Peak(s):  San Bernardino Peak - 10,649
Date Posted:  04/17/2019
Date Climbed:   04/13/2019
Author:  nyker
 SoCal Delight, San Bernardino Peak   

San Bernardino Peak Trip Report, Spring snow climb

Elevation: 10,649ft

Roundtrip: ~16 miles

Vertical gain +4,967ft

I attempted this mountain last December. Back then, I was met with heavy fresh snow from a recent storm and without snowshoes, it made for slow and arduous postholing experience, if not just “undoable” as a daytrip.

Given that it was supposed to consist of a long approach with no visible route after 8,500ft or so, was difficult to navigate in fresh untrammeled snow, made tougher by the lower daylight in mid-December so after several hours of two steps up, one step sliding down in thigh/waist deep snow, I turned around. This was my next attempt and I was better prepared this time.

San Bernardino Peak is located in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in Southern California, part of the quartet of tall SoCal peaks towering over the desert, the others being San Gorgonio, San Antonio and San Jacinto mountains, the latter being located across Route 10 near Palm Springs. It’s a shapely mountain with nice lines, standing watch over its namesake city and prominently visible from the main highway.

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It's the prominent peak in the center

Despite the trailhead being only 90 minutes from greater Los Angeles in a popular hiking area behind a town, I was surprisingly again alone on the route, and aside from some gusty winds, it was a perfect weather day. Morning temperatures were warmer, about 30*F lower down, and high teens to 20*F on the upper reaches of the mountain.

A permit (free) is needed that you can get from the Mill Creek Ranger Station/Visitor Center in Mentone.

The Climb

The main route begins from the Angelus Oaks trailhead, hidden away from the road by an unpaved forest road a mile or so behind a small community on the winding road enroute to Big Bear Mountain, a popular ski resort in season.

The trailhead is at an elevation of 5,960ft so some simple math tells you there is some decent vertical gain to be had on this route, roughly + 4,700-5,000ft depending on exact route you follow. The main route from Angelus Oaks starts like many other SoCal peaks on a nice flat trail switching back into an aromatic pine forest.

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old gnarled pine from another era

Towering pines line the route

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Today, patchy snow started around 7,200ft but didn’t really become consistent until about 8,300ft, after which coverage was 100%, though melting fast lower down given the warm day which reached in 40s pretty quickly, but with the winds, I kept three layers on most of the morning.

In the early morning, traction of some sort would help here, in the afternoon it was soft enough for just boots.

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Views of the mountains to the North and verdant valleys below frame early windows on the landscape

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After some more hiking through the lower forest on a nice trail, you’ll come to a clearing where surrounding mountains can be seen

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You’ll dip back into the forest a bit longer than re-emerge onto subalpine terrain in full snow coverage as you start ascending in earnest.

Footprints are mine, pic taken on the descent

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The famous Mount Baldy becomes visible to the northwest

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Once the snow was fully covering the mountain, no trail or route is visible, so this would be a good place to mark your way with waypoints or keep an eye out for landmarks on your map.

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Bluebird all day with Sierra-like skies

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The landscape is beautiful up here. I believe the lake just beginning to be visible is Big Bear Lake. This mountain reminded me of climbing in the Adirondacks in Spring since the peak is covered in deep snow, yet you’re still in a forest, below treeline.

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Adirondack-like terrain

The route to take is to climbers left in the pic below:

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Behold, several footprints appear out of nowhere. There are other trails around this mountain that intersect in a few places.

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Mount Baldy view again with ancient pine

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Sand dune-esque

This pic below was the snow scene in December and the spot where I had had enough and turned back on that first attempt. For scale of snow depth, those are 120cm poles covered almost to the handles.

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Deep

As you climb up the rugged flanks of the mountain, the angle steepens considerably. Was happy to have my axe and crampons here and not just spikes since in the morning before 9:00am this was pretty hard from the melt cycle. Coming back down, when I took this pic, it was much softer.

Shallow penitente formations were seen around the mountain

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As you climb higher, the forest thins out and the climbing becomes fun and more direct, point-and-shoot climbing to the ridge, no trail or visible route, just deadreackon and go, reach point B and readjust direction.

In the morning the snow was perfect for crampons and purchase was great.

The term and title "Freedom of the Hills" came to mind...

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Up up up

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Some clean chutes appear on seemingly virgin snow

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While there are no precipitous cliffs to contend with, there are plenty of spots where you don’t want to slip and fall which would result in a slide of hundreds of yards down the mountain on ice and hard consolidated snow. Given the snow conditions, there was little to no avalanche risk (and hadn’t been for several weeks prior, based on a few conversations I had with the Ranger in recent weeks). I was thinking how fun Whitney would be to do again in snow like this.

The final approach to the summit (note there is a small false summit you’ll reach before the summit proper), but this false summit is pretty tame.

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Almost there...

Grand views of San Gorgonio Mountain, also a wonderful climb in itself

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And…Mount San Jacinto across the Valley

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With both peaks from the summit of San Bernardino Peak, taking a rest break

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Alpine meditation

Summit panorama!

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In short, this was a fantastic snow climb with a then solid + 3,000ft snow climb (of a total gain of +5,000ft) with some nice long chutes added in for some great cramponing in a beautiful person-free wilderness area. Later in the day this would not have been too much fun given the quickly softening snow, so if you opt to climb this, and want to do in snow, do it early leaving the trailhead before sunrise for best snow conditions.

This report is also the first report ever where I used only my cell phone to take photos, so forgive me if the pics are not up to my normal standards!

Notes -

* The road to the trailhead can get rough but was ok with my crossover rental car. There was one spot that might stop a lower clearance car.
* The lower elevations in midday were getting warm, soon rattlesnakes could appear...
* I didn't see any flowing water on the mountain, there might be once the snow melts, but for now, it's all frozen and you'll need to bring your own
* If you have more time, you can connect a few peaks together once on the summit of San Bernardino, or better yet if you have a partner, park another car at one of the far off trailheads and do a multi-peak one direction hike.
* There are mountain lions in the area from what I was told, but I didn't see any sign of any
* Enjoy this beautiful area!




Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):
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Comments or Questions
shelly+

strange how.....
04/18/2019 12:59
that Sierra-like sky reminds me of somewhere else....

lovely report!!


nyker

Thanks!
04/18/2019 13:29
hmmm, where were you thinking?? :-D


seano
Nice work!
04/18/2019 13:47
It has been awhile since I was down there. The SoCal mountains get surprising amounts of snow, not to mention amazing rime from time to time.


nyker

True!
04/18/2019 16:04
The crazy thing is one year ago I was on San Jacinto and it was bone dry



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