Distance: 16.5 Miles | Elevation Gain: 4700 Ft | Campsite: Limber Pine Bench
San Bernardino Peak left quite an impression on us back in 2015, and ever since then, we've dreamed of returning to our favorite trail and camping at Limber Pine Bench. So we figured, what better way to kick off the first weekend of 2018 than by crossing off a long-awaited bucket list item. Warmer weather and snowless conditions in the mountains just so happen to mean excellent cool weather hiking, so while my heart still yearns for snow here in Southern California, I admit that this was a pretty good silver lining.
We arrived at the trailhead parking lot around 8:30am and hung up our Adventure Pass on the rearview mirror. Wasting no time, David and I strapped on our 45 and 25 lb packs, respectively, and hit the trail with the goal of taking as few breaks as possible. We hoped to power through to Limber Pine Bench and have enough time to set up camp and reach the summit by afternoon. Our pace was slow but steady, and we were pretty proud of ourselves for being able to keep up with the three day hikers that began a few minutes ahead of us.
By the time we reached Manzanita Flat, the wind had picked up significantly and we could see some dark clouds rolling in. Eventually the sun disappeared completely and we made a quick stop to put on our beanies and gloves. The last 2 miles from Columbine Spring to Limber Pine Bench was rough and seemingly never-ending, but the thought of pitching our tent and eating lunch was just enough motivation to keep us moving onward.
When we finally arrived at a foggy Limber Pine Camp (9200'), we immediately started scoping out campsites and decided on a little spot protected by a small man-made rock wall and a tall pine tree. By the time the tent was pitched and our bear bin was put away, the gusts had gotten so strong that it was impossible to stand up straight. Another wind-blown group of campers arrived shortly after us and it was pretty reassuring to know that we'd have neighbors to spend the night with.
It's pretty amazing how much comfort and sense of protection even a thin-walled tent can offer and we felt instantly better once inside and cozied up in our sleeping bags. We decided that it'd probably be best to hit up the summit the next morning and hoped our fellow day hikers, who had continued on beyond Limber Pine, were doing all right. So then we waited. Waited to the pitter patter of dew falling from the pine needles above us with Hoku curled up at our feet, laughing at the fact that we chose to be on this cold, gusty mountain while our perfectly insulated and heated home sat empty 65 miles away. But then again, there was no where else we'd rather be.
Around 7pm, we left the tent to retrieve the bear bin for dinner. It was getting dark and the fog was still rolling in but our yellow tent shown bright like a beacon of hope. I hadn't zipped up the door completely, knowing we'd only be gone for a minute but lo and behold, we see our little escapee waiting for us outside the tent. (Can you spot him?) I don't blame him for having tent-fever though.
After a chicken teriyaki dinner made with our handy Jet Boil, David went outside to put our bin away and immediately called me outside. The wind had died down and the clouds had finally parted to reveal the magnificent city lights below us. We sighed with relief, knowing that we'd have a relatively peaceful night ahead of us and crossed our fingers for even clearer skies in the morning.
After a frigid evening in the low 20's, we woke up to find that dew had frozen on our tent. To say it was difficult to leave our warm sleeping bags to step out into the brisk morning air is an understatement, but these sunrise views made it all worth it.
With breakfast and coffee in our bellies, we put all our things inside the tent and started the final 2.2 mile trek up to the summit, feeling light as a feather with just our day packs.
The overlook bench just before Washington's Monument offers the best views of the entire hike, but the short ridge line segment between the monument and the summit is a close second favorite. Finally, just a few steps from the summit, we let Hoku take the lead and he was first to reach the top.
↑ It's always fascinating to see Big Bear Lake (sitting at 6700') just the next mountain away.
We returned to a sunny campsite with clear views of the surrounding mountains and the city below. It could not have been a starker contrast to the sight we arrived to the day prior. Hoku took full advantage of the warmth and basked away in the sun while we dried and packed up our tent. After saying a bittersweet farewell to our camp home, we strapped on our monstrous packs once again hoping to gain some sense of comfort from the fact that at least we were carrying less water. But with aching muscles still tired from yesterday's grueling ascent, it honestly didn't feel very much different. (Dare I say, heavier, in fact.) We left Limber Pine at noon and returned to the trailhead at 2:30pm, ignoring our sore toes and keeping a brisk pace fueled by Haribo gummy bears. Hoku was a little slower than usual, but kept up with us and finished the hike like a champ, making us proud and proving that our 7-year old pup still got it in him.