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


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