I like big fat men like you. When they fall they make more noise !" — Tuco in The Good Bad & The Ugly
Falling was not an option on this epic winter route. The gullies were steep. (steeper near the summit) assuring trauma if we stumbled on descent.
The gullies as well as the surrounding slopes were subject to avalanche. The snow was not consolidated and the summit ridges above the gullies were corniced.
Rescue could not be dispatched until the following morning and a fallen climber would be left on the mountain for the night- chances for survival would be slim.
Twenty two miles and 16,000' of elevation gain/loss.
"If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." Lewis Carroll
My REI colleague and amiga Carlita left the Valley of the Sun Friday afternoon and arrived in Redlands, California five hours later.
The following morning we met Brian Hall.
Brian worked at REI in Phoenix but now lives in Southern California. Brian is a skilled, experienced mountaineer and would lead us to the promised land.
Where the Hell is Dry Lake?
At 7000' we lifted our fifty + lb. packs on our backs and started our trek at the South Fork trail head. Our tools included full crampons, ice axes and snowshoes. We left behind harnesses and rope .
Our base camp destination was Dry Lake, where we planned a Gorgonio South East ascent the next morning.
The weather conditions were great, we quickly shed layers and after two miles put on our snowshoes.
At a fork, we elected to follow some ski tracks and climbed to 9500' and dug out our snow camp. We had overshot Dry Lake.
During the snow melt operation we discovered that one of the fuel canisters was inoperable. This would put us short of water and cause us to turn back the next morning.
Brian studied the map and GPS data and a new plan was agreed upon. If we had enough fuel for water we would climb to a ridge line and survey the Jepson Peak bowl and make a decision on our plans there.
The fuel canister was put in the tent for the evening and successfully put into operation by switching stoves the next morning.
Morning has Broken
At the ridge line Brian surveyed the peaks and felt that getting back to Dry Lake would take too long for a Gorgonio ascent and that Jepson, although a very steep climb, was doable in our daylight time window.
At 11,205 feet Jepson Peak is the 2nd highest mountain in Southern California and offers some of the best snow climbs in Southern California. There are 3 main chutes or gullies that rise 1,300 vertical feet out of the Jepson Bowl on the north side of the mountain.
We chose to climb a spectacular ridge on the north side of the mountain from the Jepson Bowl directly to the summit.
The going was extremely strenuous.
"That which does not destroy me makes me stronger." (Nietzsche)
Carla climbing the North Face of Jepson Peak---"A Woman's Place Is on Top." — T-shirt from first American woman's ascent of Annapurna.
The view from Jepson was spectacular. We were all pleased with making this pure alpine climb.
Carlita quipped "Dry Lake-You Bastard" Although elated to get on top of Jepson, she was disappointed that she had not conquered Gorgonio. This was her second try. She had turned back last year during an adventure race. Gorgonio was unfinished business.
Brian surveyed the ridge line to Gorgonio and surprisingly announced that he thought that we could bag Gorgonio and get down in a daylight time window.
"Let's do it"
San Gorgonio Saddle/Jepson Peak
An hour later we hunkered down in a rock shelter on top of Gorgonio. The winds were bitter and strong.
MT. San Gorgonio, also known as "Old Greyback", at 11,490' it is the highest mountain in Southern California.
The goal had been met but the trek was only half done. Now we had to get down.
"Be careful when you go down a mountain. Remember, there's only one step but it's a big one !"
We headed back down the ridge line and Brian picked the safest route.
He went first and moved quickly but carefully. Crampons were balling up, so we had to rely on our footing and ice axe placements. This was really dangerous.
I followed and then Carlita.
Carla was spooked and moving tentatively but overcame her fear and made steady progress. We were both relieved when she joined us.
The rest of the descent went smoothly. We did some glissading.
Ancient bristlecone pines, (Pinus longaeva) the oldest known tree species in the world, peppered this exposed, windswept harsh environment. The oldest bristlecones usually grow at elevations of 10,000 to 11,000 feet.
At the bottom we looked up at the chutes, amazed of our accomplishment.
Brian's GPS gave us an inaccurate reading in the woods and we overshot our camp by climbing an unnecessary 600'.
Brian made the adjustment and led us into camp.
It was a beautiful sight.
The next morning we packed up and started out with snowshoes but quickly abandoned them. The snow had gotten quite slushy.
We were out in three hours.
"Well I woke up this mornin' and got myself a beer"--Jim Morrison (The Doors)
In Redlands, Brian took us to an old fashioned A& W where we gulped down draft root beers in icy mugs and devoured burgers & fries. It was paradise!
Carla the road warrior, drove all the way back to Phoenix that afternoon. I kept her awake by talking her ear off.
This was an outing, that none of us will ever forget.
Thanks to Brian for his patience, planning and expert execution.
Thanks to Carla for inviting me, and demonstrating admirable courage. She is one tough woman that more than held her own and defeated the fear within.
Thanks to both Brian and Carla for the time we shared.
Next year Brian has promised to put together a San Bernadino Ridge line trek----San Bernadino summit to San Gorgonio summit along the ridge line crossing East San Bernadino Peak, Anderson Peak, Shields Peak, Charlton Peak, Little Charlton, and Jepson.
Perhaps we will cross the wild new junction where skiing and mountaineering converge. I am thinking about a short, fat, light approach set of skis with alpine -touring bindings.
I would love to ski down one of those chutes. And I will.
Men, Women and Varmints Behaving Badly:
-A dirteeeeeeeee sweet toothed varmint that got into my food bag and ate my whole bag of cookies, leaving the rest of the food alone.
-The Sweet, innocent Carlita who again was using the vernacular of a truck driver.
-Dingo Dan & Zo who did not make this trip because they were afraid of their respective bosses-Richard & Jeanie
-Brian & Carla who were flaunting their new Patagonia "Puff"
jackets. Carla kept hugging hers like it was some small pet and mumbling something like "My Puff, My Puff-I Love You?"
-Carla for complaining about being down wind of Lobo and then stepping to the side and "tooted"
Why is it that women only toot? C'mon Carla you just plain farted!
A solo mountaineer/skier who said "right on" 15 times in the course of a 2 minute conversation.
Lobo and Carla for creating a scandal at their workplace by not only spending the night together in a cheap motel but spending 2 nights in El Lobo's den. (New Black Diamond FirstLight tent)
This could make the cover of one of the outside adventure tabloids!
Carla for claiming that she was not "hogging the tent" and that the ice floor was causing her to slide and take up most of the tent.
El Lobo spent his nights pinned to the wall of the tent.