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San Gorgonio Mountain

12 September 2001

By: Karen Isaacson Leverich

Private hike led by Mars Bonfire

Edith Liu needed this peak (she's getting very close to finishing the list), I didn't need the peak but did want a good long hike, and Mars Bonfire, hmmmm, where would we be without Mars?

At the Fish Creek trailhead, it seemed probable that Edith would be disappointed and the only thing we'd have to show for the day would be a good long hike - the view over the ridge to San Gorgonio that morning was of a mountain that already was ominously overshadowed by dark grey clouds. Thunderstorms later in the day looked, at least to my meteorologically uneducated eye, quite likely.

But given how far we'd already traveled to get to the trailhead, it seemed silly to give up without at least making an attempt. So with the occasional paranoid glance to the sky, we started up those getting-to-be-too-familiar switchbacks. It was a bit windy when we started, and as we got closer to Fish Creek Saddle, it was windier yet. We'd hear a gathering roar, and then whoosh!, we were bombarded with grit and pine needles. If one is dumb enough to be hiking in shorts (I was the only one so dumb, and thus know this first hand), that stuff stings! When we got to the saddle, I dove behind a tree and swapped into long pants and a sweater.

Looking towards the mountain, we were encouraged to see there were far fewer clouds. Hurrah, wind! And to the north, the clouds looked like something one might find in a surrealist painting. The shapes looked strangely painted with sweeping strokes onto the blue sky.

As we followed the trail around the northwest side of Lake Peak, we were gratified to be out of the wind, but figured we'd find it again when we left the shelter of Lake Peak. It was a pleasant surprise when we reached the saddle between Zahniser and Lake (does that saddle have a name?) to find nothing worse than a stiff breeze, which got better instead of worse by the time we'd passed south of Zahniser and reached Mineshaft Saddle.

When we'd been near here last week to do Grinnell, Lake, and Ten Thousand Foot Ridge, Mars and Carleton had looked yearningly at the ridge up San Gorgonio above Mineshaft Saddle. 1500' gain in less than a mile, very inviting. Edith and I looked a bit anxiously at the tumble of boulders and trees above us. Where could we put our feet? "Let's try climbing a few hundred feet up and see how it goes," suggested Mars. "We can always go back down and use the trail."

So... up we went, one step at a time. And actually, at least with Mars to choose our path, it wasn't that hard. There always seemed to be logical places to put our feet, and none of that sliding back six inches for every foot forwards one puts up with on the lower slopes of Bighorn Mountain.

We took a break maybe halfway up, in a briefly level shaded spot. Edith brought out her USGS quadrangle. Dated 1954! It was fun working out where we were. You see, back in 1954, there was no Fish Creek Trail. And the only mountain shown near Fish Creek Saddle (which wasn't labeled Fish Creek Saddle) wasn't Grinnell or Lake, but Fish Creek Mountain! But one could spot Mineshaft Saddle (also not labeled), and given our altitude, we were pretty much on the "R" in the word FOREST.

Towards the top, a definite use trail emerged. Well, it'd be too much to think we'd actually discovered this great new route, huh? The use trail took us the last several feet to the summit ridge, at which point, whew! there was that wind again, stronger than ever. We quickly added a few more layers, being careful that the wind didn't snatch away anything while we worked. Then we cut east to the trail, and headed for the summit.

We'd not seen anyone all day, except right as we drove up when we'd seen a single hiker heading off to the west or southwest, not on the trail. Not that we'd expected to encounter anyone on that wonderful ridge, but we were certainly startled when we were overtaken maybe twenty feet from the summit by a young couple in shorts and long sleeved shirts, but no jackets. We stepped aside and let them pass, then followed them up, to find them trying to decide if this was the summit, or that bump over there to the east. We assured them they were in the right place, showed them the register, and chatted with them a bit. They'd come up from the South Fork trailhead. She was clearly cold, with goosebumps on her legs, so they didn't stay that long before heading off.

We, on the other hand, lolled around for a bit. Why? Well, for some odd reason, the wind on the summit itself wasn't bad. Go figure.

Feeling a bit lazy about rough terrain (at least, I was, I'm not sure about the others), we decided we'd go out by way of the trail, but opted to save a mile or so by heading east towards it, angling down and intersecting it on the north side of the mountain in the top switchback.

There was less and less wind as we went down. When we reached Fish Creek Saddle again, it wasn't even breezy, nothing like the gales we'd had there in the morning. When we'd passed it in the morning, we'd noticed the ranger's tent looked a bit mangled. After a few hours of strong winds, it looked even worse. But we didn't pause to ponder, we scooted on down the trail, and were back at the cars just before dark.

This would have been another absolutely perfect hike, except for the ending:
Back at the cars, I made an unhappy discovery. My car keys! I'd somehow dropped them somewhere on the mountain! Luckily, I'd met Edith at the Myrtle Park-n-Ride lot, and ridden with her, so once we had driven far enough that her cell phone could find the mother ship (or whatever it is they do), I was able to phone Brian and arrange for him to head from home for Myrtle with a spare key. The moral: keep your keys clipped somewhere safe in your pack, and not loose where they'll possibly fall out while you wrestle in and out of various clothing layers. Second moral: it's probably not a bad idea to have a spare key somewhere in your pack, just in case!

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