Galena Peak HPS / PD
Galena Peak West P750 PD
Cuchillo Peak PD
Wanat Peak P500 PD
Little San Gorgonio Peak P500 HPS / PD
Wilshire Mountain HPS / PD
Wilshire Peak HPS
Oak Glen Peak
Cedar Mountain HPS
Birch Mountain HPS
Allen Peak P500 HPS

Sun, Jul 3, 2011

With: Tom Becht
Laura Molnar

Birch Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profile


The Yucaipa Ridge is a long, 12-mile ridgeline in the southern part of the San Bernardino Mtns, rising up to over 9,000ft, forming the south side of Mill Creek Canyon. There are seven HPS summits along the ridge which happen to correspond to the last seven HPS peaks I had to do. Tom and Laura had joined me for these last three days in the San Bernardino Mtns, culminating in today's list finish. Normally done over several days, the traverse of the ridge had been done in the past in a single day, but reported to be very long. Tom had already climbed all but Galena, but was willing to repeat most of them a second time. Laura had not been to any of them and was not really sure what she was getting into, but as usual she was game.

We woke up not long after 5a in the parking lot for the South Fork TH on the north side of San Gorgonio where we had spent the night. Before driving off to rendevous at the day's starting point, Laura once more ran into a friend who was just about to start off on the South Fork Trail. Like clockwork, go somewhere with Laura and she's bound to meet someone else she knows unexpectedly. It was 6a before we'd reached the endpoint for the day at the Bear Paw Reserve. Tom had called ahead to gain permission to park our cars here and hike through their property at the end of the day. Laura wasn't feeling good after our long day around San Gorgonio, so she was looking for an easier outing. I suggested she could start from Bear Paw and hike up at a comfortable pace and meet us along the way on whichever peak she chose. That allowed her to drive Tom and I to the Vivian Creek TH, saving an extra car shuttle drive at the end of the day.

Starting just before 6:30a, Tom and I hiked the short distance up the trail on the south side of Mill Creek before signs indicate the trail crosses over to the north side and goes up from there. Our route was to continue east, cross-country up the Mill Creek drainage. For the most part, it is not a pleasant hike as the amount of boulders one must traverse seems almost perverse. Not that there aren't some pleasant sights along the way - a few waterfalls coming down off the north wall of the canyon is one example. The creek was reduced to a modest stream in the middle of this humungously wide boulder field. We had to cross it a few times, Tom unsuccessful on one attempt and having to stop to wring out his socks immediately afterwards. We came across a particularly nice bivy site that has been used a good deal over the years, but most of the terrain was boulders, rocks, and more boulders. The canyon walls were either too steep to traverse or too littered with blowdown to make for a better alternative.

An hour after starting out we came across an older asian couple who were looking for the Vivian Creek Trail. Sadly, we had to break it to them that they missed the crossing back at the beginning. Curious as to where we were heading, they asked if they might go the same way as well. When they realized there was no trail and no easier terrain ahead, they wisely decided to head back to the start.

Not long after 8a we were starting up the headwall found at the east end of the canyon. As advertised in the HPS guide, the slope is steep and mildly dangerous. The earth is compacted yet loose, making it impossible to kick steps and difficult to maintain footing with a ballbearing feeling underfoot. Perseverance pays off, climbing steadily but surely, planting the feet with opposing pressure wherever possible in shallow grooves. I took a route more or less directly up the gray-colored rock while Tom chose to move right onto the brownish slopes just below the saddle. We were both atop the saddle shortly after 8:30a.

A blanket of manzanita covers the ground east of the saddle nearly up to the edge before it drops away into Mill Creek. Cross-country travel through the stuff would be difficult (if one were heading north for the Vivian Creek Trail, for instance). Luckily there is a an open band of sandy space along the edge of the saddle heading up and south, with a patchy use trail leading up to Galena's summit. Though not more than about half a mile, this section involved almost 1,000ft of climbing and took us another half an hour to reach Galena's summit. There was a Mars Bonfire register from 2003 in a PVC container along with a fine view to the north towards San Gorgonio. To the west is an unnamed higher point that blocks the views in that direction of the Yucaipa Ridge. It took us about ten minutes to reach Galena's west summit where the views to Mills Creek showed us how far we'd already gone and the view of the Yucaipa Ridge showed us how far we still had to go. It was only 9:20a so there was still plenty of daylight for the route ahead.

The hardest part of the Yucaipa Traverse was the next two miles before us, between Galena's west summit and Little San Gorgonio Peak. The ridgeline is rockiest in this section and traversing it involves a number of undulations over rock that is generally of poor quality. There are a few sections of class 3 that make one pause due to the looseness of the terrain, and these we passed through cautiously. For the most part we followed along the ridge, but dense brush forced us off to the south side from time to time, the north side mostly cliffs but usable at times. In many places there was some low bushwhacking to negotiate and though mildy troublesome, it was far better than a mature manzanita bushwhack would have been. There are some fine views off both the north and south sides of the ridge, though the blue skies of the previous day had given way to clouds both high and low that marred the scenery today.

It wasn't until noon that we reached Little San Gorgonio. We were happy to have finished with the trailless portion of the traverse. The highpoint had been left unmolested, but another fifteen minutes west could be found a lower bump with a number of communication towers and sensors both large and small. A dirt road leads to the towers from the west and it was this track that we started following, the first trail we'd found in some hours.

Another twenty minutes brought us to the summit of Wilshire Mtn, complete with a register and a colorful and compact summit block. The register dated to 1978, left by a group of Scouts from Norwalk's Troop 328. Our good dirt road did not last much longer, as it soon forks down the south side of the ridge. A poorer track continues west along the ridge but it appears to see little traffic and could be hard to follow in places. There were three additional summits in short succession, Wilshire Peak, Oak Glen Peak and Cedar Mtn. Wilshire Peak (not to be confused with Wishire Mtn immediately to the east) had no register whereas the other two did. Oak Glen is the only non-HPS peak along the ridge, but had a register dating to 1989. Cedar Mtn's went back even further, with worn and tattered pages as far back as 1969. None of these peaks presented any difficulty, mostly just walking through the forest.

Just west of Cedar Mtn we found a trail junction marked by an old wooden sign that was in better shape than the trail we tried to follow. This junction is also shown on the 7.5' topo, with one fork heading down the south side to the town of Oak Glen. By now it was 1:45p and we began to keep an eye out for Laura who we expected to see any time now along the ridge. Birch Mtn was a few more miles northwest along the ridge and we spent the next 45 minutes in reaching it. The trail traverses around the north side of the summit so it was necessary to do a short stint of cross-country to reach the top. We heard Laura's yell before we saw her. Evidently she had spied us down below, having kept a keen watch. We found her in her bright orange jacket pacing about the summit, having been there some time and having been driven to distraction by the horde of flies that commanded the summit area. Tom and I had had some distraction from the flies earlier, but nothing like what we found at Birch's summit. It was downright annoying and drove us off the top within a few minutes of signing the register.

What followed next was a classic example of why not to trust a GPS. Armed with just such a device that not only showed map contours but showed roads and trails as well, I thought it a small matter for us to find the trail again and simply led us off the northwest side of Birch. Laura espoused greater caution and tried to explain that the trail was tricky to find, but Tom and I paid only scant attention. It wasn't until we had wasted some twenty minutes or so dropping down much too far along the ridge and beating up against one dead end after another through the brushy understory ("Look, the GPS shows the trail right around here...") that we listened to reason. Climbing back up the steep slopes that we had little energy or inclination for, we did indeed find the trail traversing the slopes towards the south as Laura had recalled. Bad GPS! Bad Bob for blindly following it!

Though it wasn't in great shape and had been badly neglected over the years, the trail was a far better cry than trying to whack our way through it. Over the years since it was last maintained, the trail has been modified, with long switchbacks shortened by more direct paths connecting them. Finally, around 3:20p we found ourselves onto the much easier remains of the Yucaipa Ridge Truck Trail. This road is no longer maintained or used by vehicles, but due to its wide track it was far easier to follow. We came upon a newer trail sign a few minutes later, though nothing about the trail itself was new or improved. By 4p we reached a gate marking the eastern boundary of the Bear Paw Wildlife Sanctuary. The road became easier to follow at this juncture.

There was only a single peak remaining but it was still an hour away. All of us were rather tired by the time reached the Allen Peak Trail junction with the Oak Glen Divide Trail we'd just finished. It was difficult to say which was more annoying by this time, the flies or the heat, but both had beaten us to submission and we were all wishing the hike was over by this time. I suggested that the other two had no obligation to join me for the last bit to Allen Peak which was off our return route. I wouldn't have felt bad at all if they decided not to join me and tried to convey this, but they would have none of it. They would suffer with me to the last summit.

We passed another gate and continued west along the road, further than we should have until we were well past the north side of Allen Peak. Somewhere we had missed a turnoff for a use trail and had to backtrack to find it. A quarter mile back along the road we found the unmarked trail we'd missed starting up a ridgeline through the brush. Twenty minutes and Pone last mile brought us to the highpoint of Allen Peak. The flies were just as bad on Allen as they had been on Birch, but Laura helped lighten the mood by pulling out a trio of Mike's she had been carrying around all day. Though not so refreshing in their current warm condition as they are in their preferred cold state, they made a fitting end to an HPS list finish in July. And we didn't break one like we did on Table Mtn the year before, either. We drank our Mike's, made a quick register entry, and beat a retreat from the summit (kinda crappy views from the top, btw), leaving it to the buzzing horde.

We had an hour to go in returning to the Bear Paw headquarters some three miles back down the north side of the ridge. It was 6:15p when we arrived, making for almost a 12hr day for Tom and I, but I must say it felt more like an 18hr day. I wouldn't have thought it was possible to be so tired in only 12hrs, but the warm weather certainly played a key role. July is really not a good time to be hiking these HPS peaks, we all concluded. We spent a while at the cars talking with one of the caretakers at the parking area. She explained a good deal about the work they do with youths and school groups and was kind enough to let me borrow her home phone to make a call to my wife to let her know what time to expect me home.

Having the longest drive home, I left soon afterwards, stopping at the bridge over Mill Creek in order to strip and rinse off in the highly refreshing creek flowing under the bridge. Back on the highway, it would be well after midnight before I got home to San Jose. It had been a highly productive six days in Southern California, having gotten to all the summits I'd planned and a handful of extras as well. And the HPS list had finally been finished, too. That won't stop my visits down this way as I still have a few other lists in the area to finish up. And then there's a score of range highpoints and other unlisted summits, and ... it never really ends, does it?

Laura comments on 09/08/11:
Well, Laura's KNEE wasn't feeling great, at least. And those were perhaps the best grapes ever on Son-of-a-Birch Peak... Great day as always, Bob-a-loo...
Submit online comments or corrections about the story.

More of Bob's Trip Reports

For more information see these SummitPost pages: Galena Peak - Little San Gorgonio Peak - Allen Peak

This page last updated: Wed Feb 2 17:14:45 2022
For corrections or comments, please send feedback to: