Monday, April 2, 2012

Mt. San Gorgonio via Northeast Ridge

March 30, 2012: Alarm clock went off at 0330, too early, but it was necessary if I wanted to make it out to Gorgonio. I had pre planned and all my gear was already packed. Makes it alot easier to get out the door when all I have to do is get coffee and breakfast. I hit the road for the long drive out to Redlands at 0400. Thanks to Sirius Satellite Radio I was able to listen to Howard Stern, Mike & Mike on ESPN and later Mark & Brian to pass the time. I made it to the trailhead, packed everything up and started off at 0700.
Not knowing what the conditions were, I brought snowshoes, crampons, ice axe and micro spikes. Ready for anything I suppose. There wasn't much snow on the trail until the 8000' mark. From there it was consistent coverage. Not icy though, so I kept on moving in just my boots. I arrived at the "winter route" cutoff above South Fork Meadows and tried to continue on with just boots but I started to sink in to my knees so I put on the snowshoes. Travel was once again a breeze and I made good time up the moraine fields to the clearing below the northeast ridge at 9,500'. The snow was still punchy enough to allow the snowshoes to stay on. Up until now, there wasn't a previous track, I was breaking fresh trail. Once I rounded the ridge and started to head up the chute I found all the evidence of past treks up. A line of tracks coming and going at the 10,000' mark. I looked around and did not see any tracks heading to the top of the ridge so I decided to head up to the top of the ridge to have a look. The route I took was steep but pleasant and before too long I was standing on the ridge looking down the other side at the "Big Draw". There was great coverage in the draw and took some mental notes for a future trip. There were great views all the way out as far as Mt. Baldy. The conditions changed soon thereafter, the terrain was too steep for snowshoes (a slip would lead to much worse with snowshoes on), but the snow was too soft for crampons. I took off the deathtraps/snowshoes and went at it in just my boots. I would have to kick into the snow with some force to create a step that would hold my weight. This was going to be tiresome, I still had a 1000' to go on the ridge. I made slow progress this way and was losing energy quickly. I decided to try my luck on top of the very ridge where there was less snow and more exposed albeit loose rock.
Travel on the ridge was tiresome as well, the loose rock interlaced with snow made for difficult moving conditions. At 11,000' I ran into ice covered scree. Slippery on top, then loose an inch below. This was not only tiresome, but becoming dangerous. Crampons would dig right through the ice but gain no purchase in the loose scree. Being on a steep angle meant slipping and sliding no matter what I strapped on my feet. Did not want to slip on the scree then pick up speed and momentum on the layer of ice. The top of the ridge was only 200' above me, but it seemed miles away. I decided to take off my pack and have a seat bracing against a weathered tree on the ridge, at least the views were great. After pondering my options I opted to loose some valuable elevation and head back to the ultra tiring snow kick stepping I had done earlier. This plan did work out and I topped out on the ridge (11,200') at noon. I was tired though, I could feel the lactic acid build up in my quads and was grateful that the climbing was just about over. Not sure I could have continued on like that for very much longer. I traveled with ease across the ridge and made the summit of San Gorgonio (11,502') at 12:45.
I was very tired and fatigued at this point, I had dipped too far into my energy reserves and hadn't consumed enough food or drank enough water. I quickly made a peanut butter and honey sandwich and crammed some cheese-its down. The funny thing is I was not hungry, food wasn't appealing. I had to chuckle to myself, the thing my body needs most is the thing my body does not want. I felt instantly better after the power lunch and refocused my energies on getting back down. I wanted to try and glissade down the chute east of the ridge and dressed appropriately; rain jacket and pants. I walked back down the summit ridge and picked a line down the chute that seemed good. I could see a band of rocks exposed a third of the way down and made a mental note, a strong mental note. With ice axe in hand I did a sitting glissade. I wasn't expecting to get very far based on the snow conditions over on the ridge, but I was able to glissade from 11,200' to 10'000'. It was alot of fun to say the least. I changed my gear out and put the snowshoes back on for the descent to South Fork Meadows. I did not follow my path back out, instead I ventured over to the chute going down next to Charlton Peak. It was enjoyable wandering around the moraine fields, there wasn't any real purpose for this, just felt like wandering.
I made my way back to my truck and arrived safely at 4:30. Another great outing in the mountains.........
The Big Draw

Northeast Ridge To The Right, Descent Chute To The Left

Jepson Peak

Jepson Peak From Atop The Ridge

Mix of Rock, Snow & Ice

Mt. Baldy Out In The Distance

On The Summit, Tired But Happy

Glissade Path

Grander View Of Glissade Path (1200'

Topo Profile Of Route

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