Sunday, August 18, 2013

San Gorgonio, South Fork to Dry Lake: Solo Edition

After a six day work week and some stress in my life in "the cotton world", I seized the opportunity to break away for a day and go home to San Gorgonio. I secured my permit for a day hike up the good old South Fork Trail. When I arrived to the trail head at 8am it was already warm and sunny.

Immediately the trail is steep and the woods are dense. I make my way up the canyon following the well graded path around hairpin turns. I am super relieved to be on the trail, and hiking solo is a welcome opportunity to reflect. 

I arrive at Horse Meadow a half hour after my start and pass by a couple exploring the area. I bid them good morning and continue up toward the intersection of Poop Out hill and the wilderness boundary.

So, it needs to be said that I finally caved in and admitted that I need gaiters to keep the rocks out of my shoes. Josh swears by them and was nice enough to buy me my first pair of Dirty Girl Gaiters. I chose to buy a space theme and I can't decide if the print makes me feel like less of, or more of a dork. All appearances aside they work fantastically well and I didn't have a single rock or pebble in my shoe for the entire day and the Velcro attachment stayed secure even on my dirty shoes. Do recommend.

Out of the hot sun climbing up Poop Out hill, I enter a fern grotto just before the wilderness boundary.

The trail really levels out at this point from an uphill jaunt to a pleasant walk in the woods. There is a sudden break in the canopy and the trail crosses the path of an old avalanche. The brush has grown dramatically in this area since my fall visit last year. Seeing the new growth makes me smile and feel grateful for having been witness to nature repairing herself. In a world that moves so fast it is nice to witness the steady and subtle nuances of nature.

The weather cools a bit as I rise in elevation and I notice the first hints of Cumulus clouds forming on the horizon. An afternoon thunderstorm is in the making, typical for this time of year.

I arrive at my first trail junction at the base of Grinnel Mountain and get the itch to turn in that direction. Lost Creek is a section of trail I have yet to do in the San Gorgonio Wilderness. I resist the urge to scale Grinnel, as it wan't in the original plan. Being solo, no one would look for me there if I failed to return on time.

I make the junction for Dollar and Dry Lake trails. I originally planned to hike this in a loop bagging the summit as I went, but the dark clouds over the ridge line make me think otherwise. I decide to hike up to Dry Lake leaving Dollar for another day. Here I make my first creek crossing before starting up the switchbacks toward the valley.

After the switchback section there is a 1.2 mile stretch up a canyon before topping out at the mouth of the Dry Lake valley. This section always feels like the longest 1.2 miles EVER. It just goes on and on! I meet and yield to several groups backpackers with way-too-heavy packs on their way down.

At last, I come upon Dry Lake, which is really just a meadow this time of year keeping true to it's name. Dry Lake is a man made feature built by Vincent Taylor who made a dam using rocks and logs in 1883. During the spring, this basin is full of water creating a high alpine lake that catches reflections of the San Gorgonio ridge line. It is a spectacular area, even dry.

I bear right at the trail fork heading to the south side of the lake to eat lunch. I find a log and lay out my rain jacket, checking the altimeter app on my phone. As I eat I hear a rustling noise in the logs directly behind me. I turn to see a tiny lodgepole chipmunk looking at me through his little black masked face. I turn back to my lunch and hear another rustling, this time closer. I look to my left and am virtually nose to nose with him. His expression reads that he wants a bite of my energy bar. I tell him no and that I don't have anything for him at which time he runs like his feet are on fire all around the area jumping from log to log and twitching his tail. We did this routine about three times before he finally moved on. 
The chipmunks in San Gorgonio, especially at the summit, will accost you for your food, they are not afraid of people. Even though they are totally cute, kind of silly, and will eat from your hand, please don't encourage this behavior. It's only cute until they gnaw a hole in your gear and poop in your tent making you sick. Really, they're not intended to eat people food. Hell, even we aren't intended to eat most of the stuff we eat. 
Keep the animals healthy and wild!

After eating my fill of 'Kind' bars, which are delicious, I take a stroll around the lake toward Lodgepole spring. I meet up with a volunteer ranger whom I'd been following up the switchbacks and he checks my permit. I've got my eye on the big cumulonimbus clouds brewing on the horizon.

Lodgepole spring was running well, more than sufficient for resupplying water supplies for any type of purification method. I take one last look at Grinnel ridge and vow to return another day.

Looping back toward South Fork trail I take in the views of the ridge line. It is a good feeling to know I've been on top of the majority of those peaks! I look at Lake Peak and think of my up coming Labor Day weekend backpacking trip to Mineshaft Flats with my brother Eli. It will be his first real backpacking trip and I cannot wait to get him into my wilders!

Back on the trail I start my descent. The clouds have gotten very interesting and there are storms above Big Bear in front of me and rapidly building over Dollar Lake Saddle. This could get interesting. My goal is to get at least to Horse Meadow before the storm in case there is electricity in those clouds.

I stop at the creek crossing at the base of the switch backs to fill up my bottle when the first of the thunder starts. Challenge accepted!

Back at the boundary, the air is hot and sticky but the sky seems to have cleared a bit. I make the choice to take the extra mile and hike down the service road after Poop Out Hill.

 So much for clearing skies. First a rolling thunder followed by tiny pea gravels sized bits of hail! I regret my decision to take the road and try to stay tucked in the trees. The hail turns to big fat rain drops and is only enough of a sprinkle to send lizards running about like wild men. I pick up the pace to make it to horse meadow in case the weather really goes south.

Back at the meadow I check out the two cabins that were once the site of an equestrian camp. The thunder is rolling but the rain is holding off. I take the last mile or so at a fast pace.

 I managed to beat the storm! Back at the trail head I text my mom and Josh to let them know I'm OK. Just as I close the car door the hail starts and the thunder grows. Turning out to HWY 38 from Jenks road I get pounded by the brunt of the storm and drive carefully down the mountain. Another great day in San G!

Trail Stats:
13 miles
2,100 feet
6 hours
1 chipmunk
1 thunderstorm
1 happy hiker


  1. Discovered your trip reports only recently, and have much enjoyed reading them. Your hiking 'philosophy' (whatever that means...) reminds me of my own. Thanks for doing what you do!

    1. Thank you for reading! Your comment has made my day!

    2. I've only seen you post such real life pictures, thanks...thanks.thanks!