San Gorgonio Summit Bivouac

Looking for some solitude I did a quick, last-minute hike up San Gorgonio with bivouac on the summit. This was something I always had wanted to do. Forecast conditions were favorable with no wind and lows around 50 F (10 C).

With the new system of online reservations it was easy to get a permit even with just a day’s notice, unlike the old cumbersome phone/fax/email system that usually took at least a couple of days. I drove up around noon for a hike starting time of 14:20. A bit later than I had wanted since the sunset was around 19:50. That was cutting it close to see a sunset from up there. 5.5 hours up the 5,500 ft (~1,700 m) and 9 miles (14.5 km) with a pack takes some doing. I had tried to keep the pack light by sticking to the essentials and skipping the tent, but it was rather warm and I had to carry a good amount of water. I managed to still end up with 32 lb (14.5 kg). Maybe I need lighter gear. At Vivien Camp I was already soaked to the bone, by the time I reached High Creek (17:15) it was cooling off a little with the sun quite low. Since this is the highest water source I topped off my water and added some extra for dinner and breakfast before continuing up (17:35). As usual, I felt the altitude around 10,500 ft (3200 m) and slowed down. I arrived at the peak at 19:45, with minutes to spare before the sun set behind the peak ridge.

Sun setting over Jepson Peak

As soon as the sun was gone the temperature dropped quite a bit. With my clothes wet from the climb up in the warm conditions, I was getting cold quickly. I had to find a spot for the night and get out of the wet clothes. There are a number of wind shelters build by campers over the years. I picked one, quickly set up my camp, changed into my thermal liner, and slipped into my sleeping bag. By this time my hands were quite cold despite gloves. It took a little while before I felt warm enough to boil some water for my hot dinner.

It was fun to see lights in all the cities around the mountain come on and the stars to come out. I read a little and then watched the stars incl. passing satellites and a couple of shooting stars before going to sleep. The night was not too cold as forecast. I woke up around 4:00 and did some more stargazing, this time with the milky way and some moonlight. After my first shooting star, I went back to sleep until shortly before sunrise. At that time I got up to take in the land around me and how it slowly got illuminated by the rising sun. The coolest thing, though, was the shadow San Gorgonio cast to the west. Then it was time to prepare some hot coffee and oatmeal, pack up, and start the hike down. As soon as I was off the top with its very gentle breeze, I had to take off some layers since it was getting warm even at 7:30 in the morning. With fresh legs, I made good time and arrived back at the truck just 3h 10m after leaving the top. Along the way I met the hikers going up for the day.

The drive home, with a 1h delay due to a construction-caused traffic jam, reminded me how great it was to be able to have a big mountain like San Gorgonio for myself for a night. There were no other campers at any of the other campsites on that side of the mountain. The entire time from crossing High Creek on the way up until crossing it again on the way down I did not see any person.

(Click on any image to enlarge/start slide show)

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