San Gorgonio Mountain
San Gorgonio Mountain
Private hike led by Mars Bonfire
Edith Liu needed this peak (she's getting very close to finishing
the list), I didn't need the peak but did want a good long hike,
and Mars Bonfire, hmmmm, where would we be without Mars?
At the Fish Creek trailhead, it seemed probable that Edith would be
disappointed and the only thing we'd have to show for the day would be
a good long hike -- the view over the ridge to San Gorgonio that
morning was of a mountain that already was ominously overshadowed by
dark grey clouds. Thunderstorms later in the day looked, at least to
my meteorologically uneducated eye, quite likely.
But given how far we'd already traveled to get to the trailhead, it
seemed silly to give up without at least making an attempt. So
with the occasional paranoid glance to the sky, we started up those
getting-to-be-very-familiar switchbacks. It was a bit windy when we
started, and as we got closer to Fish Creek Saddle, it was windier
yet. We'd hear a gathering roar, and then whoosh!, we were bombarded
with grit and pine needles. If one is dumb enough to be hiking in
shorts (I was the only one so dumb, and thus know this first hand),
that stuff stings! When we got to the saddle, I dove behind a tree
and swapped into long pants and a sweater.
Looking towards the mountain, we were encouraged to see there were far
fewer clouds. Hurrah, wind! And to the north, the clouds looked like
something one might find in a surrealist painting. The shapes looked
strangely painted with sweeping strokes onto the blue sky.
As we followed the trail around the northwest side of Lake Peak,
we were gratified to be out of the wind, but figured we'd find
it again when we left the shelter of Lake Peak. It was a pleasant
surprise when we reached the saddle between Zahniser and Lake (does
that saddle have a name?) to find nothing worse than a stiff breeze,
which got better instead of worse by the time we'd passed south of
Zahniser and reached Mine Shaft Saddle.
When we'd been near here last week to do Grinnell, Lake, and Ten
Thousand Foot Ridge, Mars and Carleton had looked yearningly at the
ridge up San Gorgonio above Mine Shaft Saddle. 1500' gain in less
than a mile, very inviting. Edith and I looked a bit anxiously at the
tumble of boulders and trees above us. Where could we put our feet?
"Let's try climbing a few hundred feet up and see how it goes,"
suggested Mars. "We can always go back down and use the trail."
So ... up we went, one step at a time. And actually, at least with
Mars to choose our path, it wasn't that hard. There always seemed to
be logical places to put our feet, and none of that sliding back six
inches for every foot forwards one puts up with on the lower slopes of
We took a break maybe halfway up, in a briefly level shaded spot.
Edith brought out her USGS quadrangle. Dated 1954! It was fun
working out where we were. You see, back in 1954, there was no Fish
Creek Trail. And the only mountain shown near Fish Creek Saddle
(which wasn't labeled Fish Creek Saddle) wasn't Grinnell or Lake, but
Fish Creek Mountain! But one could spot Mineshaft Saddle (also not
labeled), and given our altitude, we were pretty much on the "R" in
the word FOREST.
Towards the top, a definite use trail emerged. Well, it'd be too much
to think we'd actually discovered this ridge, huh? This took us the
last several feet to the summit ridge, and which point, whew! there
was that wind again, stronger than ever. We quickly added a few more
layers, being careful that the wind didn't snatch away anything while
we worked. Then we cut east to the trail, and headed for the summit.
We'd not seen anyone all day, except right as we drove up, when we'd
seen a single hiker heading off to the west or southwest, not on the
trail. Not that we'd expected to encounter anyone on that wonderful
ridge, but we were certainly startled when we were overtaken maybe
twenty feet from the summit by two younger hikers in shorts and long
sleeved shirts, but no jackets. We stepped aside and let them pass,
then followed them up, to find them trying to decide if this was the
summit, or that bump over there to the east. We assured them they
were in the right place, showed them the register, and chatted with
them a bit. They'd come up from the South Fork trailhead. She was
clearly cold, with goosebumps on her legs, so they didn't stay that
long before heading off.
We, on the other hand, lolled around for a bit. Why? Well, for some
odd reason, the wind on the summit itself wasn't bad. Go figure.
Feeling a bit lazy about rough terrain (at least, I was, I'm not sure
about the others), we decided we'd go out by way of the trail, but opted
to save a mile or so by heading east towards it, angling down and
intersecting it on the north side of the mountain in the top switchback.
There was less and less wind as we went down. When we reached Fish
Creek Saddle again, it wasn't even breezy, nothing like the gales we'd
had there in the morning. When we'd passed it in the morning, we'd
noticed the ranger's tent looked a bit mangled. After a few hours of
strong winds, it looked even worse. But we didn't pause to ponder,
we scooted on down the trail, and were back at the cars just
This would have been another absolutely perfect hike, except for the
Back at the cars, I made an unhappy discovery. My car keys! I'd
somehow dropped them somewhere on the mountain! Luckily, I'd met
Edith at the Myrtle Park-n-Ride lot, and ridden with her, so once we
had driven far enough that her cell phone could find the mother ship
(or whatever it is they do), I was able to phone Brian and arrange for
him to head from home for Myrtle with a spare key. The moral: keep
your keys clipped somewhere safe in your pack, and not loose where
they'll possibly fall out while you wrestle in and out of various
clothing layers. Second moral: it's probably not a bad idea to have
a spare key somewhere in your pack, just in case!