Leaders: Alan Coles, Charlie Knapke
One thing that can always be said about Galena Peak is that each time you climb it, it is like a new peak. There is the opportunity to watch an amazing display of geology in progress or be a part of it if one is not careful enough.
What most people remember about this peak is the "jumpoff", the local term for a precarious headwall at the end of Mill Creek. It is an incredibly steep, loose and terribly dangerous route to the summit but one which has few alternatives. The only thing worse than going up it is having to go back down it which is usually required if one wishes to be reunited with their car back at Forest Falls.
It was not only a desire to circumvent returning down the headwall that inspired this trip. Both leaders had an interest in seeing some of the back-country that lies north and west of Snow Peak, an almost deserted section of the San Gorgonio Wilderness. After months of talking, we finally decided to do a single day hike starting from Forest Falls and ending at Millard Canyon (trailhead for Snow) using a very long car shuttle.
Some logistics problems occurred just before the trip. Both Charlie and I, it turned out, had independently planned our vacations for the 2 weeks prior to the trip. Fortunately, Carleton Shay volunteered to send trip write-ups to those that called as both of us left messages on our answering machines directing them to call him for information on the trip. Veteran HPS leaders Frank Goodykoontz and Patty Kline were the only 2 participants at the Raywood Flats Trailhead in Millard Canyon at the early hour of 6 am besides the two leaders. We got into Charlie's Explorer and drove down the road meeting Erv and Janet Bartel in their Toyota just before a bad stream crossing. We drove over to the Vivian Creek Trailhead and met our only other member, Harriet Edwards.
On a clear and chilly morning, the reasonably sized group of 7 started up Mill Creek around 7:40. Having been in the area only a few months prior to the trip, I was amazed by the dramatic impact of a recent storm. A dirt road extending up the canyon past the Vivian Creek Trail had been almost completely obliterated by massive erosion which included rocks greater than 4' in diameter. The ground was still damp and made walking easy along the recently created sandbars.
We hadn't gone more than 1 mile when we passed a group of 5 hikers also heading up the canyon. They had light packs and did not look like they would be doing any serious hiking. A man who appeared to be their leader came over to us and asked about the route. They were heading for San Gorgonio and thought that they might save some time by going up the canyon to the headwall, then taking the ridge directly up to the summit. We advised them in the strongest possible terms that this was certainly not a shortcut and that they should stay on the trail.
Further up the canyon we saw another person apparently backpacking up a side canyon on the south side. It was well past any realistic route to the top of Yucaipa Ridge, so one had to wonder if he was merely lost or exploring. It truly amazes me that there aren't more fatalities in this area.
Two hours after starting, we reached the bottom of the headwall. Charlie and Frank went up a side gully looking for Frank's route which follows a sheep trail on the south wall but couldn't find any trace of it. We then tried the standard route directly up the center of the headwall. The recent storm had removed most traces of the "used" trail making footing more difficult. Frank tried the south traverse near the top of the rim while I tried going straight up to the rim of the headwall. Fortunately, everyone else took Frank's route which was much better. Everyone made it safely and took a well deserved break to steady our nerves. No matter how many times one does this route, it never seems to get any easier.
From the top of the headwall we followed the ridge to the summit keeping off the hard snow wherever possible. There were large patches a few inches deep left from the storm a few days earlier, mostly an the west side. We reached the summit around 11 and had lunch. A cold north wind kept us off to the side as we admired the view.
The "peak" which is now considered the true summit (the eastern high point) was actually a bump on the east ridge of a much higher Galena in the not so distant geological past. The western summit is actually a part of the slope of the original peak that was probably over 10,000' high before erosion along a branch of the San Andreas Fault swept it away. Looking over the terrain from the summit one can piece together the ridges and construct the former peak which was on a ridge connecting San Gorgonio and Little San Gorgonio (how appropriate) with the summit somewhere over Mill Creek about 1 mile west of the headwall. High Creek was once part of Vivian Creek (this is really obvious by looking at the topo map) which also carried the runoff from the north side of Yucaipa Ridge. The headwall itself (Mill Creek Jumpoff) is rapidly moving east to join its near twin, the Middle Fork Jumpoff on the Whitewater River. Galena's west summit will soon be gone and the current summit will follow. As for Vivian Creek and its delightful little valley, it's doomed.
We had considered 3 possible routes to reach Snow from Galena. The most direct one was to follow the east ridge over a few rocky high points and down to the jeep road that goes to Raywood Flats. The other routes return back to the headwall and follow the streambed east to the East Fork Cabin where we could take either the jeep road or the aqueduct trail to Raywood Flats. We decided to try the latter because of the icy conditions along the ridge and we wanted to see the canyon.
After retracing our steps back down the ridge, Charlie led the group down into the canyon which starts off as a wide dry streambed with occasional willows to walk around. Further down an intermittent stream is joined in a thick forest of incense cedars, white firs and ponderosa pines. We came to one giant hollowed cedar which could have easily held our entire group inside, mandating a picture stop.
Further down a major tributary is joined from the north which builds a loud and bubbly stream. We passed through several deep green meadows full of flowers and bracken ferns, then began to contour on the south side where the canyon begins to make deep bends. There is a flat ridge on the south side which we hoped to follow but it turned out to be full of ceanothus and manzanita, so we kept to the side of the ridge where we finally hit the jeep road above the South Fork Cabin.
There are actually two cabins at this site; an older one room building now used as a shed and a much larger building used for living but which is now abandoned and partially vandalized. There is a diversion dam (a very modest concrete structure) which diverts water into a channel that goes to Banning. After looking at the aqueduct which is a 4x4' rectangular concrete channel covered by 2"x6" boards, the two leaders decided to try following it around to Raywood Flats instead of taking the road which is shorter but involves 500' more gain.
Off we went, kaplunk, kaplunk on and off the boards which we wisely were not trusting. There is usually enough shoulder to walk on either side. It is a rather long route because it has to follow the contour exactly around the ridges going in and out of every gully. Here and there one could see various types of pipes used to patch the breaks over the years: first concrete, then white PVC and now black ABS. We finally reached Raywood Flats around 4 and took a break at the old cabin site near the Flats.
This spot was very familiar to those who had been on my trip to Snow 2 years before when we explored this area. The black oaks which cover most of the Flats were, as on that trip, changing to bright yellow and orange. As we walked along the jeep road we saw the same exact people (with their guns) as we did on that trip camping on the private land on the south side of the Flats. We waved to them as we passed and they later gave us a 3 shot salute as we headed up the road to the top of Snow. After a short, steep scramble we reached the summit by 5 as the sun was beginning to get low on the horizon.
We took a 15 minute break to enjoy the view, sign the register and eat some food. Then Charlie led off again on the familiar route back down to Deer Spring as darkness set in. We walked the final 1-1/2 mile out in near total darkness reaching the cars almost 12 hours after starting. Another long shuttle back to Forest Falls was done and the trip was over by 9 p.m.
Many thanks to all participants who made it a great trip. If anyone has ever done any hiking in this region or has done Galena by other routes, please consider writing up your experience and sending it in to the Lookout. This route (certainly this trip) may be a first for the Section. It deserves to be done again.