San Bernardino East Peak
San Bernardino Peak
Heart Bar Peak
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2 3||Profiles: 1 2|
In the fall of 2007 Rick Kent managed to climb 17 named peaks around the San Gorgonio area in a long 17hr day, some 38 miles and 12,000ft of elevation gain. Today's hike was an admittedly weak attempt to recreate that climb, failing due to a number of factors not the least of which I am not Rick Kent. The 17 peak effort was an outgrowth of the Nine Peaks Challenge, a less tough version that is quite popular among the fit hiking crowd in Southern California. I would probably have failed at that as well on this particular day.
I started from the South Fork trailhead on the north side of San Gorgonio just after 5a. Parking the van, I headed back down the road to the Forsee Creek TH, in the same fashion that Rick had done. I even took a shortcut through the forest to cut off some mileage in much the same manner as Rick had. Like a clone, I was going to be Rick, for the day at least. It didn't take long for things to go wrong. Emerging from the forest, I crossed over a dirt road I mistook for an access road to a camp area when in fact it was the road heading to the Forsee Creek TH. Consequently, I wandered west of the TH cross-country through thick forest, traversing steep hillsides, lost among YMCA camps and long-forgotten forest roads and trails. None of my cursing and swearing could make up for the fact that I didn't have a topo map. Dang, was I frustrated. The net result was it took me an hour and a half to reach the Forsee Creek TH where Rick had taken but 37 minutes. I was losing ground at an alarming rate and I hadn't even been on the trail yet.
Once I started up the Forsee Trail, my frustration drained away and I began to actually enjoy the day despite the early mistakes. As the trail rose higher and higher, I could see that there was still a good deal of snow on the north slopes of the mountain and I wondered if this was going to cause me trouble as I climbed higher. I was somewhat surprised to find that the trail for the most part seemed to keep to snow-free areas, even where there was snow off to both sides of the shallow ridge it switchbacked up. I reached one trail junction without hitting any snow, but about 300 feet below the ridgecrest this ended abruptly. The trail disappeared under a complete blanket of snow, hard and steep. Suspecting this might happen, I had brought crampons which I used to climb the slope up to the crest. This was the only place I needed them as the snow soon after began to soften. And fortunately there wasn't nearly as much snow along the crest itself where much of the travel would occur.
Without access to a printer the night before, I had only a hand-drawn map with me, showing the approximate location of the peaks and the connecting trail system. Now that the trail was buried under snow, I wasn't so sure of where I was heading as I climbed up towards the crest. Consequently, I had nearly climbed to the summit of Anderson Peak before suspecting my error. I would have to climb Anderson on my way back from San Bernardino Peak anyway, so climbing it first was only adding extra effort. More time lost. I turned west and headed down the west slopes of Anderson, picking up the trail towards San Bernardino East. I could see the peak, about a mile to the west, as I traveled between two trail junctions along the crest, skirting the large piles of snow with huge suncups as best I could. Some of it was unavoidable, but at least I wasn't postholing. It was almost 9:30a by the time I finally reached the summit of San Bernardino East, almost four and a half hours after starting out. That was close to twice the time it took Rick to reach the same peak. Ouch. My doubts about the day were not diminishing.
For the next several hours things went quite well, as I continued west to San Bernardino Peak before reversing course and heading east along the crest, retagging San Bernardino East, then on to Anderson, Shields, and Alto Diablo. My times were almost identical to Rick's during this stretch. On my map I had penciled in the split times rick had listed on his websites, and I was able to judge my arrival at the next peak to within a minute or two quite accurately. None of the five peaks I climbed in this stretch were of much significance, really just moderate bumps on the long ridgline extending west from San Gorgonio's summit. The summit registers on the five peaks were uniform-looking ammo boxes, names stenciled on the cover, as part of an Eagle Scout project done a few years ago. The two boxes on Anderson and Shields had already been vandalized - bent and battered, with the lids removed and missing. The contents of these were beginning to deteriorate. Such is the ephemeral existence of summit registers on popular peaks...
I reached Dollar Lake Saddle at noon. Ahead of me was a moderate climb to the next summit in line, Charlton Peak. The northwest slope heading up to the peak was half covered in snow. More ugh. I was going to start slowing down again, it was clear. By now I realized that I was not just going to finish in the dark, but long after dark. Without a familiarization with the area and recalling my lost wandering in the morning, bright red letters spelling "EPIC" flashed in my mind. I was not in the mood for an epic while chasing HPS peaks. So I decided to bail at this point. I could head down the Dollar Lake Trail to the South Fork Trail to finish the day. And next time I come back I could do a loop out of the South Fork Trail to do the remaining twelve peaks. Hopefully without so much snow. It took only two hours to hike back out to the South Fork TH, for the most part a pleasant hike with only a little snow when I started the descent. I passed by several parties when I got down to the South Fork Trail, the only place I saw others the whole day. There are a few delightful grassy meadows to pass through, some rustic cabins, wildflowers in bloom, and miles of shady forest.
It was still relatively early when I got back, only 2p, so I set out to finish the day with nine peaks, even if they weren't the "classic" collection. Driving back towards Big Bear, I stopped a little more than a mile east of the Heart Bar Campground at a hard-to-find side road to climb Heart Bar Peak. The directions in the HPS guide were most helpful in finding the turnoff. I parked the van just off the road, hiked down the dirt road to a small creekbed, then started up the hillside for the mountain. The dirt road can be followed in a meandering path the whole way to the summit as described in the HPS guide, but it is 3-4 times the length of the direct route to the summit which is about half a mile. Of course the direct route is steep, climbing more than 1,000ft in that short distance, and I was sweating something good when I finally found my way to the top. Forgetting the camera back in the car, I got no pictures from the summit. I found the red cans of the HPS register among some summit boulders, with plenty of signatures to show the peak is more popular than I would have guessed. The whole outing took less than an hour and I can't say there was any sense of accomplishment on that one when I was through. Even from a distance the peak is rounded and unimpressive along the same ridgeline with much higher, unnamed summits. Heck, the highway even climbs higher a few miles from the trailhead when it climbs over Onyx Summit. Such is the selection criteria for HPS peaks...
I next spent about an hour driving back through Big Bear and then west on SR18 to the town of Arrow Bear. Just south of town is the Deer Lick Ranger Station and the Keller Peak Rd. The road is narrow, rather windy, but thankfully paved the entire six miles to the fire lookout tower atop Keller Peak. Hey look, an HPS summit you can drive to! I arrived at the lookout only twenty minutes before closing. I didn't know anything about the gated entrance and tower staffed by volunteers, but it was actually pretty cool. The peak has an amazingly steep south face that drops down to the Santa Ana River Basin and the San Bernardino urban sprawl below. Hazy weather marred the views, the volunteer offering that early morning usually is the best time to visit.
Next up was Slide Peak, just east of Keller. I parked at a very small turnout off the road not far outside the gate in order to follow an old jeep track east to the summit of Slide. The peak is particularly lame, barely rising above the ridgeline that extends northeast from Keller. A chairlift for a local ski area crowns the summit. There was no register to be found in the boulders that marked the highest point on the summit. Some views were good - one could see Butler Peak and the Rim of World Road (SR18) to the north, San Gorgonio to the east, and of course Keller Peak to the west. The whole outing to Slide took about 25 minutes.
Driving back down Keller Peak Road, I'd saved the hardest of the three for last, the hardest part of Mill Peak being in finding where to start. I drove past the hard-to-see turnoff a few times before narrowing it down based on my map and the HPS directions. The dirt side road that I was looking for is hidden from view until you pull off the pavement. The various roads I found along the way to the peak did not seem to match 1:1 to the map I carried, and the summit is not obvious at all when approaching from the north. But because the distance from the trailhead is only about a mile, it would be hard to get too lost when searching out the summit. For the last several hundred feet of the summit I left the trail when it veered east, hiking through the steep forest slopes to the top. I found the HPS register easily enough, and signed in. Trees at the summit block much of the views, and haze to the south blocked what remained, though Keller Peak looks pretty good from the west. The outing to Mill took just under an hour, getting me back to the van by 6:20p. Though I had a few hours of daylight left, I'd had enough fun with HPS peaks today. Time to rest up and find another challenge for the following day, though not likely selected from Rick's website this time...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: San Bernardino East Peak - San Bernardino Peak - Anderson Peak - Shields Peak - Alto Diablo - Heart Bar Peak - Keller Peak - Slide Peak
This page last updated: Mon Mar 1 11:44:32 2010
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