Onyx Summit to Dry Lake
(19 miles, +4,000/-3,200 feet).
MixMaster and I were planning to head up to Kernville to do a Spring Hike/brewery combo today. But the road to Forks of the Kern Trailhead is still closed today with the monster snows we’ve had this year. So we decided to keep it local.
I looked on the NOHRSC website to see how much snow was left in our SoCal mountains, and I got pretty excited about Gorgonio. It looked like the snow line was about 10,000 feet, so it would be perfect to have a bit of a snow adventure doing a traverse of the San Bernardino Peak ridge to the west of San Gorgonio Mountain.
But I’ve made this mistake before!
It’s typical for the snow to be one or two thousand feet lower than the data show it to be. And that was certainly the case today.
We started at a lackadaisical 6am this morning from San Diego since the ranger station at Mill Creek did not open until 8am. We picked up our permit from a nice woman there who didn’t know much about the snowline. MixMaster was EXTREMELY entertained by the animatronic Smokey the Bear in the lobby.
We called an Uber and got our stuff together while we waited. Once he arrived, we explained to him that we needed to drop our car at the San Bernardino Peak trailhead and then needed a ride up to Onyx Summit. It was a lot of rigamarole, so we handed the driver an extra $20 for his trouble. He was a nice guy who worked for Pepsi and MixMaster and he geeked out on the NBA for a bit on the way to the trail.
He dropped us at the summit around 10am and as we got our stuff out of the car, we realized a few things. First, I forgot my hat! Second, I forgot my trekking poles! I was able to use my buff (and a ton of sunscreen) to substitute for a hat, but the trekking poles were sorely missed.
We also discovered later on that we had each brought along our microspikes, even though we decided to carry crampons and ice axe instead. D’oh!
Oh well. It’s a short trip so the extra weight is no big whoop, and I’m happy to try hiking with different gear.
We did the short road from the Summit up to the PCT and headed south.
It is full-on thru-hiker season and we were headed against the northerly flow, so we passed at least 30 hikers on our way to Mission Trail Spring.
After Coon Creek Cabin, the occasional patchy snow got a bit more intense. There were 100 foot stretches along steep drop-offs where I could have really used my trekking poles. Instead, I donned my ice-axe.
At Mission Trail Spring the stream was flowing, but the ubiquitous toilet paper nearby turned us away. Instead, we got water from the spring.
We then turned off the PCT and headed up into the Wilderness. We didn’t see anyone else the rest of the day.
The trail tended to follow steep north-facing slopes that were tedious to traverse in the snow, so we dropped down to Fish Creek and followed the stream up as far as we could before the snow covered everything.
We then went straight up a ridge, keeping to the lowest angle slope and avoiding more steep traverses.
After that we alternated between dry trail with southern exposures and off-trail ridge scrambles. There was only one sketchy spot where we put our crampons on
We originally planned to camp at Fish Creek Saddle at 9,800 feet. But it was obviously completely socked in with snow. We looked for a campsite below the saddle, but the terrain was everywhere too steep. So we donned our crampons and continued up. The evening chill was falling so the snow was crunchy on top and gave about an inch with each step — perfect for crampons!
As expected, there weren’t great places to camp at the snowy saddle. But the fading light was really gorgeous. We decided to push on down to Dry Lake. We followed a shallow ravine all the way through glowing snow-covered meadows. It was maybe the most beautiful half hour of hiking I’ve ever done.
We got to Dry Lake with just enough light to find a place to camp.
The one-or-two open sites were already taken by other hikers, but we found a level spot right on 15 feet of exposed trail where we could sleep without sliding into the lake. We set our tents up in the dark, warmed a lovely dinner, and collapsed in happiness.