Saturday, October 13, 2018

Iron Mountain #1 via Gold Dollar Mine

Hiked: 10/12/2018
Distance: 16.6 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 8007'
Elevation Gain: 8223'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 6.57
Round trip time: 16 hours
Recommended water: 216 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass at Heaton Flat
Difficulty: Very Strenuous

Gold Dollar Mine is one of the most inaccessible mines in the San Gabriel Mountains. It was built near Iron Mountain about 500' below San Antonio Ridge, high on a very steep slope. "Hardcore" Henry and I planned to start at Heaton Flat, take the unmaintained trail above Widman Ranch, go cross country to Gold Dollar Mine, loop over the spicy part of the San Antonio Ridge up to Iron #1, then return down the south ridge trail.

We met at 4:00 AM and started out in the dark, reaching Allison Saddle just about sunrise. Then, we took the unmaintained Coldwater Trail on the right. The first mile was Washout Alley, with several somewhat dangerous washouts that must be passed. Then, the trail got much better passing above Widman Ranch with notoriously unfriendly residents. Dima Kogan and other people have trimmed back the yucca in places, but I managed to get a yucca needle broken off in my pinky toe. At the end of the trail, we dropped about 40' into Dry Gulch using a hand line someone had left there a long time ago. The rope wasn't in great shape, but we tested it and used to descend. Dry Gulch was relatively open without many obstacles. We continued up the gulch until we found a slope on the Gold Dollar Ridge that looked relatively free of brush. The slope was surprisingly steep and we spent a fair amount of time on all fours (mountain climbers) to make progress. Fortunately, the soil was soft and full of pine needles so we didn't slide back as much as we would have on hard dirt.

One of many washouts on the Coldwater Trail

Widman Ranch

Henry dropping in to Dry Gulch

Climbing the slope to Gold Dollar Ridge

Iron Mountain with an amazing vein of white rock

Looking back into Dry Gulch

We had Ze's GPS track (from the San Gabriel Forum) which showed us where to head toward the mine. We didn't follow the track exactly, going parallel a little higher on the ridge along an old trail. Where we intersected Ze's track was the first site of Gold Dollar ruins. Part of an ore hopper was there and some equipment I couldn't identify. Steel cables ran up and down the mountain from the site. From reading Dima's report, another major ruin site was below. The Garmin GPS had marked the mine higher up than our location. We decided to follow the steel cables up looking for the mine and more ruins. We used the cables in some places to assist our climb. About 300' up, we found a second site of ruins. It had some kind of sorter and mine car rails. The GPS mark for the mine was east of our location and we had to decide whether to head toward the Garmin mark or continue following the cable up. In the end, we decided to follow the cable. It was slow going but we followed it to the origin, anchored to a large dead tree. We didn't find any more ruins along the way. We were left wondering if anyone had found the mine. It is possible the mine itself is east of the steel cables or maybe all the adits have collapsed.

First ruin site

Henry following the cable up

Second ruin site

Origin of the steel cable that runs about 1000' down the mountain

On the way up to San Antonio Ridge, we got intriguing views of Gunsight Notch and Big Iron. There is a huge vein of white rock running down from Iron that is not fully visible except from below. We took a break to fuel up before tackling Gunsight and the ridge for the second time this year. Henry and I were in agreement that the second part of the notch is the most difficult, even though the exposure is not as great. The rock on the second part seems much more loose. I took a few more photos of the third scrambling section consisting of white rock, sometimes called the Witch's Backbone. While it demands full attention, the ridge didn't seem as scary as the first time I did it. When we topped out on Iron, my stomach wasn't feeling great. I think maybe something in the sub sandwich I bought the day before had gone bad. In any case, I couldn't eat anything but a few cheezits and a butterscotch. Because of the cool weather, I had plenty of water and the descent was uneventful if slow, ending in the dark. We picked up 4 mylar balloons for the day. There may still be some missing pieces to the Gold Dollar Mine story.

Gunsight and Iron

Almost to San Antonio Ridge

From below

From above

Looking up from the Witch's Backbone

Big Iron

One of three tarantulas we saw on the way back

Friday, October 5, 2018

Wild Things v10

Hiked: 10/5/2018
Distance: 6.6 miles round trip on trail
Difficulty: Easy

The Santa Ana trailcam was trapped in a poor location for weeks after the Holy Fire. When the area reopened, I picked it up and it had no interesting animals on it. I moved it to a game trail in the same general area and over the next 12 days, it recorded a deer party. It looked like at least five different deer visited the area. Like many parties, this one ended in a fight. Two bucks lock horns, though it looks more like play than a serious fight. It's all fun and games until someone loses an eye. I guess bucks will be bucks. I am hoping that over the next few weeks, a predator wanders by. If not, I'm going to move it back to the Babushka watering hole.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Charlton Peak, Little Charlton, and Poopout Hill

Hiked: 9/28/2018
Distance: 14.9 miles round trip on trail and and cross country
Summit Elevation: 10806' (Charlton), 10696' (Little Charlton), 7840' (Poopout Hill)
Elevation Gain: 4197'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.35
Round trip time: 7 hours 40 minutes
Recommended water: 156 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

September is my favorite month to visit the San Bernardino Mountains. The bugs of early summer are usually gone and the heat raging in the desert and other local ranges is moderated by the cool air of the high country. Many areas were closed for a couple of years following fires, but almost everything has been opened again (a few roads remained closed). The burden of getting a hiking permit was also lifted last year. A welcome change. My goal today was Charlton, Little Charlton, and Poopout Hill from the South Fork Trail. It was a totally new area for me. I was the only car in the parking lot at 6 AM. There were nice restrooms and the trail starts by crossing highway 38 heading south. I took off in twilight.

The trail was in great shape. The first thing I noticed was the severity of the burned trees. Most of the forest on this side had burned up to about 9000'. Less than a mile up the trail was Horse Meadows, where two cabins and a bench had survived the fire. The trail crossed a dirt road above Horse Meadows and another half mile got me to Poopout Hill. There was a camping spot there, but the low summit boulders had no markers or register. Poopout Hill was only a 5 minute diversion. The South Fork Trail is on the north side of the high spine of the mountains and remained in shadows all morning. Combined with the elevation and a breeze, the temps dropped into the 40Fs and I had to put on gloves. A dramatic change from the high 90Fs on Grunt two weeks ago. From this point to Dollar Lake Saddle at 10000', the trail makes long, swooping switchbacks. The grade is gentle up to the Dry Lake cut off, then gets steeper, but never uncomfortably so. However, the combination of distance and increasing elevation make it a grind. The last mile before Dollar Lake Saddle offered phenomenal views of San Gorgonio and Charlton. The northern slopes of Charlton looked quite rough from the trail. I took a break at Dollar Lake Saddle to refuel, staying in the sun and adding another light layer. I also cached two bottles of water for the return trip.

Poopout Hill summit

San Gorgonio

Charlton Peak

The crux of the hike was the east ridge of Charlton. It's 800' of steep class 1 with occasional light class 2 on nice granite. A trace of a use trail appeared and faded. The pines are sparse enough that they don't really get in the way, but I was moving slowly on the ridge above 10k. The summit area was long and broad and the trees blocked views 180 degrees to the east. There was a broken ammo box bolted to a rock with a pair of red cans inside. The register was brand new, only placed a couple of weeks earlier. I found no USGS marks. After signing in, I enjoyed the sharp view of the north side of San Gorgonio and Jepson. Gorgonio was only 800' higher than Charlton, but it looked much higher due to bulk. After some photos, I started down toward Little Charlton, barely visible over the trees. When I got near the saddle between the two, it opened up and I got a good look up the rocky ridge. It was only 100' gain to the top of Little Charlton. Any of three small bumps could have been the high point. The second bump had a broken ammo box, but no register, probably the official summit. My Garmin GPS showed the third small bump as the summit, but the GPS topo has shown errors in the past. To be safe, I went over all of them on the way down the west ridge to meet up with the San Bernardino Divide Trail. I took the trail around the south side of Charlton back to Dollar Lake Saddle. I picked up my water cache, then set a quick cadence to make up for my slowness on Charlton. On the way down, I met my a few backpackers heading up for the weekend, including two USFS rangers making their way to Big Tree Camp. They said it was a remote area and not very popular. I hadn't heard of it and needed to look it up when I got home. My final rest stop was at Horse Meadows to check out the cabins. One was locked and one looked like it was built for stable gear. I was snacking on the picnic table when I heard a loud crash from the brush nearby. My first startled reaction was bear(!) but I think it was just a burned limb that had fallen from one of the trees. Either way, it encouraged me to get back on the trail and finish. This hike was right in my sweet spot between 12-16 miles.

Climbing up the east ridge

Charlton summit

Looking south

On the way to Little Charlton

Little Charlton summit

Exploded pine

Cabins at Horse Meadows

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Grunt Benchmark

Hiked: 9/14/2018
Distance: 5 miles round trip on dirt road and cross country
Summit Elevation: 2144'
Elevation Gain: 1115'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.89
Round trip time: 3 hours
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Carrizo Creek
Difficulty: Easy

Grunt is the 5th of 5 "pain points" the USGS named near the Carrizo Gorge. Who says they don't have a sense of humor? Four of the five are on the San Diego Peaks List and I had already visited them, but Grunt was unfinished business from a hike with Eric Su in 2016. The shortest direct approach was from the north in Carrizo Gorge. The pain points in descending order of elevation:
  1. Gasp 3223'
  2. Puff 2719'
  3. Moan 2939'
  4. Groan 2732'
  5. Grunt 2144'
There is a warning sign at the start of Carrizo Creek road about deep sand and 4x4 vehicles only. As promised, I found deep sand quickly and a few places where it was 6" deep. Sand was the only hazard the first few miles, then the road got considerably worse. It dipped in and out of the rocky creek, and was severely eroded in spots. High clearance was needed for some of the creek crossings. About a mile from the end of the road, I could no longer see the continuation, so I just parked and started hiking. It was already over 90F at 9:30 AM so I intentionally slowed my pace and took a break whenever I found enough shade. It was still too hot to spend more than a half day in the desert. I headed down the banks of the creek, eventually finding more of the road. Just past the end of the official road, I took a side canyon west following Greg Gerlach's GPS track. The unnamed side canyon was sandy and mostly clear of obstacles. There was a class 2 section near the start. I followed it until I was almost directly north of Grunt, then started up the slope staying above a prominent gully.

4x4 Only

In the side canyon

Starting up the slope

It was steep and slow in the heat, but I trudged ahead. The Grunt summit was mostly hidden until I reached the end of the ridge. The summit area was large and flat with multiple rock piles competing for the top spot. I checked out a couple before finding the summit and a pair of yellow cans with the register. The benchmark was directly under the cans. I found an old rotten post that had fallen down and stood it back up with piles of rocks. Grunt is a remote peak and since it was not on the official list, I thought it would have a very small number of entries. The register went back to 1982 and was only half full, but it contained at least twice the entries I expected. There was no pencil or pen in the register so I left one. The view up to Gasp was impressive, and I was glad I wasn't headed up there. The view back down the gorge was also impressive. While I was on the summit, a DHS helicopter flew up the gorge on patrol. On the way back, I stopped to check out a small natural cave in the side canyon. It was a cozy 10' cave with a soft dirt bed. I had to use a flashlight to see the end of it due to the contrast with the bright light outside. I'm not sure any animal still uses it, but it would be a fine shelter. I got back without seeing another person the whole day.

Grunt summit with Gasp in the background


A note from Paul Freiman about the pain points

Looking north

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