San Gorgonio July 2019

We backpacked up the South Fork Trail to Dry Lake the first day, day-hiked to the summits of Ten Thousand Foot Ridge and Lake Peak on the second day, and traversed cross-country to Dollar Lake on the third day.  We hiked out on the final day.  This trip was our first visit to the South Fork Trail since the Lake Fire back in 2015, and we wanted to see just how badly the forest got burned.

 

Day 1:  South Fork Trail to Dry Lake

 

Vicki and I arrived at the trailhead just after dawn on Wednesday July 3rd, and the parking lot was essentially empty. Which was just the way we like it.  We put on our big backpacks and headed out.  We had six miles to hike, and 2300 feet to climb.  We’d call that a good solid day of hiking.

South Fork Trailhead signs with warnings about entering a burned area
South Fork Trailhead signs with warnings about entering a burned area
Morning sun silhouettes on the burned pine trees
Morning sun silhouettes on the burned pine trees
More wildflowers blooming amid the burned trees - those are Black Oaks regrowing from the roots
More wildflowers blooming amid the burned trees – those are Black Oaks regrowing from the roots

We hiked uphill through the (mostly) burned forest, and noticed that the wildflowers were blooming extraordinarily well this year.  Not only was there a lot of rain and snow last Winter, but the lack of shady trees also helped.  The trees made us sad, but the flowers did a lot to cheer us back up again.  Life goes on.

Soon enough, we arrived at Horse Meadows, where there were a couple of historic buildings that survived the fire.  We took a rest in the shade with our boots off and enjoyed the view of the lush, grassy meadow.

Horse Meadow and its historic buildings were saved from the fire back in 2015
Horse Meadows

We continued upward on the trail.  There were several cienegas (soggy sloping hillsides where water seeps out of the ground) along the trail, and we made our way around them, careful not to get our boots all wet.  In other spots, the trail kept climbing, and the burnt trees allowed for better views (except for the dead tree carcasses).

Burnt trees and a swampy trail
Burnt trees and a swampy trail
Looking north on the South Fork Trail with burnt dead trees in the foreground
Looking north on the South Fork Trail with dead trees in the foreground

We arrived at Poop-Out Hill, just before the wilderness boundary.  We climbed up the short access trail and took in the “Classic” view of San Gorgonio Mountain, which now sported a new, unburnt sign.  We took a short rest there, and I sent a few texts and photos out to friends and family.  They were all at work, and needed to feel a bit jealous.  I also knew that we wouldn’t have cell signal much longer, so this was our final communication with the civilized world for the next four days.

View of San Gorgonio Mountain from Poop-Out Hill on the South Fork Trail
Classic View of San Gorgonio Mountain from Poop-Out Hill. Yes, that’s snow up there.

After reading a few replies making fun of the name “Poop-Out Hill” I sent out one final text and we headed on.

The South Fork Trail crossed an avalanche path that led up toward Alto Diablo Peak
The trail crossed an avalanche path that led up toward Alto Diablo Peak
Dead, burned pine tree silhouette with cirrus clouds
Dead pine tree silhouette with cirrus clouds

The weather was great for hiking, and Vicki didn’t overheat too badly.  She maintained a steady stream of spritzes from her spray nozzle, and her body stayed wet and cool in the breeze.  After an hour or so of hiking, we came upon the trail junction where the Dollar Lake Trail heads to the right, and the Dry Lake Trail to the left.  We headed left, and the trail immediately crossed the South Fork of the Santa Ana River, which was flowing quite well.  This entire area was full of springs and creeks, and was colloquially known as “Slushy Meadows.”  We stopped for an extended rest, and cooled our feet in the icy water.  It felt good after all that uphill hiking.  We ate lunch and enjoyed listening to the sound of the water.  Very peaceful.

This is where the South Fork Trail crosses the South Fork of the Santa Ana River
This is where the South Fork Trail crosses the South Fork of the Santa Ana River (aka Slushy Meadows)

Video of the South Fork of the Santa Ana River where it crosses the trail

I took an easier log crossing
I took an easier log crossing than Vicki did

After that, it was simply a matter of climbing some switchbacks for another two miles until we reached Dry Lake.  The hike was hot and steep, but we just kept slogging onward.  There were plenty of wildflowers on the hillside, and great views across the way toward Charlton Peak.  But by the time Vicki made it to the lake, she wasn’t paying much attention to the scenery; she was starting to fade, and was mindlessly placing one foot in front of another.

After crossing the river, the Dry Lake Trail ascends via switchbacks on its way to the lake
After crossing the river, the Dry Lake Trail ascends via switchbacks on its way to the lake
Panorama shot looking west toward Charlton Peak
Panorama shot looking west toward Charlton Peak
The final stretch of the Dry Lake Trail as we near Dry Lake itself
The final stretch of the Dry Lake Trail as we near Dry Lake itself

We reached the lake and I took some more photos. San Gorgonio Mountain and Jepson Peak were reflecting in the waters, and it was extremely picturesque.  It was July, and there was still plenty of snow up there at eleven thousand feet elevation.

Panorama view of Dry Lake with a reflection of San Gorgonio Mountain
Panorama view of Dry Lake with a reflection of San Gorgonio Mountain
Panorama of Dry Lake with San Gorgonio Mountain, Jepson Peak and the two Charltons
Panorama shot with San Gorgonio Mountain, Jepson Peak and the two Charltons

Vicki decided to take a short nap while I headed off to the Lodgepole Campground to find a good location for our base camp.  We would be staying here three nights, so we wanted to get a good spot with some privacy.  I found a small clearing and headed back to help Vicki with her pack.  She was pretty whupped, so I carried it up to camp.  Then we got everything ready for the evening.

We found a secluded campsite in the Lodgepole Campground not far from the spring
We found a secluded campsite in the Lodgepole Campground not far from the spring

We enjoyed a mellow evening.  There were only a few people camping nearby that night, so it was peaceful.  We were happy to see that Lodgepole Spring was running strong, and we filtered enough water for dinner, breakfast, and the next day’s hike.  We went to bed early because we’d woken up at 2am (and left San Diego at 4am) in order to beat the LA traffic.

 

 

Day 2:  Cross-Country hike to the summits of Ten Thousand Foot Ridge and Lake Peak

 

Back in 2014, before the Lake Fire, we tried this same exact trip, hiking in to Dry Lake so that we could bag Ten Thousand Foot Ridge, one of the few 10k peaks we hadn’t climbed in SoCal.  We hiked to the lake, but, sadly, there were big thunderstorms happening that weekend.  Getting wet was fun on the way in, hiking down low in a protected valley where it was safe, but we decided that standing up on top of a mountain under those conditions was madness.  So we aborted the trip the next day.

I had planned a return trip the next year, in 2015, but the Lake Fire began a week or so before that, and our hopes of bagging the peak were dashed for the foreseeable future.  This entire area of the wilderness was closed to the public for the foreseeable future.  Luckily, the San Gorgonio Wilderness has a great volunteer association affiliated with it, and they got to work right away.  It still took several years to fix things up, but at least it’s open now, and we were able to bag the peak this time. Hooray!

It's morning and I'm carrying Vicki's pack as our daypack - ready to hike with the ten essentials
It’s morning and I’m carrying Vicki’s pack as our daypack – ready to hike with the ten essentials

Video of the excellent water flow at Lodgepole Spring in July 2019

Hiking up the old trail to Fish Creek Saddle from the Lodgepole Campground
Hiking up the old trail to Fish Creek Saddle from the Lodgepole Campground

We climbed up the non-maintained trail to Fish Creek Saddle.  It wasn’t hard to find, although sometimes it seemed there was more than one trail.  It didn’t take long.  Once at the saddle, it was time to get out the GPS and start some trail-less, cross-country hiking, out along the main ridge.

The campground at Fish Creek Saddle
The campground at Fish Creek Saddle

Now, Ten Thousand Foot Ridge is the name of the highest peaklet on a very long ridge that extends east from San Gorgonio Mountain.  There are numerous “numbered” peaks on the topo map, but almost all of them are less than ten thousand feet in elevation.  We really didn’t want to bag them all, just the big one, so we decided to side-hill along the ridge as much as possible (initially) to save ourselves the trouble of going up and down and up and down.  This may not have been the best strategy to use, but it was ours, and we went with it.

Heading east from Fish Creek Saddle, cross-country through burned terrain toward Fish Creek Peak
Heading east from Fish Creek Saddle, cross-country through burned terrain toward Fish Creek Peak
View of Grinnell Mountain from the ridge leading to Fish Creek Peak
View of Grinnell Mountain as we headed up the ridge

One of the smaller peaks, Fish Creek Peak, was directly on our route so we bagged it.  Why not?  It was too easy to pass up.  It didn’t have a summit register box, but it did have some old pieces of wood and galvanized wire left behind by someone long ago.

Vicki finds a wooden contraption on the summit of Fish Creek Peak (Peak 9942)
Vicki found a wooden contraption on the summit of Fish Creek Peak (Peak 9942)

After that, we were basically on top of the ridge, which was very broad, and we could see our objective directly in front of us.  All we had to do was descend into a saddle, then climb up to the summit.  What we weren’t prepared for was how steep the final slope was.  The soil was loose, and the footing was uncertain.  There were a number of “use” trails to choose from, but all of them were steeper than we liked.  Vicki was glad she had her hiking pole!

Ten Thousand Foot Ridge (Peak 10094)
Ten Thousand Foot Ridge (Peak 10094) is our goal
It's steep and rocky as we climb the use trail to Ten Thousand Foot Ridge (Peak 10094)
It’s steep and rocky as we climb the faint use trail to Ten Thousand Foot Ridge

We made it to the summit and took in the views, which were really quite excellent.  San Gorgonio with its patches of melting snow was off to the west, and San Jacinto was across the big valley to the south.  I signed our names in the summit register and took a bunch of photos and videos.  We were happy that we finally bagged the peak, after trying to get here and failing for the last five years.

The summit of Ten Thousand Foot Ridge (Peak 10094) and the register box
The summit and the register box
Panorama view west from the summit of Ten Thousand Foot Ridge (Peak 10094)
Panorama view west from the summit of Ten Thousand Foot Ridge toward San Gorgonio Mountain

Panorama video from the summit of Ten Thousand Foot Ridge (Peak 10094)

View south to San Jacinto Peak from the summit of Ten Thousand Foot Ridge (Peak 10094)
View south to San Jacinto Peak

It was hot by that time, so we found a shady spot under a snall pine and ate our lunch.  There was a bit of snow there, probably from a drift formed by the wind passing around our shady tree, and Vicki took some and put it in her hat to keep her head cool during the next phase of our hike.

Vicki's rest spot on the northern slope of Ten Thousand Foot Ridge (Peak 10094)
Vicki’s rest spot on the northern slope with some residual Winter Snow (in July!)
We carefully descended the steep slope from Ten Thousand Foot Ridge
We carefully descended the steep slope from the summit and headed northwest along the ridge

We hiked along the top of the ridge this time, headed west toward Lake Peak.  Apparently, some folks from the Sierra Club left a number of small ducks to mark the trail.  They helped, I guess, but it wasn’t that hard to figure out, namely: Stay on top of the ridge.

Once again, we had to hike through a thoroughly burned forest.  The fire must have burned hot and furious as it climbed the ridge from the north, because almost everything was scorched, while the smaller branches never completely burned.  Just the needles and the bark were damaged, but that was enough to kill the pines.  The only wood that truly burned was the already-dead wood lying on the ground.

The Lake Fire burned the summit of Lake Peak
The Lake Fire burned most of the summit of Lake Peak
Vicki sitting in the shade of a pine tree just below the summit of Lake Peak
Vicki sitting in the shade of a still-living pine tree just below the summit of Lake Peak

We took another long break on the summit of Lake Peak, and looked down on Dry Lake.  The valley below us, where our campsite was, had escaped the wrath of the fire.  It was nice to see green trees after hiking through the destruction that happened up here.

Panorama view northwest from the summit of Lake Peak, with Dry Lake down below
Panorama view northwest from the summit of Lake Peak, with Dry Lake down below
Zoomed-in shot of Dry Lake (not so dry) from the summit of Lake Peak
Zoomed-in shot of Dry Lake (not so dry) from the summit
A happy Vicki on the summit of Lake Peak
A happy Vicki on the summit of Lake Peak

After that, we descended from the summit on a steep angle back to Fish Creek Saddle, then headed down the use trail to Lodgepole Camp.  We ate some dinner and took an after-dinner constitutional to the lake.

Evening panorama shot of Dry Lake with plenty of glare from the setting sun
Evening panorama shot of Dry Lake with plenty of glare from the setting sun

 

 

Day 3:  We foolishly decided to traverse to Dollar Lake from Dry Lake by staying at 9000 feet elevation

 

We foolishly decided to traverse to Dollar Lake from Dry Lake by staying at 9000 feet elevation (or so) the entire way.  We saw this cross-country route on Hikin’ Jim’s awesome San Gorgonio CalTopo Map, and thought that it might save us from hiking all those extra miles on the main trails, and also from dropping down to 8200 feet along the way.  The direct route was only two miles, rather than five, so it had to be better.  Right?  Right?  Wrong.  It was the shortcut from hell, and it took us five hours to get to Dollar Lake!  On the way back, we wisely chose the main trails and it only took us three and a half hours.  All in all, it was a very tough hike, but I’m still glad that we took the crazy route.

It's a new day and Vicki put her I Climbed the Nine Peaks patch on her hat
It’s a new day and Vicki put her “I Climbed the Nine Peaks” patch on her hat

We knew it was going to be a long, tough day, so we packed plenty of water and headed off toward Dry Lake.  We went around to the far side and climbed up out of the bowl, hiking off-trail.  And the hiking becane difficult immediately, over an undulating countryside filled with piles of granite boulders and thorny bushes.  The dead trees didn’t help much either.

We climbed up onto the jumbled granite boulders to the west of Dry Lake
We climbed up onto the jumbled granite boulders to the west of Dry Lake
San Gorgonio Mountain and Jepson Peak from the high, boulder-studded plateau west of Dry Lake
San Gorgonio Mountain and Jepson Peak from the high, boulder-studded plateau west of Dry Lake

There were a couple of flat areas where water flow had left behind flat silty plains of dirt, but for the most part the hiking remained slow, and the route-finding was challenging.  Did we want to hike on bad terrain, or worse terrain?  Those were our only choices.

A flat flood plain on the plateau west of Dry Lake
We came upon a flat flood plain on the plateau
We think that these might be Mountain Lion tracks
We think that these might be Mountain Lion tracks

This area was supposedly under the influence of a glacier situated on the northern slope of San Gorgonio Mountain during the last Ice Age.  These piles of rocks are evidence of the glacier advancing and retreating a number of times during that period.  Hikin’ Jim calls this area the “Glacial Chop Country.”

Hiking was slow across the boulder-strewn moraine on the Dry-Dollar Traverse
Hiking was slow across the boulder-strewn moraine on the Dry-Dollar Traverse
Vicki takes a break before the first deep cleft we have to cross on the Dry Lake to Dollar Lake Traverse
We took a break before the first deep cleft we had to cross, and considered our path forward

After the saga of the boulder-strewn moraine, we discovered new problems:  The side of Charlton peak had a number of deep clefts, or water/avalanche courses and somehow we had to get past all of them if we were to reach Dollar Lake.  And this first one was a doozy, very deep and wide.  The second one wasn’t much better.  I checked the map but we didn’t have much choice.  Except to climb higher to a flatter area, but Vicki didn’t like that idea at all.  The whole point of this entire crazy hike was to stay at the same elevation, wasn’t it?  So we dropped a bit into the two big clefts and climbed back out.  After that, we’d simply be hiking along the north slope of Charton Peak. How hard could that be?  Well, we’d soon find out.

Side-hilling on the steep slope below Charlton Peak
Side-hilling across the steep slope below Charlton Peak. This got old real quick.
One of several Avalanche Chutes on the eastern slope of Charlton Peak - and we had to cross it!
One of several Avalanche Chutes on the eastern slope of Charlton Peak – and we had to cross them all!
Good thing Vicki is wearing her bushwhacking leg covers as she climbs up into the chinquapin bushes
Good thing Vicki was wearing her bushwhacking leg covers as she climbed up into the chinquapin bushes
View down into the big avalanche chute on the east side of Charlton Peak
View down into the biggest avalanche chute
This section on the east side of Charlton Peak burned so much that even the rocks look burned
This section of the mountainside burned so much that even the rocks look burned

Eventually, of course, the traverse ended. We arrived at Dollar Lake. Vicki was totally whupped. We sat down under a tree and ate our lunch, then Vicki took a well-deserved nap. I took out the GPS and checked it out. We had hiked 2.3 miles and it had taken us almost five hours. This wasn’t an unheard of speed for difficult bushwhacking, but it certainly wasn’t great either. I also decided that there was no way we were going to hike back the way we came. Vicki would have to bite the bullet and take the trail with all its elevation losses and gains. It’s the mountains. They go up and down. That’s what they do. Trying to stay flat in the mountains is just asking for a heartache.

Our first view of Dollar Lake, which still had water, in July 2019
Our first view of Dollar Lake, which still had water, in July 2019. In other years it would already be dry
View north over Dollar Lake with the old campground on the left
View north over Dollar Lake with the old campground on the left

We saw some snow on the far side of Dollar Lake, so Vicki sent me over to get some for the inside of her hat.  She loves how it cools her head, and how it also wets her shirt as it melts, thus extending its cooling powers.  But I think I may have gotten too greedy, as there was so much snow her hat barely fit on her head.

Vicki asked me to collect a bunch of snow from the northern slope of Charlton Peak just above Dollar Lake
Vicki asked me to collect a bunch of snow from the northern slope of Charlton Peak, just above the lake
Vicki packed the bandanna and snow into her hat - she was using the snow to cool off while hiking
Vicki packed the bandanna and snow into her hat – she was using the snow to cool off while hiking. It really works!
There was so much snow in her hat that she had to tie it onto her head
There was so much snow in her hat that she had to tie it onto her head

After that, it was time to head on down the long trail to Slushy Meadows.  We headed over to the old campground at Dollar Lake, and saw what a great spot it was.  It was extra-nice because the big pines hadn’t burned and the camping spots were all shady and cool.  Too bad they closed it due to over-use.  It really was a great spot.

Happy Vicki with a hat full of snow taking a walk around the perimeter of Dollar Lake
Happy Vicki with a hat full of snow taking a walk around the perimeter of the lake
The old Dollar Lake Campground - beautiful spot, but the signs all say No Camping
The old Dollar Lake Campground – beautiful spot, but the signs all said No Camping

The trail climbed up out of the bowl of Dollar Lake, and joined the main trail to Dollar Lake Saddle.  We hung a right and began the long downhill hike.  It was so much faster hiking on a trail, especially downhill, and we made great time.  There were also expansive views the entire way.  We had a fun time, and I took too many panorama photos, as usual.

Me at the trail junction - Dollar Lake to the left, Dollar Lake Saddle to the right
Me at the trail junction – Dollar Lake to the left, Dollar Lake Saddle to the right
Looking back at the Dry-Dollar Traverse Route that we had done that morning - a tough hike!
Looking back at the Dry-Dollar Traverse Route that we had done that morning – a tough hike!
San Gorgonio Mountain in the distance as we descend on the Dollar Lake Trail
San Gorgonio Mountain in the distance as we descended on the Dollar Lake Trail

Down at the bottom, we took a break by the water and Vicki soaked her sore knee in the icy water.  Downhill isn’t good for knees, so we wanted to keep it as happy as possible, so it wouldn’t get any worse. Luckily, (Luckily?) the rest of the day’s hike was uphill, back to our campsite at Dry Lake.  Vicki doesn’t like uphill very much, and it was hot work climbing back up those switchbacks.

Now it's time to cross the South Fork and head uphill on the Dry Lake Trail
Now it’s time to cross the South Fork and head uphill on the Dry Lake Trail
We passed a happy face drawn on the end of a sawn-off loag on the Dry Lake Trail
We passed a happy face drawn on the end of a sawn-off log
Panorama view of Charlton Peak on a hazy afternoon from the Dry Lake Trail
Panorama view of Charlton Peak across the way on a hazy afternoon

It was slow, but we had all afternoon to get there, so we took our time.  Vicki’s snow continued to melt on her hot head, and the huge pile I’d collected earlier was reduced to a tiny snowball when we arrived at Dry Lake.  But it made it, and she was still cool and happy.

Vicki shows off her hat at Dry Lake and the tiny amount of snow that was still left from Dollar Lake
Vicki shows off her hat at Dry Lake and the tiny amount of snow that was still left from Dollar Lake
San Gorgonio Mountain reflecting in Dry Lake
San Gorgonio Mountain reflecting in Dry Lake

After a brief stop along the lake to take some photos, we finally made it back to camp.  It had been a very long and exhausting day.  Cross-country hiking is not for the timid!

Back in camp, Vicki had to completely detangle her hair after all that snow melted on her head
Back in camp, Vicki had to completely detangle her hair after all that snow melted on her head

We ate dinner and filtered some more water from the spring.  We only needed enough for breakfast and the hike back to the car.  Then we settled into our sleeping bag as the sun set and began reading our books.  It felt good to lie down after all that bushwhacking.

While we were lying there, I felt a slow rolling motion.  I asked Vicki if she was the one wiggling, and she said no.  We realized right away that there had been an earthquake.  We unzipped the doors to the tent and looked outside.  All the trees above us were swaying gently, but there was no wind.  It was an earthquake, all right.  The motion didn’t last very long, and soon the trees were still once more.  We zipped up the door and wondered where the epicenter had been.  There was no cell service up here, and, for all we knew, all of Los Angeles had been destroyed.  We might be stuck up here in the mountains, or would have to drive home the long way via the desert.  As it turned out, the earthquake had been very large, but happened far to the north, in Ridgecrest, near Death Valley, in an area of low population density.  Just the same, there wasn’t much we could do about it from our tent in the wilderness, so we decided to worry about it in the morning, and went to sleep.

 

Day 4:  We packed up our gear and headed back out to the South Fork Trailhead

 

We woke up bright and early and got ready to leave.  After three days in the same spot, our gear was spread out all over the tent, so it took a while to get everything back together.  We ate breakfast and enjoyed the quiet of the morning.  It looked like it was going to be another beautiful sunny day.

I had expected that the campgrounds would be packed with people, considering that it was the Fourth of July Weekend, but there really weren’t all that many folks out there.  Maybe it was because the fourth was a Thursday.  And we were leaving on a Saturday.  Maybe everyone would arrive as we left!  But we never saw crowds of backpackers as we hiked back out.  Just day-hikers enjoying the wildflowers.

We're all packed up and Vicki is ready to head back home after three nights in Lodgepole Camp
We’re all packed up and Vicki is ready to head back home after three nights in Lodgepole Camp
Early morning panorama over Dry Lake with San Gorgonio, Jepson, Little Charlton, and Charlton
Early morning panorama over Dry Lake with San Gorgonio, Jepson, Little Charlton, and Charlton

The hike was downhill the entire way, and we made excellent time.  The wildflowers were abundant and beautiful, and the burnt trees were abundant and ugly.  We looked across the valley at Charlton Peak and picked out the bushwhacking route we’d done yesterday.  It looked so easy from over here!  Oh well, live and learn.

The Dry Lake to Dollar Lake Traverse goes from left to right, with Dollar Lake Saddle the low spot on the right
The Dry Lake to Dollar Lake Traverse goes from left to right, with Dollar Lake Saddle the low spot on the right
Hiking out on the South Fork Trail through all the dead trees from the Lake Fire
Hiking out on the South Fork Trail through all the dead trees from the Lake Fire
It's hot and all we want to do now is get back to the car, but we have to keep on hiking
It’s hot and all we want to do now is get back to the car, but we have to keep on hiking
We took a boot-off break on the picnic table under the patio of the old cabin in Horse Meadows
We took a boot-off break on the picnic table under the patio of the old cabin in Horse Meadows
Vicki gets ready to cross Jenks Lake Road at the South Fork Trail trailhead parking area
Vicki gets ready to cross Jenks Lake Road at the South Fork Trail trailhead parking area
It's just past noon and we're already back at the car - a fast downhill hike from Dry Lake - and time to go home
It’s just past noon and we’re already back at the car – a fast downhill hike from Dry Lake – and time to go home

It had been a remarkably fast downhill hike from Dry Lake – and it was definitely time to go home.  We could feel our soft bed calling.  And better food, too!  But not until after a good hot shower. Like the old saying goes: Fish and Backpackers stink after three days, and we were no exception.

 

The rest of the trip’s photos and videos can be found on my Flickr Page.

For an interactive topographic map of our hike, including GPS Tracks, please see my CalTopo Page.