This past Saturday I joined a few friends to make an attempt at the 8,000 Meter Challenge, or the Triple Crown. The goal is to summit Mt. Baldy (Mt. San Antonio), Mt. San Gorgonio, and Mt. San Jacinto in a single day. The total distance on trails comes to just under 42 miles and just under 14,000 ft of climbing. I had never even done one of these mountains so doing all three in one day was going to be a challenge and sure enough it was an incredible adventure. Below I’ve got all the details about the day in case you would like to take on the 8,000 Meter Challenge.
We began the 8,000 Meter Challenge with Mt. Baldy before moving on to San Gorgonio and then finishing with San Jacinto. While you could probably do this in a different order I would highly recommend it this way. It allows for Mt. Baldy, the shortest and steepest climb to serve as a great warmup for the rest of the day. San Gorgonio is the longest and tallest of the climbs so doing it in second means you still have slightly fresher legs and allows for a slightly shorter route up San Jacinto to finish your day. Also, there are numerous routes up these mountains but I will outline below the routes we chose.
Mt. Baldy (Mt. San Antonio)
Distance: 8.4 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 3900′
Route: Ski Hut Trail via Manker Flats
Trailhead: Click here for map to trailhead.
While this route up Mt. Baldy says that it starts from Manker Flats Campground, the actual trail head is about a 1/4 mile past the campground entrance on the left at Falls Rd. From Dan’s Hiking Pages, here’s an excellent description of the exact route. My changes in RED.
From the upper end of the Manker Flats campground, notice Falls Road on the north side of the street. There are a couple of port-o-potties on there. Start walking up the paved road past the locked vehicle gate. In 0.6 mile you reach a sharp hairpin turn to the right where you have an excellent view of San Antonio Falls. Continue up the road, which is now dirt. In another 0.3 miles after you round the bend heading east, you’ll see if narrow path on the left angling up the slope. This is Baldy Bowl Trail, more popularly, Ski Hut Trail.
The unmarked junction is easy to miss, so watch for it carefully.A sign has been placed at the junction, however it is slightly up the trail so be sure to pay close attention to the left side of the road. More than a few hikers have missed it. Start up the narrow trail as cuts back and begins to ascend north along the east flank of upper San Antonio Canyon. Your expanding views are striking. Occasionally you’ll get a glimpse of the green Sierra Club ski hut high up the canyon. After 2.5 miles from the start, you reach the ski hut, first built in 1937. If guests are using the cabin, they may invite you in to top off your canteen with the spring-fed tap flowing directly into the kitchen.
Leaving the ski hut and crossing the creek, the trail curves west and ascends laterally across the boulder field at the base of Baldy’s massive south face, called Baldy Bowl. When you reach the west face of the canyon, the trail zigzags steeply up to the ridge top (about the 9,000-foot level). This is a fine destination if you want to turn around and head back, making it a 7.0-mile round trip. But explore around the ridge first and enjoy some impressive scenery.
To continue to the summit, follow the trail north up the ridge. Considering how hugely popular this trail is, it’s a little surprising that the trail is somewhat primitive with rocky, loose footing in places. The trees begin to thin out and you pass through some thick stands of manzanita. The trail is quite steep but the scenery is remarkable. Soon the trail will pass first of several spots along the next quarter mile which provide easy access to Baldy Bowl’s jagged west edge. You can leave the trail, walk over to the edge, and soak in the amazing views. If you look carefully toward the east side of the bowl’s base, you may be able to spot the green Sierra Club Ski Hut amidst the trees. The ridge feathers out into the broad summit skirt as your final pitch zigzags to the top of Old Baldy.
When we were at the summit, it was quite windy. I’ve heard it’s not always like this but I’ve also heard it can be much worse so I would recommend at minimum a light windbreaker for the summit if you are going to spend more than a couple of minutes at the top. Overall, this was a great hike but got very crowded on the descent so I would highly recommend starting as early as you can to avoid the crowds.
Mt. San Gorgonio
Distance: 18 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 5600′
Route: Vivian Creek Trail
Trailhead: Click here for map to trailhead.
The second climb is Mt. San Gorgonio and if you were only doing one of these, it would be the most demanding but also likely the most beautiful. The Vivian Creek Trail is the shortest and steepest route to the peak. To be honest, the beginning of this climb is not enjoyable but after the series of steep switchbacks in the first mile, the remainder of the route is fantastic. The trip starts by crossing a creek bed and heading on to the steep switchbacks. From there you have an incredible mix of wooded meadows, streams and beautiful views. As you approach the summit it becomes very exposed and with the peak in sight it can seem like a brutal final push. Put your head down and charge it because once you get to the top the views are unbelievable.
One of the best aspects of this climb can also be one of the most mentally difficult. While you are making your final push to the summit, Mt. San Jacinto is very visible and a constant reminder that you still have one more mountain to tackle. Just enjoy the view and take it one climb at a time.
There are a few different water spots depending on the time of year, the most beneficial being High Creek. This is a couple of miles from the summit and a great place to refill your pack or bottles on the way back down. Depending on your goals and fitness level the descent is very runnable in most places.
Everytrail.com has a good route map with descriptions of the sections as you climb.
Mt. San Jacinto
Distance: 15 Miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 4384′
Route: Devil’s Slide (Humber Park)
Trailhead: Click here for mp to trailhead.
Congratulations, you’ve made it to the final climb of the day and you are one summit and descent away from glory! This isn’t your longest climb of the day but after Baldy and Gorgonio as a warmup, it will be your hardest. Make sure to stay on top of your hydration and nutrition and keep positive thoughts as you take on the 7.5 mile trek to the summit. If it’s not dark already it will be soon so make sure you have a reliable headlamp to get you to the peak and back. I would love to give you details of this trail but since it was dark for all but the first couple miles, I’ll turn it over to Summitpost.com:
From Humber Park, head up Devil’s Slide (and you will find how it got its name). This part of the trail is 2.5 miles long. You will then reach Saddle Junction and then from here, continue towards Wellman’s Divide. This part is around 1.9 miles. From here, you then continue the last part to Wellman’s Divide. This stretch is 1 mile long. After reaching Wellman’s Divide, take the San Jacinto Peak Trail (you can’t miss it). Follow this till you reach the last junction for San Jacinto Peak. You will take a right and head towards the peak. The last part involves mile boulder hopping.
In the daytime this would be easy to follow but at night, in the dark be sure to pay close attention to the trail signs so that you don’t get off route. Like stated above, the summit involves a boulder scramble to reach the peak, be very careful here. You are going to be quite tired and navigating the rocks can be tricky. Be sure to pay close attention to your footing.
After summiting Southern California’s big three you would think the day is over but there is a substantial 7.5 mile descent ahead of you. This downhill may seem considerably longer after all you have already done but just remember, you are almost home. Again, a large majority of this descent is runnable if your legs still have the energy so get back to the parking lot and soak in your accomplishment!