Mt San Gorgonio was the last peak left for us to summit to complete the Six Pack of Peaks challenge by the September 30th deadline. We chose September 23rd to hike, hoping that the heat would have subsided and we would have a cooler hike. We chose to hike on the South Fork Trail as opposed to the more popular Vivian Creek Trail. South Fork Trail is about 5 miles (total) longer but has a much steadier elevation gain and seemed like a more enjoyable, albeit, longer hike.
We knew this would probably be an all day hike. With 22 miles ahead of us, we decided to start at 5 AM. My husband and I picked up my friend Emily at 4 AM, drove up to the trail and managed to be on the trail with our headlamps on at 5:10 AM.
We definitely got our wish for cooler temperatures. It was a chilly start to the hike, but we were prepared with layers of clothing. We hiked in the dark with our headlamps guiding the way until about the second mile, when the sun stared to rise. The temperatures steadily climbed, but we never experienced intense heat like we did in some of our previous hikes.
We kept our pace steady knowing we had many miles ahead of us. We stopped to rest and snack approximately every two miles. Soon enough, we came across my old enemy-stream crossings! Emily was kind enough to capture this picture of me being a huge baby and needing the assistance/pep talk of my husband to get across. Not pictured-my arm flailing, whining and protests that “I can’t do this.”
As the sun rose higher, we were treated to beautiful views. As we climbed higher and higher we were able to see amazing stretches of the Inland Empire, High Desert and other surrounding mountains.
We also came across the wreckage and memorial of plane crash from back in 1952. It was an interesting, but somber sight. It was such a good reminder about how powerful nature can be.
We continued climbing and climbing. The ascent was long, but steady. We went into this hike knowing it would be long day and I think the mental preparation helped us in the long, last two miles to the top. After about mile 9, I certainly begin to feel the effects of being over 10,000 feet of elevation. Our pace slowed and I begin to feel lightheaded and extremely tired. Of course this could have been due to the 2:30 AM wake up time, but I am sure the thinner air did not help.
Finally, after 6 hours and 22 minutes and 11.5 miles, we summited! It was pretty exhilarating feeling! This would be my longest day hike yet and it was extra gratifying to know we had essentially met the challenge of climbing six of the toughest peaks in Southern California.
We spent about 45 minutes at the top snacking and resting, and even though it was hard to get moving, we knew we had a long way down. We begin our long descent around 12:15 PM. Although I felt better with some food, water and rest, I could not shake the intensely tired feeling.
About half a mile down the trail, I begin to realize that I was dozing off. I am talking about falling asleep while walking! This has never happened to me before and it was almost comical, but also dangerous. I figured it must be the effects of the elevation and I soon requested a break and my group was kind enough to oblige. We stopped and I literally laid down on the side of the trail and immediately fell asleep. I was out for about ten minutes and then woke, feeling rested enough to continue. I still felt an overall sense of being tired, but at least I did not nod off anymore!
We continued to walk and walk and walk, keeping our breaks steady about every 2 miles. We watched the sun dip lower and the miles slowly add up. The descent down was not particularly technical or difficult, it was just long. My feet begin to ache and the exhaustion begin to grow. Still, we pressed on, hoping to complete the trail in 12 hours.
Finally, at just under 5:00 PM, we finished! The complete hike (including breaks) took us 11 hours and 47 minutes. We were pretty proud of ourselves for finishing such a strenuous hike with smiles on our faces and felt a huge sense of accomplished for finishing the challenge!
Even with our sore feet and exhausted bodies, we made time for celebration pizza and beers! It felt necessary to toast to our accomplishment and reflect on what we had just completed.