It’s funny how much time you waste piddling around the campsite. By the time we loaded up, it was almost 9 a.m. We had a 7 mile descent ahead. Other than the difficulty of carrying a full load uphill, going down is harder. You tend to slip more and your toes feel like they’re coming out the front of your shoe. The talus was steep and the trail angled, which caused us to compensate by putting more weight on the uphill foot. It was slow going but we were ready to finish this. The focus required to maintain footing was intense. When you think about every step on this terrain being calculated, your brain gets a real workout too.
The volunteer trail crews have done an amazing job out here. On a previous scouting hike of Momyer Creek Trail, I counted no less than 10 blow-downs blocking the trail. By Memorial Day, they had cleared them all. Sometimes, I will make a note on the position of a trail issue and report it back to the ranger station on the way out. The hiking community is tight-knit and are good stewards of the trail. By noon, the exposed areas on the trail were heating up. It was a blessing to go in and out of the forest as the temps would drop 5-10 degrees in the shade.
Toward the end, we started to run into day-hikers and people who seemed to be out for a stroll. As we neared Mill Creek, we heard groups of people and lots of kids. We passed a family heading uphill, their daughter asking us “where the river was?” “River? Oh, you mean Alger Creek, it’s 3.7 miles that-a-way.” I doubt they made it that far as they towed an elderly woman who was inching along. They also had their sodas and snacks in a clear trash bag. Please don’t take me wrong, I don’t mean to make fun of them, it’s the contrast between a few days away from society and being thrust into an urban picnic. We came across another family and after we told them about our 27 mile hike, the daughter asked to take our picture. Of course, we agreed. Wow, we were puffed up now!
We entered Mill Creek Wash and the atmosphere was that of a park, with people gathered around the creek, umbrellas, blankets and picnic supplies. It was too much for us – as in culture shock too much. Civilization smacked us right in the face. What we saw as a simple wash with a creek running through it became a beach front resort to the people of metro San Bernardino.
After getting back to the car, we laughed for a long time about what we just witnessed. Imagine, going into the backcountry for a few days without having time to acclimate to society. We still giggle about it. In the end, our trip to Gorgonio was hard, but great practice for the JMT. Time spent together as a couple was primo. Taking the bear canisters gave Mary an idea what it was like to pack everything (including trash) in a can. One more hike up San Jacinto and we will be ready for one of the best treks in the country.
The scene at Mill Creek showed us one thing – people love to get out and away from the city. Imagine how much more fun it is to venture a few miles out. I encourage you to go higher and farther. Amazing times await you…
U.S.D.A. Identifier: Vivian Creek Trail, 1E08
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil, rocks, pine straw
Distance as hiked: 10.8 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-5,500ft., Top of trail-9,200ft.
Temps: 60-70 degrees
Did a spur of the moment hike back to San Gorgonio on a day off. A couple of weeks ago we did the Lost Creek Trail and discovered the solitude of a little used trail that intersects a few others prior to the summit of San Gorgonio. According to the San Gorgonio Wilderness website www.swga.org, the Vivian Creek Trail is the second busiest after the South Fork Trail. On this weekday, I would come across 8-10 others and several more in the Halfway Camp.
Pass through the little hamlet of Forest Falls and the road ends at a picnic area, which was still closed – perhaps to state budget cuts or an ongoing renovation. You will need an Adventure Pass to park in the large parking lot on the left. From there you can follow Mill Creek Wash east along the bank and you will see the trail sign come up on your right. Otherwise, you can follow the paved road in the picnic area east and you will come to the same trail sign.
The trail begins on an access or fire road for approximately .5-.7 miles and turns to the left where you are looking at Mill Creek Wash. The wash is approximately 300 yards wide, full of boulders with Mill Creek running on the north side. Today, the creek was barely two feet wide. On the far side of the wash, there is another trail marker where you quickly gain elevation on steep, rocky switchbacks. The gnats were annoying and continued to sporadically pester me for another mile. Around 7,000 ft., they thinned out and the hike became more pleasant as the view opened up to Mill Creek Canyon and points farther south.
This trail is one of the shortest (and steepest) routes to the summit of San Gorgonio. Today, I would do 5.5 miles of the roughly 9 mile hump to the summit. Not yet a speed hiker, I enjoy the eye candy (the wilderness views) and took a steady pace with stops to snap pics. Overall, the trail is single track and in good shape due to its’ frequent use. It traverses a rocky wash with lots of shade from various conifers. There are exposed areas with chaparral as well. I crossed several areas with decent water flow, each several miles apart. As always, recommend a filter to ward off the giardia and cryptosporidium. Man, that last bug sounds nasty, doesn’t it? I’ll talk about hydration in a future blog.
I stopped at the spur to Halfway Camp and had lunch on a boulder. No one in the camp yet, but people usually start settling in late afternoon. I wonder if the feds have a mandatory check in time for these camps? 🙂 The trail breaks in and out of small flats with dry creek areas. A mix of chaparral and deciduous trees slowly starts changing into mostly conifers. The landscape in this area varies immensely between 6,000-8,000 ft.
About two hours into the hike, I heard a rock slide that sounded like it was to my east, but the way sounds bounce off the canyon, wasn’t sure. Within 30 minutes, a helicopter was flying around near Mill Creek but I never did find out what happened. Not long after this trip, several guys from north county San Diego got lost off of Fish Creek Trail for a couple of days. Seems that these “experienced” hikers got turned around after they traversed a snow-covered gully. I will not make fun of them, it could happen to anyone, right? Next time bring a map or GPS fellas.
After hitting 9,000 ft. and reaching High Camp, I decided to take a break and head back down. Most of the time, I’ll take my shoes/socks off to air out before turning around. On longer treks, it’s a good idea to do it a couple of times each day. I’ve managed to avoid blisters with this regimen. Gorgonio Peak is certainly do-able in one day via this trail with an early start for a determined hiker. Still some patches of snow above 7,000 ft. in early May.
On the way down, I met a couple doing a 2 or 3 day trip to the peak. You meet the nicest people on the trail. Most are laid back and enjoy sharing their experiences with you. I ended up jogging for three or more miles until I hit the rocky part of the trail near Mill Creek Canyon. It was a good workout as my knees reminded me that I was no longer 18 years old.
This is a good trail if you are practicing for a High Sierra trip, as the elevation change and trail conditions are similar.
U.S.D.A. Identifier: Lost Creek Trail, 1E09
Type of trail: Out and back, composition: sand, decomposed granite, soft soil.
Distance as hiked: 8.8 miles
Approximate elevation: Trailhead-6,300ft., Top of trail-8,200ft.
Temps: 60-70 degrees
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Today, we would venture out farther from home and drive the 90+ miles to check out the trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness (SGW). While a day hike to San Gorgonio Mountain is possible, it would be a very long day for us and is better attempted as an overnighter. All trails in the SGW require the perfunctory wilderness permit, which can be obtained by stopping by in person at one of several ranger stations, via fax or by snail mail. Follow the swa.org link above for permit directions. I’ve become a bit of a purist and believe trail permits are government out of control, but I am a rule follower.
We stopped in after noon to obtain our permit at Mill Creek Ranger station. While inside, Mary met an old friend and insisted that I take their picture.
From Mill Creek, follow SR38 to the South Fork Campground. Parking for the trailhead is across the road from the campground and is co-located with the Santa Ana River Trail. It is fairly well-marked and breaks off at a marker in the campground. The trail wastes no time gaining elevation over switchbacks that gain 400-500 ft. The trail joins a fire road for a mile and changes to a wide creek bed laden with rocks before narrowing into a rutted single track. Evidence of recent equestrians is scattered along the trail.
This is one of the most interesting and diverse trails that we’ve been on in the San Bernardino National Forest. We traversed areas with deciduous trees, rounded a corner and saw cactus on the verge of blooming. As we crossed the top of a meadow, we saw an area of seasonal springs. There were a few blow-downs and widow-makers throughout the hike. At times, the trail became narrow with sheer drop-offs into the Santa Ana River canyon below. Overall, the climb was gradual with few switchbacks and limited scree to slip on. Pine straw does cover sections of the trail and is a bit slippery. On a side-note, the PCT skirts many of the trails in the San Bernardino Forest and is located less than 10 miles east of this trail.
For the first couple of miles, Sugarloaf Peak to the north is the prominent land mass and the perspective changes as you pass through 7,000 ft. Eventually, the path takes a 180 and you head in an easterly direction with views of snow-covered peaks to the southwest. For this area in southern California, I believe the best altitude for hiking is between 6-8,000 ft. The temps are usually mild and the sub-alpine surroundings offer respite from the sun. This trail is especially appealing due to the solitude. We would run into only one other couple all day.
We stopped at Grinnell Campground, an open area with awesome views to the south-southwest. It was peaceful and we enjoyed our hot tea. When hiking 8-10 miles, it’s a good idea to cool your jets by removing shoes and socks to allow for some air to dry out those puppies.
Our descent was quick with minimal stops for photos. Rounding a switchback, we did see this in the distance and like most hikers is one thing you don’t ever want to see. Notice the smoke was blowing in our direction.
A fire in the backcountry is a scary thing. Fortunately, this one was far enough away and we were only a couple of miles from the trailhead. Cal-Fire had it contained within a few days. If you hike frequently in this region, you know how much fuel is on the ground. Fires can be swift and devastating. It’s a good idea to talk about an escape plan and how you would deal with a fire when out on the trail. Trail maps and/or knowledge of the local terrain is invaluable and can make the difference between life or death in a forest fire scenario.
Well enough of the gloom and doom. We lived to see another beautiful day in southern California and have discovered an amazing array of trails in the San Gorgonio Wilderness area. This will serve as our practice area for our section hike of the JMT this summer. My parting advice this week:
– Take trail maps, GPS and discuss escape route options. These Tom Harrison maps are the best: San Gorgonio Wilderness Map (2015) (Tom Harrison Maps Waterproof and Tear Resistant)
– In fire situations, avoid canyons and ravines as fires often ravage these areas.
– Consider a GPS locator for emergency situations. I use a SPOT GPS Messenger. SPOT 3 Satellite GPS Messenger – Orange While there is no guarantee that it works 100% of the time, it operates consistently if used properly. There are other higher quality GPS locators out there.
– On day hikes, take extra water and snacks – just in case. This week, several more novice hikers got lost in SoCal. Fortunately, all were found quickly. None of them had water or food for their unplanned overnighters.
Use common sense out on the trail and enjoy the outdoors wherever you are. Consider stocking up on a couple of pieces of survival gear including: Heavy-Duty Stainless Steel Camping Mirror – Personal Use, Emergency Signaling or this whistle: UST JetScream Whistle