San Bernardino East Peak...???
You don't find San Bernardino East Peak being raved about here on summitpost or in any of the forums, at least not like Gorgonio or Baldy or San Jacinto, anyway. I'd say the big reason is because of its name, which kind of sounds like a subsidiary peak. That's too bad, really, because it's actually got a pretty cool summit, and getting there has its pluses and minuses....
Don't say I didn't warn you!
Ok, I'll just be honest. The only reason I really found myself trudging up the Momyer Trail was really to do a little scouting for my one-day 9 peaks challenge next month (June 2012). If it wasn't for that, I probably wouldn't have put out the effort. Truth be told, my plan for the 9 peaks was to ascend the Momyer Trail, head over to San Bernardino Peak, retrace my steps back to San Bernardino East Peak, then continue on the crest all the way over to San Gorgonio.
I had heard the Momyer Trail was vague in parts and somewhat difficult to follow at times, so i wanted to really see for myself. Also, about 3 miles in there was a wildfire last summer, which ended up creating some trail maintenance.... Lastly, I wanted to see just how much water I would use getting to the ridge and how long it would take me to gain the 10,000 foot ridge from my car..... Lots of reasons and questions to answer for the mysterious Momyer Trail...
Section 1 - Trailhead to Alger Creek Trail JunctionI had left Pasadena at 5:20, getting to the ranger station at 6:20, and was at the trailhead by 7am. After dealing with the self-issue permit situation at the Mill Creek Ranger Station in Mentone, CA, I ended up ready to go just as the sun started creeping over the crest.
The first part of the trail you basically eye your way across Mill Creek looking for a sign on the opposite side of the river. Forget finding a trail, as this place is becoming the new hang-out for people looking to take a dip, seeing as the Vivian Trailhead has been closed intermittently. Hop your way across the boulders, walk past the sign, then find a well marked trail that travels to the right, then far, far back across a boulder wash to the left, eventually switchbacking up the side of a sun-exposed hill. I was glad to be getting this out of the way in the morning, as I could tell this section of the hike on the way down was going to be sweltering.
After clearing the switchbacks, the trail follows a dry creek bed shaded by large trees. Some oak and some pine (not sure on what types) are welcome reprieve from the sun-baked section below. This part of the trail was fantastic. Quiet, well-graded, and in the shade, it was hard to imagine a better start to the day.
Section 2 - Alger Creek Split through the Burn AreaAbout an hour and 15 minutes later, I passed the San Gorgonio Wilderness sign, which is almost immediately followed by the trail junction to Alger Creek Campground. This is where the Momyer starts getting a little funky. You bear left at the sign and immediately head up through the area affected by last year's wildfire. Lots of burned, charred trees lying about, kind of like a big tree graveyard. The trail here varies from very well maintained to... "Is this the trail?"
Some parts of the trail had pine needles so thick and overgrowth so bad I had myself wondering if I was just making my way up the mountainside on access trails created by fire crews.... I found myself pulling out my GPS twice just to check and see if I was heading in the wrong direction. That said, it wasn't so bad, and on the way down I didn't have a problem sticking with the trail.
Nothing, though, could have prepared me for what came next....
Section 3 - Revenge of the ThicketsPerhaps I've been spoiled my whole hiking life with well-groomed trails that many have trodden before me... Well, if that is true, the Momyer sure paid me back for all those years of "easy" hiking on established trails. When you first break out of the burn area, you end up in this large, open expanse that is really scenic. That is, until you realize you have to make your way across it.
YIKES. Just when you thought you had it good.... Here comes the OVERGROWTH. Seriously, it looks like this trail has been forgotten for years, and the last trail maintenance was/is long overdue. You can definitely follow the trail without problem, it's just you have to plan on scratching your way through all kinds of manzanita and large, prickly bushes (don't know the name), and there's just no way around it. Forget bringing a pair of clippers... it would take you DAYS or even WEEKS to combat the overgrowth on this section. You would need something like a full-blown hedge trimmer with about 6 or 7 extra tanks of gas to make a DENT on this portion of the trail.
Of course, unbeknowst to me this portion of the trail was so badly overgrown, I had elected to wear shorts for the hike, knowing the temps would be in the 70's throughout the day. You kind of get this far into the trail and figure it can't last that long and you might as well suck it up, but MAN, after about an hour of leg scratching and poking it really got old.
Anyone looking to get some serious brownie points with the Trail Gods may want to dedicate themselves to this beautiful, albeit serious pain-in-the-keester section of the Momyer.
Section 4 -To the Summit of San Bernardino East PeakAfter licking your wounds and cursing, you find yourself traveling nearly right below the summit on some large switchbacks that contour to the right, seemingly taking you way out of the way on your trip to the top. It was extremely tempting to abandon the trail here and head up the tallus to the summit, but I think it was faster to probably stick with the trail, seeing as much of the boulders you would have to climb to the summit look pretty loose.
Staying on the trail, you head far to the right, then make one switchback back to the left, which put you on top of the 10,000 foot ridge at a signed junction. It was now 10:48am, just under 4 hours from leaving the car. By 11am I was on the summit, after dodging a couple of remaining snow drifts that were lying about up on top of the ridge.
I sat on the summit for about 20 minutes, took a look at the summit register, and gazed at San Bernardino Peak to the west...
and Gorgonio far off to the east....
with all the little bumps in between that would be a true challenge to tick off in a day. I was really surprised how far San Bernardino Peak seemed from SB East's summit, including the elevation gain/loss that would be needed to tag that summit, only for those steps to be retraced in doing all 9 peaks in one day....
After contemplating this and forcing down a Cliff Bar, I decided to poke around the trail and see what the snow situation was like heading toward Anderson Peak. I didn't go too far, but there seemed to be a lot more snow lying in drifts along the ridge top, and definitely a decent amount on the north side. Enough to make me question whether it would be melted out sufficiently in time for trying to tag all 9 peaks in a day, anyway. We'll just have to see about that one....
Section 5 - Summit to Mill CreekHeading back down was pretty uneventful. Scaling over lots of downed trees on the upper section, missed the turn for the switchback coming off the ridge, and had a little trouble getting back on trail when heading off the summit ridge, but other than not, not much to speak of.
I saw basically one person the whole day, which turned out to be fellow SP'er theBEAST. While heading down I saw this person just standing there without a backpack or anything, right where the tallus-strewn summit ridge comes down off San Bernardino East's Peak. I was thinking, "How did this guy get out here with no water or anything?" It wasn't until I got closer I noticed a small backpack off to the side. We briefly exchanged thoughts on the thicket portion of the hike, and then departed.
I found myself back at Mill Creek just after 2pm, taking a little over 2 hours to get down from the top (I had left around 11:45am). It was now considerably warmer than before, and I just took off my shoes and socks with all the other people there, and completely dunked myself in the river.... Sooooooooo good.
Will I use the Momyer on the 9 peaks as entry or exit...That is the question....????