Distance: 16.5 Miles | Time: 9.5 Hours | Elevation Gain: 4700 Ft
At 7am on a Saturday, we turned off a bumpy dirt road into an empty San Bernardino trailhead parking lot in Angelus Oaks. Three other cars with two groups of hikers arrived at exactly the same time as us. The trailhead was a little tricky to find but we followed SoCal Hiker's directions exactly and had no problems. (Note: a vehicle Adventure Pass and a hiking permit is required.) A quick stretch after the one-hour drive and we were the first ones to hit the trail. Since the trail starts at 5800 ft, nice views of the San Gabriels and the mountains toward Big Bear can be seen pretty early on. Surprisingly, the San Gorgonio Wilderness sign above is found approximately 2 miles into the hike and not at the trailhead. The first mile into the hike was shaded, but as we climbed higher and the morning sun started to creep its way through the trees, the trail lit up and looked magical!
Hoku obsessing over what seems to be a really fascinating scent in that rock crack.
After making our way up through a forest of pines and firs, we finally arrived at Manzanita Flat, a relatively open segment of the trail that led us through manzanita and scattered pine trees. We found a small clearing and took a quick break to eat our second breakfast of the day at 9am. We'd only been hiking for two hours up until this point but had already burned a ton of energy on the initial climb and needed something to settle our growling tummies. We checked the Map My Hike app David downloaded to his phone that used GPS to track our route and it had us at 3.21 miles in, almost to the halfway point!
After passing through Manzanita Flat, the trail starts climbing once again out of the Yellow Zone and into the Lodgepine Zone. According to Modern Hiker, the Jeffrey pines, sugar pines and white firs from the first half of the hike are replaced by lodgepole pines and limber pines, which apparently are known for having very flexible, bendy branches. Although we had seen some smaller patches of snow at lower altitudes, it was here that we started seeing larger patches covering the trail. We eventually reached the Limber Pines campground, which marks the 2/3 of the way up, and continued onwards.
At a certain point, we eventually caught up to a group of 3 guys that had passed us on the way up while we had stopped to eat. It was here that the trail had all but completely disappeared under snow and the only way forward was up a steep snowy incline. Some of them didn't have poles or spikes and decided to turn around. We had poles and no spikes, but that never stopped us before, so we carefully started up the snowy slope in our regular hiking shoes, following a solo hiker named Eric who was planning an ambitious hike up to San Bernardino and then along the ridgeline to San Gorgonio. We eventually found the trail again but staying on it was tricky. Most parts were heavily snowed over and the parts that weren't were hard to locate. We were afraid of getting lost in the mountains and not being able to find our way out but we just kept climbing on, fueled by the thought of standing on the summit, which was so close we could taste it!
It was also on this climb that Hoku discovered that snow was the most delicious thing on earth and became seriously obsessed with licking/eating it. We thought he might have been thirsty so tried to give him some water, but he didn't want to drink it. The little weirdo just wanted to lick the snow!
After some seemingly endless trudging through snow, this magnificent view from Washington's Monument emerged and made it all worth it. The peak to the left is San Gorgonio, the tallest mountain in Southern California and the peak that's a little harder to see in the distance beyond Yucaipa Ridge is San Jacinto. To the south, we could see almost all of the Inland Empire and the Palomar Mountains of San Diego in the far distance.
Hoku and his super serious hiking game face with San Gorgonio (left) and San Jacinto (right) behind us.
Despite the ice and snow and a practically nonexistent trail near the top, we made it to the summit! 10,649 ft, our highest peak to date! Unlike other hikes we had done previously, the views from the San Bernardino summit were not the best views of the entire hike due to some obstruction by the tree line. (The most spectacular views were at Washington's Monument.) Nonetheless, we took off our packs and immediately signed the trail register with "Jen, David & Hoku the Shiba Inu 04/18/15 1:04pm." We then wasted no time chowing down on a well-earned lunch while enjoying the company of 3 other (very seasoned) hikers that summited together with us. Two of these hikers we met right after Washington's Monument, which was a surprise to us as we hadn't seen them pass us on the trail. They had actually gotten lost at around 8000 ft and incredibly trailblazed themselves an off-trail, straight-shot, shortcut route to Washington's Monument! We all hung out and chatted at the top for about 45 minutes before starting our return journey.
Hoku and his king of the mountain moment, standing on the pile of rocks at the summit!
To the west of us was a pretty incredible view of Big Bear Lake. We were so high up that we were actually looking down into lake which sits at about 7000 ft.
On the way down, we stopped to chat with some folks who had set up camp at Limber Pines. The people we meet on our hikes are seriously the friendliest, happiest people on the planet. We talked about all the cool local trails while Hoku decided to lie down and reflect on the meaning of life after his typically failproof food-summoning stare didn't quite work on a camper with beef jerky.
The rest of the trip down was actually quite pleasant thanks to a gradual, smooth downhill, a relief for my feet which usually takes a beating on descents. We finished the hike late in the afternoon much later than we had anticipated due to the snow cover and time spent hunting down the trail. San Bernardino is officially one of the most beautiful hikes we've ever done but it is a serious trek, especially if there is snow. At the end of the day, we bagged our third summit in the SoCal Six Pack of Peaks, our tenth hike in the 52 Hike Challenge and made a new friend (Eric with the red backpack). San G, we're coming for you!