Readers of The Lookout may recall a short article I wrote about a year ago on the closure of the main road to these two peaks. The alternative is a nasty drive up a poor dirt road from Cucamonga Canyon.
I suggested investigating the old trail up the South Fork of Lytle Creek as a possible alternative. On Christmas Day, Jon and Ruth Sheldon and I attempted just that but weren't successful in reaching our destination. Still, it was a fascinating trip and some of you might be interested in our journey, so here it is:
From Lytle Creek Road, we parked the car just before the Bonita Ranch (about 1 mile past the ranger station) and more or less followed the standard route up the wide wash to Bonita Falls. The falls themselves are up a side canyon. Unfortunately, they are now sadly defaced by graffiti. We returned back to the main canyon and continued up to where it narrows and found a good use trail. There is an old trail camp under spruce and bay laurel trees about 2 miles from the cars. From there we continued up the canyon to where it bends and found an old road taking off the north side. We continued in the canyon bottom over more alluvial rock (which you get to do a lot of on this hike) until the canyon narrowed again (elevation 4200 feet). Here, thick groves of maples made a deep mat on which we treaded about 1/4 mile when we ran into a two tier waterfall. The canyon is very steep and dangerous, so we carefully worked our way north up a slope and ran into an old mining road. We followed this road which was just passable on foot as it contoured around the north side of the canyon. After scrambling down and up over a big washout (elevation 4600 feet) on a major tributary, we arrived at an old mining camp complete with the usual paraphernalia tossed about (no standing structures).
Shortly later, the road ends and the old hiking trail takes off on an easy to miss switchback. Remarkably, the trail was still in fairly good shape and we were optimistic for awhile until encountering a difficult but relatively small washout at elevation 5300 feet. We were able to cut some steps in the dirt but with no evidence of any footprints in a long time, it did not seem so promising. I went on alone and sure enough, in about 1/4 mile the trail petered out. There, in full view, was a massive headwall or "jumpoff" as they are locally called (similar to the one on Mill Creek that is climbed on the way to Galena). Pieces of supporting structures that once held the trail on this impossible terrain could be scattered up and down the slope and poles that once held a guide cable were bent over 180°. I could see the general direction the trail once passed by the position of the poles and pieces of corrugated iron but there was absolutely no way of following it. Why they had chosen this place to build the trail was obvious. Everywhere else it was worse which is why we could find no alternative around it. The San Gabriels are a very steep and dangerous range.
After lunch at this spot, we followed the old road down and continued on it past the spot where we had climbed up from the waterfall. There was more old mining stuff along the way including an old road grader. We met the canyon where we saw the road take off on the way up and retraced our steps back to the cars.
Now if we can get the San Gabriel trail builders and the Army Corps of Engineers together, maybe...