San Juan Hill P900 LPC
Gilman Peak LPC
Sierra Peak P300 LPC

Wed, Mar 17, 2010
San Juan Hill
Sierra Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

Sun Mar 21 was the 25th running of the Los Angeles Marathon, an event I ran in 1992 and 1993 with one of my sisters. 17 years later, and both of us a tad older, she was interested in giving it another shot. I jumped at the opportunity not just for nostalgia purposes, but primarily because it would give me an excuse to do some peakbagging in the LA area beforehand. Did I need the excuse? Maybe not, but it sure made it easier when asking the family if I could drive down for the marathon - and by the way maybe leave on Monday so I could do some hiking? I had forgotten that Tuesday was my daughter's birthday so I readily agreed to postpone leaving until after she went to bed that night. Four days of hiking would be plenty. And I really didn't care if I was in any shape to run the marathon afterwards - mostly I cared about the pre-event.

Tom Becht was unavailable to join me, or I might have chosen some of the HPS peaks in the area that we had both yet to climb. Instead, I decided to spend my time chasing LPC (Lower Peaks Committee) peaks that Tom had little interest in. I chose the peaks around the Santa Ana Mtns as they also included the HPS Modjeska Peak that Tom had already climbed. As I was driving from San Jose well to the north, I chose the peaks in the Chino Hill for my first stop.

Following directions from the LPC guide, I spent 6hrs driving to Yorba Linda and then navigating the suburban streets in order to reach the TH. I found a suitable place to park not exactly in front of someone's house and quickly turned the engine and lights off so as not to arouse the neighborhood. I then crawled in the back of the van and slept cozily for the next four and half hours. When I awoke it was not long before sunrise. I spent some time driving about the area in search of a closer starting point that I had spotted using Google Maps, but this turned out to be gated and signed for certain citation should I choose to park there. I ended up back at the LPC starting point, but found I was a bit early - legal parking isn't allowed until 8a, and the nearby streets were all signed for No Parking excepting residents. Aaargh. This was not starting out very easy. I ended driving back down to Fairmont Blvd and then around a corner to find a street without the Permit Parking signs. It would make for another 1/3 of mile to get back to the trailhead, but better than sitting around for an hour.

I hiked back up to the intersection of Blue Gum and Rimcrest where the unsigned TH is found. A short distance up a dirt road is the TH kiosk and signs saying the State Park --- is closed. What? Apparently state budget cuts have resulted in the park's closure on weekdays. Since I couldn't understand how this might be done for my safety as suggested by the sign, I didn't let this deter me despite the threat of arrest or citation.

I turned right and headed along the South Ridge Rd for the three mile hike to San Juan Hill, the highpoint of the Chino Hills. Gilman Peak, the second objective, lay across Telegraph Canyon on my left. Hiking into the sun along the undulating ridgeline was pleasant and easy. The road was completely dry, none of the muddy conditions I had thought the closure sign might be referring to. The hills were very green, satiated with the winter rains and bringing lush grasses to all the slopes. A thin layer of taller, dry brush from the previous year lingered like a shadow over the new growth, a sure sign that cattle grazing is no longer practiced in these parts.

There is a short single track leading off the main road to the summit where I found myself at 8a after an hour's walk. A concrete block crowns the summit, looking to have been part of a surveyor's setup from days past. The name "San Juan" was inscribed on one side with the date 1896, though it seems doubtful the block was that old. Nearby could be found a survey marker as the summit lies at the boundary between Orange and San Bernardino counties. There is a very fine view of the San Gabriele Mtns to the north, the snows on Mt. Baldy and some of the other surrounding peaks standing out distinctly across the flat valley containing the communities of Pomona, Upland, Ontario, and others. To the south, through a mild haze, stretched the Santa Ana Mtns crowned by the summit of Santiago Peak.

I hiked northeast through the tall grass along a thin use trail that dropped down to the South Ridge Road which I then took back around to the west side of the summit and towards my start. I took a short side road to the north at one point for no better reason than to see where it led. There was a small fenced enclosure, perhaps a pump station of some kind, and a plaque for the dedication of the Chino Hills Reservoir in 1989. There were no bodies of water to be seen anywhere, not even a small fish pond, so where was the reservoir? Perhaps underground? Those civil engineers can be clever.

About a mile from the trailhead I took another road that dropped down to the north into Telegraph Canyon. The creek was dry as I expect it is most of the year, but the soil was still soft and damp and not yet hardened for the coming dry months. Though the junction is unmarked, it was easy to spot the Gilman Peak trail running up the north side of the canyon and straightforward to find the junction a short distance west after starting down the canyon. The trail was crowded by the tall, dry brush sticking up from the newer grass. The vegetation was almost waist high and a thick mass of green bending in on both sides. Higher up towards the summit of Gilman the slopes were drier and the grass not so thick, allowing for carpets of flowers to begin blooming across the slopes.

I reached the summit of Gilman around 9:20a, finding a small concrete pillar with a 1972 benchmark placed by the California Division of Highways (a year later it became incorporated into the new CalTrans entity). As on San Juan Hill, no register was to be found, likely due to its popularity and easy access. I returned back down the Gilman Peak Trail, continued west down Telegraph Canyon for half a mile, then turned south at a junction for a narrow trail that took me back up to the trailhead at 10a. Another ten minutes brought me back to the neighborhood street where I had left my car three hours earlier.

I spent the next 50 minutes finding my way to the TH for Sierra Peak via Coal Canyon as described in the LPC guide. It's a sort of odd way to reach the north side of the Santa Anas as there aren't any THs on the south side of the 91 freeway that are usable. The TH on the north side of the freeway makes use of a bike path that follows along the narrow stretch of land between the freeway and the Santa Ana River. In true LA fashion, they were in the process of rerouting the river about 50 yards further north to move it away from the freeway where it was presumably beginning to threaten the embankment.

After about a mile along the bikepath I turned left at a wide freeway underpass. This is at least partially intended as a wildlife corridor to allow migration between the Santa Ana Mtns and the Chino Hills. About the only thing migrating under it at the moment besides the occasional hiker are a fleet of construction vehicles used in the expansion of the eastbound lanes on the south side. Sierra Peak can be viewed from this point, before crossing under the freeway, off to the left, rising high above the highway.

Crossing under the freeway I entered an open gate and into the Chino Hills SP, starting up Coal Canyon. This is the middle of three main canyons draining the north side of the Santa Ana Mtns into the Santa Ana River. As the name suggests there used to be a coal mining operation in years past, but the canyon is now all part of either the state park or a wildlife preserve. The hike up to Main Divide Rd is pleasant along a mildly graded dirt road that winds its way up some 1,700ft up to the main ridgeline. I passed by cactus slopes and various wildflower displays. Some of the sunnier south-facing slopes had orange fields of poppies intermixed with smaller purple flowers.

I reached the main divide shortly after 12:30p and spent the next hour following the road to the summit of Sierra Peak. As the day wore on the SoCal skies had begun to haze over, obscuring views, but one could still see the snowy tops of San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and Mt. Baldy. The summit of Sierra Peak is capped by a number of communications installations, much like the higher Santiago and Pleasants Peaks further south, but to a lesser degree. I found a benchmark, but no register, same as the other two peaks earlier.

I began my descent by backtracking along the same route, pausing when I came to a road junction on the northwest side of the peak. Consulting my map, it appeared that it might offer a more direct route down to the undercrossing I had used to get to the south side of the freeway. I had noted this branching road during much of the ascent but had not used it, choosing to favor the route described by the LPC guide which turned out to be somewhat circuitous. It seemed worthwhile to explore the alternative, so down I went. Within about half an hour it became more apparent why this alternative route was not described. Rather than descending the ridge I had expected (or rather, hoped) it to, the road switchbacked down the north side more directly to the freeway. Along the way it passes through the Star Ranch, a private concern that I could see was active with folks in trucks and bulldozers, along with a few dozen horses in a large fenced area. Numerous buildings and trailers dotted the land and junk was collected in several locations in prodigious quantities. It looked as though spur roads had once bypassed the ranch higher up to join with the ridge I wanted to descend, but had long been overgrown and the bushwhacking did not look pleasant. What to do?

I didn't want to hike back up and take the long route, nor did I relish the idea of bushwhacking through terrain that was almost certain to contain loads of poison oak. The Star Ranch was actually situated closer to where my car was parked and I recalled a smaller freeway undercrossing that must be the main access to the ranch. This led to my decision to descend through the Star Ranch and simply beg forgiveness for trespassing as it seemed certain I was to do. Oddly, I managed to descend almost into the middle of the ranch complex and walk out on the road to the entrance without ever being confronted by someone on the ranch. Now hiking down a paved road, I came eventually to the construction zone alongside the freeway where a few dozen CalTrans workers were busy working or busy watching someone else working. One of these greeted me as I walked up to them. I returned the greeting and asked if it would be alright to hike through the construction zone to the exit tunnel. No problem, I was told, just stay out of the way of the trucks and construction gear. There were graders and large haulers driving back and forth across the dirt road I followed, and boy did I feel out of place amidst this hive of big machinery in action. But no one seemed bothered by my presence and I made it through the tunnel to the other side without incident. And as a bonus, the car was a mere five minutes away, making for a descent from the summit of only an hour and a half. Surely this must be the shortest route to the summit, but with the intervening Star Ranch to navigate, I cannot recommend it to the LPC folks or other visitors to Sierra Peak.


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