South Fork, Dry Lake, Dollar Lake to peak trail status and hazards

Home Forums Trail Conditions South Fork, Dry Lake, Dollar Lake to peak trail status and hazards

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    • #5686
      hiker girl

      Did girls’ day out with my very xp friend and very xp me Sunday 11/7.  Took South Fork trail up Dry Lake trail down Dollar Lake trail. We’ve done stuff in all seasons and all trails on the Bernardios/Gorgonio, Jacinto, cross country, desert peaks. Take the below seriously.

      Water status:

      The creek 4 mi in was flowing nicely. Some small runoff was also flowing earlier on South Fork.

      WINTER CONDITIONS on both Dry and Dollar switchbacks – NOT RECOMMENDED

      DRY LAKE TRAIL – SKY HIGH TRAIL: NOT happy as I called to check on conditions for this specific section and was told snow was gone/all was dry.

      HAZARDOUS – hard icy snow covered most of switchback areas, sometimes a thin stretch of burn out on outer edge but very narrow to traverse.  A few sections all icy snow – we do winter conditions and considered this section hazardous. VERY slippery and hard pack in spots.

      Once Sky High made the turn towards the peak and was no longer north facing, everything was clear and dry to the peak.


      HAZARDOUS – more icy snow on the few north-facing spots:

      The first set of switchbacks starting down had the same thing – hard icy solid snow with a thin strip of burnout.  This grade  was more forgiving but ice was just as hard packed and slippery. In this case we did have that thin strip most of the way.

      After Dollar Lake Saddle the first 2 switchbacks we encountered had hard pack icy snow – and sections of HARD CLEAR ICE on them.  VERY HAZARDOUS as not much clearance. We were shocked it was like that so low and on a trail we had seen had been traveled.

      I write this post  to illustrate what kjohnson posted from their Dry Lake (the lake) hike.  They were wise to not go further.

      While we did the hike – and we have “done stuff” – we both agreed it was “sketch” and will only return to the South Fork side when all snow/ice is gone from those trail sections. We have done every hike in the San Bernardinos, Gorgonio, Jacinto and cross country, so this is a legit post.

      Vivian seemed fine from what we heard from the guys at the peak. It’s the only route we would hike in winter.




    • #5688
      hiker girl

      Various fallen trees on South Fork portion; all easily passable.

    • #5689

      Excellent, detailed report, HG.  Thanks for posting.

    • #5690

      Thanks for the trail conditions post. Good intel.

      Was the trail dry before Dry Lake?

      • #5691
        hiker girl

        Yes you are fine to Dry Lake other than a few downed trees that are easy passage.  Totally dry up to the start of the Sky High switchbacks a bit up from the Fish Creek junction around 10,000.  ONLY the north-facing section had snow but ALL of that section had hard icy snow with varying degrres – but not a lot – of burnout on the downward slope side.  That trail has no “side buffer” and mtn composition loose scree and sand.  ONLY north-facing switchbacks on both Sky High and Dollar are impacted, as they are flat and shaded, but slope angle severe enough ESPECIALLY on Sky High if you slip you may tumble or likely at least slide a bit down then if you climb up you’re right back in the hard melt/freeze past couple weeks old snow layer.  It is very thin maybe inch or max two but that is all it takes.

        If you know Tahquiz in San Jacinto area, the hike to the lookout is the Jacinto version of Sky High and vice versa.  The Skyline Traverse right up there too.  This is why I wrote as I did.  Yesterday, the north-facing Sky High section was the ONLY snow/ice section the entire Dry Lake trail over 11 mi to the peak, but it is a severe enough risk to give you pause.

        A cautionary winter tale…

        My very xp hike lead friend (not person I hiked with yest but we hike with him) almost lost his climbing partner years ago on the similarly dicey Traverse on Skyline in an El Nino winter.  Two others in group all top mountaineers could easily be SAR wanted to push, guide wanted to abort and he does craaaayzeeee stuff so 99% sure something bad WILL happen if if he thinks it is dangerous enough to abort.  He stayed with them cause he knew the danger and wanted to be there to call SAR or rescue them if needed. They had 12 pt crampons, helmets, ice axes, rope, and were pros at self-arrest and glissading thousand feet plus in the Sierra and climbing super sketch peaks. They were very mindful and careful.  In a flash, climbing partner was gone over the ledge spinning like a top.  They could hear his ice axe – again EXPERT mountaineer – pinging again and again on the super thick melt/freeze ice.  Hike lead was sure he went over the full cliff and was dead and hike lead and other roped themselves to trees and frantically called out.  He heard reply; guy grabbed onto a sapling 500 ft down.  He had a sat phone and they reached friend in Palm Springs who called SAR.

        SAR got there with THEIR 12 pt crampons, several lengths of rope, ice axes, helmets and gear. They had to string several ropes to get to guy and even SAR!!!!! could not grab on ice and had to clamp into the rope.

        Guy had several broken ribs and a head injury from hitting rocks.  He was so grateful to be alive!  SAR took hike guide and other friend up to tram station all on rope it was that dangerous.  Hike guide as I said easily could be SAR and he was very grateful for help.  They were able to get friend to Eisenhower but he was never the same.

        The ice we encountered was thin but reminded me as my poles -and I hit them in hard – did not even bite in some sections.  That is why I wrote the post even though ice is just on the trail and the slope is dry.

        Dry Lake fits its name now; use the creek before it (4 mi from pkg lot) for water needs; it’s flowing nicely in both little stream sections.

        Happy hiking, have fun, and stay safe!


    • #5693
      hiker girl

      Btw hike guide friend chewed me and friend out for doing the icy stuff.  He was happy we were ok but firmly said never do Sky High in winter conditions and was the one who told me it’s as dangerous as Tahquiz and the Traverse, notorious SAR callouts in winter for both rescue and at times recovery.  Ranger friend said Tahquiz most dangerous spot on Jacinto and has seen many rescues and recoveries over the years.

    • #5760

      Nice example/reminder that gear…crampons, axes, pickets, screws, ropes, etc. are all risk mitigating–not risk eliminating tools.

      There are always situations where no amount of gear or skill is going to cover the risk.

    • #5790
      chris in redlands

      First snow in the san bernardinos was weeks ago and has snowed more since then.

      From first snow til last snow melts, it’s just good policy to have a pair of kahtoola microspikes (or their equal…not yaktrax or other city sidewalk traction devices) in your pack. They weigh less than a pound, and while they won’t get you over everything, they’re an exceptionally good addition to your regular summer hiking kit once the snow has fallen and are perfect for getting across icy not-too-steep sections of trail on the north-facing parts of the mountain.

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