A Surprisingly Beautiful Low Route

Dry Lake to San Bernardino Peak Trailhead
(18 miles, +3,000/-6,100 feet).

When we woke up this morning, we finally got to see a little better where we ended up in the dark last night.

Not bad!
The view from our dry spot

Oh well.  We were pretty careful to avoid vegetation and I packed out an old tent pole we found nearby to try to make the spot better than we found it.

We weren’t sure what the day had in store for us.  I still wanted to do the traverse across San Bernardino Peak Ridge, but man there was a lot of snow!  We decided to monitor our postholing as we traversed over to Dollar Lake and then make a decision there.

The meadows above Dry Lake were easy walking on crunchy snow.

Charlton Peak
A snowy shadowy ussie
Stately sentinel
Making our way around Charlton
I could get used to this

The traverse got a little steep about half mile from Dollar Lake, and we ended up descending a bit to avoid the worst of it.  There were vast open slopes where I’m sure there have been skiers this season, and the morning sun was making the snow more and more slippery.

A snowy slope
MixMaster heads upward

Dollar Lake was a slight disappointment.  But the view up to the ridge was pretty.  We sat for breakfast and conferred on our plans.

Dollar Lake

The San Bernardino Ridge is probably still covered in at least a couple feet of snow, and we were starting to posthole occasionally, so we decided it would be a miserable slog in these conditions.  Looking at the map, we found a series of trails below 8,000 feet that would allow us to circumnavigate the ridge on its northern side and rejoin it at Manzanita Springs.

We followed the ridge down from Dollar Lake.  It took us a while to find dry ground again.

Still snowy
Even at 8200 feet

It was weird to be back on clear trail.  We removed our crampons and I put my ice axe away.  This part of the trail went through the massive burn area from the 2015 Lake Fire.

Dry trail
Snow to ash?
San Gorgonio Mountain

We took a nice break on appropriately-named Poopout Hill where there were benches for ranger talks.

Poopout Hill

We then took a series of trails and forest roads between South Fork and Forsee Creek Trailheads to get over to the trail to John’s Meadow.  We occasionally improvised some cross-country to connect the dots.

Connecting the dots
Trail to John’s Meadow

The trail to John’s Meadow was really pretty!  I actually felt a little vertigo on it because it was almost continuously carved into steep hillsides with views of the mountains south of Big Bear to the north.

View from the trail to John’s Meadow

We got water from John’s Meadow and then proceeded up an unmaintained trail to the ridge near Manzanita Springs.

Crossing at John’s Meadow

The snow came back around 7,500 feet, where we donned our crampons for the rest of the climb up to 8,400 feet.

The San Bernardino Peak ridge
Almost there!
Made it!

It was 5pm and I was exhausted.  We originally planned to camp at Columbine Spring, but there was a lot more snow here than I expected (that’s the theme for the trip!).  We sat to decide what to do when we both suddenly felt a chill.

What’s up with the weather?

We decided to check.

Turns out, an unexpected storm is rolling in!

And guess what else I left behind on this trip?

My rainjacket!


We decided to trade an extra two hours of hiking for 15 degree windchills and a few inches of snow.  But we literally weren’t out of the woods yet.  The trail below 8,000 feet was carved into the northern face of the ridge and so it was (shock!) surprisingly snowy.

Okay, let’s do this
Lingering snow through the chaparral

I was really, really worried about some particularly steep switchbacks coming up.  But it wasn’t too bad, and by the time we got to the steepest part we were able to do some cross-country to avoid it.

Soon it was luxurious dry trail the rest of the way down.

Bye bye San Gorgonio
See you next time

We made it back to the car and found a Vons on the way home to San Diego for salad and cold soup.  No one there could figure out how to use the microwave in the bakery, so I was full of freezing food (I started shivering!) but I zipped up my puffy and donned my hood and soon I was back to normal.

By 10pm I was at home in my shower, and by 10:10pm I managed to collapse into bed.

Nighty night!

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