Category Archives: san gorgonio mountain

San Gorgonio Mountain Snow Follow Up

Hiker working up the Sky High Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain in Southern California
Hiker on the Sky High Trail

One of the things I’d been curious to see when running the Kodiak 50K in mid-August was how the summit snow band on San Gorgonio Mountain was holding up. The answer turned out to be fairly well. Now, a few weeks later, I was back on Gorgonio, chugging up the South Fork Trail, and on my way to see if any snow remained on the mountain.

Runoff from thunderstorms during the week had left the trail rocky and rutted. From the views of the mountain I’d glimpsed from the trail, I wondered if the rain had also washed away any remaining patches of snow.

Snow band near the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain. September 7, 2019.
Snow band near the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain on September 7, 2019.

In addition to that question, I also want to follow up on my earlier “field checks” this Summer and see how much water there was in Dry Lake, and if any snow remained in the avalanche debris above Dry Lake.

I was about a quarter-mile from the Dry Lake – Dollar Lake junction at South Fork Meadows, making decent time, when I heard footsteps behind me. I stepped to the side so he could pass, and we talked as we worked up the trail. Kevin said he’d been climbing in the Sierra just about every weekend and was really well-acclimated.

I asked him what route he was doing to the summit, and he said the Dry Lake route. I told him I was doing the Dollar Lake Trail route up and the Dry Lake route down. He was clearly moving faster than me and said he was shooting for a time of 4:20 to the summit. I mentioned the Dollar Lake route was shorter and faster, and depending on the number of stops for photos, I expected to get to the summit in around 3:45. We talked about some Sierra peaks and being in the mountains, and after a couple of minutes, he began to pull away.

Trail runner at Dry Lake on San Gorgonio Mountain
Dry Lake on September 7, 2019.

The early morning temperature had been a little more chilly than my earlier trips up Gorgonio this Summer. I debated pulling on my sleeves, but by the time I was in the sun on the Dollar Lake Trail, the temperature had warmed to a comfortable 50-something — perfect for ascending the peak.

The summit of San Gorgonio was a very busy place when I arrived. I’d estimate 40-50 people were on or around the summit. Most were part of one huge group that had come up Vivian Creek.

The good news was part of the summit snow band had not melted. Wow! It was September 7, and there was still snow in Southern California!

Copernicus Sentinel satellite imagery of snow on San Gorgonio Mountain on August 27, 2019.

Kevin caught up to me on the descent of the Sky High Trail. We’d both made the summit within a couple of minutes of our projections, leaving little doubt that the Dollar Lake Trail is the fastest route to the summit from the South Fork Trailhead.

I didn’t see any snow remaining in the avalanche debris above Dry Lake. The lake itself was in great shape, and the streams at South Fork Meadows were flowing nearly as vigorously as they had been a month ago.

I’ve added a couple of photos from this trip to the San Gorgonio Mountain Snow, Avalanches and Glaciers slideshow.

Related post: San Gorgonio Mountain Snow, Avalanches and Glaciers

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San Gorgonio Mountain Snow, Avalanches and Glaciers

Snow on the Sky High Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain on July 27, 2019.
Snow on the Sky High Trail on San Gorgonio on July 27. San Jacinto Peak is in the distance.

The weather was Southern California perfect. Shorts and short-sleeves were the dress of the day. Winds were light, no thunderstorms were in the forecast and no large wildfires polluted the air. Although temps in the valleys were nearing 100 degrees, the weather on the summit of 11,499′ San Gorgonio Mountain was altitude-conditioned bliss.

I’d spent about 15 minutes enjoying the summit, then run back down the Summit Trail. Turning left onto the Sky High Trail, I continued a keyhole loop that had ascended the South Fork Trail, Dollar Lake, and San Bernardino Divide Trails. Altogether, the route was about 21 miles long and the approximate elevation gain/loss was 4700′.

San Gabriel beardtongue (Penstemon labrosus) along the South Fork Trail.
Penstemon along the South Fork Trail.

From the start of the run, the effects of the wet 2018-19 Winter and big snowpack were everywhere. Wildflowers bloomed in profusion, seeps and small streams greened the landscape, and grasses and ferns grew thick beneath the trees. The roar of the streams at South Fork Meadows left little doubt as to what kind of Winter it had been.

On the way up the Dollar Lake Trail, I’d seen elongated patches of snow in the chutes along the crest. While there was no snow directly on the trail between Dollar Lake Saddle and the summit, there was more snow than usual on the north side of the peaks.

But there was snow on the Sky High Trail. Topping out at over 11,300′, the Sky High Trail is one of the most spectacular trails in Southern California. I marvel at its airy location every time I run it. Near the top of the trail, I’d crossed a small patch of snow and thought, “Well, at least there was a little snow on the trail.”

Large patch of snow on the Sky High Trail at an elevation of about 11,100' on July 27, 2019.
Large patch of snow on the Sky High Trail at an elevation of about 11,100′ on July 27, 2019.

A little disappointed, I’d put my poles away and continued running down the trail. At around 11,100′ I rounded a corner and surprise, surprise — there was a much larger patch of snow on a southeast-facing section of trail. It was about 100 yards across and steep enough that a fall would be a bad idea. Fortunately, the snow conditions were perfect. A few hikers had recently traversed the snowfield, and I followed in their footsteps.

However, that wasn’t the last of the snow. At an elevation of about 10,200′, not far past the C-47 crash site, the trail crosses a long chute that extends nearly to the top of Gorgonio. The snow in that chute had melted just enough that a thin strip of trail was exposed.

Thinking that had to be the last of the snow, I continued the traverse to Mineshaft Saddle (9936′) and began the descent of the Dry Lake Trail. Once past a rocky section of the trail, I picked up the pace, energized by the increased oxygen at lower elevation. Enjoying the downhill, I descended into an area of converging chutes and gullies, when the path through the lodgepole forest abruptly ended.

Avalanche debris on the Dry Lake Trail above Dry Lake. July 27, 2019.
Avalanche debris on the Dry Lake Trail above Dry Lake.

The trail was obliterated. Large trees were ripped from the ground, broken, tossed, and piled up as if they were matchsticks. Underneath the debris were mounds of dense, icy snow — the remnants of an avalanche. This report on SoCalSnow.org includes photos of an avalanche in February 2019 on the north face of San Gorgonio and mentions previous avalanches.

That snow, at an elevation of about 9400′, had finally been the last on the trail. Because the compressed snow is effectively a big block of ice, it could be around for a while.

In the area of the avalanche, the Dry lake Trail enters a large area of rocky rubble that extends into the Big Draw. According to the Dibblee Geologic Map for San Gorgonio Mountain, this rubble is glacial till, produced by the largest of several pocket glaciers that existed on San Gorgonio Mountain, Shields Peak, and San Bernardino Peak.

San Gorgonio Mountain's summit, on the left of the crest, is more than 2400' above Dry Lake.
This is the first time Dry Lake has been full this time of year since 2011.

Continuing down the trail to Dry Lake I saw where some of this season’s meltwater had gone — for the first time since 2011, Dry Lake was full in late July.

Last Saturday’s run was so enjoyable that yesterday I went back to Gorgonio and did it again. As might be expected during a Southern California Summer heatwave, the snow on the Sky High Trail, and elsewhere, is melting fast and won’t be around for long.

Here are a few photos taken along the way. The album includes photos from both the July 27 and August 3 runs. A couple of photos from a run on September 7 were also added.

Some related posts: San Gorgonio Mountain Snow Follow Up, Still a Little Snow in Southern California; San Gorgonio Mountain: Falls Creek Loop, August 2017; After the Lake Fire: The Dollar Lake – Dry Lake Loop on San Gorgonio Mountain

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Still a Little Snow in Southern California

Snow patch at about 11,000' on San Gorgonio Mountain on June 9, 2018.

Given that Southern California has had way below average precipitation this rain year, I was a little surprised to find a few widely scattered patches of snow on San Gorgonio Mountain this past Saturday.

The patch of snow in the title photograph was at 11,000′, about a mile from San Gorgonio’s summit. This Google Earth image from last year shows an overview of the area. There was a lot more snow last year, but the same patch — in a deposition area — is near the “San Bern” in the “San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail” label.

There was “shorts and short sleeves” weather for the entire run from the South Fork trailhead.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: San Gorgonio Mountain: Falls Creek Loop, August 2017; After the Lake Fire: The Dollar Lake – Dry Lake Loop on San Gorgonio Mountain

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