Leaders: Mickey Thayer, Archie Sarthournes
Saturday, July 30, started off with a deep blue sky. Not a cloud in sight. Temperature at 7:00AM was around 65°. Perfect hiking weather. After delaying our departure 15 minutes, we had two "no-shows." That left 13 of us!
This hike had been scheduled specifically for slow hikers, those who never get a chance at the higher summits, and those who like to take their time for picture taking, or to admire the flowers, the birds, the many beautiful views of canyons and ridges.
Surprisingly there were very few cars parked at Poopout Hill, and hardly a soul on the trail. We did meet a small group of scouts coming back from a night on the summit. They reported strong thunderstorm activity during the night, and looked rather glad to be on the way out.
With a few stops here and there, we arrived at the 10,000 foot saddle in 2-1/2 hours, and took a 10 minute snack break. We were following the trail around Charlton when the first clouds showed up. As it was quite warm by then, it was not an unwelcome sight.
By the time we reached the saddle between Little Charlton and Jepson we could hear the rumbling of thunder quite a distance away. I stopped at the saddle, just in time to see a big flash of lightning on top of Sugarloaf. The storm looked quite "localized" so I asked everybody how they felt about it and the answer was "let's go".
On we went, under a grey sky, the sound of thunder still far away. We had just passed the Vivian Creek Trail turnoff when lightning struck the summit of San Gorgonio. The roar of thunder was simultaneous, shook the ground, and I jumped right out of my skin.
Immediately I told everybody to spread out and get down, and the hail started pounding us, thick, and big and stinging. Some pieces were a good 1/4 inch, and it hurt! The temperature must have dropped 30° in seconds, the wind was strong and cold, and we were utterly miserable.
This went on - crash, bang, zip so close at times it made your skin crawl for about half an hour (who looks at a watch at a time like this? Who can see a watch in this pelting hailstorm?). By then the whole mountain was as white as it is after a snowfall, a good two or three inches thick. My teeth were playing castanets, my hands and feet were numb with cold, and obviously the other twelve weren't faring any better.
The hail let off a little, but thunder and lightning were still crashing around San Gorgonio on one side, and Charlton on the other. With hypothermia threatening, the choice was clear - get out of here and keep moving to warm up the body. And retreat we did, slipping and sliding and sloshing, as fast as we could.
I had hoped to stop at the 10,000 foot saddle for some food, but a cold wind was whistling up the canyon so we kept right on going. Just above the turnoff for Dollar Lake we met Tom Amneus and a companion. They were on their way up, backpacking, and I didn't even feel a twinge of envy.
The row of cars waiting for us among the puddles looked just terrific, and the wet lunch tasted yummy. But the dry clothes...ahhhh! And thank you Archie for taking care of the tail end.
P.S. In less than an hour after leaving Poopout Hill my hands thawed out in the 100° temperature of Redlands. Then I heard the weather advisory "...a severe thunderstorm watch is in effect for the San Bernardino Mountains area".