It was a little past noon and Downtown Los Angeles was about to hit a high of 100°F for the second consecutive day. From my vantage point I couldn’t quite make out Downtown; it was 80+ miles away, somewhere in the light haze to the west. Across Banning Pass Mt. San Jacinto loomed, massive and pyramidal, and down the spine of the range stood Mt. Baldy, surrounded by its siblings.
Ann, Patty and I were enjoying the summit of 11,503′ San Gorgonio Mountain following a 13+ mile run and hike from the Momyer Creek trailhead in Forest Falls. Although it is nearly four miles longer than the Vivian Creek route and gains an additional 1000′ of elevation (6500′ vs 5500′), this superb alternative is a more runnable way up the mountain, with more of backcounty feel and alpine flavor.
It was cool on the summit, but I was still warm from running what I could of the final couple of miles up the peak. In that last stretch the trail contours around Jepson Peak, passes the Vivian Creek and Sky High Trail junctions, and then works its way up to the blocky summit of Gorgonio — the highest point in Southern California.
Despite the record-setting hot weather, the temperature on the way up the mountain had been pleasant. Our pace had been conversational. Among other topics Ann told of her amazing experiences running the UTMB and Patty talked about photography and her trip to Zion. I spoke of lapse rates & compressional heating, Chinquapin nuts, and Lodgepole & Limber pines . At least for me, the miles passed with distracted ease.
From the switchbacks above Plummer Meadows you could see where the Lake Fire overran San Bernardino Peak Divide in the area of Shields Peak. The 31,359 acre Lake Fire started the afternoon of June 17 near the Forsee Creek trailhead southwest of Jenks Lake and burned a huge swath through the San Gorgonio Wilderness. The fire burned to within 0.4 mile of the summit, near the C-47B “Gooney Bird” crash site on the Sky High Trail. Here is a Google Earth view from the west along the crest of the San Bernardino Peak Divide showing part of the burn area and another view along the divide from the east. Much of the north and east side of Gorgonio is within the Lake Fire Closure Area.
After about 15 minutes on the summit it began to get chilly and it was time to head down. The descent of the Vivian Creek Trail is as much of a challenge as the ascent of Falls Creek. Although I’ve run it many times, I conveniently forget just how convoluted, rocky, and technical it is. Part way down a double-fall of huge trees completely blocked the trail. One tree had broken on impact and the route choice was to either squeeze through the fracture or go the long way around.
We had become spread out on the descent, but were now running together on Valley of the Falls Drive. This 1.4 mile stretch on pavement connects the Vivian Creek trailhead to the Momyer Creek trailhead, completing the 24 mile loop. A short distance past the Fire Station we reached the gravel parking area. No longer obscured by trees, the view opened to a panorama of mountains that looked impossibly rugged and tall. Had we really just been up there?
My legs would answer that question following the two hour drive home.