Thanksgiving on San Gorgonio

Thanksgiving provides a great opportunity to take a trip someplace a bit farther than can be done in a weekend. In the beginning of planning this Thanksgiving trip, San Gorgonio became the target because it is the tallest mountain in Southern California at 11,500 ft. Initially, the weather looked like it would either be in the 50’s or on the leading edge of the winter snowfall. The route we decided on was to summit via the South Fork Trail.

As the trip date closed in, it became clear that we were gonna encounter a bit more snow than originally expected. Then, the day before leaving, someone posted on the trail blog that they had to turn back and recommended crampons for climbing the steep switchbacks. While we weren’t sure what this meant for our summit dreams, it didn’t deter us…

San Gorgonio Wilderness Boundary

Day 1: South Fork Trail to Dry Lake

The South Fork Trail head starts at about 6,200 ft and there was snow on the trail from the start. It was patchy at first, but didn’t take long to become at steady layer on the trail. The trail was well traveled with several sets of tracks leading the way.

About two miles in we passed the trail to Poopout Hill and crossed into the San Gorgonio Wilderness. From there the snow began to deepen and the trail began to pick up altitude. As we continued we arrived at the trail split for Dry Lake. The footprints followed the Dry Lake trail, while we got a look at the

Dollar Lake trail free of tracks

trackless trail coming from Dollar Lake that we would be returning on in a few days. This left me wondering how far the tracks continued along this trail. Did they go all the way to the top, or did they stop at the switchbacks where our guy from the trail blog had to turn back? The answer to this question would have to wait until tomorrow when we pushed for the summit. Until then, we continued to Dry Lake.

Getting to Dry Lake required several stream crossings. Some were small, and others were a bit tricky with the snow covering some boot sized gaps between logs. After some graceful steps (and plenty of balancing help from the hiking poles), the streams were crossed, and Dry Lake was a few steps closer…

Paul navigating the snowing crossing... August in Nebraska?

Snowy Stream

After crossing the streams, the tracks thinned and the trial climbed to the top of a ridge. As we crested the ridge, the summit became visible through the trees, and with the sun behind the mountains, it had an almost mystic glow in the sky. I could feel the excitement for the summit day growing…

San Gorgonio appears through the trees

San Gorgonio (left) and Jepson Peak (right)

Ice covered Dry Lake

We arrived at Dry Lake to find it frozen over. The 3,000 ft we had gained since leaving the trailhead had brought cooler temperatures (mid 40’s in the sun) and deeper snow at our first camp at 9,000 ft. We put on our snow shoes in order to leave the trail in search of a place to pitch our tent. The snow was a nice powder and about a foot deep.

As the sun started to dip behind the ridge, we got camp set up and made dinner. With the frozen lake and a thick layer of snow hiding any flowing water, we filled our water bottles by melting snow in preparation for the big summit day coming quickly. With few daylight hours, we decided to get up at 3AM to pack up camp and get on the trail by 4AM. It would be 5 steep miles to the summit at 11,500 ft, with 5 more miles to camp. Hoping to average 1mph, this would get us to camp before sunset.

Camp at Dry Lake

With food in our bellies, water in our bottles, and a plan for the summit, we called it a day and the late hour of 6PM…

Day 2: Dry Lake to Red Rock

More photos can be found Flickr

Leavitt Meadows to Long Lakes, September 16-18, 2011

After far to much time nestled in the crowded metropolis of the Bay Area, it was time to escape to the warming embrace of the wilderness. This trip was put together by my good friend Paul. The initial destination was to be somewhere within Yosemite National Park. After studying the red tape that is the permit system, we decided to set our sites on the surrounding national forests. Leavitt Meadows was suggested to Paul by a friend from his days as a Corn Husker.

The Route:

Starting at the Leavitt Meadows trailhead on the east side of Sonora Pass on CA highway 108, the trail follows the West Walker River south to Tower Lake.

Friday, September 16th:

Having to first survive the day at the lab, Paul, Herman and I met up at my place in the late afternoon to do a quick pack shakedown and add my food supply to Paul’s bear canister. Then we took a short ride across town to pick up Ulrike, and we were on our way! After minimal traffic and a pit stop at In’n Out, we rolled into the trailhead campground at about 11pm. The air was brisk, and we called it a night after a few star gazing moments.

Saturday, September 17th:

Leavitt Meadows

The goal of this trip was to get out of civilization and have a relaxing trip to the woods. With this as the mindset, we got up shortly after sunrise with out the aid of the incessant scream of an alarm. The morning air was cool and refreshing, maybe about 40F, but warmed quickly as the sun peeked over the ridge line. After a quick breakfast and filling out the necessary wilderness permits at the trail head, we were on our way!

Brrrr, that water is cold!!! Not quite August in Nebraska...

As we continued our stroll, the trail slowly climbed along the base of a ridge line from the trail head at about 6,500ft and passed several beautiful mountain lakes and eventually bringing us to the bank of the West Walker River. After following the river for several miles, our stomachs began to beckon for something a little more substantial than Cliff bars and GORP. About that time we also happened across a side trail to Hidden Lake. That sounded like a great place to have lunch, but after a knee deep river crossing that almost got the best of Paul, we decided the river bank would be as nice a picnic area as any.


After lunch and another chilly river crossing, we continued on our way to Fremont Lake. The trail continued to follow the river which continually changed from narrow fast moving rapids to wide still pools. The trail was well worn, and was littered with evidence of heavy use by four-legged steeds (it was a horse trail after all), but as we walked we turned the corner into a pack animal of a different breed! As we stepped aside, one of the hikers that the llamas were leading down the trail (cause you know its only an illusion orchestrated by the animals that people are in control) asked us where we were heading. We said, “Oh, just heading up to Fremont Lake.” Without hesitation, the hiker responded with what sounded like a scoff, “Hm, Good luck…” After they passed we looked at each other a bit surprised… we were under the impression that we were only about a mile from the lake!

After double checking the map, we decided that they must not have meant that we would be lucky to get there. Sure enough, after a shot time longer we reached Fremont Lake.

Our first view of Fremont Lake

Hermann, Ulrika and Paul take in the sights

While the trail was pretty sparsely populated, we immediately noticed the sounds of people drifting across the lake. After lounging for a bit, we decided that it was still early, so we would continue on down the trail rather than setting up camp here. So we set off towards Long Lakes.

This stretch of trail brought us away from the river and climbed up the ridge towards Long Lakes. As the light began to fad, we came to Lower Long Lake (~8,600ft) and decided that it was time to call it a day and set up camp. There were several flat grassy areas nestled in the rocks around the lake, so we took our choice, set up camp and as the sun began to set and the temperature began to drop, we busted out the hot drinks!

Camp at Lower Long Lake

91 octane!

A little Irish coffee...

A little spiced cider...

Sunday, September 18th:

Paul takes in the morning sights

The morning brought frosty tents and crisp air. We decided over breakfast that we would continue along the trail to complete a loop around Upper and Lower Long Lakes. The previous day had brought us about half way around, so the loop wouldn’t add any milage, but would allow us to see a few miles of new trail rather than back tracking the whole day.

As we neared the trail intersection that would start us back to the car, we paused to shed some layers and much on some bars and saw two older hikers heading by. They had some space between them and the lead hiker passed through the trail intersection without hesitation. When the second came to the intersection moments later we heard him call out, “Hey! Do you have the map!” With a response of, “Yea!” they continued on down the trail without consulting the map…

Ulrike taking in the beauty of the American country side in person

We picked up the trail that would lead us back to the car and it descended down the valley meeting up with the river we had followed for much of the day before. It was much smaller now, as we were several miles closer to its beginning. As we followed the river through the valley it slowly began to grow. We followed it to a field where Ulrike noted that “this is the picturesque American landscape.” Or at least closely resembling the photos of the American frontier she knows from Germany. As we continued through the field we made our last river crossing. This time Paul, having

Paul and Hermann fording the river... No oxen were lost, though Paul nearly got pneumonia.

learned from his close encounter with a cold and unexpected bath, as well as the wisdom of Hermann, had acquired a walking stick to aid in his journey through the depths. This crossing went a lot smoother than the previous ones.

Shortly after we leaving the field we came across a man leaning against a downed tree fixing some gatorade. He had been out for 6 days, and said we were the first people he had seen in 5 days! That’s a long time to go without talking to someone, definitely longer than I’ve ever gone. Yet what my mind was more focused on than this man’s recent lack of human contact, was why had he not seen the older hiker pair who were not far ahead of us…


As we continued on, the trail briefly ventured away from the river to make a rocky descent further into the valley. While on our descent, we had to step aside to make room for a few noble steeds complete with cowboy. When they passed us again on their way out we attempted to thumb-a-ride, but alas, they were not going where we needed to go.

Further down the trail, we decided that the cool water of a lake would be a nice finishing touch to a great weekend adventure (not to mention clean us up a little before the long drive back). We paused for a while for a dip in Roosevelt lake. The water was cool and refreshing. As we sat on a rock,drying off before heading on, we noticed a bunch of crayfish wandering around the rocks in the lake. We figure our quick dip must have stirred up a good afternoon snack for the little guys.

Sad to see the trip coming to an end, we took in a few last sights before arriving back at the car. It was a perfect weekend for a quick break from reality!

The crew takes a final look before hiking out to the car

Paul showing of his packing skills. Great job planning this trip dude!

More photos can be found on Flickr

Technology on the Trail:

On this trip I did a little technological experiment. Rather than using my usual point-and-shoot camera, I took all my pictures using my iPhone in order to capture the GPS tags that locate the pics with the places feature. Here is the result…

Photo GPS tags in iPhoto