San Gorgonio Wilderness

Current Conditions May 2013, Vivian Creek Trailhead to San Gorgonio Summit

Current Conditions May 2013, Vivian Creek Trailhead to San Gorgonio Summit

That title should actually read: “Current Conditions May 2013, Vivian Creek Trailhead to San Gorgonio Summit to Jepson Peak”, but that’s way too long. Long time readers of this blog know that there are three mountains I climb on a yearly basis – Mt. Whitney, San Gorgonio, and San Jacinto. The reason I climb these mountains yearly? Well, number one, I don’t need a reason, and number two, if I needed a reason, my reason is that I like mountaineering. But, if I’m being serious, the truth of the matter is that they are the three largest peaks closest to me, and I like to get out on the “larger” mountains. While climbing these mountains never gets old for me no matter how many times I’ve done it, what does get old is writing trip reports with the same or close to the same trip conditions. With respect to Gorgonio, there’s not much I can tell you right now that I haven’t already told you in past years trail reports (See 20122010); and if you feel you really need more information on the mountain, I suggest you read them.

Gear list for a single day climb of San Gorgonio via the Vivian Creek Trail, Spring/Summer 2012


Vivian Creek Trail, June 2012
Like the Mt. Whitney gear list ( here’s my list of gear that I took up the Vivian Creek Trail last Saturday. (June 16, 2012). As always, this is a list of suggestions – not a list of mandatory items (unless we are talking food and water) – and the best gear for a summit bid is the gear that works best for you. Having said that, as it is now warm to hot in the San Gorgonio wilderness, you don’t need to carry much if you are heading out for a one-day summit bid, as any extra weight is likely to tire you out, and potentially decrease your chance of attaining the summit safely.
Mandatory (Meaning, I had to have it for the climb in June of 2012, and you should probably have it too):
1. Daypack: As noted in my Whitney list above, I run an Arc’teryx daypack; it’s a few years old so I don’t know the model number, but it’s never let me down. If I was looking to drop a few ounces to pound, I probably could find a smaller model, but as it’s comfortable and works for me, I use it all the time. 
2. Water: Despite there being a small disagreement about how long the trail is roundtrip, the one thing that everyone agrees on is that it’s over sixteen (16) miles roundtrip. When you add in the fact that it does get quite warm at the lower elevations; that San Gorgonio is quite dry this time of year; and that the altitude also dehydrates you even when you are sitting still, water should be your primary concern, and primary weight. I took 3.5 liters; which, when you think about it, isn’t that unreasonable. I was on the trail for a little over eight hours; and during that time I was exposed to high winds (which aid dehydration); high temperatures; and was engaging in strenuous physical activity. In all honesty, I probably could have taken an additional half-liter just because (not that I needed it). Obviously, everyone has to judge their conditioning and body accordingly, but as it is dry, and there is not a lot of water/snow up there at the moment, be sure you are prepared with plenty of water to avoid dehydration.
Summit, San Gorgonio
3. Food: Personal preference here. It’s a day hike, so you can carry more if you want. I went fast and light with a few Clif Bars.
4. Jacket/Fleece: I know that most people will look at this item and think I’m crazy, because at the base elevation of Vivian Creek, the temperatures regularly reach 90+ during this time of year. But. Buttttttt. On Saturday, starting at slightly below treeline and to the summit, there were winds of 20-30mph. Steady, hard, blowing winds. Sure, it may be 90 at Vivian Creek, but when you get up to 11,000 feet, it will be approximately 60 degrees under calm conditions. When you add in a steady, 20-30mph wind at 11,000 feet? It suddenly is a lot colder. It’s potentially hypothermia cold. Now: will these winds be there every day? No, of course not. But, this is an item you will want to consider to be prepared for wind or sudden thunderstorms. Obviously, a review of the weather the day of your hike is the best resource; but it’s always good to be prepared for contingencies. 
5. Ten Essentials: Always a good thing to have. Personal first aid kit; emergency blanket; matches/lighter; compass/map/GPS; water; emergency food; whistle; water filtration system (could just be iodine pills); signal mirror; and knife/multitool among other things.
6. Clothes (to wear): I wore a pair of shorts, a wicking T-Shirt, and had my brimmed hat/bandanna. I also had a fleece jacket that I put on for the wind. Foot-wise, I went with my mountaineering boots because I prefer their comfort and stability, but if you’re looking to cut weight, you can definitely make this hike in sneakers.
Optional Gear (You might want it; then again, you might want to save the weight).
1. Trekking Poles; 2. Camera; 3. Extra Clothes; 4. Other Items that you may want to use on the hike.
If I was to guess, my pack weighed no more than ten to at the max, fifteen pounds – with 6.5 of that amount being water weight. For summertime, this is the range you would want to be in, unless you are carrying gear for an overnight trip, or for other people! See you on the trail!


Current Conditions Vivian Creek Trail, June 2012 to San Gorgonio Summit

Mill Creek, heading up Vivian Creek Trail, 6/2012

There’s something about San Gorgonio. I don’t know exactly what it is, but there’s something about it. There must be something about it, because I keep going back to climb it. There is one thing that I am sure about, however, and that is that the mountain doesn’t get any respect. In the mountaineering community, the summer ascent of San Gorgonio is written off as a mere “walk-up”, meaning that all you have to do is walk to the summit – no technical skill is required. While it is true that no technical skills are required to summit in the summertime, let’s talk statistics for a minute though: San Gorgonio is the highest mountain in Southern California at 11,502 feet. If you are taking the most popular trail, the Vivian Creek Trail, which I am discussing here, the trailhead elevation is 6,080 feet.

Moreover, according to the National Forest Service, from the Vivian Creek Trailhead, you will hike 9.3 miles one-way to reach the summit (more on distance at the bottom). This means that you will gain over 5,000 feet of elevation and walk over 18 miles to summit the peak and return. In order to summit San Gorgonio in the summer, you can also encounter a temperature range of 30 to 90 degrees. So, no, San Gorgonio is not the hardest, most technical peak to summit in the world. Then again, it’s not a cakewalk either. At the easiest, it’s a hard moderate hike; and in some respects, it is strenuous – so be prepared.

Treeline, Vivian Creek Trail, 6/2012 

Directions: The trailhead is located at the Forest Falls parking area. If you are coming from the West, you will take the I-10 East, and exit University Avenue, which you will follow for one mile, before turning right onto the CA-38, which at that point is signed as Lugonia Avenue. From that point, it is fourteen miles to the trailhead. Along the way, you will want to stop at the Mill Creek Ranger Station, which is located in Mentone to pick up two things: 1) A wilderness permit; and 2) A National Forest Adventure Pass. This is a popular hike (especially as it is right outside Los Angeles), and it is possible that you may not be able to obtain a permit if you are going on a weekend. However, reports of never being able to obtain a permit are exaggerations. Obviously, like any regulated trailhead, the day you are going, and the size of your group will affect whether you can obtain a permit or not. I’ve been going for years, and I’ve never had a problem; but I’ve also never had a group of larger than seven people. The good news about the permit is that it is free. One of the things that has changed about this hike is that the Forest Falls parking area now has a fee kiosk prior to entering the lot, and the Rangers do monitor the area for compliance, so you will need that $15.00 Adventure Pass for your car, unless you want a more expensive ticket!

 From Forest Falls, the trail heads up past some inholdings, before crossing Mill Creek. Once you cross Mill Creek, the trail really begins, and the next mile of trail leading up to Vivian Creek Camp is steep. I’ve climbed steeper sections of trail; and longer sections of trail, but in my mind, this section is up there as one of the most difficult and steepest sections that I have traversed. Be sure that you pace yourself accordingly, as the remainder of the trail is also uphill, and you still have a long distance to go. After this section, you will be in a wooded valley next to Vivian Creek, and Vivian Creek Camp. The trail levels out slightly to pass through the valley, and winds up gradually to Halfway Camp. I always try to enjoy this section of the hike, as there is no gradual elevation gain from Halfway Camp to the peak.

Summit, San Gorgonio, 6/16/2012

From Halfway Camp, there are a number of switchbacks that lead up to High Creek Camp; and then from High Creek Camp, there are a series of steeper switchbacks that lead you up to a ridgeline, where you will have clear unobstructed views of the peak, and the surrounding high country. At that point, there are a few remaining switchbacks that remain before you clear the treeline, but after that, it is a long steep ascent along the ridgeline up to the saddle just below the summit. Once you have attained the top of the ridge, you will be approximately half a mile from the summit, and have a negligible amount of elevation left to gain. After you have reached the summit, you will return the same way you came.

Current Conditions: I arrived at the Forest Falls parking area at around 7:25 a.m. on Saturday, and as I expected, the lot was nearly full at that point. Make no mistake about it, this is a popular hike, and should you arrive later in the day, you will risk not finding a parking spot. Since my gear was already packed, all I had to do was put on sunscreen, and I was ready to go. As it’s been a dry year, there was a negligible amount of water in Mill Creek – one foot wide, several inches deep; and I would not consider it a crossing at this point in time. Again, I can’t say it enough – that first section of trail up to Vivian Creek Camp is brutally steep, and I passed a number of people who were hurting/gassed on that section of trail on Saturday. While there was water flowing in Vivian Creek by the campground, it was flowing at a very low level, one that I would expect to see in late August or September. If I was to estimate, I would say that it will likely be dry within the next two weeks to a month. It’s also worth noting that I did not see any water flowing above Vivian Creek, so if you are backpacking or day-hiking, and plan to filter water; you should likely adjust your plans accordingly.

 Vivian Creek Trail, 06/16/2012

As for the rest of the trail, I’d say that it was in excellent shape the rest of the way up the mountain; and there were no obstacles that I saw to report or avoid. In terms of weather; as I got an early start, I avoided the heat from Mill Creek up to High Camp. However, it was very dry, and at or around High Camp, there were strong wind gusts of 25-30mph that persisted along the exposed traverse from treeline to the summit. These strong winds pelted me with all sorts of rocks, grit, and dirt; and at times, were physically pushing back against me on the ascent. There were also a few occasions, I felt like they were ripping the breath from my lungs. These winds made an already long day longer, as they were dry, which took more of moisture; and cold, which raised the potential for hypothermia (if I had not had the proper gear).

With respect to the second point, I saw a number of people who were not prepared for the cold – no jackets, wearing shorts – who were really struggling with the conditions past treeline. As always, be prepared with the proper gear; and check the conditions before you go. There is no snow anywhere on the summit; nor anywhere near the summit. Again, past Vivian Creek, I saw no flowing water of any sort; so plan accordingly. I spent a little less time on the summit than planned (due to the wind); and headed back down after about twenty minutes. On the descent, it was hot at all elevations below Halfway Camp. It looks like it will be a long, hot, dry, summer, so be warned if you are attempting the mountain from this point on. Roundtrip time for me was 8:05 (excluding stops), which seems pretty good in retrospect, but seemed slow at the time, but it was still a good day. At this point, I cannot reiterate enough: carry plenty of water if you attempt this hike during 2012, as it will be dry and hot!

Distance: It may surprise you, but the jury is out on how long this hike actually is. I spent a lot of time ruminating about this in 2010 (; but the point is that it is a long hike. Summitpost lists it at 7.8 to 8.4 miles one way (; Local Hikes lists it at 16 miles roundtrip (; and the National Forest Service calls it 18.6 roundtrip ( Someday, I’m going to have to use my own GPS on it, and find out for sure how long it really is but at this point, I’m becoming more and more inclined to call it 18.6 to 19.5 miles, as confirmed here: In any event, be prepared for a long day (or series of days, if you backpack it), and to go at least sixteen miles roundtrip.

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Canyon View Loop Trail, Whitewater Preserve

Whitewater River, looking up Whitewater Canyon

This week on, true confessions. Confession number one: I have been going back and forth from Southern California to the Coachella Valley region and areas North of it for over twenty years off and on. Until about a month ago, I had no idea that there was an area of pristine flood plain, containing miles of hiking trails, and great views of the San Gorgonio Wilderness in the area. No. Idea. At. All. I feel at this point that there should almost be some sort of demerits taken against my wilderness specialist card. After all, the area I’m talking about is part of the Pacific Crest Trail (“PCT”) – how could I miss this? However, it’s better to arrive at the party late than not arrive at all.


Yes, what I am talking about is the Whitewater Preserve, an area of over 2,826 acres that is owned by the Wildlands Conservancy. The region is situated directly on the floodplain of the Whitewater River, and is surrounded by large swaths of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management and the San Gorgonio Wilderness, providing one large area to explore, and one colossal wildlife corridor. The Wildlands Conservancy holds a number of pieces of land within California, and in my experience, each of them are well managed, well maintained, and well protected, something that is definitely needed with the Department of Parks and Recreation in California facing continuing budget cuts. Due to time constraints, I didn’t get as far out into the backcountry as I would have wished, but I did get out on the Canyon View Loop trail, which leaves directly from the picnic area/Ranger Station/interpretive center, and in my opinion, provides a great scenic overview of the preserve for the first time visitor.

Looking at the Ridgeline of Whitewater Canyon

 Directions: To enter the Whitewater Preserve, exit the I-10 at the Whitewater exit, and head North up the Whitewater Canyon Road for five miles until the road ends. There is a parking lot at the end of the road, but do note that the area is popular for picnics as well as hiking, and the lot does fill up. From the parking lot, the trailhead is directly to the North, and is the main jumping off point for all of the hikes into the backcountry. The trail is well marked from the beginning, and leads past a large boulder with mileage distances along the PCT as well as the preserve. After about a half mile (.5), you will see a turnoff to the West, which will lead you over the Whitewater River on a well maintained footbridge.

As 2012 has been a dry year for Southern California, the water was well below the bridge; but I suspect that in a wet year, the river could be difficult to cross; something you should keep in mind depending on when you are visiting. Once across the bridge, the trail heads through some brush before heading uphill through some switchbacks to the top of the ridge, where the Canyon Loop Trail is again well signed. From here, you can see some great views of the canyon as you head South before ultimately looping back around to the Ranger station and parking lot. Roundtrip, this hike will be about three and a half miles (3.5), and I would rate it as easy and suitable for all ages. Do note that there is indeed some uphill portions; but overall, the hike is not overly strenuous.

 Whitewater Canyon

Tips: There’s a secret river and park near Palm Springs! What more do you want? Ok, let’s go for bonus tips: due to the fact that the preserve is connected to large swaths of backcountry, it is a wildlife corridor for many animals, including black bears which do head into the canyon on a regular basis. From my observations, it’s also a great place to view animals, as I saw plenty of small animals in the area during the middle of the day. Last, if you don’t feel like hiking, it’s a great place to sit back and relax among the trout ponds and river to beat the desert heat.

See you on the trail!



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