san gorgonio mountaineering

Climb San Gorgonio from South Fork Trail and North Face

HIKE TO: San Gorgonio Peak 11,497 ft
TRAILHEAD: South Fork Trail
ROUTE: South Fork Trail > Dry Lake Trail > North Face Chute > San Gorgonio Mountain Trail
MILES: 14.87 miles
TIME: 8:53 hrs hike time + 1 night camp
DATE I WENT: 4/19-20/22
DIFFICULTY: moderate-strenuous
ELEVATION: 11,497 ft / 3,504 m
LOCATION: Southern California

Can you climb San Gorgonio Mountain?

You can climb San Gorgonio Mountain or hike to the summit. This trail is for experienced mountaineers looking to climb San Gorgonio as it requires ascending a snow-covered mountain chute and does not follow the South Fork summer trail hike the entire way to the summit of Mt San Gorgonio. This trip report is for climbing the North Face chutes of San Gorgonio later in the season with drier conditions for Spring mountaineering, not Winter mountaineering.

Climbing Conditions: We had the most ideal conditions for this climb in April 2022 – it was almost completely dry of snow from the trailhead to camp, then firm snow from Dry Lake camp up to the North Face chutes. The conditions on the chute were perfect Spring mountaineering conditions. The only thing that was much less than desirable was the insanely strong winds.

If you’re planning a Spring climb on Mt San Gorgonio this year, it’s been a heavy snowfall season so look up conditions beforehand and prepare for more snow on the trail in April 2023.

San Gorgonio Hike Permit

Permits are required for day hiking and overnight camping in San Gorgonio Wilderness. The permits are free but it’s limited, and you can pick them up at a ranger station near the trailhead before your hike or reserve them online up to 90 days in advance. We got ours at the Mills Creek Visitor Center the morning we drove to the trailhead.

South Fork Trail San Gorgonio

South Fork Trail to Dry Lake

We got an early start at 8:45 am on Tuesday morning because we thought this trail would be more strenuous than it actually was. There was less snow than we anticipated, which made hiking a lot quicker.

There is a big parking lot with plenty of spaces and an outhouse restroom. The South Fork trailhead starts across the street and is very flat as you pass through an open area with some old cabins. The trail then quickly ascends through a burned forest, providing no shade, as you enter the San Gorgonio Wilderness boundaries about 2 miles into the hike.

At 3.37 miles from the trailhead, we came to the Lost Creek Trail and Grinnell Ridge Camp junction. Continue straight to stay on the South Fork Trail to San Gorgonio. A quarter mile later, we were at the Dry Lake / Dollar Lake trail junction. The hike up to this point has only ascended 1,264 ft in 3.64 miles.

The trail then starts to ascend some switchbacks through the trees and we only came across two little snow sections; most of the trail up to Dry Lake was dry.

After 3 leisurely hours with long breaks, we arrived at Dry Lake (9,053 ft). This was 5.41 miles and 2,144 ft of elevation gain to the beginning of Dry Lake, and another quarter mile to hike to the end of Dry Lake. Dry Lake which was very dry.

Dry Lake San Gorgonio Campground

We found a flat, sandy spot nearby to set up camp and had the whole rest of the day to hang out and relax in the wilderness. We spent the afternoon laying out in the sun, chatting, and objectifying our route for the next morning. The goal was to get an early morning start, quickly climb the North Face to the summit of San Gorgonio, get back to pack up camp, hike out and make it back to LA in time for an evening at the beach.

We had an early dinner at 4:30 and went to bed early.

The winds were very strong at 55 mph which we felt while outside at camp but luckily we did not feel the wind too much from inside the tent.

San Gorgonio North Face Chute

The next morning, we got an early-ish start at 6 am. I normally don’t eat breakfast at home but when I know I’m going to do strenuous activity, I’ll eat a snack so my body has fuel to start. Well, I did not eat anything this morning and felt it immediately. I ate early the night before but felt full and bloated when I woke up so I didn’t even think to eat. However, as soon as we got moving, I felt sluggish.

[Wednesday, April 20, 2022] SUMMIT DAY – The Dry Lake Trail from camp started flat through the wilderness. This is when we first encountered snow. The hike approach from camp to the bottom of the North Face chutes we were planning to climb is about one mile with 2100 ft of elevation gain when there is snow. After following the obvious trail and heading up the Dry Lake Trail, you break off towards the right and b-line for the chutes.

San Gorgonio Winter Ascent / Spring Mountaineering

This approach took me a while, about an hour. I had a snack break later than I should have, after which my energy levels shot up. Then we also took some time to get our crampons on because the one I borrowed was not sized to fit my boot and I just didn’t think about that ahead of time. Always make sure to size your crampons at home before you head out on your climb.

Although it was Spring time, you should still prepare for winter conditions, especially if you’re going on a heavy snowfall year like 2023 is shaping up to be.

We chose to ascend the second chute from the left of San Gorgonio’s North Face. The snow was very firm and shaded on the bottom half as it was early before the sun rose too much.

The bottom of the chutes starts at roughly 10,150 ft but it was such a gradual incline and transition into the chute that I don’t know for sure where the chute officially starts. The steepness grade on the bottom half of the chute was so mellow (and that says a lot coming from a girl with a fear of heights like me) that I was able to climb it with just my crampons and not need my hiking pole or ice axe, both of which I had on me and got out for higher up.

We started up the chute at 7 am. The winds this morning were 20-30 mph and it felt fine until the top half of the chute where the mountain is more exposed – it got blustery cold. Luckily, the temps were not quite freezing yet and the sun was out up there so it wasn’t freezing.

Highest Mountain in Southern California

When we finally reached the top of the chute at 8:12 am, it was insanely blustery winds… like knock me off my feet kind of windy. I found myself leaning towards the winds so when I walked, I wouldn’t be blown over if that makes sense. The wind was also nonstop.

From the top of the chute, head left toward the summit. After a short flat-ish walk over some snow and rocks, we arrived at the top of the highest peak in Southern California – Mt San Gorgonio 11,497 ft. The entire journey from the trailhead to the summit is 7.5 miles with 4,499 ft of elevation gain.

After 35 mins at the top, we headed back the same way at 9:05 am, made it down to camp for a quick break and to pack up, then back to the trailhead by 12:54 pm.

san gorgonio south fork north face chute climb

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