Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nine Peaks

The Inland Empire Council of the Boy Scouts sponsors an award signified by a patch in the shape of a backpack with "9 Peaks" on it. To get the award, a scout must do a three day backpacking trip starting at Vivian Creek Traihead above Forest Falls, climb to the summit of Mount San Gorgonio and then follow the ridge line all the way over to Mount San Bernardino, doing side trips cross country to each of the seven other peaks in between, and end at the San Bernardino Peak Trailhead in Angelus Oaks, a total distance of about 28 miles. Kasey Haws and I got looking at a map and the distances and decided we could do it in a day if we got an early start. We also decided to do it backwards, starting at the San Bernardino Peak Trailhead. Below is a look at the ridge we would be traversing (this photo was taken from Mark Edwards' airplane, just west of the Big Bear Lake area). San Gorgonio is the peak at the far left and San Gorgonio is the peak at the far right. From this distance the different peaks are hardly distinguishable.

The night before the hike, we went to the Los Angeles Temple. I got to sleep at 11:30 p.m. and was up at 2:30 a.m. on the morning of September 25, 1993. I was at Kasey's house at 3:15 a.m. We dropped off Kasey's truck in Forest Falls, our endpoint, and then drove my car to Angelus Oaks where we started our hike at 4:15 a.m. I'll recount the details in a bit, but we ultimately limped to Kasey's truck in the parking lot, in darkness at 8:20 p.m., 16 hours and 5 minutes from when we started. Below is a topographic map with a dark line showing the San Gorgonio Wilderness boundary, a yellow line showing the trails we followed and names of the peaks highlighted in pink, with arrival times and the amount of rest time at each spot.
Sunday morning in church, we laughed as we watched each other stiffly sidle through the halls. I told Kasey I would never do the 9 peaks again. It was punishment. But like childbirth, you soon forget the agony and start to think about the joy you got from the experience. Two years later, on July 22, 1995, we did it again. This time we were accompanied by my nephew, Rick DeLong. However, we decided to make it a little easier and "just" do the summits of San Bernardino and San Gorgonio and avoid doing the cross country hikes to the 7 peaks in between. It was an easier hike, although only in a relative sense. Two years older, it took us about the same amount of time. Ten years later, we were at it again. On September 24, 2005, Kasey, Craig Wright and I completed the entire 9 peaks, again. We were age 36 the first time and age 48 the third time. Age is not your friend in this endeavor and we had a little bit of a different experience. I had worked out hard in preparation and was in much better shape. It was an easier hike for me than the hike 12 years prior, despite the age difference. Kasey was also in excellent shape, but it was from racing a bicycle. We discovered that different muscles get used on a bicycle than in hiking and Kasey really struggled to get out. His knees were freezing up on him.

With that introduction, I want to give some details on the first and third hikes, and a few mentions of the second hike (for which I kept no records). I took no pictures on the third hike.

There are dramatic differences between mileages on various maps. The old San Gorgonio Wilderness Association [SGWA] map may be the most accurate. The current U.S. Forest Service [USFS] map is based on GPS readings and a ranger told us that many hikers believe they are off (apparently conditions can impact the accuracy of the readings).

Angelus Oaks:

We started from Angelus Oaks (5,660 ft.) at 4:15 a.m. in 1993 and 3:23 a.m. in 2005. Because we were older for the later hike, we wanted to give ourselves more time if we needed it. From the trailhead to Columbine Junction (8,000 ft.) is 2,040 ft. in elevation gain and anywhere from 4.3 [SGWA] to 4.9 miles [USFS]. In 1993, our first two hours of hiking were by headlamp. It would have been longer than that in 2005 because we got an earlier start.

From there to Limber Pine Bench (9,360 ft.) is an additional 1,360 ft. in gain and between .8 [USFS] and 1.4 miles [SGWA].

San Bernardino Peak (10,649):

Finally, we reached our first peak, San Bernardino (10,649 ft.), an additional 1,289 ft. and 2.2 miles at 8:34 a.m. (1993) and 7:16 a.m. (2005), a total of 7.9 miles. We were 25 minutes faster in getting to the peak on our later hike (4 hours, 19 mins. in 1993 and 3 hours, 54 mins. in 2005). Below, on our second hike, we spent a little more time on the summit, which still had several feet of snow.

Kasey with the summit box in the foreground.

Rick DeLong, with a banana on his shoulder.

After a rest of 12 mins. (1993) and 4 mins. (2005), we continued on.

San Bernardino East (10,691):

The trail passes just north of the San Bernardino East summit (10,691 ft.). A side trail takes you 100 feet to the top. It took us 35 minutes in 1993 (arriving at 9:21 a.m.) and 30 minutes in 2005 (arriving at 7:50 a.m.). We took a 6 minute rest both years, although 2005 we ended up waiting for one in the party and it was probably another 5 or 6 minutes longer. Below, Kasey on San Bernardino East, with San Bernardino Peak in the background. After leaving, we passed the Momyer Creek Trail to the right (south), which leads 7 miles to Millcreek Canyon, and the Forsee Creek Trail to the left, which leads 7.5 miles down the north side to the trailhead.

Anderson Peak (10,840 ft.):

It took us 35 minutes in 1993 (arriving at 10:03 a.m.) and 38 minutes in 2005 (arriving at 8:34 a.m.) to get to Anderson Peak (10,840 ft.). There is not a trail to the summit, it is all cross country. We took a 20 minute rest in 1993 and 6 minutes in 2005. Below, on Anderson Peak with Mt. San Gorgonio in the background. My head is about even with the summit of Charlton Peak.

From Anderson, looking back at San Bernardino East and San Bernardino Peaks.

Below, an unobstructed view of Charlton, Little Charlton, Jepson and San Bernardino Peaks.

From the same spot, with a 300 mm zoom looking at San Gorgonio. The summit is the little pointed mound near the back center. The ridge toward the bottom of the picture is the saddle between Little Charlton and Jepson. From the peak, we reached Anderson Flat and passed a side trail which led to Trail Fork Springs, .4 miles to the northwest, and eventually connects into the Forsee Creek Trail.

Shields Peak (10,680 ft.):

Shields Peak (10,680 ft.) is a big pile of rocks just south of the trail. There are small patches of trail up to the summit, but it is mostly boulder hopping. It took us 26 minutes in 1993 (arriving at 10:49 a.m.) and 25 minutes in 2005 (arriving at 9:05 a.m.). We rested for 6 minutes in 1993 and 15 minutes in 2005. Below, Kasey hiking to the summit of Shields. After Shields, we dropped in elevation as we hiked to Shields Flat (10,320 ft.).
Alto Diablo (10,563 ft.):

The trail switchbacks up the side of Alto Diablo six times and skirts the north side where there are a few poor paths to the peak (10,563 ft.), only 20 feet off the main trail. It is a poor excuse for a peak and, of all the peaks, seems least worthy of the name. It took us 25 minutes in 1993 (arriving at 11:20 a.m.) and 28 minutes in 2005 (arriving at 9:48 a.m.). We rested for 5 minutes in 1993 and 3 minutes in 2005.

Dollar Lake Saddle (10,000 ft.):

In 2005, we spent time trying to find the High Meadow Springs Trail and the spring which is a one-quarter mile to the south. We were unsuccessful in finding it, which delayed us a bit. Then we passed Red Rock Flat (10,080 ft.) and eventually reached Dollar Lake Saddle (10,000 ft.), which is about the half-way point. It took us 35 minutes in 1993 (arriving at 12:00 noon) and 41 minutes in 2005 (arriving at 10:32 a.m.). There we had lunch, spending 30 minutes in 1993 and 28 minutes in 2005. Overall, we had gone 14.5 miles, had gained 5,240 feet and lost 840 feet and had spent 1 hour 19 minutes resting in 1993 and 1 hour, 2 minutes resting in 2005. In 2005, we were 36 minutes ahead of our 1993 time (7 hours, 9 minutes vs. 7 hours, 45 minutes). In 1993 I noted that my body was beginning to ache.

Charlton Peak (10,806 ft.):

From Dollar Lake Saddle, we followed the trail around the south side of Charlton, then traveled north, cross country, to the saddle between Charlton and Little Charlton. There we dropped our packs and hiked up to Charlton. In 1993, the mid-day sun was unmerciful and sweat poured off of our faces. It was five or six steps and rest, then five or six steps and rest, all the way to the summit of Charlton (10,806 ft.). It took us 42 minutes in 1993 (arriving at 1:12 p.m.) and 45 minutes in 2005 (arriving at 11:48 a.m.). In 2005, I felt really good at this point, much better than 12 years earlier. However, Kasey was beginning to struggle. The muscles around his knees were giving out. Craig Wright is a marathoner and this was a walk in the park for him. Below, Kasey on the summit of Charlton, with San Gorgonio in the background. He has an amazing ability to look fresh, even when he's worn out. We rested for 11 minutes in 1993 and 7 minutes in 2005.

Little Charlton (10,696 ft.):

We traced our steps down to the saddle, picked up our packs, then hiked up to Little Charlton (10,696 ft.). It took us 14 minutes in 1993 (arriving at 1:37 p.m.) and 18 minutes in 2005 (arriving at 12:10 p.m.). We rested for 20 minutes in 1993 and 2 minutes in 2005. We followed the ridge to the trail. At that point, the saddle between Little Charlton and Jepson is known as Dry Lake View. Dry Lake can be seen in the distance, nestled below Grinnell Peak. We left the trail to traverse some steep, hard earth, covered with a layer of loose gravel which was very difficult to negotiate. At one point, in 1993, I fell flat on my face when both of my feet went out from under me. Several steps later, the same thing happened again. I was really getting tired.

Jepson Peak (11,205 ft.):

In 1993, we went more cross country and hit two places we thought could be the peak, without finding a summit register. In 2005, we stayed on the trail longer, then backtracked up toward the peak. It was an easier way to go, but I believe it may have taken longer, although part of that was because Kasey was really beginning to struggle. It took us 55 minutes in 1993 (arriving at 2:53 p.m.) and 1 hour, 13 minutes in 2005 (arriving at 1:25 p.m.). We were still ahead of our schedule of 12 years earlier, timewise, by 35 minutes. We rested 10 minutes in 1993 and 8 minutes in 2005. Below, the picture taken from the trail on the way up to Jepson Peak, looking back toward San Bernardino, San Bernardino East, and part of Anderson.

In 1993, Kasey found some snow below Jepson Peak. We filled our Nalgene bottles with snow and got some additional cold water out of it. One of the issues on this long hike is water. The snow helps. Another helpful addition is a Camelback with three liters of water mixed with Cytomax or a similar sports drink, which provides ongoing carbohydrates, caffeine and other items that help the body continue on. I think this made a big difference for me in 2005.

Mount San Gorgonio (11,499 ft.):

From this point on our pictures cease. It took us 43 minutes to get to San Gorgonio (11,499 ft.) in 1993 (arriving at 3:45 p.m.) and 51 minutes in 2005 (arriving at 2:24 p.m.). We took a 35 minute rest in 1993 and 26 minutes in 2005.

High Creek (9,440 ft.):

I reached High Creek in 1 hour, 8 minutes in 1993 (arriving at 5:28 p.m.) and in 1 hour, 40 minutes in 2005 (arriving at 4:25 p.m.). Here I gorged myself on water and surrendered my body to the grass on its bank. High Creek is between 3.0 miles [SGWA] and 3.8 miles [USFS] from San Gorgonio and an elevation drop of 2,061 feet. In 2005, Kasey, who's knees were really giving him problems at this point, was substantially later. At this point in 2005, I quit comparing the hikes, pretty much, because now it was a matter of just making sure Kasey could make it out. From about Jepson Peak on, Kasey started to use hiking poles, which helped his knees alot. I'm not sure he would have made it the rest of the way without them. High Creek is a welcome stop. The severe downhill from San Gorgonio, especially after a long day of hiking, takes a tremendous toll on the knees. Plus, water has become an issue, as the last reliable water was near Limber Pine Bench on the way up Mt. San Bernardino. We spent 26 minutes resting in 1993. Substantially longer in 2005.

Halfway Camp (8,000 ft.):

In 1993, we reached Halfway Camp, from High Creek, in 59 minutes (arriving at 6:53 p.m.). In actuality, we stopped at Vivian Creek, which is about 30 yards beyond the entrance to Halfway Camp. It is between 1.2 miles [USFS] or 2.3 miles [SGWA] from High Creek. Here, I have to say, the USFS mileage is ridiculous. It is hard to believe there can be a 1.1 mile difference and it is certainly longer than 1.2 miles, evidenced by hiking times. We spent 10 minutes resting in 1993 and I was absolutley exhausted. Each step was a conscious effort and each step was felt. In 2005, Kasey didn't even sit down. He was afraid if he did, he wouldn't be able to get back up. I was tired, but felt much better than in 1993.

Vivian Creek Camp (7,200 ft.):

At some point between Halfway and Vivian Creek, darkness overtook us and we had to put on our headlamps. It is between 1.3 miles [SGWA] and 2.4 miles [USFS] to Vivian Creek Camp and an elevation loss of 800 feet. Here again, the mileage difference is hard to believe. It feels longer than 1.3 miles. In 1993 we lost the trail here and found ourselves at the edge of a cliff watching Vivan Creek cascade into the darkness of Millcreek Canyon below. We then knew the trail was just east of us, a little higher up.

Vivian Creek Trailhead (6,080 ft.):

The absolute worst hiking is the last mile switchbacking from Vivian Creek to the Millcreek Canyon Wash, losing 1,120 feet in the process. Your knees begin to scream at you in pain. If you have blisters or toenail issues, they also scream out at you for attention. This compounded with your body aches and exhaustion, make for a miserable slog down the mountain. In 1995, our second trip, Rick DeLong walked down backwards, to reduce the pain in his knees. In 2005, Kasey just absolutely gutted it out. He has tremendous willpower and courage. It took months for his legs to recover after this hike. Again, a lesson learned that there are different muscles used in cycling and in hiking. We reached the trailhead at 8:20 p.m. in 1993 and 8:00 p.m. in 2005. It took us 1 hour, 17 minutes from Halfway Camp in 1993. Substantially longer in 2005.
Overall, it took us 16 hours, 5 minutes in 1993 and 16 hours, 37 minutes in 2005. It was 26.1 miles [SGWA] or 27.3 miles [USFS], without taking into account the cross country hiking to the peaks. I figure it is at least 28 miles taking that into consideration. Overall, it is at least 6,851 feet in elevation gain and 6,371 feet in elevation loss.

Subsequent Considerations:

When Kasey and I first did the nine peaks in a day, we'd never heard of anyone else doing it. We felt pretty good about ourselves. Subsequently, with the internet development, I've seen a number of people have done it, and in substantially faster times. Yesterday, as I was looking on the internet I came across one adventure that really caught my attention. It was a hike by Rick Kent on October 14, 2007. He did 17 peaks in a day, including the 9 peaks, but in addition, Dobbs Peak and East Dobbs Peak (both south of Jepson), Dragons Head and Bighorn Mountain (just south and west of the Tarn), Zahniser Peak, Lake Peak, Ten Thousand Foot Ridge and Grinnell Mountain (off the Fish Creek route south of San Gorgonio). I have never done any of those peaks, and it gets the mind considering it. His trip was about 38 miles. I don't think I am physically capable of even approaching that feet. It doesn't appear he even rested between peaks.
As points of comparison, he was 27 minutes between San Bernardino and San Bernardino East. We were 30 and 35 minutes. He was 23 minutes between Anderson and Shields, we were 25 and 26 minutes. He was 27 minutes between Shields and Alto Diablo, we were 25 and 28 minutes. Between Alto Diablo and Dollar Lake Saddle, he was 31 minutes, we were 35 and 41 minutes. He was 34 minute between Dollar Lake Saddle and Charlton, we were 42 and 45 minutes. Instead of following the trail around and going up near the saddle, he attacked Charlton directly, doing more cross country up the side. He was 17 minutes between Charlton and Little Charlton, we were 14 and 18 minuts. He was 38 minutes between Little Charlton and Jepson, we were 55 minutes and 1 hour, 13 minutes.
Those little time differences add up, as do the resting times. Plus you can see we were wearing down as the day went on and he kept up the pace. But, it does give one pause to consider. Could I do that? Could I do part of that?

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