Little Bear Peak
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My third day in the Big Bear area found me running around northwest and north of the lake chasing after more HPS peaks. I'd hoped to do Crafts, Butler, and Grays together from the Forest Service road that runs along the north side of their common ridgeline, but the Butler 2 fire from the previous summer had closed the area to all traffic. Darn. I thought I might still be able to get to Grays Peak despite the closure, using the Grays Peak Trail that starts from SR38 at the northwest shore of Big Bear Lake.
The gate at the TH parking lot was closed as expected, so in order to not draw attention to my vehicle parked conspicuously outside, I drove a hundred yards south to the picnic area on the lake side of the road and parked there. I then set out with a light backpack to Grays Peak following the trail. There was little evidence of the fire until I was within a mile of the summit. The first two miles were through delightful forest green, the blue waters of Big Bear Lake seen in the background behind me. Upon reaching the burned areas, I found the trail cleared of debris and in quite satisfactory shape. I learned later that the re-opening was imminent after much volunteer work had been spent in restoring it. They did a great job. Most of the summit had been burned, the summit register having been battered and cooked, but not destroyed. Pages inside were singed. With or without the fire, the summit offers poor views due to the trees that crown the summit, but it was an easy, enjoyable hike, and educational as well in studying the effects of the fire and the budding renewal of the flora.
After returning to the van, I drove to Fawnskin along the lake shore, then north on the Forest Service road to Fawnskin Valley and Little Bear Peak. Along the way I passed Herbie the Love Bug, and saw a bobcat dart across the road (I was barely able to get a picture of it as it moved quickly away). There is no trail or trailhead for Little Bear Peak, so I just parked at a wide spot in the road that looked to be close enough. It is not more than half a mile to the summit and it took all of fifteen minutes to climb to the top. The entire peak was burned in the same fire along with much of the surrounding area. And yet, life was on the move, already making a comeback. Purple flowers carpeted parts of the sunny south slopes that I climbed, almost happy to have the abundant sunshine, unhindered by forest canopy or chaparral cover. The register at the summit, tucked inside a small rock cave, was unharmed despite the flames that must have raced over the summit. To the southwest and west could be seen the brunt of the fire's damage, though green trees in selected areas were spared by nature or water drops from those fighting the fire. To the west was Delamar Mtn, spared in the fire, though the fireline could be clearly seen at its base on the west side.
After returning to the van, I backtracked to Fawnskin Valley and took the road heading up to the saddle north of Delamar Mtn as described in the HPS guide. I had my doubts that the van could negotiate this road, but with a bit of coaxing and only a little scraping of the undercarriage, I managed to make my way up there. The PCT crosses over this saddle but does not make its way to Delamar's summit. I started out shortly after 9:30a to cover the half mile distance to the summit, taking all of twenty minutes. Though no maintained trail goes to the top, a use trail with some ducks is available and somewhat useful on the steep slopes. The summit rocks had another punch and descriptive placard like the ones I'd found on Gold Mtn, so I knew at least two of Big Bear's "Seven Summits" now. This one was't worth much. The views were minimal due to tree coverage, with a partial view to Holcomb Valley to the east and another one of Big Bear Lake and San Gorgonio the south.
Back down at the van, I perused the maps I had with me to see if I couldn't save some time in driving more directly to Holcomb Valley and the next peak, Arctic Point. This would involve continuing over the saddle with unknown conditions of the road ahead, rather than taking the surer and better maintained roads back out to Big Bear Lake. Deciding it was worth the risk, I made the four miles without serious incident. I had to stop a few times to remove rocks from the road, but little more than slow driving was required.
Arctic Point is the highpoint of a somewhat popular climbing area known as Holcomb Pinnacles. I stopped at Wilbur's Grave near the parking area out of curiousity after noting it on the map and seeing an American flag flying over the grave as I drove by. It seems Wilbur was a popular resident who loved the area so much that he asked to be buried on the spot when he died - and so he was. Though not difficult, Arctic Point is somewhat harder than the previous two peaks. It's about a mile distance from the parking area and the summit cannot be seen until high on the mountain. Further, brushy vegetation makes random travel difficult and one must pick a way more carefully to avoid dry, dusty thrashing in the brush. The lower part of the mountain is guarded by huge boulders and rocky formations, the Holcomb Pinnacles being part of it. There was evidence among many of the boulders that the area is used for play, plastic beads from pellet guns littering the ground. I found a well-ducked route among the boulders that I followed up to an old log cabin with some nearby mining detritus, but I could not find ducks leading higher. So I picked my way through the trees and brush to the summit, taking about half an hour in all. There was an HPS register dating to 1999, the peak evidently not as popular as the other ones I climbed during the day. The rocky summit area provided for better views, west to Delamar Mtn and Holcomb Valley, and south to Bertha Peak (next up) and San Gorgonio.
Back at the van, it took only fifteen minutes to drive to the TH for Bertha Peak, conveniently located along the Holcomb Valley Rd at a saddle on the way back to Big Bear Lake. The PCT crosses this saddle as well (on the way towards Delamar), but it has been re-routed temporarily through Holcomb Valley to avoid some of the burned areas. My choice of routes was not ideal as I first tried to follow a jeep trail east from the saddle. This died out after a short distance, following which I dropped cross-country down a slope to a dirt road that I then started hiking back up. As it crested onto a ridge, I spied the PCT trail running alongside, just to the north of the road (a better choice would have been to follow the PCT to this point, then move onto the road). The road took me all the way to the summit of Bertha Peak, with the PCT crossing the road twice enroute (the road is steeper, but more direct than the PCT). There is another route, the Cougar Crest Trail, that can be taken from a TH near the lake that would make for a much better outing, albeit longer and harder. Not far from the summit I encountered a rattlesnake in the road, only the third rattler I've encountered in many hundreds of hikes over the years. I was surprised that he did not immediately coil up when he saw me, prefering to save his energy and just lie there in the road. Only when I got a stick to poke at him did he coil up and hiss (after which I promptly gave up the stick and messing with him), eventually moving into some rocks off the side of the road to get away from the annoying human.
There is a communications tower at the summit of Bertha, but an HPS register can be found in a small rock cairn outside the fence on the west side. The views from the peak were the best I had all day, with a bird's eye view of Big Bear Lake, as well as views of the other peaks I had climbed earlier. On the descent I decided to take the Cougar Crest Trail for a short distance, maybe half a mile, before dropping down the north slope cross-country to the Holcomb Valley Rd below. It was then only a short hike back up to the saddle and the van, the whole outing taking about an hour and fifteen minutes.
It was 1:30p when I finished the last peak, and though there were other HPS peaks in the area I had run out of maps describing them. I had only printed out so many a few days earlier while I was scanning the HPS guide while at the Las Vegas KOA, and had run through them all. I would have to make at least one more trip to the area in the future for another run at the remaining ones.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Grays Peak - Little Bear Peak - Delamar Mountain - Arctic Point - Bertha Peak
This page last updated: Thu Jun 26 08:41:46 2008
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