Monday, February 16, 2009

TR: San Gorgonio

Well, we didn't make the summit of San Gorgonio. At about 11,300ft, we decided to call it off because it was extremely icy (and we'd left the crampons/ice axes in the car), windy, cold, and Carie had lost all feeling in her hands and feet. On the up side, we returned with our lives and all of our digits intact, though there were several points when that seemed unlikely.

I don't have a whole lot of photos because during the most scenic part of the trip I was concerned with getting off the mountain alive more than taking pictures. But here are the few I have:

Day One: Carie and I snowshoed/skinned 6 miles and 2500 vert to Dry Lake, where we camped overnight. It was really, really cold (0F with significant wind).

Our adorable campsite by morning light.

The rangers told us that bears don't hibernate in this area. Judging from how damn cold it was, I say those bears are stupid. But either way, we hung our food up.

Day Two: Carie and I skinned/snowshoed up the soft snow on the face of an endless ridge, then bootpacked once it got too steep to skin (Carie just contiued with the snowshoes). We made it within a couple hundred feet of the summit, then turn back. While we were hiking, the wind picked up and turned most of the soft snow into boilerplate. While the top of the descent was awful, the skiing was actually pretty good once we made it back down to the trees, but we couldn't enjoy it with the heavy packs, and the trail out had enough rollers to make it suck. We got back to the car without any water at about 8:30.

We camped at Dry Lake. Whether that means that there's no water there or some guy named "Dry" christend it, I don't know. It was a nice scenic spot with great views of San Gorgonio and if there's water there it would be a nice backpacking trip in the summer.

The trees were nicely spaced and the snow was nice and soft here. We should have turned around and enjoyed the descent.

I'll admit it, this mountain defeated us. We followed the "trail" that winds to the upper right and made it about 200ft from the summit, but couldn't make that last little bit. If I'd turned around and taken some pictures, I would have gotten beautiful views of the San Bernardinos and Death Valley NP in the distance. I was more worried about where I was putting my feet, though.

Today, I cannot walk. Carie is still in bed (where I'd be if I could sleep right now) and probably in more pain than me.

I think we learned several important lessons from this trip:

1. Put the firestarter in the damn bag with the backpacking stove. A stove and all the fuel in the world doesn't do you any damn good if there's no way to light it.

2. Skiing with an overnight pack is not fun. Snowboarding with one looks even less fun. If the approach is so long that we have to camp, probably not worth it. Six to eight miles is probably the farthest we want to go.

3. If I can't skin up it, odds are I will not enjoy skiing down it. Also, the peaks of wind-swept crags are generally unskiable.

4. In the spirit of number 3, we should seperate our peak bagging and our skiing trips. If we want to summit something, we should travel light with crampons and ice axes. If we want to ski, we should stay where the snow is good.

5. Snow camping, while novel, is really cold and actually pretty miserable. I will remember this for at least a year, maybe two, at which point I will refresh my memory.

6. We need to get Carie some powder baskets for her poles. The little baskets that came with them were worthless in soft, deep snow.

7. Carie's sleeping bag is, well, not so good. Definitely not up to snow camping, even with the liner.

The trip wasn't all bad. On the plus side, thanks to liberal application of Blistershield Carie managed to go the whole trip without blisters, a first. Seriously, that stuff is amazing. Also, I finally got to use my new AT boots for skinning, and they are a major improvement over my old Alpine boots. Next time I'll pick a route that allows me to enjoy them more. With how I feel right now, though, I'm willing to call it a season on BC skiing.


  1. Ooh, that sounds like a long haul. Now you know why our fat asses never travel more than like 5 miles or 4,000' in any given day.

    Hot food/hot drinks is the SHIT winter camping. I would die if we didn't have a working stove. It's worth the extra weight to bring good food. When you're already carrying a 40 lb pack... what's another five pounds to bring some wine and some steak?

    Overnight packs BLOW skiing/boarding. Usually we only hike in with our overnight gear 2-3 miles tops, drop that shit and set up camp, and then just do the rest with day packs. You can travel a lot more terrain, happily, with lighter packs, and still get the joy of coming back to a camp at the end of the day.

    I totally agree with the "if you can't skin up, the ski down isn't gonna be fun either." But sometimes it's worth it... when it gets really steep, or when the snow is hard in the morning and a bitch to skin, but then it warms up to good snow by afternoon, but most of the time, you're right.

    I think you'll like snow camping more when you've got your stove, and the following: BIG down jacket, down booties, 4-season tent, a campfire (I don't care if you're in a national park), and most importantly, a really really really warm sleeping bag. Yeah, liners are good for spring, or for revamping older winter bags, but you really gotta get a good winter bag or life will suck. Especially for Carie... we girls have more trouble keeping our toes and fingers warm.

    Anyway, I hope you guys do give it some more tries this season. Snow camping really is the bomb.

  2. My sleeping bag was fine, but I was wearing all of my clothes. I did learn a little bit from the last time I went snow camping. We ended up zipping our bags together and I wrapped myself around Carie so she could steal my warmth. If we do this more often I think some more down would be in order (though Carie was very happy with her booties). But...there's really only a couple of weekends a year where we even get the opportunity to snow camp so we can probably hold off getting the gear until we live somewhere else and find other things to do here.

  3. How's the access out there? Do they keep a lot of the roads open so you can do some ski-from-the-car day trips?

  4. Not really; Caltrans is very road-closure happy down here. They pretty much close any road as soon as it gets snow on it. It would seriously piss you off (as it does me) to see some of the crap they close. I mean, they're talking an inch of snow or less a lot of the time. They were requiring chains on the way in on Saturday, even though it was 90% bare pavement. I guess given the way people here drive on wet pavement, they're probably downright scary on snow or ice.

    But provided that the route to Mt. Baldy is mostly open, there is fairly good access to skiing. We might try Ice House Canyon up to Cucamonga again if the road up to Baldy is closed, or head up to Baldy if it's open.

  5. winter camping sucks. I have done it several times, I dont care what you do, you get cold as #$%%$ at some point. feather stuff helps

    going light and warm would be key, but that is frankly impossible

    some Yurts are worth the money, Yurts are fun! try that next time. gotta sched way in advance though