Little San Gorgonio Peak, Wilshire Mountain, Wilshire Peak
5 October 2001
By: Karen Isaacson Leverich
Privately led by Mars Bonfire
5 October, 9 October, and 15 November 2001
The problem: suppose you want to hike Yucaipa Ridge (Allen Peak, Birch Mountain, Cedar Mountain, Wilshire Peak, Wilshire Mountain, and Little San Gorgonio Peak) without a car shuttle. Why? Why not! Mars was leading (privately) and this is how he wanted to do it. And hiking Yucaipa Ridge on the installment plan gave us the chance to see it multiple times, in different weather and light, from different angles. I'll do it as a single traverse someday, too, but really enjoyed the unique perspective of doing it in smaller bites.
We started on 5 October, Mars Bonfire, Brian Leverich, Ingeborg Prochazka, and myself. The first segment began "traditionally", at the Vivian Creek trailhead. We hiked up Mill Creek until Mars spotted a distinctive rock, then we turned right into a wash which we followed upwards until a slope emerged on our left. We scrambled up that slope, steep and loose at times, to a ridgeline. Not Yucaipa Ridge, not yet, but only a ridge away. Mars, suspecting we might come out by headlamp (an especially spooky concept since at that point none of the rest of us had done any cross-country in the dark) tied bright streamers with attached reflectors to strategically visible branches. These can show up in his spotlight across long distances, and do make navigating out in the dark much easier than it otherwise might be.
From that initial ridge top, we followed a use trail that sidehilled around a bump to the saddle below Little San Gorgonio -- an annoying traverse that faded in and out, disappearing in brushy patches, taking us across steep slippery gravel slopes. But it wasn't too long, and proved easier on our return than I expected. (That's often the case for me -- I'm going up a steep slope and thinking, "I'll never be able to get down this without falling", or I'll be going down a steep slope and thinking, "I'll never be able to scramble back up this later!", and yet almost always it's easier on the return. Go figure.)
Now that we were on Yucaipa Ridge itself, the trail seemed better defined and we quickly trundled up Little San Gorgonio. Such views! Of all the peaks we would ultimately visit, this had by far the best views. (Though in the event, we saw more on the Cedar/Birch day, due to a recent front that had scrubbed all haze from the sky.)
Having semi-recently done Galena the traditional way, I find myself extremely interested in exploring non-traditional routes. I'd heard an apparently apocryphal tale of a trip Mars and Tom Hill made between Little San Gorgonio and Galena (I say "apocryphal" because Mars remembers doing no such thing, and it doesn't seem like the sort of hike one would do and then forget), so was curious to see the ridgeline east of Little San Gorgonio. Intimidating, is my take, though Mars seemed intrigued by the possibility.
That would have to be some other day, however. This day, our interests were the peaks to the west. Off we went, into a saddle then back up onto an antenna-decorated peaklet, startling several workers who were there adding even more towers to the farm. A brief conversation revealed they thought they were on Little San Gorgonio. We nodded politely and hiked on down the road, splitting off eventually to climb the rather vague Wilshire Mountain. Peak? Mountain? I can't recall. Along the way, we ran across the vestiges of the old Oak Glen Ridge Trail, Oak Glen Divide being another name (the real name? the official name?) of Yucaipa Ridge.
I'm unsure when/how this trail fell into disuse. Reading imaginatively between the lines of Robinson's San Bernardino Mountains book, I suspect the problem had to do with most public access to the ridge disappearing -- historically hikers accessed the ridge from the south (normal folk presumably being daunted by the cross-country scramble we HPS-types do from the north). As the private property holders withdrew the permission necessary to cross their lands to reach the ridge, the trail perhaps fell into disuse and is no longer maintained. But there may be hope -- large parcels of land along the ridge are being purchased by hiker-friendly groups such as the Wildlands Conservancy (which now owns Birch, Wilshire Peak, and Galena), and a trail to Wilshire Peak is apparently on the drawing boards. Some year, this ridge may again be easily accessed via maintained trails, and we can regale our new members with hoary tales of how tough we used to have it. Meanwhile, "roughing" it as we did had its own rewards. Other than the workers at the electronics site, and Sergio (see below), we didn't see a soul on any of these hikes.
Anyhow, this first day, we didn't benefit that much from the old trail system -- once we finally reached the ridge, we mainly followed a road or hiked cross-country (sometimes on scraps of the old trail) through open forest. Very pleasant hiking.
The diciest part that first day was the descent back down to Mill Creek -- because we weren't doing a traverse and a car shuttle, we retraced our steps and descended that steep rocky ridge we had ascended earlier in the day. I almost wiped out Mars with a boulder the size of a bowling ball -- it was as if I'd aimed it directly at him. He evaded it by gracefully leaping over it at the last minute.
And our pretty ribbons proved oddly hard to spot. But we made it down to a relatively easy to follow wash by the time dusk fell, and the bit we had to walk by headlamp wasn't at all difficult. Much easier than we had dreaded.
As we neared the point where the Vivian Creek trail crossed Mill Creek, we realized we weren't the only folk out and about wearing headlamps -- there was a solitary light bobbing across the wash, someone coming down the Vivian Creek trail. We commented, but didn't think much about it, being more taken with the fact that
[Manuscript ends here. Suffice it to say, we met the owner of the headlamp, who was a Tibetan Bhuddist named Sergio who needed a lift to Pasadena, which we provided. It was one of those days...]
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