San Gorgonio Mountain is the highest peak in Southern California at 11,503 ft and is surrounded by the San Gorgonio Wilderness in the San Bernardino Mountains. It sits across from the nearly as high Mt. San Jacinto to the south. Compared to San Jacinto, San Gorgonio has slightly higher elevation, is a larger massif, and is slightly more remote with both having relatively large roadless areas for their location but San Jacinto has Palm Springs and its tram on the east side.
I can’t remember who started the idea of going to California to visit Tom in December, maybe it was Dave. Since Tom and I had backpacked early in the season in San Jacinto, we thought maybe we could get another trip in this time too. The potential to go hiking, skiing and beach volleyball in the same week came up in our emails 🙂 It was our first trip in winter so we were a little out of our element but after research we decided to go to this other big mountain area nearby. We checked and learned it was snowy there, so there was no avoiding the snow. This was also Dave’s first trip with us.
- Area: Forsee Creek, Jackstraw Springs, Anderson Peak
- Duration: 2 days/1 night backpacking, Dec 29-30
- Estimated Distance: 15 miles
- High Point: Anderson Peak 10,864 ft. Low Point: Forsee Creek trailhead 6,800 ft
- Hikers: Dave, Mike, Tom
Tom rented Nissan Xterra which worked out great later when we took a pretty rough washed out dirt road to the trailhead. After about an hour driving, Tom realized he might have forgotten his boots. We stopped and checked and indeed he did. Proper footwear is required so I’ll say we got a late start. On take two, when we got closer to the mountains we stopped at a Subway in the San Bernardino area for lunch. We were hoping to get a good amount of trail done today so that saved us some time.
We stopped at the Mill Creek ranger station for San Bernardino National Forest. We already had trail ideas and we decided to do the north side and take a set of trails that would hopefully take us in a counter-clockwise loop up past 10,000 ft, to the top of San Gorgonio from the west, and then back down further east… with an optional cutoff on Dollar Lake Trail if we weren’t up for the extra mileage going to the peak. This was not to be but we gave it a good shot. The Trail Update from the ranger station read “Forsee and Johns Meadow – There is about a 1/2 inch of patchy snow at the trailhead and up to 4 inches of snow along the trail to Johns Meadow. Expect up to 6 inches of snow going towards Jackstraw Springs. Water flow is good at the Forsee Creek crossing. Crampons recommended.” Wonderful. The other trail updates didn’t sound any better.
Our wilderness permit in hand, we drove to the Forsee Creek Trailhead, off of Jenks Lake Road. We were a bit apprehensive about the snow so it was a downer to see quite a bit of it in the parking lot. That didn’t bode well for further up the mountain. It was cold too so we had on our jackets and hats. The trailhead was 6,800 ft according to the info sheet.
We were indeed hiking in snow once we got started but it wasn’t very deep here and didn’t slow us down much. I think it was about 1pm when we set out. Our hiking exertion kept us plenty warm as well. After just 3/4s of a mile we came to the junction of trails that go to John’s Meadow or Jackstraw Springs. We went left for Jackstraw Springs. The trail climbed up and up and the snow got a bit deeper but we chugged along. We saw some footprints in the snow that were probably a dog. Eventually we got some great views to the north of the bare face of a mountainside in the distance. We passed a guy and his dog coming back the other way in the snow. He said he had huddled with his dog in the tent to keep warm last night.
We continued climbing higher and the trees were a little thinner so we got more good views to the north and east. We had a snack break around 3 and maybe at 8,500 ft and the snow was a few inches deep here. The sun angle was low and shadows were taking over. After that the snow got significantly deeper and slowed us down. Evening pressed in and we kept an eye open for the campsites we saw the map or anything that looked good. We hadn’t seen any liquid water unfortunately.
We stopped around 5:00 after following some yellow reflectors on the trees to a short side route to a flat area where we set up camp on about 8 inches of snow. This was probably the Jackstraw Springs camp at 9,280 ft, but it was hard to see much with snow covering everything. It had been 4 miles and 2,400 ft elevation gain in about 4 hours. We were beat! It was definitely a strenuous trail. The steep climb, deep snow, and cold had kicked our butts.
Being cold and tired we just wanted to get out of our wet boots and socks and into our sleeping bags so we didn’t really have a proper meal. I had a bit of a headache too. After setting up camp, I gathered snow for Tom to melt and he and Dave cooked something in their tent. I had some more snacks for dinner. I still had some water with drink mix in my water bladder so I took that into my tent. I probably should have drank more but I was tired. Later that night I found the bladder was completely frozen so I stuck it in my sleeping bag with me and next time I woke I was able to drink some. It turned out there wasn’t that much though. I should have melted some more snow and was probably dehydrated.
In the morning the sun was shining and filtered through the trees. Tom’s wet socks were frozen and it wasn’t obvious how they could be thawed or dried. We all agreed we didn’t want to attempt to continue our planned 3 day loop. We decided we could leave our camp and packs, take some basics and head up higher, then return to camp, pack up, and head all the way down.
We hiked lighter, but through some fairly deep snow, and eventually got to a high flat point which must have been Anderson Flat/Anderson Peak at 10,560 ft. It was a good place to stop. We stood on the highest rock around for the closest thing we’d have to a summit, took in some views, and had a snack. There wasn’t a 360 degree view since the summit was large and flat and forested but one could wander around to get the directional view desired. I believe we caught a glimpse of Big Bear Lake to the north since that’s the only lake around.
After spending some time up there, we followed our footprints and headed back down to our camp and packed up. Then we hiked all the way out, downhill the whole way. It was only 2+ hours on the way back. Then the drive back down the Santa Ana River valley and back to LA. It was definitely a strenuous trail and even worse with snow on most of it. Even though getting up to San Gorgonio peak or finishing our loop wasn’t in the cards, it was still a neat trip. I’m glad to say that Dave has become a regular on our trips despite having this as his first experience.