San Gorgonio Reprise

After a nine year hiatus, Al and I returned last Sunday to the San Bernardino Mountains' South Fork drainage, where we found snow, avalanche debris, and ash—lots and lots of ash.

The Lake Fire burned this area out in 2015 (resulting in a forest closure that lasted several years). New growth has returned, but it's far from clear whether the forest will ever recover. Things are warmer and drier now; this trip was a vivid reminder of that.

Check out our previous San G video to see how much more snow the mountain had at lower elevations in 2010. Given that we found snow on Baden-Powell down to about 7000' last weekend, I figured we'd have solid coverage above 8K or so on San Gorgonio.

That was not the case. The snow line was right around 9K, making a long day that much longer.

Skiing this area reminded me how extraordinary the terrain is—and why we hardly ever ski it. It's hard to get back there! Via the South Fork trail, San Gorgonio's summit is a hefty 11 miles, one-way. Via our combination of trail and direct access, I figure we pushed somewhere around 7 miles to the summit—still a very long day.

You can access Gorgonio from the south, via the Vivian Creek Trailhead. That way is shorter but lower at the start. Whether or not it beats the South Fork approach was a matter of much debate for us last Sunday. If you plan on skiing north-aspect lines, the answer is probably not.

But for hikers, the Vivian side is the better choice today, unless you really like stomping around in ash.

Yes, we saw the big crowns on Gorgonio's true north face (I've heard they're six feet high, but that could be an exaggeration). They looked big, and the debris pile at the bottom (not pictured) also looked absolutely massive.

In the video, you can see another smaller but still large debris pile below the north face of Charlton Peak, which we had to cross to get to the Big Draw and Gorgonio's summit ridgeline. Charlton is a remarkably reliable avalanche producer, as are those big north chutes on Gorgonio proper.

So be advised: this is not safe terrain midwinter nor during storms.

As for snow quality, things are sun-cupped below about 10K. We skied a tiny bit of the south face, then climbed back up and skied the chutes on Gorgonio's northwest face, where the snow was quite smooth and delicious. Note that the snow was still surprisingly dense and firm; only the top layer softened despite warm temperatures and little wind. If you go, you'll want crampons and possibly an axe to ascend safely.

Things are, however, melting out rapidly. Snow will remain at the higher elevations a good while longer, but you'll definitely have to work to get there.

— May 8, 2019

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

GK May 10, 2019 at 2:24 am

Thanks again for a great video

Dan Conger May 12, 2019 at 8:15 pm

Looks simply epic!

Charles May 12, 2019 at 11:11 pm

Beautiful! Looks like a nice place to camp out for some multi day yoyo action...

Jason Panella June 20, 2019 at 7:00 am

Been hitting ole' Jepson a lot this Spring! Even scored it with some powder on May 20...what a beautiful place it is back there..

Jason Panella June 20, 2019 at 7:01 am

Believe it or not the chutes on Jepson were still holding loads of snow when I last went on June 10th

Brad Brown October 23, 2019 at 4:55 pm

Had snow nostalgia so RE-viewed this fine vid/post, nice work as always. Bob and I did a cool little hike 10-6-19 In this vicinity starting by dropping off a car at Vivian Creek TH, drive to South Fork TH, hike to SG with an XC trek up the west face of Charlton, to Little Charlton, Jepson and finally San Gorgonio proper. Sorta a traverse/transverse range cruise that All Trails and Garmin both say is 20.5 miles (5,300’ gain)-never mind reversing the car pick up. All in all about 24 hours door to door. Other than the whole big day thing the hardest climbing was Charlton, about 900’ of Star Wars style floating asteroid rock requiring rock fall protocol and felt like double the gain. Beautiful day in the hills and the crown of a not quite over season. Howard’s Weather is saying this could be an above average year, can’t wait!

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