Yucaipa Ridge, on the Installment Plan
Privately led by Mars Bonfire
5 October, 9 October, and 15 November 2001
First installment: Little San Gorgonio Peak, Wilshire Mountain,
Wilshire Peak. Incomplete. Later installments never written. Oh well!
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...]