San Gorgonio, October 2003

Return of the Backpacking Home

October 3rd 2003. San Gorgonio Wilderness. Momyer Trailhead.

I was unable to get everyone together for our normal weeklong 40+ mile trip this year, due to layoffs, babies, new jobs, kids, PTA, and whatever other reasons we were able to come up with. Hence I was going into backcountry withdrawals. I finally emailed the fellas and got a couple of them to agree to a quick jaunt through the trails of the San Gorgonio Wilderness. Thinking that if we left San Diego by 2PM, got to the ranger station and secured a permit by 4PM, we’d be at camp by 6:30, I deemed this our plan. If this plan came together we’d have an hour of sunlight at camp to set up, cook, eat and begin the games. So obviously we came nowhere near this plan.

We did make it out of San Diego by 2 but due to massively stupid traffic we didn’t make the ranger station till after 6PM. By which time they closed and had put out the self registering permits. Unfortunately they don’t allow self-permitting for the Vivian Creek trail, our chosen trail. We decided to hit the Momyer trail, the next trail west of Vivian Creek, which did allow self-permitting.

Once permitted and properly outfitted for hiking at the trail head we set off. It was 6:30… Luckily we’d all prepared for a little night walking and so our headlamps were in easy reach. In the shadow of the heavily forested trail the headlamps came out within half an hour. Most of this trail has a view of the road so we could hear cars going by and dogs barking and other noises that don’t really belong on a trail. We could also see lights and at times it seemed like there might be others walking in the dark with us but we were never able to find anyone.

After about two and a half hours of hard hiking we came across Alger Creek camp. Though not without several consultations with the map and GPS. Finding one’s way in the dark is entirely different then in the daylight. Even on trail.

Alger Creek seemed like a very nice place to spend the next few days, at least in the dark, and we quickly had camp set up and were cooking our dinners. We were far too exhausted to play any cards so we hit the sack soon after eating around 11PM.

I awoke the next morning at my usual time and was fed, coffee’d, and relieved by the time the other fellas got up. Once we were all ready for another adventurous day we picked a spot on the map to head to. We’d decided early that the summit of San Gorgonio was out of the question because it was over nine miles away and would require a minimum eight to nine hours hiking. The spot we picked was Dobbs Peak, three miles away as the crow flies. The fun part is that there are no trails that lead to Dobbs Peak.

We hiked to Dobbs Camp which is about half way and then headed off trail and into the Manzanita. The bushwhacking involved a lot of sticker bushes, scree scrambles, and the discovery of bear sign. About a third the way up Dobbs Peak we came across several distinct piles of bear poop. We began singing, clapping, and calling out to any bears in the area as we continued to make our way up the loose and steep ground. Using the GPS I kept us pointed directly towards the peak however the terrain was doing it’s best to make us go it’s way. Eventually we popped out of the forest above a beautiful waterfall, dropping perhaps 100 feet. This was at the base of the peak proper and with the approach now visible we were discouraged about our chances to bag the summit. We decided then to lunch above this waterfall. It didn’t take long for the warmth of the climb to wear off and we began to become chilled. We shortly decided to head back down. Again the GPS proved it’s worth by helping us navigate effortlessly to the point we left the trail at Dobbs Camp.

From there we quickly made our way back to Alger Creek. We arrived at camp feeling good and a bit tired. It’s hard to beat a day in the mountains!

That evening we performed our usual rituals and hit the sack full from dinner and wine.

Now normally when in the woods I wake up naturally from either sunlight coming into my tent or from the extreme need to pee. This morning I found a new wake up call. I heard what I thought was Kurt futzing about in camp or in his tent. Then I heard him in another direction. Then I heard the distinct sounds of nylon rustling made when someone moves around in their tent. That was Kurt, the other noises I heard were definitely not! So I peeked out my window as I reached for my pants. There, up on the fallen tree that marked the northern boundary of our camp was a fat juvenile root beer brown California Black Bear.

I started yelling, mostly to wake the other guys and scrambled to put some clothes on. I wasn’t all that worried about a bear being in camp but I didn’t want to be in my tent while he was here. I quickly got out of my tent and made sure that Jesus and Kurt were getting up. I then looked at the bear and he was looking at me from about 15 feet away. He’d found my bota bag, that we’d emptied the night before and that I thought I’d rinsed thoroughly. He didn’t have it more than a minute or two but it was quickly shredded. I began yelling at him. He didn’t seem to care. I then clapped my hands and that caught his attention. Kurt by this time had gotten up and decided to bang on the Bear’s log with a stick. This startled the bear enough to send him running 50 feet away. However he stopped there and this bothered me. It seemed as if the bear was just a little too comfortable with our presence. So I again clapped and yelled and walked towards the bear. This was enough to finally drive him up the hill and away from our camp.

Breakfast after this visit was spirited to say the least. We hung out in camp for a couple of hours more then packed up and hit the exit trail. On the way out we passed some of the largest pine cones I’ve ever seen. We picked up a couple and brought them to pine cone freedom…

The drive home was much better than the drive in. We were back in San Diego in a little over an hour.

I enjoyed this trial, it’s a pretty area and it’s very close to San Diego, and of course LA. This whole wilderness area is a nice place to visit because it has a definite alpine feel. The off trail excursion led to the feeling of remoteness as did our late season visit. We only came across two or three other groups. The night time entry also added to the enjoyment of this trip and is something I may want to do more of, though it did add an eerie feel at times. If you can’t get into Vivian Creek, the shortest route to the summit of San Gorgonio, this trial is a nice option.