Note: I know I’m super behind on posting all my “misadventures”. This is a problem when they all get squeezed into one summer. With NaNoWriMo coming up, I need to get my head back into making up adventures and writing words down onto paper… hopefully.
For our final training hike, we hit Mount Gorgonio, the tallest mountain in Southern California at 11,503 feet, via the Vivian Creek Trail. After the first few misadventures from our previous hikes, we were hoping to not have anymore misadventures since this was going to be another long and tough hike. We were gaining 5,840 feet in about 9 miles with an 18 mile round-trip total hike, but with our track record, we ended up adding miles anyway.
Aside from the length, steepness, and altitude making this a strenuous hike, we had an added factor of it being a hot summer day. However, I was hoping that it would be slightly cooler since we were at a higher altitude.
We reached Gorgonio around 7:00 AM, which was later than planned, but it was still early and cool. We grabbed our gear, applied sunscreen and bug repellent, then we were on our way.
Our first adventure started at the at the dry creek bed of Mill Creek. Instead of walking along the dried creek bed, we were walking in the creek, where it was mostly sand and rock filled terrain. We started to worry when we walked for about half a mile and still didn’t see the trailhead sign. Fortunately, we hadn’t miss or passed the sign, and we were on our way up the steepest mile of the trail.
This is the steepest and probably the hardest part of the trail since you gain 1,000 vertical feet of elevation in a mile. This mile was a challenge, but it was over pretty quickly, but there were some switchbacks that would give an acrophobe some pause. Once you get out of this “tough” section, the trail levels out and you have a beautiful steady hike for next two miles. Along the wooded trail, there was plenty of shade and the creek could be heard running in the background. However, there was one thing that marred the beauty of this trail. There were a lot of insects. There was part of the trail that had a lot of foliage and bugs, so we basically had to run through it with our heads down so rogue insects wouldn’t try to invade our face holes. In addition, these insects were fierce since they were biting us through our shirts. I haven’t had to use insect repellent in most of these hikes, but for Gorgonio during the summer. I highly recommend insect repellent with Deet because the “hippie” citronella insect repellent did nothing to keep the bugs away.
After racing through a cloud of insects, we decided to take a break at the junction to Halfway Camp. During our short respite, a group of trail runners came up from behind us. As they ran passed us, one of my friends recognized one of the runners as Billy, the “LA Runner”. We chatted with him and mentioned we were training for Mount Whitney. He told us he was up at Mount Whitney the week before and mentioned that it was beautiful. The runners then continued on their merry way, while we gathered our gear and continued our adventure to the top.
We stopped for a food break at High Creek. Water was flowing at a decent rate and some of us filled up on the nice cold water since this was the last source of water, and the weather was starting to warm up.
The moment we reached the ridgeline the clouds in the sky turned sparser, and it got hot since we broke the treeline at high noon and shade was very sparse. This part of the trail that hugged the ridgeline to the top wasn’t hard, per se. But we had finally broke 10,000 feet, and we were all starting to feel the effects of the altitude. In addition to being at an 10,000 feet, it was hot and we were pretty exposed on the ridge.
Once and awhile a cloud would cover the sun and we would get a nice break from the heat, but those moments were few and far between as we got closer to the summit, which still felt very far away. Hikers coming down the summit tried to be encouraging and pointed out where the top of the mountain was and said the summit was close… but in my head it was still not close enough. I think at this point we saw the runners we encountered earlier heading back down the mountain. Although we only saw two of the four, which we thought was odd, but we just assumed they were planning on going down another trail.
When I finally reached the sign that pointed to the summit, I felt energized to reached the summit, but that energy dissipated when we encountered the “false peak”. Fortunately, the true peak wasn’t much further, but it sure felt like forever. I think our main motivation of getting to the summit at this point was so we could break for lunch.
We finally reached the peak at around 2:00 PM. I didn’t think I was going to make it to the top since my knees weren’t feeling that great after the Mount Wilson hike the week before. But icing my knees daily for a week and wearing a knee brace for the hike definitely helped.
At the top there were a few hikers just chilling at the peak eating, talking, or napping. We pretty much did the same after we got pictures of the sign and our traditional “shoe pic”. While we were enjoying our sandwiches, there were quite a few chubby chipmunks eying our sandwiches and backpacks. When we didn’t give them food, I’m pretty sure they gave us a stink eye for not sharing.
We stayed at the summit for about 45 minutes before we reluctantly reminded ourselves we were only halfway done. I found the register and signed our names as the others groaned and prepared for the long descent. I was not looking forward to the trek down since we had to descend at a slow pace because one of us had bad knees and could not travel as fast as the couple “Speedy Gonzales” of the group.
Due to the slow pace we were traveling, we quickly realized that our goal to get off the mountain by 7:00 PM for a nice lobster dinner reward was only a dream. Our next realization was that we were not going to make it down the mountain before sunset. Our final realization was that not everyone in our party of four had a headlamp.
As dusk approached we decided to assess our lighting situation. I had my headlamp. One person had a dinky mag-light that could use some fresh batteries, another person had a headlamp… but no batteries, and the last person had nothing at all. So between four people, we had two lights. When the sun set completely, it was DARK. Not to mention the last mile to the bottom was the steepest and narrowest part of the trail.
We knew that our hike up Mount Whitney would begin at 3:00 AM, but we had not planned for this hike to have us train for hiking in the dark. So this misadventure might have been a blessing in disguise… maybe.
With just two lamps between our group, we positioned ourselves by having me in the back with my headlamp, the slowest in front with her little mag-light, and the two Speedy Gonzales in between us. When we reached the final mile, I remembered how tough it was coming up, and going down the steep mile in the dark was just plain terrifying.
We were tired and sleepy from the long day, but once we hit the final steep mile in the dark, we were wide awake and probably sweating more than we had when we were hiking under the sun. Going down that trail while surrounded by blackness was an interesting experience. I had looked off to the side of the trail for a second; all I saw was BLACK. I looked down the edge of the trail and saw more BLACK. This last mile felt like an eternity since we had no way of telling how far from the bottom we were. It just felt like an endless amount of steep rocky switchbacks after switchback. Eventually, we reached the creek bed and cheered.
But it wasn’t over yet. We still had another half mile to the car. This should have been an easy hike back to the car, but since I had the brightest headlamp, the moths decided to greet me by invading my face and attempting to go up my nose, mouth, and ears. I was not happy and very relieved when we finally reached the car at around 9:30PM.
The moment we got out of the mountains and into cell phone range, I called my mother to let her know I was still alive. Then she teased me by saying, she almost thought she had to call the rangers to look for us.
So instead of a lobster dinner, we ended up with no dinner since we were exhausted and just wanted to wash the filth off ourselves and sleep for two weeks until the next hike.
Overall, the Vivian Creek trail is a lovely trail, but in the summer time be sure to bring insect repellant because in the daytime, you have biting flies and mosquitoes; at night, you have nose invading giant moths.