Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Mount Whitney Dirty Dozen Dirty Deed

View of the Lake Fire from space (Jeff Schmaltz/ NASA's LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response)

 Breaking news: As of July 16, 2015, Forsee Creek, San Bernardino Peak, Momyer, and Vivian Creek trails are now OPEN.  Any trail or road in the burn area (see last burn map marked "July 6" below) remains closed.  Hike 10 (San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek Trail) and 11 (San Bernardino Peak out of Angelus Oaks) of the Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen are now available.  Please stay out of the burn areas and be watchful for firefighters and apparatus on the roads.  Heavy fines levied for individuals or groups who do not heed the closures.


The Lake Fire still smolders in some places but has moved into recovery phase.   More information about recovery and the aftermath along with photos of the burn area can be found here

Those of us based in Southern California are following the sad news regarding the Lake Fire. To date, the fire has now stalled at 31,359 acres of pine forest, understory, and an iconic aspen grove in the Fish Creek area. The fire is now relegated to smoldering in some areas. There is some chance of mud flows in heavily burned areas. Hazardous conditions remain due to smoldering, stump holes, and other unstable ground.  Cause of the fire deemed "human activity" by USFS investigators.  However, no one can say for sure whether that activity was intentional or an accident.

For prospective Mt Whitney climbers, Hikes 10 and 11 of the Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen are now officially closed until at least October 1, 2015.  See closure map near the end with training alternatives..

Compare this burn map from June 18 with the later ones below (courtesy inciweb)

June 20. Note the relative positions of the Vivian Creek and San Bernardino Peak trails to the burn area.
June 23. The bold black line at the top of the burn is the containment line.  More than 50 percent of the South Fork route to San Gorgonio is gone.
June 26. Uh-oh
June 29.  Note increases in containment line and the fire's advance At the southernmost point
July 2. 70 percent containment.  No advance
July 6.  90 percent contained.  Only the most rugged areas have no fire line

The Vivian Creek route (hike 10) straddles the south slope of San Gorgonio while the fire blackened the north side pretty much up to the treeline. The fire did not effect the trail directly but the most recent map showed the flames jumping the ridge and burning east of the Vivian Creek trail.  The San Bernardino Peak route out of Angelus Oaks (Hike 11) lies farther to the west and completely unaffected as the flames spread east and south from the origin point near a summer camp off Jenks Lake Road. All trail routes through the San Gorgonio Wilderness are closed (CA Route 38, the trailhead access route, has been reopened).  Closures will be in effect until at least October 1, 2015.

Map showing extent of forest closure until at least October 1

Training alternatives:  

 If you want to complete your Dirty Dozen training, there is an alternative:  Climbing San Jacinto via the old pre-tramway route from the west side. The town of Idyllwild is the jump-off area. Heading out via Humber Park or Deer Springs trailhead will result in climbs of  about 17 miles round trip (though Harrison maps show them as longer) while gaining about 5,600 vertical feet. Both trailheads are good stiff tests that will augment your stamina buildup and leave you in good stead for your date with Mt Whitney. However, the loss of 800 vertical feet from San Gorgonio's 11,503 elevation means your immediate pre-Whitney acclimation routine for single-day or multi-day climbs will be even more important.

Start your climb early, as the lower elevations near town will heat up as the sun rises and swings over to the western slopes.

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  1. A few years ago I hiked to San Jac, from Idyllwild, via the Deer Springs trail. I recorded about nineteen miles rt, and don't remember the exact elevation gain, but think it was around 5100'.

  2. The Tom Harrison maps agree with you. In my experience, the Robinson books are a little short and Harrison's a little long. Regardless, it's a test similar to the San Gorgonio Vivian Creek route albeit at a lower elevation.


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