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.
If you are up for a bit of four-wheelin on a fire road followed by some sweet views, then this is the trail for you. Don’t forget to pick up your hiking and camping permits at the Visitor’s Center in Idyllwild.
In the past two years, we have hiked almost every trail in the San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area. This area has some of the most beautiful alpine hikes ever.
The Fuller Ridge Trail is located approximately 8 miles up Black Mountain Fire Road (4S01)from SR243 north of Idlyllwild. We did this one in early Nov during a mild and dry fall weekend. It follows the western ridge up to San Jacinto and is a tough 14.2 mile out and back hike to the peak with approx. 4,000 ft. of elevation gain. I’d give the full hike a good 7-8 hrs. We didn’t have enough time for that and just hiked a few miles in. If hiked in its’ entirety, it is a good practice hike for Mt. Whitney.
Driving up this single lane fire road is a bit of a bone jarring experience, but believe it or not, a vehicle with good clearance can make it through. It does require some maneuvering but the Jeep had no problem tackling this one straight on. The road takes you up the north side of the San Jacinto range with views of Banning and Palm Springs along the way. Ol’ Grayback (Mt San Gorgonio) is a close neighbor. Amazingly, we didn’t run across any vehicles coming down as it would have required some jockeying to make room for two. You might want to hit the restroom before this drive because it will test the strongest of bladders. There are a few pull offs along the way for pics. Around 6,800-7,000 ft., the road comes to an end with the entrance to a campground and Fuller Ridge trailhead. Only one other vehicle here this fall afternoon. We began our ascent through a heavy cover of conifers. It was cool and crisp with the wind whispering through the gentle giants.
The trail meanders through the forest with occasional views into the desert below. It is one of the most peaceful and secluded trails that you can hike around San Jacinto. Most people will not drive 30 minutes up a fire road to hike. It’s also a nice back way in to San Jacinto Peak. We would not be doing the 7 miles to the top, but it is a fairly mild if not long journey there.
The only sounds were the woodpeckers seemingly fussing at each other and the occasional chatter of the chipmunks. This appears to be a nice trail for runners as the slopes are generally mild and the trail is mostly single-track. We noticed a fair amount of ups/downs the first few miles. No water sources were available on this trip, so bring what you need. If hiked in the spring, you may run across some PCT through hikers on their long trek north.
It is a mostly shaded, well maintained trail with occasional steep slopes on either side. Almost all trails in San Jacinto are worth the trip. This one is no exception.
Today’s tip: Always let someone know where you will be hiking. We usually send a text to a family member with the trail name, location and when we expect to return.