Momyer Creek: The Long Way to San Gorgonio Peak

Every trail to the summit of San Gorgonio is long and hard. This one is longer and harder than all the rest.

Bec left me for a trip to Europe with some of her friends, so I had two weekends for exploits in the wilderness. I talked Wes and Liz into going with me up the Momyer Trail to San Gorgonio Mountain. We usually take Vivian Creek, which is a mostly straight shot, about 18.5 miles roundtrip with a 6,500-foot elevation gain.

Momyer Trail Quick Facts

  • Permit required

  • Most hikers overnight on this trip because of the distance

  • Hard

  • San Gorgonio elevation 11,503′

  • 5,390′ elevation gain

  • 18.5 miles up and back

Momyer is quite a bit further and more of an elevation gain. We wanted to do a loop, so we figured we’d start up Momyer and come down Vivian Creek, making about a 25-mile round trip. We started out on Saturday, May 20th, which was a beautiful morning. The stream had a lot of runoff, which made crossing it tricky, and once we were passed it, it was quite a bit of trudging.

Dollar Lake Saddle

At about the three-quarter point, we came to Dollar Lake Saddle, which is a box canyon. In the distance you can see a meadow, and you wonder how you’ll ever get out of this giant bowl with mountains surrounding you on three sides. Well, you basically just come straight out of it, and it’s pretty steep. That’s when we got to the snow.

Into the Snow

It was May and the snow drifts above Dollar Lake Saddle were 6 feet thick. The snow was hard compacted ice that was heavily sun cupped. It was incredibly difficult to walk on. There were a few moments when I thought, “You know what? I don’t know if this is worth trudging through. It’s wicked steep, we don’t have crampons, and we are all really tired.” We rested for a bit, then decided we would push on since the summit was “just over the top of that mountain” in front of us. We had snow spikes, which were just barely adequate for the task.

The trail disappeared completely and the terrain got steep. I wondered about the safety of the situation. We didn’t have ice axes so a slide could lead to serious injury. Some really stupid kids hiked past us up the mountain, so we decided to follow. What made them stupid is that they didn’t even have boots or spikes, they had soaked trail runners! I wondered if they were going to be OK when the temperature dropped to freezing that night. In the back of my mind I made contingency plans for how we might help.

We ascended what felt like 1,000 feet over a vertical snowfield. At the top, we hoped to find San Gorgonio just around the corner, but we didn’t.

The mountain we climbed was Jepson Peak (11,209 feet). We were pretty exhausted at that point and San Gorgonio was still a long way off. We trudged onward. We all felt close to our cardio limit, but we were so close. We pushed on. At that point, my 50lb pack felt like 100lbs. Surprisingly, little Liz seemed to be outperforming Wes and I from an endurance perspective. She is a lot tougher than she looks!

We finally reached the summit at about 6 pm. It had been a full 12-hour day of hiking. We arrived just in time for the sunset, which we watched while making a hot meal. The sunset cast a huge pyramid shadow down the valley so that it seemed to stand right next to San Jacinto Mountain across the valley toward Palm Springs.

A Bad Night’s Sleep and a Once-in-a-Decade Sunrise

I didn’t sleep well that night. I’ve never had a situation where I’ve gone from 1,500 feet to over 10,000 feet and slept well. My body just can’t adjust that quickly.

I woke up at 4am and stuck my head out of my bivy. Wow. It was cold and there was only a light breeze. There was a brilliant moon and the oranges and reds of first light were beginning to glow. First light lasted for 90 minutes with the moon visible. I wasn’t sleeping well anyway, so I stayed up and watched the long, beautiful sunrise. You only see a sunrise like this a few times in your life. In moments like these, you completely forget you had a crappy night’s sleep. It’s as if the beauty of the moment you are in replenishes all of what the long night drained from you.

In moments like these, you completely forget you had a crappy night’s sleep. It’s as if the beauty of the moment you are in replenishes all of what the long night drained from you.

It took Wes and Liz some time to get up that morning, so I took a lot of pictures. After we ate breakfast, we packed up camp and went to the summit marker to take a picture. We were so tired when we arrived that taking a summit picture was the last thing on our minds.

Descending nearly 12 miles to the car was pretty grueling. We were all pretty tired. When we got to the Vivian Creek trailhead (usually where we left the car) we still had three more miles of walking on asphalt road in 90-degree heat to get to the Momyer trailhead. We were totally spent by the time we got to our car.

Still, the funniest thing was when Liz exclaimed, “That was the most awesome adventure ever!” Most of the trip involved a lot of suffering, carrying a heavy pack up steep slopes, and wondering if we had the strength to get to the next steep slope. Yet when you arrive at the car, something magical happens and you tell yourself, “That was an amazing adventure.”

Most of the trip involved a lot of suffering, carrying a heavy pack up steep slopes, and wondering if we had the strength to get to the next steep slope. Yet when you arrive at the car, something magical happens and you tell yourself, “That was the most amazing adventure.”

I slept in my bivy sack that night. The bivy usually does well, but I sold it after that trip. It was an Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy. It was okay, and it kept me warm and safe from the wind, but it was so confining, almost like sleeping in a body bag. I’m going to opt for a bit more room in my sleeping arrangement on the next trip.

Trail Map


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Elevation Profile

Permits

You can get a permit in person at the Mill Creek Visitor Center, or by submitting a permit application at least 5 days in advance by fax or email. You can download a permit application at the links below. Permit availability is subject to quotas. The phone number for the Visitor Center is (909) 382-2882.

Download Day Hike Permit Download an Overnight Hiking Permit

 

Mill Creek Visitor Center

Momyer Creek Trailhead

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