San Gorgonio: South Fork Loop
Up Dry Lake and Down Dollar Lake Trails
SAN GORGONIO WILDERNESS — "Don't tell me how far it is," I say. I don't want to know. We're at the Mill Creek Ranger Station, waiting for it to open so we can get hiking permits.
You need permits to enter the San Gorgonio Wilderness, even for day hikes, and in Summer there's a trail quota to deal with as well. Our planned destination today is the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain, officially 11,499', unofficially a few feet higher, either way the highest point in Southern California.
Of Southern California's major summits, San Gorgonio Mountain is the one I've visited the least, and it's easy to understand why: it's a long haul to the summit.
The shortest approach, from the south, is the Vivian Creek Trail—about eight miles and 5400 vertical feet to the summit. But today, we'll be coming from the north, via the significantly longer South Fork approach.
As we wait for the ranger house to open, my hiking partner Trevor is looking at the map, adding up waypoint mileage numbers for the many segments of the South Fork trail options.
Yes, I already know today's planned loop—up the Dry Lake trail and down the Dollar Lake trail—totals somewhere in the mid-twenties for mileage. But I don't need to be reminded about that right now, do I? Hey, I offered to do something easy on this Father's Day gift to ourselves. Baden-Powell, maybe? We'd be halfway to the top by now.
Then again, for all the work required to climb San Gorgonio Mountain, there are big rewards to be had as well. The San Gorgonio Wilderness is easily Southern California's most Alpine region, more resembling the High Sierra to the north than the nearby San Jacinto and San Gabriel mountains. We can always turn back if we run out of time or energy, I figure. But I'm hoping we make it.