Several days after the mountains of southern California were blanketed under a few feet of snow, the Vivian Creek parking lot was finally plowed. Getting word of this, six of us decided to climb the West Ridge of Dobbs Peak.
Clouds enveloping the West Ridge of Dobbs Peak
At 10,459 feet, Dobbs Peak is overshadowed by its higher neighbors in the San Bernardino Mountains. It also has no maintained trail to its summit. But it does sport a long, well-defined, and easily accessible ridge on its western side. Having enjoyed the West Ridge when it was covered with consolidated spring snow, I thought it was worth trying in winter.
My alarm sounded at 3:00 AM on Sunday, January 31. Having been asleep for only four hours, I was disoriented and forgot why the alarm was ringing. Then I remembered. At 5:15 AM, I pulled into the Vivian Creek parking lot just as Bill Bryson was reading the last sentence of his engaging and hilarious audiobook In a Sunburned Country. The timing could not have been better. Things were looking up.
Galena Peak in the San Bernardino Mountains
After the five others arrived, two decisions were made. First, we would be taking the Vivian Creek Trail to the bottom of the West Ridge. There had been talk of climbing the steep slope due north of the parking lot, but in the dark it didn't look promising. I think that was a good decision. Second, we would be leaving the snowshoes behind, since the snow around the parking lot was frozen solid. That was a bad decision. Before starting up, I concluded my preparations as I normally do, with some quiet moments in the cold, dark outhouse. Centered and refreshed, I began plodding through the snow in pursuit of the others.
After crossing Mill Creek, we ascended uphill, lost the trail, and found ourselves climbing a steep gully. As rocks and other debris began rolling down, two members of our party decided to bail. That left four of us. While Norma, Patrick, and Zach continued up the loose gully, I veered right to avoid the rockfall. Before entering a steep, narrow couloir, I donned my helmet and swapped trekking poles for an ice axe. I then climbed about two hundred feet of solid, 45+ degree snow with a few sections of third class rock. Though I wished my crampons were on in the steep, hard snow, they would have seriously complicated the rock sections. I was relieved to reach the crest at the top of the couloir, but somewhat concerned to find a slope dropping steeply down on the other side. After traversing the slope for about two hundred feet, the angle lessened and I found myself in a flat drainage that I assumed was Vivian Creek. Within a few minutes, the three others popped over another crest and we were reunited.
Since we thought we were in the Vivian Creek drainage, we assumed the ridge to the west was the West Ridge of Dobbs Peak. But after postholing up to that ridge, we realized that Vivian Creek separated us from the West Ridge. Contemplating the terrain, and not wanting to lose too much elevation, we decided to make a descending traverse into Vivian Creek and then ascend a broad snow slope to the upper reaches of the West Ridge.
The CPR route on Dobbs Peak
After sinking to our knees all the way down to Vivian Creek, we were relieved to find a consolidated snowshoe track. While Norma, Zach, and I enjoyed the faster pace provided by the solid track, Patrick repeatedly plunged to his waist. We all agreed that Patrick was making a good decision when he decided to turn around. That left three of us.
At about 7,700 feet, we stood at the base of the broad drainage we had seen earlier. Here we left the trail and began plodding upward. The snow was in perfect condition. There was neither a breath of wind nor a cloud in the sky. It was almost too good to be true. Zach found a balloon and festively tied it to his pack. We were having fun.
Near the top of the CPR route
All good things come to an end. After a few hundred feet of elevation gain, it became very warm, the snow softened, and I began to wilt. Hours later, three bodies weary from sustained postholing flopped down at roughly 10,000 feet on the West Ridge. Though we were only about 500 vertical feet below the summit, the snow on the ridge was unconsolidated, which made for grueling progress. To make matters worse, the moist snow repeatedly caked all around my boots, making them very heavy.
Norma and Zach on the summit of Dobbs Peak
We finally arrived at the summit of Dobbs Peak at around 2:30, nearly nine hours after departing. We had ascended 4,500 vertical feet, much of it through unconsolidated snow. I was tired. Norma seemed rejuvenated. Zach had done more than his fair share of trail-breaking, but his balloon made him appear much more playful and energetic than he should have been.
Norma insisted that I take this picture of Zach, saying he looked cute.
Though we had hoped to continue to the summit of San Gorgonio, the late hour made that out of the question. So after having a snack which included peanut butter cups that Norma shared, we headed down.
Starting down the West Ridge of Dobbs Peak
Norma descending the West Ridge
It took 1.5 hours to descend 2,800 vertical feet to the trail, thanks to lots of glissading. During that time, we were enveloped in cool mist. From the trail, it took another 1.5 hours to reach the cars in the dark at 6:00 PM.
Hiking down the Vivian Creek Trail, I mentioned that I had never heard of anyone doing the route we had just done on Dobbs Peak. Though the West Ridge is a relatively popular route, our route ascended roughly 2,300 vertical feet between the Vivian Creek Trail and the West Ridge. To make a long story short, our route needed a name. Norma jokingly suggested the West Buttress, but I countered that associating our route with one on Denali would demean ours. Norma also jokingly suggested the Western Cwm, and though we all agreed that the word "cwm" has a lot going for it, we also realized that our route did not ascend a cwm. I facetiously suggested calling it the Cyrus-Page-Ryan route, which somehow sounded awfully presumptuous. But then, in a stroke of genius, Zach blurted out "CPR". And thus our route was named. CPR was fitting in several ways. The first way is obvious. Secondly, Norma and Zach both work in the medical field. Third, we were all close to needing CPR at various stages of our posthole marathon.
Jeff Scofield took this photo while we were climbing the CPR route on Dobbs Peak.