San Bernardino Winter Hike

There hasn’t been much snow in this severe drought year, so when there was some fresh powder reported we wasted no time and headed out to the San Bernardino mountains. [Photo Gallery at the bottom]

John’s report:

Another epic adventure under our belts and in the books.

What started as a planned trek on Forsee Trail to the San Bernardino Ridgeline and potentially Mt San Gorgonio was interrupted by slick roads. Matt, Uwe, and I met as usual at 0600 and drove to hwy 38 enroute to the Forsee trail. There were signs saying chains were required as a result of snowfall the previous 2 days. Just past Angeles Oaks, there was a chains checkpoint and we had to turn around. We had no chains and no 4×4. The road was sanded but still slick in places. Traffic was extremely heavy as folks flocked to Big Bear to enjoy the ski runs. We returned to Angeles Oaks and decided to hike San Bernardino Peak because the trail head was close. Temperature was 21 degrees as we stepped off at 0820. Once on trail and climbing, we warmed up but didn’t want to sweat so began peeling clothes. Matt was soon down to bare arms….a bit too much for me. The trail was reasonable up to about half way. Seemed like there had been some foot traffic even with the new snow that got progressively deeper as we continued up. We took a break at half way and had a bite. Up to that point we had met one guy descending and passed two guys ascending. The guy coming down didn’t say where he started or was coming from. The wind blown snow covered his tracks and we saw no evidence of a camp. After that, the trail got a little more difficult.

The new snow had covered an icy crust of snow so when we sunk in, we slipped. The higher we went, the deeper the snow. We wore micro-spikes and considered ice ax, snow shoes, and crampons but rejected them. There were a couple places we could have used crampons and snow shoes but the hassles of carrying them were outweighed by our thinking we could get by with micro-spikes. The trail was obscured by blowing snow and we kept losing it. We knew we had to keep going up so many times we just went straight up. Very tough climbing, slipping, struggling in the snow, breaking through as deep as hip/waist in places. A very good test of fortitude to reach the top of the ridgeline that went up/down until we reached San Bernardino Peak. The north side had deep snow, the top was wind swept exposing the rocks and the south side was out of the wind so we took a break. Took us over 6 hours to make the summit. It was so cold that the hose from the camelbak bladder froze and couldn’t get water. I carried two Gatorade bottles, both of which became slushy as it began to freeze. Hand were ice cold. On top I brewed a pot of water and boiled some bullion….hot and salty, perfect! Uwe brought a thermos of the same.

Then we began the descent. Tried to follow our same trail as it was somewhat broken. Still tough going but easier than climbing it. Initial goal was to get out of the wind. At one point, I was leading and kept going when they took a short break. The wind had obscured our trail and I thought I was on track but wasn’t. I missed a turn and went way too far into a draw well above where I needed to be. I crossed the draw and started to descend figuring I’d cross the trail. I decided to make sure and pulled my whistle. A couple years ago at our annual hiker’s party I bought whistles for us 5 and we agreed that if we got separated, we’d find each other. It worked very well. Almost as soon as I started blowing, I heard shouts and they were well below me. I had to descend through some nasty mesquite and chaparral. We got back together and continued the descent. As the sun went down and the temp dropped, the trail got rougher and rougher from ice ridges. At 1815 we stopped and put on headlamps. We finally made it back to the truck by 1930. It was a balmy 30 degrees in Angeles Oaks. We kept the heater on high for most of the drive out of the mountains. There was an accident on I-10 at the 215 so we got held up in traffic for awhile but eventually made it back to the parking lot by 2115. Very long day.

Uwe’s GPS said it was 15 miles, 4,800 feet of climbing in 11 hours. Not very impressive stats until you consider the terrain and obstacles.

This event was a test of physical conditioning and mental toughness. It would have been very easy to bail out anywhere along the way. The two guys we passed on the ascent did not make it. We saw where many people went part way up the hill and played in the snow but we were the only ones to make the peak that day. A few hikes ago, Jack and I were talking about the top 5 toughest physical events we’ve ever done. While this one didn’t make the
top 5 on my list, it was still quite challenging. Today my feet/ankles are sore from the unstable terrain and I feel fatigued. But, I was happy because I didn’t bonk and felt reasonably good most of the day.



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