October was a busy month, so we took some time off the trail. Fall weather is gradually coming upon us in southern California. Fall in So-Cal? Sure, the leaves change here too. We even have aspen trees in the mountains! To really experience the change in season here, we head for the hills. The hills of the San Bernardino Mountains.
Today, we would load up the Jeep and head to Mount San Gorgonio. “Ol’ Greyback”, as it is affectionately known to locals, is full of diverse trails. Many of them converge north of the summit. It is the tallest of the three highest peaks in So-Cal – San Jacinto and San Antonio (Mt. Baldy) They all have similar eco systems and have desert terrain around them.
The trails on all these mountains are challenging and well maintained by volunteers. Some of the treks are heavily travelled, especially on weekends. Mt. Baldy probably sees the most traffic due to its location north of Los Angeles. Still, it has some of the most beautiful sub-alpine trails.
Back to our trip. Ever since I heard about the three guys from San Diego that went missing for three days off the Fish Creek Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in 2013, I wanted to check it out. Fish Creek Trail is located on the northeast side of the peak. It’s quite a haul from north county San Diego, but as most avid day hikers know, the trail less travelled is worth enduring the road most travelled. Yeah, driving through Riverside/San Bernardino is a lesson in patience. Making our way through Redlands and Mentone, we would stop at the ranger station to pick up our permit. It’s usually staffed by the friendliest volunteers, most who have explored this area extensively.
Hwy 38 loops around the west side of the San Gorgonio Wilderness and is a popular route for an alternate route into Big Bear. You gradually climb to 6,000 ft. and traverse the northern side of the wilderness area. This area is popular with campers in the spring/summer. In November, only Barton Flats Campground is open. The road is very curvy and the highway signs reminded us of the movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. We arrived at a collection of campgrounds including Heart Bar and the equestrian camps of Wildhorse which were closed. Due to the mild weather, the fire service roads were still open. This would be the second time we took the 1N02 fire service road. On a previous hike we drove the bumpy, rutted dirt road to the Aspen Grove trailhead. The road to Fish Creek trailhead is a solid seven miles, easily navigated with a 4-wheel vehicle; it would present a challenge to the average car due to the exposed rocks and deep ruts. As we pulled into the trailhead lot, there were actually a couple of cars. Now, that’s determination. Parking here does not require an Adventure Pass since it is just outside the National Forest boundary.
The signs to the trailhead are decayed and in need of some TLC. The trail was in decent shape. It is actually a nice way to hike to the summit. At approximately 9 miles, it’s easily done by the average backcountry hiker. The trail starts out at 8,000 ft. and meanders around two ridge lines. At .7 miles, we came upon the junction to the Aspen Grove trail which goes northwest. We continued on a rocky trail without gaining much altitude. The land was semi-arid with chaparral mixed in with deciduous trees. To the right was a meadow that continued to the west. The terrain changed to a forest and we crossed a small creek several times. Recent heavy rains through the mostly dry creek bed caused the plants to lie down. Nearby, skeletons of California Wild Lilies from an earlier season vowed to return to their full glory next spring.
At 2.6 miles, we passed Fish Creek Camp, an area set amongst the pines below the trail. The path is mostly single track and varies from sand to decomposed granite. After the camp, the trail begins a gradual climb of 600 ft/mile. The view constantly changes as you traverse the canyons over mostly easy switchbacks. We took a lunch break and had a nice view down Hell for Sure Canyon. Not sure where they got that name from, but have heard that there are a couple of aircraft crash sites there. Caught nice glimpses of Palm Desert. It was tranquil as we made some hot tea. The sun settled slowly behind Ten Thousand Foot Ridge near Fish Creek Saddle. Looking at the time, we decided to start back down.
Hike long enough and you can figure out how long it takes you to descend. The terrain affects your time, but we do about 3 mph downhill. Sometimes, the only sounds were the clacking of our trekking poles. As we descended into the ravines and gullies the cool air enveloped us as it sank to the lower elevations.
We emerged at the trailhead with plenty of daylight left and took one last pic. Chalk up another great hike.
Tip: When using trekking poles, shorten them for uphill and lengthen them for downhill. Using poles is like being on a Nordic Track machine. You will benefit by getting a nice upper body workout. Today’s walkabout was about 16,000 steps. I have these poles and recommend them. Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue They are light weight and durable.