San Gorgonio

Ol’ Greyback: True Wilderness Above Los Angeles

In a city built on dreams, the shocking reality is that an hour and a half from the Kobe Bryant murals of Downtown Los Angeles is a mountain 500 feet taller than Mammoth. Sandwiched between the ocean and the desert, San Gorgonio is the highest summit in Southern California. Nicknamed Ol’ Greyback due to its gray and rounded peak, its history as a backcountry ski destination began before the first film production arrived in Hollywood in 1911. By the time the iconic “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign was erected in 1923, the first ski-jumping competition was about to take place near Gorgonio’s base. And while relatively few folks visit the upper reaches of Gorgonio during winter anymore, this spring’s massive late-season snowfalls provided the perfect opportunity for us to explore the Angeleno backcountry.

For an area inhabited by over 20 million people it’s surprisingly difficult to find backcountry partners in SoCal. There’s something about a 10-hour-plus day for one or two runs that causes texts to go ignored. Luckily, photographer Erik Hoffman is always down to suffer. Our first casual outing in the Sierra turned into an unplanned three-day epic and we’ve been putting in headlamp time together ever since. Gorgonio lives up to one of Tinseltown’s oldest tricks. People will see the glitz and the glamour of the photos, but not the hours of sweat and planning that made it possible. Of one thing I’m sure: We can spray about its greatness all day long and it will remain untracked. 

Between our first freezing summit in February and the last slurpy corn runs of late May, we experienced every possible snow condition. Deep tree runs, icy climbs utilizing crampons and tools, endless corn runs, sketchy slabs, wild animal sightings, and the most painful: a 16-hour nonstop splitboard traverse of the highest nine peaks of the Gorgonio wilderness. It wasn’t the novelty sunny park riding SoCal is known for. The San G backcountry is legit, know-what-you’re-doing terrain. There are avalanches, slide-for-life scenarios, sneaker storms, psychosis-inducing winds and other dangers. People die out there… 

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