Thursday, April 23, 2009

San Gorgonio Peak (11,500 ft.) - 14 Hours of Gorgeous White Torture

3 am wakeup and drive to Temecula to pickup Alex Wood, a climber I met on, then head up into the San Bernardino mountains. We’re on the trail by 7 am and make quick time on our approach, the trail is clear with only patches of ice, I hike in sneakers up until the first snow chute up Alto Diablo peak. Along the way we meet a skier named David who grew up in these mountains, headed up to do a ski run through the trees. We also ran into two climbers coming down after spending the night and not finding the trail to the summit, the urge us emphatically, “Don’t follow our tracks!” Alex and I stop for lunch before heading up the snow chute to Charleton Peak, I discover that after you eat half a bag of yogurt covered raisins it has the same effect as sticking your finger down your throat.

Almost midday and late in the season, the snow in the middle of the chute is soft, and even the edges are very sugary and frustrating to trudge through. After eating up Charlton Peak we drop a little elevation and head backup again over Little Charlton Peak, my nausea is still running strong but I manage to bury it the rest of the climb, we give a big push up to Jepson Peak, and after the summit of Jepson we traverse the Ten Thousand Foot Ridge where the ice is melted enough that we can take our crampons off and hike over solid rock.

Over the ridge, after what seemed like dozens of false summits, (which was probably just the elevation beginning to affect me), we reach the summit of San Gorgonio. Big winds, a quick snack and some photos, then we do a quick scouting around to see if we should down climb one of the direct steeper sections down the face and back down into the valley instead of completely backtracking.

So, in fear of avalanche or other costly accident we ended up backtracking. Only half of what we’d done and trying to traverse the sides of the peaks so’sto not have to lose/gain all that elevation all over again. Still a horrible plan. Frustrating trudging through brush and scree with our crampons on because of intermitten patches of big ice, until we looped around entire ridge and wished by then that we’d risked the steep downclimb.

Hit a couple spots of solid ice and practiced self arrest. Then took a less steep downclimb into the valley, butt-sledding for as much as I could as a treat. Going back below the tree line as the alpenglow blessed our triumph the entire forest echoed in a silence broken only by our steady crunchy footsteps over the snow.

The hike back through the South Fork trail seemed twice as long as the approach, it got dark before we were halfway done. Stumbling back to the car, happy-fatigued and staring at Orion in the sky, counting up 14 hours of climbing, looking forward to a greasy cheeseburger and coffee and it was a good day.