Mount San Gorgonio’s Vivian Creek trail is one of the most epic day hikes that you can do with your dog in California, so it has been on our list for awhile. The opportunity finally arose last weekend and we had a blast checking out a new part of California.
Mileage: 15.5 miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain/Loss: 5500 feet
Day(s) Hiked: 11/10/13
Dog Friendly: Yes
“Mountains are not Stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” – Anatoli Boukreev
Maybe it’s because we were there in the fall during a dry season, but that description of the area seems like a gross exaggeration. For the most part, the trail along Vivian Creek continues to be the familiar looking socal forest that pervades the area.
That leads me to my chief complaint about this trail. The views don’t change very much considering the distance and elevation that the trail covers. Trees are constantly flanking the trail, which is useful for sun protection but doesn’t help hikers see much outside of the tunnel they are in. Additionally, the topography of the area means that most of the trail is in side canyons with limited sight lines for the majority of the hike. It is not until the last 1500 feet that things open up as you would expect them to on Socal’s biggest peak.
When the views do open up, they do not disappoint. We were fortunate that the nearby north facing slopes still had a dusting of snow on them which added another layer to the beauty.
Halfway up the hike, the trail passes High Creek which is the last reliable water source on the way to the summit. The creek was barely a trickle on our visit, but it was enough to refill our bottles and let Callie cool her paws. From there, the trail goes up a hill via another series of switchbacks that meander up the hill at a gradual pace.
Once the trail reaches the top of the hill and gains the ridge, the views open up considerably. San Jacinto’s rugged profile emerging straight from the desert floor is an impressive sight.
Moving forward, the view of the summit area finally comes into view as the ridge turns a corner. Only 1,700 feet left!
Shortly after that, at around 10,200 feet, the trees that had been surrounding the trail thin out very quickly. The summit appears almost within your grasp at this point but it is still over a thousand feet to the top. Without any acclimation time, the altitude was hitting me at this point so we took it slow on the final approach. 11,000 feet can do that to you.
The top of the mountain is extremely flat, and it’s hard to initially see where the summit is. Just keep following the trail.
Once you see a group of people, you’ve found the summit! Sadly, like many SoCal summits, unless you come here on a non summer weekday then you are unlikely to have it to yourself.
Since the summit is flat, the views are actually pretty underwhelming compared to what you get on some of the sections of trail leading to it. It reminded me of Mount Baldy in this respect. The best views were looking north towards the rest of the Gorgonio Wilderness. I can’t wait to explore this area some more!
We didn’t linger at the summit for very long. It being fall, we were already running out of daylight so we scurried back down the trail. Starting out on the return, the view towards Los Angeles spanning all the way to the ocean is gorgeous. The city is so far away that it seems like another world, and yet we had just come from there a few hours earlier. The fact that we were 10,000 feet lower in elevation only 9 hours previously was pretty remarkable, and a testament to the fact that Los Angeles provides an under appreciated opportunity for adventure.
As we made our way down the mountain, the afternoon light bathed the mountain in an increasingly orange glow.
We were blessed with fortunate timing which allowed us to get a view of Baldy rising above LA at sunset. It was a beautiful sight to end the day with.
At this point we were still a couple thousand feet above our car, and night set in pretty quickly. It’s pretty amazing how quickly the forest can transition into night. Within a half hour, it was pitch dark. As always, I was carrying my headlamp and some extra batteries, and Callie had her light beacon as well, so there was no concern. Although, hiking through the woods in pitch black by yourself for over an hour is a little unneverving. We passed by a couple of campsites near Halfway Camp and the solitary headlamp pointing towards me from the black abyss as I walked by spooked me a bit. I should probably watch less horror movies. Fortunately, we made it back to the car sans hillbilly murder and headed back to civilization where I rewarded myself with pizza and Callie rewarded herself with a 12 hour nap. Most of my body ached and all was right with the world again.