Having been back in Southern California for 2 whole weeks, I decided with my friend Marina to waste no time in summiting the tallest peak in Southern California, Mount San Gorgonio.
This hike along the Vivian Creek Trail is frequently used as a trainer hike for Mount Whitney. Although the 11,503 foot peak is 3000 feet short of Mount Whitney, the distance, incline, and total elevation gain of 5,500 feet are more than appropriate as preparation for Whitney. In fact, I would even say the steepest portions of this trail are steeper than Whitney. But it's been many years since my Whitney hike.
The steepness immediately begins after crossing Mill Creek to the Vivian Creek Trailhead. The climb ascends around 800 feet in about 3/4 of of mile up the canyon wall. The incline reminded me of the many hikes I've done from Yosemite Valley. If you are not a beast (i.e., me), you may start to wonder what you've gotten yourself into. That is, until you arrive at the meadow along Vivian Creek where the first camp is found found along a pleasant meadow. Then you'll walk along a relatively flat portion of the trail enjoying perhaps the most scenic section.
From Vivian Creek, your legs will get a much needed reprieve along the gentle ascent to Halfway Camp at about 8000 feet. This section of the trail features a beautiful meadow, along with perhaps the largest trees of the trail. Of note is that the Halfway Camp is halfway between the two campgrounds, and not halfway to the peak (which if it were true would be demotivating on the way up, but thrilling on the way down).
The hike continues gently to High Creek Camp, another camp nestled near a beautiful little creek. Just below the campground, the creek can be seen quickly plummeting 2000 feet to Mill Creek where the hike began.
From High Creek Camp, the hike becomes serious again. The initial set of switch backs up to a first ridge are tame. Upon ascent to this first ridge, Mount San Jacinto comes clearly into view. Then the hike gets seriously mean with some steep switchbacks, and then a very direct ascent with no shade to the peak. You'll probably want to reapply sun screen, take plenty of breaks, and have ample water on hand for this portion of the trail.
I highly recommend this hike for anyone who wants to take a serious, full-day hike in Southern California. While not the most staggering scenery in California, the fresh air and lack of noise pollution make this a very pleasant hike. Your knees and feet will be done for on you final descent, but the pain will be well worth the journey and accomplishment.
We started the hike at 6:45 am, and finished around 5:45 pm for a total of 11 hours on the trail. We are not fast hikers, but we didn't take many long breaks. If you are fast you can finish in 8-10 hours. Give yourself 12-14 hours if you'll be needing lots of breaks.