The Big Boy Trail

Vivian Trailhead to San Gorgonio Mountain via San Bernadino Peak
(20 miles, +7,800/-2,400 feet).

Today was my first ever “epic” hike.  I passed 20 miles for the first time, and climbed nearly 8,000 feet over the course of the day to scale the tallest mountain in southern California.

And who better to join me than my friend Chris, a marathoner engaging in a little cross (country) training?

We set our sights on the Momyer Creek Trail, an infrequently maintained trail that is not used much any more that goes straight up 3,200 feet in 4.3 miles.  That would put us up on the San Bernadino ridge above 10,000 feet, which we used to explore the area and then head towards San Gorgonio Mountain at 11,500 feet.

It takes a long time to do a big day, so we got an early start from San Diego and were at the trailhead ready to go by 7am.  We parked the car at Vivian Trailhead and we were originally planning to do the road walk down to Momyer Trailhead, but we decided to follow the river bed instead.  It was prettier, but slower.

This is going to take some time

Much of the land by the river is privately owned, so we had to be careful to find the right place to start up the mountain.  Around 9:30am we made it up to the wilderness boundary at 7,000 feet.

Into the wilderness

There were lots of pretty lupines along the trail.


Shortly after reaching the wilderness boundary, we found the turnoff for the no-longer-maintained Momyer Creek Trail.  There were lots of blow downs and the chaparral came in really close on many of the switchbacks.  I think Chris regretted wearing shorts because his legs got pretty scratched up.  It was also really steep.  And at one point I got attacked by about 100 ants.  We started calling it the “Big Boy Trail.”

One of the clearer parts of the Big Boy Trail

By 1pm we made it up to the San Bernadino ridge at 10,500 feet.  That’s 8.8 miles in 6 hours, a measly 1.5 miles an hour, but we had climbed 5,000 feet in the process.

Chris on the San Bernardino ridge
San Bernardino Ridge
Break time!

We decided to add some miles to the loop by heading west to San Bernardino Peak, where we ate some lunch.  Here’s Chris on San Bernardino Peak with San Gorgonio Mountain in the background:

What, we still have to go all the way over there?

In spite of its apparent flatness from below, the ridge is quite hilly, going up and down a few hundred feet here and there to get over several peaks on the ridge.  We also added some elevation change with a detour down to Trail Fork Springs to refill on water.  By 4pm we were down off the ridge at a saddle between San Bernardino and San Gorgonio.

Dollar Lake Saddle

As we followed the trail back up, I started really feeling the altitude. The tips of my fingers tingled, making the straps of my trekking poles somewhat uncomfortable.  I had been able to keep up most of the day (sort of) but on this part of the trail Chris got way ahead.

Come on buddy, you can do it

At one point he waved to me frantically from above.  I rushed to catch up with him and asked him what was wrong.  He pointed to another hiker below and said “I don’t like it when people pass me.”  Ha ha.  I think his marathoning was getting to him.

We let the hiker pass after a nice break and then continued our way up.

Chris waits for me

We stayed together the rest of the way up, which was great because the views started getting amazing and it was nice to share.

San Gorgonio view

We started seeing some snow patches around.  Nothing on trail, but it made for a nice photo op.


Around 6pm we finally made it to the summit.

Chris just below the summit
We made it!

It was cold and windy up there, so we found a protected place to eat dinner and text our wives that we had not died.

We are still alive

The sunset was indescribable.

San Gorgonio Mountain panorama
San Gorgonio Mountain sunset

We set up camp inside some protective walls.  There are several campsites on the summit where past hikers have built these walls.

There was no rain in the forecast, so we decided to cowboy camp so we could enjoy the stars.

It’s freakin cold!

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