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24I San Gorgonio Mountain

Location: San Bernardino County, California

Named after the Christian Saint Gorgonius who suffered martyrdom in Nicomedia (d.304). The peak name is derived from an eastern holding of Mission San Gabriel (1824), later to become (Mexican Land Grant) Rancho San Jacinto y San Gorgonio (1843)-this was probably founded on or near St. Gorgonio's Feast Day which is September 9. The Pass and the Mountains have been known by this name since the 1850's.

In the creation story of the Serrano Indians, brother gods Pakrokitat and Kukitat quarreled and separated, and the former came south with a pure white eagle and made his home on this peak-then known as Akyana.

The Cahuilla Indians are variously described as calling it Kwiria-Kaich (which means bald or smooth), or Kwirikaits, which means "range of mountains which appear to be in a pile".

Whereas the Morongo Indians called it Kwiryakaite, and considered it the original home of the feared and terrible demon Tahquitz.

Saunders cites a Luiseño Indian legend that the peaks we now call San Gorgonio and San Jacinto were "brothers and sisters among the firstborn of Earth mother... San Gorgonio being the elder." DuBois notes the Luiseño name for this peak was Pewipwe, which means "white on top", or "gray head", not unlike some of the more informal names such as "Grayback" given by early American pioneers. Gudde notes that this is a common term throughout the West for features that appear this color.

Lieutenant Williamson of the Pacific Railroad Survey (1853) incorrectly gave the name Gorgonio to what is now known as Mount San Jacinto.

The Wheeler Survey tried to call Gorgonio Grizzly Peak (1878).

Saunders also recorded Baldy, Saddleback and Saint Jack being in common use (1923).

The date when the current name was first extended to this mountain remains uncertain but its first known printed use was by USGS topographer T. Perkins (1899).

The first known ascent was by W. A. Goodyear, and Mark Thomas (1872).

In the 1880's hiking cross-country to the summit from Barton Flats became a popular adventure. Barton Flats were named for Dr. Benjamin Barton an early area pioneer (ca. 1857). The first paths to the top were the Government Trail along Vivian Creek (1893), then by way of "Poopout Hill" (ca. 1895) as described in Wonders of the Colorado Desert by George Wharton James (1906). The CCC improved most of the trail system to its present form in the 1930's.

Harry C. James and his "Western Rangers" first called for the establishment of a "Junipero Serra National Monument" here so that this area could be set aside and preserved in its natural state (1923).

Despite strong resistance from the Forest Service, this summit and its surrounding mountains were eventually preserved as the "San Gorgonio Primitive Area" after the first major environmental effort by the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club (1931), and then as the "San Gorgonio Wilderness" (1964).

Today this area is still important as the range of the remaining Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis cunadensis nelsonii).

Name cited as Mount San Gorgonio on original HPS List.

There are moraine deposits still present-relics of the southernmost glaciation in the United States.

This is the highest peak in the San Bernardino Mountains, as well as the highest in the Transverse Range and in all of Southern California.

Name first appears on USGS San Gorgonio quad (1899).

Peak was on the original 1946 HPS Peak List. Weldon Heald climbed this peak in 1932.


Hundred Peaks Section, Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club
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Updated 25-February-2003