San Gorgonio's "Lollipop Loop"
Updated: May 17, 2021
Date: May 15, 2021
Distance: 20.50 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 12h 52m
Total Moving Time: 9h 59m
Summit Elevation: 11,501.6 feet
Elevation Gain: 4,543 feet
Trailhead: South Fork
Previous Ascent(s): June 18, 2020
Notes: Peakbagger Peaks - 1, Survey Marks - 1 (previously recovered)
This was a longer hike and a higher peak than I normally do, so it's only fitting that my trip report is a little longer! Hang in there and I hope you enjoy my musings from the trail!
~ Coach Dale
Today was an opportunity to re-visit San Gorgonio Mountain "Old Greyback" as the last peak in my SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks 2021 Challenge. Coincidentally, last year when I completed the Challenge, I finished with San G. as well.
The survey mark is stamped with 11,501.6 feet of elevation, but I've seen it listed on maps at anywhere between 11,499 and 11,505 feet, regardless, it's Southern California's highest peak. It is also the Eastern most peak in the Transverse Ranges that lie within Santa Barbara, Ventura, Kern, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside counties.
Today my permit was for the South Fork Trail and I opted to do what is nicknamed the "Lollipop Loop". I started in a clockwise direction, ascending via Dry Lake and the Sky High Trail and descending past Dollar Lake on the South Fork Trail. This was an amazing route as I got to experience all the different aspects of the Wilderness Area, from grassy meadows and lakes to the broken and eroded granite crags.
My Total Elapsed Time (TET) or Time on Trail (TOT), was 12 hours and 59 minutes which included all my stopped time taking pictures, visiting with other hikers, and eating. I imported my GPX track into GPX Editor to analyze my day, I wanted to view the trail segment-by-segment mainly because I was surprised that my overall stats for today's hike were almost identical to last year's hike (despite taking a different route).
This breaks down my day, and the different trails that make up the individual legs of the "Lollipop Loop". Since I didn't make any major departures from the trail, with one exception of leaving the Sky High Trail a little early, the mileages are a good representation of each segment. I started/ended my GAIA GPS App at the Trailhead sign near the restrooms at the South end of the parking lot. (Note: when I loaded my GAIA track into GPX Editor, it calculated the total distance as 21.1 miles vs. GAIA's 20.5.) The segment name, mileage, and my TET on that piece are all in bold print.
South Fork Trail 3.6 miles to the decision point for the split to either Dry Lake or Dollar Lake. 1h 45m
Dry Lake Trail 3.8 miles to Mine Shaft Saddle. 2h 55m includes lunch break at Dry Lake and some visiting along the trail.
Mine Shaft Saddle (Transition)
Sky High Trail 3.8 miles to the summit. 2h 46m includes visiting and pictures at the summit. I was almost to the San Bernardino Divide trail when I looked up and decided to take a more direct route and go up the short hill of scree. Seriously, it only saved me 0.15 miles and 56 feet of elevation gain, but being so close, the thought of continuing on the trail just to double back to the summit (even for such a short distance) didn't really appeal to me. Had I religiously stayed on the trail, the distance to the summit would have been 0.30 miles with 155 feet of gain 🤷🏻♂️
San Bernardino Divide Trail 3.7 miles to the Dollar Lake Saddle Transition. 2h 51m that included visiting with a small group who was on a 2-night trip. I seriously considered going off the trail to bag Jepson Peak, Little Charlton Peak, and Charlton Peak, however, my late start and time spent visiting along the trail used up my time cushion for bagging other peaks. All three of these peaks are easily accessible from the San Bernardino Divide Trail and VERY tempting, but I made a quick terrain/time analysis as I approached each peak and decided I'd save them for another day. More on that below.
Dollar Lake Saddle (Transition)
South Fork Trail to Dry Lake/Dollar Lake split 2.5 miles. 1h 18m includes a second lunch stop just below the saddle (out of the wind).
South Fork Trail 3.6 miles back to the trailhead. 1h 17m.
I had a few easy stream crossings right after turning onto the Dry Lake Trail, I thought briefly that I should have brought my filter with me so I could refill on water but honestly, I came upon the water much too early in the hike for it to be practical to collect and filter on the way up. Likewise, on the way back down it was close enough to the end that it would only have been useful in the direst of circumstances.
There was still some water in the lake bed which was nice to see and I decided I'd make an early lunch stop at the far end of the lake. Typically, I may snack on a bar or some gels on the trail and then eat a full lunch at the summit. Since I anticipated a longer-than-normal day, I packed extra food and planned a couple of different meal stops. "First Lunch" consisted of:
A Gluten-Free Everything Bagel sandwich with turkey breast, ham, provolone cheese, hummus, and a slice of tomato
Two little cuties (tangerines)
Two Gluten-Free Double Stuff Oreos
Homemade trail mix with Smokehouse Almonds, Honey Roasted Nut Mix, Raisins, and Dried Cherries
After passing Dry Lake, I continued South on the Dry Lake Trail 1.6 miles to the Mine Shaft Saddle. A left-turn here (heading East) connects to the Fish Creek Trail and provides an offshoot to the North Fork Meadow Trail, continuing South (my route), the trail turns into the Sky High Trail and begins the big loop around the South of San Gorgonio and ultimately connects with the San Bernardino Divide Trail Just West of the summit.
USAF Douglas C-47 Skytrain (DC-3) Crash Site
One mile from the Mine Shaft Saddle at 10,400 feet elevation, the Sky High Trail cuts right through the spot where a 1945 USAF Douglas C-47 Skytrain slammed into the mountain during a snowstorm on December 1, 1952. The Bureau of Aircraft Accidents deemed the probable cause of the accident was "the result of a controlled flight into terrain." Which means they probably had no clue they were going to crash into the mountain.
While cruising in marginal weather conditions on a flight from Offutt AFB to March AFB, the airplane hit the slope of Mt San Gorgonio located about 29 miles northeast of March AFB. The wreckage was spotted few hours later and all 13 occupants have been killed. Four days later, a US Marine Corps' Sikorsky crashed in the same area while taking part to the rescue operations, killing two of its three crew members.
Researching the history of this accident I learned that debris is scattered all the way down the canyon, I stumbled upon a blog post by a hiker from September 2005 that documents his hike into the canyon looking for parts and pieces of the wreckage, you can see that here.
And the Views Kept Coming...
At times I felt like I was stopping to take pictures every couple of hundred feet! I was blown away by all that the Sky High Trail had to offer. The C-47 crash site is at the bottom of a series of ten switchbacks that work their way up the Eastern side of the mountain. Whether I was looking down into the canyons below, or at the crags above, it was simply breathtaking.
The traverse along the Southern side provided a spectacular view of the Tarn with Big Horn Mountain and Dragon's Head looming above it. As I continued around and headed North towards the summit, I could see people in the distance that were ascending via the Vivian Creek Trail and were merging onto the San Bernardino Divide Trail.
My initial plan was to have "Second Lunch" (consisting of hot soup and coffee) at the summit, I had dutifully packed my JetBoil MiniMo, a packet of my favorite Creamy Potato Cheddar Soup (AlpineAire), and some SPAM to spice it up and add a few more calories. I also had more fruit and Oreos set aside.
As soon as I turned and headed North on the trail, I was blasted by high winds. I had been monitoring the weather leading up to today and I knew forecast winds were anticipated between 20-30 mph, that coupled with ambient temperatures hovering around 40 made for windchill temps in the mid-to-upper '20s.
I paused to pull on mittens and my wool facemask/hood. I did a quick check of the current weather conditions and confirmed what I expected, winds were sustained at 23 mph with gusts to 30, current windchill temperature was 26.7ºF.
I reached the summit "rock-pile" at 1345 and I could see people were hunkered down in the various wind shelters for protection as they rested or ate. I decided I'd grab my summit pictures then head down the trail a bit to get out of the wind before I fixed my Second Lunch.
As I approached the rock with the survey mark mounted on it, and all the wooden summit signs nearby, I heard someone calling out "Hey, You Made It!".
It was Jason and Jackie, a couple I'd met earlier on the trail, so I went over to visit before taking care of my standard 'summit tasks'. Side note: I really enjoy making new hiking friends! 😊 We must have talked for close to an hour, swapping hiking stories and sharing experiences, and as it turns out they are also good friends with my new hiking compatriot, Phil (he helped me replaced the torn American Flag on Mt. Baden Powell about a week ago). It never ceases to amaze me how connected the hiking community really is.
We grabbed a few selfies and Jackie was kind enough to take my summit photos before they headed down the loop trail ahead of me. I had taken pictures of the San Gorgonio survey mark last year, but I prepped it with chalk to get a better picture for my database project, took some pics with George (I had to hold onto him so he wouldn't blow away!), then headed down.
Part of my pre-trip planning involves checking the surrounding area for potential survey mark recoveries and nearby peaks to bag. When I did this hike last year, I remember thinking "I should bag Jepson, Little Charlton, and Charlton Peaks while I'm here" The San Bernardino Divide Trail parallels the ridgeline where these peaks live (see the Topo map image below). But back then I was on a mission to finish my challenge, and if the peak wasn't on the list, it wasn't seriously on my radar, regardless of how close it was. There was a version of today's plan that included bagging those three peaks, plus Poopout Hill, (really, how can you NOT go after a peak called Poopout Hill?) 🤣 However, between getting a later start than anticipated and spending more time visiting along the trail, I opted to pass on the three big bonus peaks. I assessed the potential routes and considered elevation gain as I walked up to the points where I'd exit the trail and decided that in each case, going for it would push me into finishing after dark. Getting to the peaks seemed straightforward enough, but descending from Charlton without backtracking, looked like a bit of work, especially at the tail-end of an already full day.
Poopout Hill would have been easy-peasy as it was just 500 feet off the main trail with nominal gain, however, by the time I passed the turnoff for it I was in "Finish Mode" and it totally slipped my mind to bag it. 🤷🏻♂️
I cruised down the rest of the trail, taking time to stop and finally eat my Second Lunch just after the big switchback below the Dollar Lake Saddle. I passed on firing up my JetBoil and simply ate the rest of my SPAM, a couple of little cuties, a banana, beef jerky, and drank a bottle of electrolyte mix.
Recharged, I resumed my descent at a steady pace. I passed a handful of folks coming up the trail, all loaded up for an overnight stay. As I dropped down in elevation, I could see the fog rolling in, and by the time I was about a mile from the trailhead, it looked a little eerie between the fog and the remains of the burnt trees.
The Nitty Gritty Comparison to Last Year's Hike
Now it's time to crunch some numbers and take a comparative look at this year's trip vs. last year's. Okay, I get it that you may think I'm a walking dichotomy zenning out (is that even a word?!) over a babbling brook in one breath, then doing a point-by-point, statistical analysis of my numbers in the next. 🤣 I am proof that "Left brain/Right brain" can peaceably coexist! Besides, once an accountant, always an accountant. 😉
It's fascinating for me to compare repeat trips to look for similarities and anomalies, even if they're not on exactly the same route. This particular trip was a good example because even though I chose different routes, the overall mileage, vertical gain, and time were very similar; the slight differences were easily explained because today's route is a little over a half-mile longer.
The Tech Piece. Both of these trips were recorded using the GAIA GPS app on my iPhone XS. GPS tracking and the resulting statistics (mileage, vertical gain, pure elevation) can be influenced by the device's firmware and the App's algorithms for processing the data so I like to stick with the same app for consistency. However, I do record all my tracks with a redundant app (usually Peakbagger) but I stick with one app (GAIA) for reporting my stats. Running a redundant system is a safety net in case GAIA hiccups along the way and doesn't record the full track, it's rare, but it has happened. From my personal experience, I found these two apps to be the most reliable (for me) in 'holding' a signal and GAIA tended to be the most conservative in reporting mileage/vertical gain when compared to other popular apps. For the record, I don't have any financial or spiritual affiliation with ANY of the companies that provide the apps that I use, and naturally, your mileage may vary. There is also an intrinsic variation caused by the particular satellites that are bouncing the signals around and their relative positions at any given time. I don't understand the science, but I can only expect that the satellite networks, as with device and app technology, only get better as time goes on. This might explain why my "Max Elevation" from each hike was 13 feet different, despite the fact that I was standing on top of the same boulder at the summit.
The time and speed variables are what really grabbed my attention. Year-on-year, I maintained an overall pace within 6/100ths of a second over 20 miles! I guess I'm nothing if not consistent. Of course, my pace really drives the overall time component, so what goes into my "pace"?
Conditioning. Strength and endurance, both cardiovascularly and muscularly obvious are critical, I went into last year's hiking season very well trained from a classical lifting and exercise perspective. My fitness level was driven by lifting four days a week and teaching five or six group exercise classes a week (PiYo® and Spinning®). When the gyms closed due to the pandemic, I simply shifted gears to hiking. It's worth noting that the pandemic had zero impact on my lifting schedule from an "access" perspective as I have a complete home gym, however, my fanatical devotion to multiple hiking challenges last year overshadowed my lifting schedule and I honestly didn't pick up a weight (other than my backpack) for months!
Logging the Miles. This year's hiking "season" was really just a continuation of last year, I never really took any time off, I just worked around pandemic-induced trail closures, looking for cool hikes to do. I basically had a full year with no purposeful/dedicated weight training program. Yep. Take a second and re-read that.
I stopped teaching group fitness classes at the start of the pandemic and, while I am back to training clients one-on-one, I'm still not offering any group exercise classes yet. Initially, I was just a tad concerned about the impact of NOT doing classical training, but logging close to 1,000 miles over the year toting around a 35-pound backpack on every hike, obviously counts for something 💪🏻😉👊🏻
Mentally, the break from lifting was a godsend and I'm enjoying getting back into strength training with a rested and fresh mindset. I expect that I'll settle into a routine that includes a few days a week of dedicated strength training while still maintaining my weekend hiking miles.
Another factor that can play a role in the process is gear selection. For all intents and purposes, I pretty much have the same gear that I had last year. I brought a few more items today specifically for colder temperatures and that weight differential was offset by carrying less water than I needed in the heat last year. I am clearly not an ultra-light hiker, my philosophy is that if I hike EVERY hike with my 35-pound kit, THAT becomes my training for longer backpacking trips, and I adapt to it.
Rest and Social Time. I really shouldn't be surprised about the parallels in my "non-moving" time, after all, I am who I am. I enjoy stopping periodically to absorb the beauty of my surroundings. I clear my mind and just listen to the sounds, smell the smells, and take in the views.
Generally, as a solo hiker, when I do meet others on the trail, I'll often stop and visit. My summit time is spent taking pictures, looking for survey marks, eating, and just resting. Last year, I met an Instagram friend IRL (in real life) at the summit, Erica wanted to join me as I celebrated completing all 18 Peaks of the SoCal Six-Pack of Peaks Challenge. YAY! Today, I made new friends, Jason and Jackie, who were unwittingly part of my stealthy celebration for completing this year's challenge. YAY! (again)
I never really watch the clock at a summit unless I'm being driven by Mother Nature, so I find it very cool that I seem to unconsciously self-regulate my downtime.
The bottom line is that consistency is important, whether it's in traditional training methods or logging miles on the trail, there is no single "correct" answer or one way to train, you just need to be consistent in whatever you do. Having said that, as I trainer I can provide a variety of recommended exercises to strengthen your body for the trial.
My personal hiking style is to maintain a steady pace because that works for me. You're not likely to see me shooting out of the gate like a jackrabbit, only to find me 3 miles down the trail resting to catch my breath. Perhaps that comes from my days as an endurance cyclist, having the patience garnered from raising 4 daughters and keeping up with 3 grandkids, or the life experiences that come with 60 cycles around the Sun. Wherever I picked it up, I'll continue to rely on it until it stops working.😉
A Final Thought on Routes
I remember seeing this sheet posted on one of the structures at Horse Meadow Historical Site last year, it lists all the trail options to summit San Gorgonio, including the trailhead, one-way mileage, and elevation gain for nine different routes.
As you can see, from a mileage perspective the shortest was via Vivian Creek (9.3 miles) and the longest was from San Bernardino Peak (17 miles) this entry was penciled in at the bottom of the list, so it's not clear exactly what trailhead was used or even who added it. From a vertical gain point of view, approaching from Fish Creek was the least at 3,342 feet, and coming up from Momyer via Dollar Lake Saddle was the most at 6,062. The South Fork routes seem to be right in the middle of the pack. Lots of options!
Relive® 3D Video of the Lollipop Loop
Happy Trails! 😊🏔🥾