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Adam and I were up at 5:30a at the 2WD trailhead for Morton and Cram, two LPC peaks in the San Bernadino foothills. Adam's shin splint had not gotten much better with the night's rest and he found himself painfully hobbling about outside his car in the dark, trying to walk on it. He wisely decided the better course of action would be to rest it and promptly went back to sleep for a bit more. Later he would get up and drive back home to Sacramento. I would be on my own for the last two days.
While I was eating breakfast and getting ready, a pickup truck pulled off the pavement and drove on up the road. Though not in terrible shape, the road was not good enough to drive my van up in that fashion, so I'd have to hoof it from the bottom. Not all that bad, as it's only three miles to the first summit. I think it might actually be less than that, as I made it to the summit in less than an hour, arriving just as the sun was rising in the east. There was a couple breakfasting at the picnic bench just below the lookout tower when I arrived. They were undoubtedly the occupants of the truck I had seen start up the road, parking about half way up at the locked gate. I walked up to the tower but could see that the latch to the observation deck was locked, so I didn't bother to climb the stairs. I found a reference mark, but did not find the benchmark that it points to, nor any sign of a register. I gave a brief hello to the couple dining there, took some pictures of the surrounding hills and the LA Basin, then headed back down.
Cram Peak, about 500ft lower and to the west, was located in the middle of a long, 4 mile ridge rising up from Redlands at the west end, culminating at Morton Peak at the east end. I looked down the connecting ridge heading north off of Morton, but could not make out a use trail or anything resembling one leading down that way. A topo map would have made the situation clear, but I had only the written LPC directions. A more careful reading suggested I should be looking for an old 4x4 Rd. I eventually found this a little ways further down from the summit, a fork in the road that starts off heading northeast before curving around a highpoint to follow the ridgeline a little ways below, on the shady north side. The old road was particularly overgrown on the wetter north side, but once it moved over to the south side of the ridge at a saddle it was easier to follow on the more open slope. The LPC directions were good, cautioning against going too far to the last bump on the ridge before it starts dropping down to the city. One follows the trail around to the west side of Cram, then follows an unmarked use trail branching off for the short distance to the summit.
A rusted steel post with a triangle marks the summit. I found the register cans at the base of this. It did not date back more than a few years. By now it was 8a, only an hour past sunrise but already the evening fog had been transformed into the brownish daytime haze over the basin. I returned via the same route, taking about an hour and a half to reach the van.
Driving back down SR38, I made my way through Mentone and Redlands, then north to SR330. There is a good view of Harrison Mtn from the lowlands, a stiff climb if done from the south, but the standard LPC route from the north would be much easier. Starting off shortly before 10:15a, my first attempt to find the use trail did not go well. I tried to head to the described subsidiarly peak too directly and ended wandering about in the dirt and brush for three or four minutes, getting nowhere. I went back to the start and noticed an information kiosk away from the road to the south, which turned out to be the key. There is a gap in the fence immediately behind it where a use trail can be found heading west. This trail passes by some discarded sleds before heading into some thickets. Flagging in the area may be helpful - I didn't notice it until I was already passed it, but if you know where to head to (the local highpoint to the west) then you will eventually land on the use trail that gets better the further you go along it. The initial part up the slope was steep and rutted, but gets you through what would otherwise be inpenetrable chaparral.
From atop that first local highpoint you can look back on the parking lot and also get the first view of the summit from this side. The use trail improves and there was much evidence of recent grooming through the heaviest stuff on the north facing slopes that the trail traverses. There is also a fine view of McKinley Mtn to the west from here. There was no issue with route-finding as I simply followed the only plausible route to the summit. It took just under an hour to reach the top where I found the HPS register under a small pile of rocks, not quite cohesive enough to call a cairn.
Though hazy over the metropolis, it was still a good viewspot. One can see the higher peaks of San Gorgonio to the east, Mt. Baldy and environs to the west. I did not walk the additional 1/4 -1/2 mile south for the better view of the LA Basin due to the obscuring haze. I went back via the same route, taking about 35 minutes with some jogging on the safer portions of the trail.
It took only 15 minutes to drive back down SR330 to the starting point for McKinley Mtn off the west side of the highway. There are several possible starting ridgelines and the LPC directions did not help me decisively. But I could see what looked like an open, grassy section along one ridge that looked to have been a firebreak at one time, and it in this direction I started off. I must have picked the correct ridge, because the rest all fell into place in matching the printed description I carried with me.
The ridge rose steeply with a use trail running up the center where a firebreak at one time was bulldozed through the brush. This led to a short stretch of road cut into the side of the mountain. I followed this to the left, then up the adjoining ridge where the road ended. An hour after starting out I had reached the lower south summit marked by a duck atop a large boulder. I was initially confused because I could look across and see an obviously higher summit another half mile to the west, which I mistook for McKinley. Not so, I surmised, once I carefully read the description. Turns out this other point is both higher and unnamed, but for some reason a lower point was given the name of McKinley Mtn. I found the steel post marking the summit of McKinley a short distance north of the initial summit, but passed by the small cairn off to the side that held the register without seeing it. I was far less interested in McKinley all of a sudden and wondered if I could get to the higher point, now to the southwest.
I could, and it only took about 15 minutes to do so. Though the use trail had ended, a few others had made the trek in the past and the bushwhacking up to Peak 3,808ft was not as bad as I would have guessed for a north-facing slope. The top was quite flat and moderately brushy, the highpoint impossible to discern within about 20-30yds. I found two rock cairns in my wandering about, with a register found at the second pile marked with a stake. The book was weatherbeaten but still serviceable. I signed in and returned to McKinley Mtn where I found the register I had missed on the first pass. I signed this one as well, then headed back via the same route. It took less than 30 minutes by jogging most of the way back.
Now 2p, I had one more peak on my agenda, the last LPC peak in the San Bernardino Mtns, Arrowhead Peak. I got a view of the peak on my drive through the city of San Bernardino. Sure enough, it has the likeness of a highly geometric arrowhead on the south-facing slope that one would swear was manmade. That there is a commercial enterprise selling bottled water at the base of this peak by the same name adds to my skepticism. In any case, it appears to be an aptly named summit. The LPC route describes an approach from the north, so I drove up SR18 to the overlook on that side. The starting point is actually higher than the summit of Arrowhead, a most unusual condition. There were several hang gliders cruising overhead as I got ready to head out. That would have been a much easier way to reach the summit, followed by a second glide down to the city below.
It has been some time since any maintenance has been done on this route, and though it was less than two miles each way, this would be the toughest hike of the day. The route follows an old jeep trail that is still shown on the 7.5' topo, but little of it remains. The road is heavily overgrown with buckthorn that had me on my knees in a few places and wearing gloves for much of the time. This was not a route to be rushed. The buckthorn is not as bad as most cacti, the needle-like points are attached to softer branches that bend and give as one encounters them. Dead buckthorn is another story, as once the detached plant dries up it is hard as wood. I found this out the hard way by stepping on such a piece that pierced the bottom of my bootsole and about a quarter inch into my foot as well. The pain was terrific and after unlacing my boot I discovered I couldn't take my foot out until I had removed the thorn from bottom of the boot. New respect for buckthorn! Once down to a first saddle, I found the trail again through some trees on the west side of the ridgeline, then another 25 minutes or so to the second saddle just north of the summit. Here the original jeep trail is abandoned (it goes around the NW side of the peak and is grossly overgrown) in favor of an old firebreak directly up the north side.
The final hundred yards to the summit is not trivial either and my initial effort at a direct assault from the north was rebuffed. I then moved around to the west and south sides before backtracking and finding my way up from the west. I had missed some flagging that seemed to indicate a good route choice. I found a benchmark among some rocks in the center of the summit area, but the register was at the higher rocky point just to the west. It dated to 2002, and seemed the best one all day worth signing one's name to. This lower summit was harder than 90% of the peaks on the HPS list, to be sure.
When the buckthorn had first appeared at the start I had worried about getting back before dark - I didn't relish the idea of bushwhacking through the stuff by headlamp. Timing was on my side, however, and thanks to the jogging I had done on the earlier peaks, I managed to get back to the van only minutes before sunset. There was a fine orange sunset through the afternoon haze around 4:45p, the air growing noticeably cooler by the minute at 5,000ft.
I spent the night in one of my quiet hideouts off Mountain Rd, just above San Antonio Dam. I heated some soup for dinner in the van while I watched the rest of the DVD movie I had brought with me. A heavy fog had rolled in early, enveloping the area in a thick, damp blanket. The good weather I had enjoyed for the last week was looking to run out. Hopefully no rain would develop for the last day of the road trip...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Morton Peak
This page last updated: Fri Nov 27 12:44:39 2015
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