Friday, September 16, 2016

Star Benchmark

Hiked: 9/16/2016
Distance: 9.3 miles round trip on dirt road and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1942'
Elevation Gain: 1900'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.52
Round trip time: 4 hours 40 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Black Star Canyon Road
Difficulty: Moderate

On two different hikes up Black Star Canyon Road, I noticed the switchbacks of an abandoned road or trail on the east wall of Black Star Canyon. It was not shown on any map, but looked like it might lead up to the ridge and allow access to a benchmark at 1942'. Roads leading to 1942' from the other side were gated, signed, and surrounded by electrified barbed wire. The satellite view left parts of the canyon wall in darkness so I decided to explore the trail to see if there was a way through. If I got to the ridge, I also wanted to scout the firebreak leading the other way to see if it could be used for a future hike to peak 2829. The round trip to Star benchmark alone is about 7.6 miles.

Noel met me at the Black Star trailhead and we headed up the road. When we descended into Black Star Canyon itself, the trail we wanted to explore was almost directly across the canyon, above a 10' dirt embankment. We scrambled up and began following a use trail that had clearly seen some human traffic. The first two switchbacks take you near a cliff face with light bushwhacking. The next section led to a complete wash out with thicker vegetation. We found our way through, then entered the satellite black out zone. I had drawn my own GPS track on a map and brought it with me, guessing where to go from here. The track had us continuing downhill toward a road cut across the next gully, but we saw what looked like the continuation of our road and another switchback above us. We talked it over and decided to stick to the devil we knew. The bushwhacking was moderate in this section and we had to negotiate another complete washout at the next turn. The vague trail along the road here could have been animal or human. The overgrown road made a final turn and took us up to the ridge.

Descending into the canyon

Noel climbing up the embankment

The first cliff

Looking back into Black Star Canyon

Crossing the first wash out


Approach to Star Benchmark, high point before the giant cross

The ridge was more than a wide firebreak, it was a driveable road. We headed toward the giant cross and found the USGS Star benchmark on the high point just before. The views were great from here, and although there was no register, two small cairns framed the benchmark. Other hikers had been here. As we walked over to investigate the giant cross, we noticed there were other large crosses set up at various points around the summit. There were also some on a road leading up. There were scriptures stapled to some of the crosses. The giant cross was about 40' tall, constructed of what looked like railroad ties. A dedication plaque was at the foot of it that read "The Cross, dedicated to Gary Taylor, 1946-1999". It was covered in bird shit. The rocky bluff along Baker Canyon to the south was cool looking. The benchmark is inside the national forest boundary, but it might be part of an in-holding. I'm still not sure if this place is on public or private land, but based on the lack of signs, would guess public.

On the way back, we continued past the descent point to see what condition the firebreak was in going the other way. Noel stopped at the first bump and headed home while I continued to explore the ridge. I reminded him to watch out for snakes, a helpful hint he could have done without. Beyond the first bump, heading NE, the brush started intruding. Light at first, then moderate until I stopped on a high point around 2300'. I took a couple of photos of the ridge and peak 2829. I knew the firebreak continued at least to the next bump, but I didn't see anything encouraging past that. It looks nasty from both directions, but the Hidden Ranch route might be better. I had done enough scouting, turned around and cleaned up two mylar balloons on the way out.

Star Benchmark, placed 1928

One of many small crosses, the latin translates to "Jesus Christ King of the Jews",
the second line is Greek (same meaning), and the bottom I would guess is Hebrew

The giant cross

Cool cliffs in Baker Canyon

The lizard king, he can do anything

Dry looking Irvine Lake

Peak 2829 from my turnaround point


  1. Does the peak with all the crosses have a name?

    1. Sean,

      It doesn't have a name that I know of. The high point on that part of the ridge is just north of where the giant cross is, where the Star benchmark is located. There were probably 10 other 6' crosses sprinkled around the summit area and along the road to the south. It was a weird scene. Each smaller cross looked like a station with various bible scriptures, like you were supposed to visit all of them as part of some ritual. Initiation into the Priory of Scion?