Hiking In Southern California

Santiago Peak - 3rd January 2017.

Santiago Peak stands at 5,689ft (1,734m), it’s the first proper peak I’ve gotten to see after many visits to California. My closest friend, who I luckily get to visit in California, lives right in Santa Ana mountain range which makes it a super accessible peak for me to summit. I have been going to California for years & to this day I ask myself“Tristan, why have you never done this before?” Well now I have! 

I think the reason being was that I didn’t have the confidence, idea or really the motivation to do it. After retiring from professional ice hockey, focusing on the mountaineering aspect of my life I have gained a whole new perspective & respect for how much beauty we are surrounded by, even in clustered cities. Getting heavily involved in the mountaineering industry, I have become much more confident with navigation, long summer/winter day treks, more aware of the correct gear to bring & in general just being more prepared for the outdoors. 
I made a promise to myself that I was going to try summit 3 mountains while I was in Southern California.  Santiago was my first attempt, which I achieved first time. The other two that were on my list, San Gorgonio 11,503ft (3,506m) & San Jacinto 10,833ft (3,302m).  


My day started off bright and early with a 6am wake up and a 20 minute drive deeper into the Santa Ana Mountains. I took the Trabuco Canyon dirt road (4x4 required) leading me into the Cleveland National Forest. Normally there is a trail parking option for the Holy Jim Trail then about a 3 mile hike to the peak but with there being so many storms recently a lot of the roads had been blocked off due to flooding. This was a pain as I couldn’t get close to the trail start, having to park about 2 miles from the trailhead.
This certainly didn’t stop me as I was super determined to do this, as l parked my car, put my adventure pass on my dashboard (every national park in California requires an adventure pass for anyone wishing to explore the park, this helps the park rangers maintain the environment - not bad at “Only $5”). 


After two miles hiking I finally made it to the start of the Holy Jim Trail. The trail was very visible the whole way until I got to a cross section at about 4000ft when the trail meets the Main Divide Truck Trail. I couldn’t see any more paths for Holy Jim so I decided to take the truck trail, which eventually took me to the top of Santiago Peak. There is gorgeous 360 views all around and being an accessible peak for privileged drivers. With it being the tallest accessible place in the area there are a mass amount of radio communication towers all over which make the views less appealing but still being this high, quiet and with no one around I highly recommend this trek. 


San Gorgonio - 15th January 2017.

Now we are getting a little bit more into the intense hiking, especially with the weather California has just encountered after 5 years of being in a serious drought. I have been coming to California for about 10 years, I have never ever seen California as green as it is now & was fortunate enough to experience snow on the mountains. This hike for me was an interesting one but a little bit of a disappointment, San Gorgonio sitting at 11,503ft (3,506m) is the highest peak in Southern California so obviously I was pretty set on completing this one regardless of the situations. 

Day started super early for me, it was about a two hour drive from where I was in Orange County. The park opens to visitors at 6am, I made sure I hit the road at 4am & no later so I could get there super fast avoiding all the crazy Californian traffic & hopefully get a gorgeous sunrise along the way. I made it just as the park was opening with the sun slowly peaking its way into the sky equally with gorgeous views of the moon. I thought I would have been the only one there but there were a few other ambitious hikers which is always nice to see. Last minute checks with my gear making sure l had everything as I definitely did not want to be 10,000ft plus worrying that I had forgot something.

The trail I planned on following is called the Vivian Creek Trail, when this trail is visible it will lead you straight to the top of San Gorgonio Mountain. The trailhead starts at around 6000ft which is nice as your already in the thick of it for the beginning of this trek since there is a lot of snow already & trees covered in ice from the cold windy nights. 

I was a little worried as I made my way up the trail because the snow was getting deeper & being solo on this hike was a little sketchy because I am one who really likes to challenge myself even when the situations are tough. This didn’t seem to stop me for the time being but only seemed to fuel me for what was next! l had never ever been in a climate like this before especially as the sun began to rise it was getting hot fast, the snow & ice that was on the trees was beginning to melt, massive crashes of sheets of ice falling down from trees. I was focusing on making sure that one of these trees that had been frozen solid caked in snow now melting was not going to fall on me, I was on a constant watch for falling ice. 

This for me was exciting, I had never ever experienced this before. Nature was showing her true beauty to me & l hadn’t even reached the top. It was exciting having to keep guard making sure no ice would fall on me, that I wouldn’t fall into a big snow pit & get lost - I just went with the flow enjoying nature keeping my wits about me and a wise head on my shoulders doing nothing stupid.


So I’m about an hour and a half into my hike following the trail, there is two options - go straight where the trail disappears or go downhill and loop around then back up which probably would have added a few extra miles onto my hike. My navigation was saying go on the trail that disappears, this seemed way more appealing but a battle as no foot path just fresh deep snow. I decided this would be a good time to take a break, fuel up & come to a decision. I saw two tents about 100m ahead on a little flat part of land, so I figured I would just go wander over hopefully chat with the people occupying the tents & see what their take is on the trail & conditions, maybe they had summited the previous day.

Two girls, two guys looked like they were just waking up, roughly around 8am so still fairly early but not too early for the mountain lifestyle. I got chatting with a guy named Carl who had long hair, of native indian descent & just full of awesome vibes he was like “Yeah dude, the summit is completely blocked from the heavy snowfall, a lot of people have had to turn back but the best bet is to take the route with no pathway & make your own.” I thought about it for a second then was like okay, I’m doing this, I’m just going to push on & get this completed, “I am determined.”  

Well I was in for a surprise, it was not easy at all, the path which had become no path was sitting at about 8000ft and I had to get to 11,503ft trekking through fresh snow which was up to my waist and even higher in certain parts. I am 6’2 so if you can imagine trying to trek through snow sitting at about 3-4ft while on a constant incline, not knowing the ground below you it can be super scary, super tough on the legs & the altitude can play games with you also. 
Bare this in mind ice is still melting from the trees & I’m hiking up a 45° incline in 3-4ft snow, a lot could go wrong but always got to be optimistic about the situation so I trooped on.

Eventually after about 2 hours of slowly making my way up, I reach just over 10,000ft - the views are gorgeous. San Gorgonio is in my sight, I’m super pumped as I’m so close but this is when it becomes a disappointment. I go to make my way towards the summit, the snow that has been sitting at 4ft deep in parts is becoming deeper with the top layer in sections being frozen so you can gently walk along with your crampons, then as I’m feeling fairly confident walking along this ice sheet my foot falls in deep, I’m stuck, it’s a struggle to get out, I manage to get out safely - “Thank god.” 

I make the wise decision to turn back as this is when I feel things could go terribly wrong and the sun is beginning to set which means it’s going to get cold very fast.


I make the wise decision to turn back as this is when I feel things could go terribly wrong and the sun is beginning to set which means it’s going to get cold very fast. 

This for me was somewhat a disappointment but at the same time I achieved so much. I have never ever experienced conditions like this nor had an idea how my body would cope and being out there seeing it in person was beautiful. The best thing from this hike I gained was meeting Carl which takes me onto my next blog piece 'HOT SPRINGS'.

Deep Creek Hot Springs - 21st January 2017.

Let’s get excited here, who doesn’t love some natural hot springs? 

This was such a random thing for me to do, find & experience. I must thank my friend Carl who I met on my hiking trip while trying to summit San Gorgonio (my previous blog post). 
Our original plan was to summit San Jacinto, California 10,833ft (3,302m) to take some amazing shots & just get to the summit - “Little case of what me & my friends like to call summit fever.” Of all places for the weather to work against us it just so happened to be in Californiathe state full of sunshine. There was a storm passing through California so the trail & any other way of accessing this peak was closed off, deemed dangerous. Which was super sad, we both really wanted to hike this peak but l guess it just wasn’t meant to be. 

Not being able to summit I think was a blessing in disguise, well for me especially, Carl suggested that we go to this spot he knows - this magical place with natural hot springs, beautiful scenery & a place that people like to get naked. Let’s be serious here who doesn’t love good scenery, natural hot springs and seeing naked people run about. The idea became a fast plan!

Since this storm was covering most of California we were pretty set on it being a miserable day, rain, overcast, cold and pretty much a lot like Scottish weather, which didn’t phase me in the slightest. I was still eager to jump into some hot springs.As we made our way bright & early towards the Northern Mojave Desert, a section of the San Bernardino National Forest we finally arrived at our destination with gorgeous views of Round Mountain 5,261ft with a short 3 mile trek down into the valley of San Bernardino Forest.  

“My God,” I was shocked! The heavens opened up, the sun was shining, the sky was clear and it ended up being a peach of a day. Carl & myself just looked at each other, happy as could be then Carl said “I told you this was a magical place, wait until you see the hot springs.”


Finally we made it to the crossing point, we had one thing to do in order for us to reach the hot springs which was to cross Deep Creek River, normally this river is about 1-2feet. Since there had been storms in Southern California the river was very high at about 5ft with ice still flowing across, very very cold & the thoughts of trying to get across with all of our camera gear and dry clothes was going to be a tough challenge. It took us a good amount of time to build up the confidence for us to cross, Carl ended up leaving unwanted gear that he didn’t need so he could just swim across, battling the cold & on the other hand I was determined to get across with all my gear so we could snap some shots. I backtracked my way down Deep Creek finding a cross point, eventually I found one which seemed to look like the right place to do it but to be perfectly honest the river was flowing fast in these parts. I was cautious of the water pulling me in along with all my expensive gear. 

The good news, I made it across safe then right into the hot springs, no messing about. The day consisted of interesting chats, many nudists roaming about, chatting more and just enjoying a really great little community within itself surrounded by nothing but good vibes. After our day at Deep Creep hot springs I am proud to say that I fully understand & respect why Carl calls this a magical place. 

We got a ton of photos snapped by my buddy Carl (which we will be uploading into a photoset shortly). He is a true gent & I look forward to seeing him when he comes to Scotland in August. I must please ask you that if you do decide to ever visit Deep Creek hot springs, please respect this area, keep it clean so people can forever enjoy natures beauty at it’s best.

We will be uploading photosets shortly with more photos from these trips!