Distance: 8.8 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 9324' (Galena), 9358' (Galena West)
Prominence: 868' (Galena)
Elevation Gain: 3360'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.68
Round trip time: 6 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 144 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Galena Peak is the high point on the Yucaipa Ridge, a rugged line running on one side of Mill Creek opposite San Gorgonio. While dwarfed by the higher Gorgonio peaks, Galena tops out at a respectable 9324'. Sean and I started from the Vivian Creek Trailhead and quickly turned upstream in Mill Creek where the trail crossed over. At first, the grade is gentle and the rocks are small, but both change the further you go.
Heading up Mill Creek, it begins to get steeper, then large boulders and uprooted trees start to fill the canyon as it narrows. The creek itself gathered strength and you need to head up a gully on the right to bypass a high waterfall. Shortly after that, the size and frequency of the boulders changes the hike to a constant class 2. Galena towers over you as you progress. Eventually, we hit the headwall topped by the Mill Creek Jumpoff. The headwall is mostly compacted and sun-baked dirt, covered with a thin layer of loose sand and mostly unstable rocks and boulders. This makes it hard to find holds at all, especially reliable holds. The best approach is generally to stay left avoiding rockfall from the crumbling right side of the canyon. Sean stayed left, and while I started left, I began following one of the small drainages in search of traction, leading me more to the center. About half way up, Sean and I were both scrambling on all fours at 45 degree angles, both dislodging large and small landslides below us. Fortunately, we were using different lines. As we neared the top, the angle of the headwall got closer to 60 degrees while good holds remained non-existent. I realized my approach was not ideal, but it was too dangerous to try to traverse left toward Sean, and not really safe to down climb either. My best bet was to continue up. I had reached a 15' vertical section with large rocks exposed under the lip of the Jumpoff. Manzanita roots grew over the edge, some dead, some alive. I made a couple of class 3 moves to reach the manzanita roots, pulled the dead ones out of the way and crawled over the lip using the roots. Meanwhile, Sean had made it up on the left and quickly caught up to my position.
We thrashed through some shrubs to find a decent use trail heading up to Galena. The final ridge climb was steep, but not exposed or dangerous like the headwall. There was no benchmark, but we signed the register and had awesome views back down Mill Creek, the Gorgonio mountains, San Jacinto, and the San Gabriels above the low cloud ceiling. After a brief rest, we dropped our packs on Galena and completed the short hike to Galena West for better views of the jagged Yucaipa Ridge. We didn't find a benchmark or register on the unofficial Galena West. Our adventure was hardly over. We still had to get down the headwall and I knew I didn't want to go down the same way I came up. Sean and I agreed on the descent path and strategy, a combination of down climbing and dirt glissading. We staggered the descent so we would not knock rocks on top of each other. Sean went first and when he got to a safe spot, I descended to his location, then he descended further. He hit a hard patch at one point and slid a ways, leaving his hands bloody. I had a few rocks give way on me leaving me flat on my butt with some nicks on my hands and legs. It was slow going until the boulders thinned out, then we enjoyed a carefree stroll back to the car.
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