cottonwood lakes (which we never made it to) and then drove up the Whitney Portal road, turned left at Horse Shoe Meadows road (just past the Alabama Hills) and then up 7 or so more miles to the right turn off for the CottonWood Lakes Trail.

In the image above, the Whitney Portal road leads up to the left turn for Horse Shoe Meadows road. As you can see, there is cloud cover coming in all over the range. Nothing too much to worry about yet, Right? Not SO!

Here we were able to get to the car park with no real difficulty. A little snow, which made it a little challenging, but we were optimistic about our exit.Please note, this car is a front wheel drive Camry, no chains or four wheel drive like my car. Can you get a sense for where this is all going?



We left the car at about 10am, after we got coffee and last minute supplies in Lone Pine. What is a trip to the mountains without coffee and a donut to boost the energy levels! Magic. So now we must get ready for the trail and ascent of the mountain, so we get all our gear together.

These marvelously luxurious bathrooms, provided a retreat from the snow and wind allowing us to get ready and make final adjustments to our equipment. No, the toilet paper is not from me and yes, some was used. There was also a super aroma of daisys…




I am completely layered up as you can see the snow falling around us. I am wearing a thermal layer underneath (cotton, spandex, pollyester blend) North Face technical shirt (quarter zip) and REI Trousers, North Face Summit Series fleece lined windbreaker jacket, Thermal Liner gloves, Mountain Hardware gaitors, Smartwool socks, Columbia Leather boots and my pack is the Osprey Aether 85. On board is an REI ice axe, Black diamond crampons, Atlas Cabela’s Pro snow shoes, REI Ascent SL hiking poles, Camelbak 3l bladder, map, compass etc.




Here we can see my climbing and guiding partner Chuck (or Ali G’ : ) sporting all of his equipment and clothing. He wore similar layers, some different brands, but the same goals, keep warm and dry, with all the equipment to help with the ascent. He also used snow shoes, ice axe, crampons, gaitors, gloves and he also tried a pair of glacier goggles. What a great Sherpa Chuck makes! : )






As we approached this snow hare we took care as this is a stuning creature and the pictures really don’t do it any justice. It is much larger than it seems in the picture and we got so close to it before it took off. It truly is amazing how they survive and adapt to winter at altitude in the snow. What a beautiful creature.




As I was breaking trail on what we assumed was the route, the snow began to come down so hard, that it was filling our tracks behind us. We crossed trees, rocks, all the time looking for the ridgeline so we could orient ourselves to the mountains. The clouds and snow were so dense, we couldn’t see more than 200 feet or so ahead, never mind the actual mountains or ridgeline. This would eventually lead to our getting – well – terribly lost, and as a man, we very rarely admit to this. Usually we are just momentarily misplaced. : )


If you look closely, you will barely notice to my left, there is a ridgeline in the distance, but the cliouds and snow covered it up. We knew the peak was due North of us, so we began to create our own trail in the fresh snow heading North.




Be sure to have a good topographic map and compass, and have experience orienteering before venturing out in bad conditions. If you ever get lost, this is your way to get back. Most folk that get lost, have no map, and or no idea how to use it. We decided to bivvy overnight as the conditions were to harsh and night was crawling in on us.

A word of caution: As night moves in, and conditions are poor, lost or not it may be advisable to set up camp, bivvy and keep somewhat protected overnight. Chances are, if you keep going, in a semi-paniced state, you will only bury yourself deeper into the situation, with negative results. A good nights rest and a fresh start can make all the difference, especially at elevation where your struggling to acclimatize.

Once we chose our site for camp, leveled it out so it was almost flat, we took our outer shells off in the tent and got comfortable. Being as lost as we were, in the High Sierras, it was important that we rest and recoup after the long days events, physical and mental.

Mashed potatoes with bacon bits, noodles and tea were on our menu for the night. As you can see, I used an REI sleeping pad to keep myself off the cold ground, keeping warm helps with attitude.


This is why we set up camp. Look how much snow fell.. The snow fell so hard that we had to get up in the middle of the night to clear it off the tent. We had about 1.5 feet of snow in 6 hours. It was worth getting up however to look at the moon through the trees – as nature called anyways.




It looks like night, but this is day light on the Saturday/next day. The snow was falling again and the clouds engulfed the mountains.

Again, being prepared for the worst is always better. We began our escape but visibility was so hampered our progress was still very slow. It is unnerving to navigate without the usual visual reinforcement of landmarks and way points. Every decision carried a bit of doubt regarding whether or not we were – in fact – where we thought we were! Luckily, our track circled us back to the road which lead to the carpark. We plotted our extraction without the tent etc. because we wanted to travel lighter in the deep snow. Had we not found the road or had the snow continued to dump, the plan was to return to our bivvy site for another night before our tracks disappeared. This meant that we had to return to the camp to collect our equipment. That was very difficult, we were already physically and mentally a bit taxed…

After collecting our gear, the snow began to subside. We hiked out just before sunset and reached our car (which was now completely buried in a block of ice) after dark. After digging it out, and scraping off all the ice with old CDs, we had to nurse the car down the snow packed mountain roads back to town. Needless to say, the heat was on full blast for nearly the entire trip home.

Lesson Learned:

Always be prepared for challenges. Be mentally strong and stay positive, sometimes it may not go your way, or be as easy as we anticipated it should be. When you lose track, or become misdirected retreat to your last known location to try again. Otherwise, you may not have the chance. Mountains are unforgiving, they are bigger than we are and they only allow us to climb them, if they feel like it –  as we learned on Mount Langley.

Langley will be attempted again in early 2012 so check back for the results of our return!

Thanks, Chuck & Philip
WillTrek Adventurers