Yerba Buena Ridge P900
Estelle Mountain P1K
Bernasconi Hills HP P1K

Nov 21, 2014
Bernasconi Hills HP
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 GPXs: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2 3


Yerba Buena Ridge

This six mile-long ridge is found in the western portion of the San Gabriel Mtns, just north of Big Tujunga Canyon. According to the USGS topo map, the ridge runs all the way to the top of Mt. McKinley, an HPS summit I had visited some years ago. The portion I was interested in today was the lower half with a prominence of more than 900ft, separated from McKinley at Gold Canyon Saddle. The 2009 Station Fire, started somewhere near here, was one of the most extensive fires in the range's history, burning over the western third of the range. My visit to McKinley had been two years later with this portion still closed to visitors, but I went up Gold Creek Rd anyway, finding the chaparral already making a strong comeback. Three years later still, it was not obvious that the area had been burned over so badly only five years prior.

A small storm had been forecast to blow through the area during the night, but it came in a bit of a fury as I slept in the van off Big Tujunga Rd, not far from the TH. Rain pounded hard on the roof of the van for several hours with lightning and thunder coming at regular intervals. Although I was awakened often, I felt smug that I had such a warm, waterproof tent to sleep in with little discomfort. Towards morning there were emergency vehicles driving up the road - fire trucks, ambulances, plows and others. There must have been mudslides, rockfall or flooding to cause an accident or two requiring so much equipment. The crews would be working through much of the morning clearing mud and debris from the roadway. They had responded so quickly that I guessed this must not only have been expected but a semi-regular occurrence along these narrow canyon roads.

A plow was working its way down the road scraping a thin layer of mud when I pulled off the roadway to park at the TH shortly before sunrise. The Trail Canyon gate was open (it had been closed when I drove by the night before) as usual, somewhat to my surprise. It didn't really matter much since I couldn't have driven in very far before encountering the permanently locked gate at the junction with Gold Creek Rd just up the road. the sandy roadbed had done a good job soaking up the water that had fallen leaving it surprisingly firm and not muddy. It was a delightful morning with blue skies following the nighttime storm. I spent about 50min hiking to Gold Creek Saddle, about a mile from Mt. McKinley. It's not so much a saddle as a trail junction with one branch heading north towards McKinley and the other heading in the opposite direction down the ridge to Gold Canyon Saddle (a real saddle). I hadn't realized ahead of time that I had some 800ft to lose between the two saddles as I found how roundabout my route was. I could now see west into the Little Tujunga drainage and suspected there was probably a shorter route up to Yerba Buena from that side (left as an exercise for the reader).

From Gold Canyon Saddle the road continues south through a junction and a cliff section north of the summit, portions of which have been washed out some years ago, before starting to rise to the highpoint I was after. The road here has become so overgrown that I lost it and started up what I thought was a washed out section of it, only to find I had climbed above the road and onto the NE Ridge. I was saved a bushwhack by finding a use trail running up the ridge when I reached it, probably originating further down the hill at a junction I didn't notice. This proved convenient, leading back to the road again further up, and in short order I was at the summit. The highpoint is found at the east end that I reached first, though no register was to be found among a small cairn here. I traveled over to a concrete water tank at a lower summit to the west to get a better view looking south towards LA and west into the San Fernando Valley.

On my way back I began to consider an alternate descent into Gold Canyon which would cut the mileage to less than half. The topo map shows a pack trail dropping into this canyon but it has been decades, probably, since it was last maintained. I did find an old trail sign off the roadway, but saw few signs of an actual trail. I decided the bushwhacking didn't look too bad and went off in that direction anyway. With moderate brush and steep sidehilling, it probably wasn't much of a time-saver, but I was enjoying the challenge of the cross-country endeavor. In a few places I could make out the old trail where the hillside had been cut, but for the most part it has disappeared amidst brush and shifting earth. Some deer trails helped make it go fairly well, at least until I dropped into a side drainage just before reaching the main wash. I thought I was home free, but found myself at the top of a dry waterfall I couldn't negotiate. The previous night's rain had left the rock and soils wet, loosening the cohesion that had held the stuff together when dry. Friable rock on a sketchy downclimb seemed a bad idea as I pictured myself falling into a broken heap about 15ft below. I climbed back out and found my way down a less sketchy but still trying thin ridge that eventually got me to the broad wash in Gold Canyon. This was a pleasant enough descent after this, little brush and water to contend with, a picturesque stroll where it narrowed in places. I eventually found my way to flowing water where it joined Big Tujunga Canyon. Here the brush was tall and not so easy to get through. I found myself about 80ft below the roadway that went over the canyon on a bridge about a mile downstream of where I'd parked. Getting back up to the road was no easy feat, at least at first. I was struck by falling water from either side of the bridge as I passed under it, soon surmising that road crews must be busy clearing mud from the bridge above. I could find no way out on the north side of the creek, try as I might. I noticed a use trail of sorts through the wash and followed this towards the south side of the bridge. Here I gingerly crossed the creek, scrambled up an embankment on the other side and discovered an old roadway leading back up to the south end of the bridge - nice! 15min later I was back at the van, the road now nicely cleaned of debris from the previous night's storm.

Estelle Mountain

This P1K is located on the east side of the Santa Ana Mtns, between Lake Mathews and Lake Elsinore, just east of Interstate 15. The summit and much of the surroundings are part of the Estelle Mountain Ecological Reserve managed by the CA Dept of Fish and Game. It's part of a collection of dry, grassy hills with little chaparral and no trees. Development has been encroaching on the area for years. A high-voltage transmission line runs directly over the rocky summit, taking something from the views. With a suitable 4WD high clearance vehicle one can drive to the top on rough dirt roads. I managed to get as far as the last ranch home at the end of Gavilan Springs Rd on the east side of the mountain, getting me within 2mi of the summit. Hoofing it from there, I spent about 40min climbing to the summit. Two motorcyclists were the only other folks I saw. I found a benchmark but no register among several rocky outcrops vying for the highpoint. Aside from the panoramic view across the Inland Empire and Riverside County, there is a near view of the east side of the Santa Ana mountains looking west. Unfortunately the time of day I chose to visit left the sun lower on the horizon in this direction, washing out much of the detail. The area seems to be quite popular with the OHV crowd judging by the amount of empty beer cans and other litter I found along the way. I picked up an empty twelve-pack box and collected dozens of discarded beer cans during my return. The place will be a little cleaner and I'll be a few bucks richer as a result.

Bernasconi Hills

16mi east of Estelle Mtn on the south side of Perris Reservoir are the Bernasconi Hills, its highpoint another P1K. I had been to the area three years earlier to climb Mt. Russell, an LPC summit as well as a P1K found on the north side of the reservoir. Bernasconi Rd off the Ramona Expressway can be used to get within about a mile of the summit. The road is gated at Bernasconi Pass, the remaining road to the reservoir now accessible only on foot. From the gate I headed right up the rocky hillsides. The vegetation is sparse, appearing to have fallen victim to a fire in recent years, making cross-country travel here pretty easy. The summit area is rockier still, with several outcrops vying for the highpoint. Both the lower east summit and the higher west summit blocks are easy class 3, making for a mild challenge. The views extend over a portion of the reservoir (partly blocked by a lower point to the north) and north to Mt. Russell, east across San Jacinto Valley to San Jacinto Peak and south over Perris Valley and the Lakeview Mountains. As it was nearly 4p by the time I got to the top, the views west were completely blinded by the sinking sun. I got back to the van just before 4:15p, showered and headed south to Homeland and Double Butte where I planned to climb the next morning. I was visited by the local police later in the evening at my parking spot at the foot of Double Butte behind a relatively new development. The officer explained that he thought I might have been an abandoned vehicle being stripped for parts and warned me to keep my doors locked. I think he was really hoping to find something more interesting than an old guy eating dinner and watching a movie in his van...


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