Mt. San Gorgonio Trail Run / Hike via Vivian Creek 8-11-13

I’ve done my share of tough trail runs that turn into hikes at some point and I have done some cool backpacking trips that I wonder just how fast I could have moved if I wasn’t under such a heavy load. With all that said, the Vivian Creek Trail to the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio is TOUGH.

I went into this thinking I can run 7 miles up Mt Baldy in under 2 hours without it being my top effort. I should be able to run / hike San Gorgonio at least at 3 miles per hour pace Making this a 6 hour trip. Once again mother nature bitch slapped me. The first mile took 21 minutes, without stopping, and that includes starting from the trailhead, so it all wasn’t straight up.

Once you cross the riverbed, it goes straight up. One of the toughest miles I have gone up. It took us 21 minutes and my calves were on fire. I knew then the day might be a little longer than I originally planned. With one or two minute stops to shoot some video the miles were averaging 22 minutes. When we reached the two hour mark we were at mile 5.2 and the day would get slower from there.

The altitude hit me around 9,500 feet of elevation. My heart rate would not lower and could hear my pulse. I figured it was better to slow down and play it safe. I live close to sea level. I was up there without any acclimation. By 10,000 feet the trail was getting steeper again and the next mile was difficult. In fact, Norma, a lady I met on the mountain, said it was the steepest part of the trail. I think the first mile is steeper but you are moving at 11,000 feet of elevation and the air is thinner. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and it was good enough to pass people.

The last 500 feet of elevation gain felt easier. Maybe I was getting used to the altitude but the trail did flatten a little. I tried to jog but my heart rate raced up again so I walked quickly to the summit.

It was a perfect day. The summit is know to be cold and windy. From what I read, people stay 10 – 15 minutes then head back down. When we got there and over the next 45 minutes 33 people ending up partying on the summit at 11,503 feet. One local said it was the most people she had ever seen up there at one time. We ate, took pictures with the San Gorgonio sign, walked around and enjoyed the view for almost an hour. Feeling refreshed we started to head back down.
Four hours up so we figured 3 hours down. We ran the runable sections. It quickly became a quad pounding experience. We felt bad because we would pass people take a break, they would catch us then we would pass them again, requiring them to move over and let us pass them again. After 2 miles down we limited out breaks and ran the next 5 miles.

We passed these two quick hikers then a mile later they were in front of us again. They had done this hike a few times and knew “legal shortcuts”. That one probably saved them a half mile. We followed them down the next one. It was probably the old trail and it did save us a little time but it was steep, no running.

With 2 miles to go our 3 hour guess was going to be fairly accurate. We were moving right around a 17 minute mile pace until we hit 1.5 to go. About here is where the trail gets extremely steep with loose rocks and a cliff on one side of the trail. This was the toughest mile for me because my toes were jamming into the front of my shoes, my legs felt like mile 26 of a marathon and the riverbed looked way down there. We moved as fast as we safely could. We could almost taste the beer that would be waiting for us at a Mexican restaurant down the road in Forest Falls.

We made it down in 3 hours and 6 minutes. Overall a fantastic day. It was great to do it some good friends, Paul and Henry. I was doing it as a training hike for my trip to Mt Whitney later the year. We had a beer and got home hours later than I expected but it was totally worth it,

Here are some take-aways: Always be prepared. The hike is a full 18 miles round trip with over 5,000 feet of climbing. Add at least 2 hours to what you think your fastest time would be. Climbing mountains is always harder than I think. I took 132 ounces of liquid and drank close to 100. I bought three layers of shirts and used two of them. Remember, it was perfect day. I used lots of sunscreen. I wish I had more “real” food like sandwiches and fruit. I came back with some trail trash but overall the trail was clean, thank you hikers. Mt Whitney here I come.

My Garmin data is below. I must have bumped the stop button on the way down so basically I only have the climb but that’s what matters. It has the elevation 400 feet lower than what it says on its own map. Go figure. Moving time just over 3 hours up, check “View Details” in the lower right corner of the Garmin data box below. I feel pretty good about that.

Train Focused, Steve Mackel – In Training for Mt Whitney

San Gorgonio Hike

(Gary, Anna, and Brandon on the top of San Gorgonio. And
yes it was cold…36F at 11900 feet.)

Just the littlest efforts turn into major accomplishments. This has been my theme lately. Just start. Pick a goal and go for it. What’s the worst thing that can happen when you try?

Like going to the top of San Gorgonio. I did a little blog post the other day proposing a hike to the top of Southern California’s highest summit. I didn’t get too many takers. Maybe the 14-15 miles part of the description intimidated a few people. Okay. Let the truth be told…I’m a sandbagger. Sometimes…every now and then…I say hikes/runs/yoga classes will be easy…when they’re not.

It’s good for you to try these difficult endeavors. And you put so many limitations on your mind sometimes that prevent you from even trying.justtry.jpg

So Anna and Brandon signed up. They both are experienced marathoners so I figure they’d do great up the mountain.

While most of LA was heading to the stores to shop on Black Friday, after a late start (another story), we drove up to the Ranger Station to get a permit. The fact was the hike, Vivian Creek Trail, was 8.6 miles one way! All uphill. It was going to be long day!

San Gorgonio Base Camp

The first two miles were steep! I began ChiRunning up the mountain and was promptly told to slow down by my hiking partners. Thanks Anna for the reminder to enjoy the journey.

The hike was demanding. I will not sandbag my report. The altitude. The never ending switch backs. The many false summits. About 4/5 up the mountain, Brandon and I started dragging. We were still moving, one foot in front of the other. Deep breaths. But the idea of ChiRunning had stopped about 2000 feet lower for me. Then Anna yelled something motivational which I can’t even remember and it wasn’t too motivational for me but for her. And she took off.

Left us. We couldn’t barely even see her. Okay she can run a marathon in under four hours but where did she get this mountaineering strength from? Well, one thing about long hikes with people is find out things about them. Interesting Anna Fact 1: in college, she leg pressed 450 pounds!!!! 450!!!! She emphatically told me it was “just leg pressing not a squat”, but still…you gotta be kidding me.

Brandon, I found out as we were both sucking air at about 11000 feet, has already run four marathons this year. And was doing this hike a week before the Las Vegas Marathon. Ambitious considering this was his first major mountain he’s climbed.

(The final push to the summit)

I finally caught my second wind (actually more like my fourth) and caught up to Anna. We came up to the summit together, signed our names in, and marveled at the views…Lake Arrowhead, the desert, magnificent San Jacinto, miles and miles of pine trees. Brandon warriored on joined us shortly. We ate lunch huddled in the rocks as it was 36 F up there! I thought my nose was going to fall off from the cold wind.

The summit is at 11900 feet. The highest point in Southern California.

Then we came down the mountain. Half hiking. Half ChiRunning. Finished the hike in the dark to an almost full moon.

This hike was demanding and long. But worth every step of the way. It’s a must do for Southern California hikers. And its only about 1.5 hour drive to Redlands from Long Beach.

Needless to say. We were all injury free. Tired when we got back to the car, but feeling very proud at our efforts.

I want to thank you both for the fine company that day. I could not have asked for better hiking companions. You are both strong warriors who know that you must keep on going to accomplish these athletic endeavors. Thanks for giving this mountain a try. And pulling it off!gorgoniogary.jpg


Post Thanksgiving Hike


I’m hiking up San Gorgonio on Friday Nov 23 after Thanksgiving.

This will complete the big three in Southern California this year
for me…Baldy, San Jacinto, and now I just need Gorgonio.

Gorgonio is the tallest mountain in Southern California.

My dream in life is to have a mountain in my backyard.
And here is one! Just waiting for me to see his beauty.

Gorgonio was my introduction to mountaineering about nine years
ago. I do remember the tall trees and the awesome views
from the top. There is nothing, I repeat nothing like climbing
a mountain to refresh your spirits.
But after running marathons, I think that a marathon is more
difficult. So don’t be intimidated. You can do it.

Initial plans:

Early hiking start 8:00 a.m
Vivian Creek Trail
14-15 miles roundtrip
More details to come.

Should take all day and will work off all your Thanksgiving
dinner calories.
If you’re interested call me at 310 508 7133. I’d love some
hiking company.
Or contact me on my email at


Live your life to the fullest!

Top of San Jacinto!

First beach runners mountain of the season.
While events in the country make us reflect on the meaning of life…

To me it means get out into nature with good friends

Catalina Marathon finishers and Beach Runners Sandy and Sindy…

Notice the three inches of snow that dumped on us Sunday morning.

Sandy and Sindy are scheduled to do the ultramarathon in Big Bear in June.

Who else is in?


The Narrows – Zion, Utah



At H(om)e!

Originally uploaded by Gary Smith.

One of the best hikes in America. 16 miles of hiking down
a river filled canyon. Took us two days and many times
it was so amazing both Steve and I were at a loss
for words. (Not easy to do).

Check out our narrows slideshow here.

Utah is God’s Country