South Fork Loop — Page 6

Jepson Peak from Trail Flat

Trail Flat

At Trail Flat, elevation 9680', Trevor and I at last break out of the forest, entering the vast north cirque beneath San Gorgonio Mountain and Jepson Peak.

Were there glaciers in Southern California? We think so! Paleoclimatologists believe the San Gorgonio area saw glaciation between the summit ridge and approximately 8700 feet, with the Dry Lake glacier the largest. Newer research suggests these glaciers may have existed as recently as 5000 years ago.

Mineshaft Saddle Looking East

Interestingly, during this same time, Sierra Nevada mountains are believed to have been glacier-free, suggesting huge variations existed in California's climate during the mid-Holocene.

This extreme local volatility was likely due to unique jet stream and storm patterns, so Southern California skiers take heart. Perhaps a favorable shift in storm patterns will come again someday.

Today there are no glaciers but there is a tiny patch of snow high on San Gorgonio's northeast shoulder. In fact, persistent summer snowfields are said to be found on San Gorgonio approximately once every three years.

Trevor and I skirt the eastern edge of the cirque, now climbing Gorgonio's northeast shoulder, toward Mineshaft Saddle. The feel of the surrounding landscape is now inarguably Alpine. Each of Southern California's great ranges has its own character, from the incredible verticality of the San Jacintos to the scrappy ruggedness of the San Gabriels.

To me, the San Bernardino Mountains are highly reminiscent of the southern Sierra (Langley and the Horseshoe Meadow region in particular). And, as we climb higher, this impression will only grow stronger. But the San Bernardinos, and San Gorgonio Mountain, also have a uniquely Southern California quality called Prominence, as we'll soon see...

next: Eastside Chutes

About SierraDescents

When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

Pray for snow.