South Fork Loop — Page 9

San Jacinto Peak and Cochella Valley


The summit is in sight! We've reached the junction with the Vivian Creek trail, and now have only a short half-mile or so to go to reach the top of San Gorgonio Mountain.

Soon enough, we reach the blocky summit of the mountain, and there is nowhere higher to go. A full 360-degree panorama of SoCal landmarks lie beneath us. To the north, right at our feet, is the impressive grey bowl that is San Gorgonio's north cirque. Beyond that are Big Bear Lake and the High Desert.

San Gorgonio Summit Ridge Looking North: Big Bear Lake San Gabriel Mountains and Pacific Ocean

To the east is the airplane-window view of Cochella Valley and San Jacinto Peak. And let's talk for a moment about that.

No discussion of Southern California's mountains is complete without a least a mention of their tremendous prominence. Whether you choose to use a mathematical calculation or an 'I know it when I see it' definition, SoCal's mountains offer truly stunning verticality.

From the 11,499' top of San Gorgonio, it's over 10,000 vertical feet down to I-10 below—then back up very nearly another ten to San Jacinto Peak. The Pacific, to our west, is at sea level, with nearby Mount Baldy rising just over 10,000 feet.

And just to our east-southeast is Cochella Valley and Palm Springs, both of which are below sea level.

This topographical concentration of Southern California highs and lows turns out to be nationally significant in more ways than one.

These three big ranges form the rough borders of the Los Angeles Basin. In coordination with energy from the sun, plus onshore flows from the Pacific Ocean, offshore flows from the high (Antelope Valley) and low (Cochella Valley) deserts, and emissions from human industry, this synergy creates a giant mass of trapped air which is, alas, among the nation's most polluted.

On a happier subject, both San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak make the top 10 list for peak prominence in the lower 48, with Mount San Antonio barely missing the top 20. Ironically, thanks to their haze-shrouded horizons, most Southern Californians live with at best a dim awareness that there are mountains on their doorstep—much less such towering giants.

next: Dollar Lake Trail

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.

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