It is cold and an icy breeze tugs at my hair. It feels surreal that I am in Southern California, that to the south I can see Mexico. I though this part of the country was hot sunshine and endless deserts, not post-holing through thigh deep snow!
It has been five months since I moved south, leaving a drizzling grey Seattle in the rearview mirror and driving toward the San Diego sunshine. Being an avid mountaineer, it was not without hesitation that I left the Cascade Peaks behind. Since my arrival I have replaced the snow-covered mountains with desert climbing in Joshua Tree and hikes up bare desert hills. My legs longing for days in the snow, kicking steps and breathing in the that cold crisp winter air. So, it is with great surprise and utter delight that I kick my now soaked hiking boots into the snow-covered mountainside.
I had heard about camping on the summit of southern California’s tallest peak, San Gorgonio, 11,503 feet tall. It is described as a strenuous hike with a nice flat summit to camp on. Had it not been for my partner doing his due diligence I would not have bothers with crampons or an ice-axe.
“The ranger say’s there is snow from 8000 feet on up” he tells me as I huff. Snow in southern California, yeah right, I think to myself as I reluctantly put my crampons in my pack. I imagen a sprinkle, a mere dusting of snow. Yet, here I am sinking up to my knees with every step.
The first 2500 feet of gain is a hot dusty trail snaking its way up the pine covered mountain side, and I still don’t believe the rangers reports of snow and ice. But as we reach Halfway Camp at 8,100 feet snow starts to appear. At first it is patchy, and parts of the trail is melted out. But by the time we reach High Creek Camp at 9,200 feet the snow cover is solid and deep. It is afternoon by now and the snow is soft causing me to regularly post-hole, filling my boots with snow. I am trying out my new Futura Vario Deuter pack, and it is now laden with weight. There is no water on the summit so at High Creek Camp I filled up five liters of extra water. It performs well despite the extra weight and constant post-holing. The flexible hip fins prevent the load from shifting and the weight stay on my hips, making it a comfortable carry.
The sky has started to shift from bright blue to a warm golden by the time we reach the top, and an icy breeze greets us on the summit. Far below we see the lights come on in the surrounding cities and towns as we pitch our tent. The sunset is picture-perfect, and we have the summit all to our self. Who knew you could find both snow and solitude in Southern California?!