10/28/2017 at 6:58 pm #2063
(Unfortunately this forum will not accept a direct link to my Smug Mug photo sharing website. Please manually type in the link below and navigate to the San Gorgonio Summit slide show. Replace “dot” with a period.)
Copy/paste the link below for a route map.
Earlier this summer I set a goal to hike 100% off the trail from Vivian Creek Trailhead to San Gorgonio Summit. And recently I was able to accomplish this goal.
The San Gorgonio Wilderness has some exceptional off trail opportunities for adventure. With that said, this route is only appropriate for very strong hikers with solid off trail navigation skills.
The route breaks down into 5 legs. Each leg is a different color on my map. Sorry there is no GPS route outline. I am old fashioned and navigate with map & compass, which I fear is becoming a lost art. Though as a solo hiker I carry a SPOT tracker. I marked my SPOT readings on the map.
Leg #1 – Mill Creek (Red). The route started off straightforward. I hopped into Mill Creek and hiked alongside it upstream. There were some picturesque waterfalls along the way. Eventually I arrived at Mill Creek Jumpoff, which is a (very) abrupt headwall. I ascended straight up the center of the headwall. The last hundred yards (give or take) are very steep. If you do not keep your forward momentum you will slide backwards. I must admit I somewhat underestimated the steepness of the upper portion of the route. I would be interested to hear from others who have ascended other routes up Mill Creek Jumpoff.
Leg #2 – Whitewater Basin (Blue). My original plan was to head northeast from Mill Creek Jumpoff. And eventually pick up the South Fork of the Whitewater River. And follow it until I could ascend the saddle between Dragons Head Peak and San Gorgonio Summit. But, as noted in my photos and video, the bush was too thick. So I needed a Plan B. I decided to descend the gully that runs southeast of Mill Creek Jumpoff. This gully turned into a fork of the Whitewater River, and soon had water in it. I continued this descent until the bush along the side of the stream let up enough for me to pop out. I then made a push for the fork of the Whitewater River that runs between Dragons Head Peak and the Vivian Creek Trail. The bush was thick, but after grappling through it I eventually connected with my target at the end of the blue line.
Leg #3 – Pi Peak (Orange). This was certainly the most difficult leg. Over 2,000 feet of elevation gain in less than one mile. I started this leg by following the Whitewater River. But I found myself having to divert around the banks of the stream to walk around every waterfall. So I decided to leave the stream bed and just ascend Pi Peak. There were several high points along the way that seemed like they may be the summit. But each high point only revealed another high point. A relentless, taunting ascent.
Leg #4 – Dragons Head Peak (Yellow). After ascending Pi Peak, this leg of the route was fairly straightforward. I started by descending to the saddle between Pi Peak and Dragons Head Peak. It is quite nice and (relatively) flat. There are several shade trees and plenty of space. Next I ascended the Southeast Face of Dragons Head Peak. (As I mentioned in my videos I lost my SPOT tracker earlier this summer on Dragons Head Peak. I actually did not lose it on the Summit. I dropped it in the rock pile that is directly below the summit in photo DSC00097. I marked its approximate location with a black R.I.P. SPOT dot.)
Leg #5 – San Gorgonio Summit (Purple). This route was straightforward. I descended the North/Northeast face of Dragons Head Peak to the saddle. Then I ascended directly up the South Face of San Gorgonio Summit. Along the way I crossed the Sky High Trail.
Other than a group of 3 hikers on San Gorgonio Summit and one duo of overnighters at High Creek Campsite, I did not see anyone else the entire day.
Last year in the old San Gorgonio Forum I posted an off trail route from the Vivian Creek Trail wilderness boundary sign to San Gorgonio Summit (without passing through Dobbs Peak). I do have plans to start this off trail route at the Vivian Creek Trailhead instead of the wilderness boundary sign. Hopefully upon a successful completion I can post the results here…next summer.
10/30/2017 at 10:56 am #2066MikeHParticipant
Great pics, HB. Quite an adventure!
10/30/2017 at 4:31 pm #2069chris in redlandsParticipant
Excellent! My buddy and I went up a similar route a couple of years ago, only we turned north a bit earlier than you after getting east of the jumpoff. we started up a drainage that begins near your “SPOT2” point on the map, ascended that drainage until it became brush-choked, then scrambled onto the ridge west of the drainage and followed that ridge to where it met the vivian creek trail above the switchbacks above high creek camp (roughly at Peak 10,131). Some photos from that trip in this album.
Your route looks interesting, and confirms my assumption that it or a nearby ridge would go. I’d be curious to hear more about the difficulties you encountered on the ascent of Pi Peak. Looks rugged.
I’ve been up the Jumpoff a couple of ways, and in my opinion, there’s only one way that makes any sense and is even remotely safe. That’s to go up the brown band just off-center of the face of the jumpoff. That rocky brown band of dirt and boulders ends at a “mini-headwall” of steep boulders held together with dust and hope that you climb straight beneath, then just before you get to it, cut left and get to the top.
Anything else is just crazy. The gray, rock-free soil is loaded with clay, making it hard to get a purchase in, and treacherous when it gets steep near the top.
This is a screenshot of that route from my phone’s GPS overlaid on imagery from google earth:
10/31/2017 at 11:59 am #2070
Thanks for the advice on Mill Creek Jumpoff. I will try that route next time.
And I believe I may have spotted the drainage near SPOT2 that you reference. It was a small rock gully and the only opening to the North in this area. I considered ascending it, but was concerned I might get stuck in bush.
As for Pi Peak, once I was firmly planted on the face of Pi Peak there really were no serious obstacles on the ascent. As far as off trail routes go, the terrain was quite manageable. I hopped over a few logs and steered around some bush in a few spots. There was only one spot I remember where I had to use my hands to scramble up a small rock wall.
What I will remember about Pi Peak is the sheer steepness of the ascent. It gains over 2,000 feet in less than one mile. And it has some false summits along the way to tease you.
Where obstacles will be encountered is getting to the base of Pi Peak. You can see that at the beginning of the orange line I briefly ascended the fork of the Whitewater River that runs between Dragons Head Peak and the Vivian Creek Trail. By the time I left the Whitewater River the brush on Pi Peak had cleared. And this was very visible from the Whitewater River. It was what enticed me out of the Whitewater River and onto Pi Peak. I opted for the straight vertical ascent on solid ground over an unknown quantity (and steepness) of waterfall diversions.
Attempts to start lower on Pi Peak may run into thick bush. The Whitewater River was clear up until the point when I left it.
Hope this helps.
10/31/2017 at 1:19 pm #2072stbrnnrParticipant
Thanks both of you–Andrew, Chris–for assembling and sharing such epic beta, clips and images. Your routes are admittedly now beyond my own age-induced limits–but nevertheless, still inspiring! Given your evident strengths & inclinations shown here–have either of you attempted or considered doing the full Mighty U Traverse? Steve
10/31/2017 at 4:18 pm #2073
Thanks for posting. Yes I have read about the Mighty U Traverse. Looks like an incredible route.
I would need to invest in some lighter overnight gear for that route. Maybe a good reason to get that Zpacks backpack and tent I have been eyeing.
11/01/2017 at 7:36 am #2075chris in redlandsParticipant
I’ll have to give that a try. I’ve seen pictures of that piece of the Whitewater that you started up, and it looks like it might be worth staying low for a while just for the scenery, but I’d also probably head out onto the face/ridge as soon as the brush allowed. That brush on the southern flanks of Gorgonio just above the jumpoff is some of the most dense manzanita i’ve ever seen. I once (foolishly) tried to cut straight up through it. Got maybe 200 feet in an hour, and my feet never touched the ground…it was just stepping from one manzanita branch to another.
Your memory is correct on that rocky gully, and like your route, the brush on the adjacent face/ridge clears at a point (in this case, right where the brush becomes very dense in the gully bottom) and a route remains clear all the way up.
Hiking all the peaks of both the SBD divide and the yucaipa ridge would definitely be a couple of days for me, not one. If you’re looking to lighten your load, replace your tent with one of the many cheap ($20 or less) hammocks available these days. Coupled with a z-rest foam pad and quilt or sleeping bag, your entire overnight gear kit can easily be shaved down to less than 5 pounds, even 4 or less, and you can carry a much smaller pack. Of course, you’ll want a pretty flawless forecast. Good for any temperature, but not so good in the rain.
The bigger problem i’d think would be water. There is none, after limber pine, without pretty substantial detours.
07/27/2020 at 8:40 am #4487BrianDParticipant
Well hbandrew . . . You inpired us. And I write this to maybe inspire someone else looking for a great day of adventure. And honestly, I write to brag about my 14-year-old son, who is a beast and just an outstanding partner in the mountains.
My son, while looking for a good adventure for us, recently found your post describing your cross-country ascent up SG. Our last adventure, for Father’s Day, was to leave Lodgepole just after 2:00 a.m. and hit SG for the sunrise. Then we descended to hit Dragons Head and Bighorn, followed by a well earned nap around 10:00 a.m. in the middle of the Tarn. My son was enamored of the whole Tarn area and everything he could see to the south and east from Bighorn and Dragons Head. The only thing that bummed him out was he didn’t see any bighorns.
Two years ago we had done Millcreek Jumpoff to Galena Peak and monkeyed down the Yucaipa Ridge for a couple hours. (I might have been a slightly irresponsible dad taking a twelve year old up there, but I did make him wear a helmet!) He’s been curious since then about what is on the other side of the Jumpoff. And so have I.
When I asked him where he wanted to go for our hike on 7/25, he started exploring online and found your 2017 post describing the 100% off-trail hike to the summit of SG. That was it. So Saturday morning at 7:00 a.m., we set off to do just that.
We had your description in mind, and I think we followed your route pretty well, except for what ended up as our actual ascent of Pi Peak. The waterfall area along the SF Whitewater was as you described. It was beautiful but super difficult to negotiate–cliffed out, brush-choked, and crazy loose side-hilling. At first, we kept trying to just go up and around each waterfall individually so that we could see each one, as it is such a pretty area. This proved futile. So we decided we would just start up. This was the most difficult part of the day. It was very steep and loose, and impossible to get a view of anything but the cliff bands and walls of impenetrable brush above us. We just kept moving through any cracks we could find. Ultimately after much scrambling, we succeeded only in making it right back to the creek, above the waterfalls and where there is a split in the drainage–one fork continuing up between Dragons Head and the Vivian Creek trail, the other up Pi. We stopped and had lunch there, but not for long because we had burned a lot of daylight (and we had given Mom 9:00 p.m. as her worry point–i.e., don’t think about calling the Calvary unless you haven’t heard from us by then).
The drainage up Pi was steep and choked with boulders and brush. The sides were too steep and loose to escape the drainage and make a clean ascent. From below we could not get a clear sense if we could make it up the drainage. But at that point turning back was not an option, and we just resolved to find a way. It was slow going, but we again managed to find some narrow way through every time it looked like we would be denied.
Finally, things started to flatten out as we approached, what looked from below, the saddle between Pi and Dragons Head. It is an absolutely beautiful area. At that point my son goes “Dad look a deer!” My response: “that’s not a deer dude.” It was a female bighorn. My son’s day was made. We both felt a new burst of energy and spring in our step. We were pretty tired.
We came to the saddle and looked over. This is an amazing place. Look over the edge toward Bighorn, and hold on to your lunch–what a drop! We went back to Pi, just because, and then ascended from the saddle up to Dragons Head, and finally up to the summit of SG, crossing the Skyhigh Trail for our fully off-trail ascent.
We arrived at SG about 5:00 p.m. Then we trucked it out down the trail, conscious off our 9:00 p.m. deadline–got a few funny looks from people passing a kid on the trail with a skateboard helmet swinging from his pack. We made it back to the car about 8:30 p.m.
Two exhausted but happy hikers.
Thanks hbandrew for the inspiration!
07/27/2020 at 2:49 pm #4488
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