Folks who’ve skied or mtn. biked at Bear Valley Mtn Resort may recognize the view of Mt Reba as seen from the front side ski runs and the parking lots as they look to the east. While not as awe inspiring as Mokelumne Peak to the north, Mt Reba is close, accessible and provides a challenging summer day hike or an epic mid-winter snowshoe adventure. The payoff being awesome 360 degree views from the great central valley in the west to the Sierra Crest in the east, including the Carson-Iceberg and Mokelumne Wilderness areas, Ebbetts and Sonora Pass areas, and on a clear day all the way across the valley to Mt Diablo.
This hike is not likely of too much interest to the experienced mountaineer accustomed to 12,000’+ environments that require all the serious gear and experience. But the serious recreational hiker or beginning mountaineer will be challenged and thrilled here.
Mt Reba and it’s approaches make for a challenging summer-season all-day hike or mid-winter snowshoe/ski adventure. Elevations range from approximately 7600’ to 8800’, so for the novice alpinist or day-to-day flatlander some acclimation time at elevation may be necessary. When one accounts for varying levels of fitness, rest stops, photo opportunities, a lunch break etc. round trip time, for the entire trek, can easily be 5-7 hours. A full load of food and beverage is required. Mtn weather can change quickly year around – Be Prepared! Ridge-line routes discussed below feature steep slopes; 20+% are common, 30+% slopes too. The ups and downs along the ridge lines can result in total elevation gain for the day of over 2000’. Treking poles can be of value, especially on the face traverse routes above Round Valley (summer or winter) and when hiking anywhere in the snow with or without snowshoes.
This area is not within any Wilderness boundaries, so you can take your dog along for the adventure, if he/she is acclimated and really fit. Don’t forget food and beverage for Ol’ Shep; he needs to refuel along the way just like you. Snow and/or alpine gravel can be tough on a dog’s feet. Booties may be in order.
Cell phones don't work here so don't expect to be able to call for help if you get yourself in trouble; this ain't no city park. Know how to read and interpet a map. Tell someone where and for how long you're going. Plan ahead, start early, equip yourself appropriately, take your time and lots of pictures and you WILL enjoy an epic day in the Sierra.
Calif. State Hwy 4 out of Angels Camp from the west; Hwy 89 to Hwy 4 from the Tahoe region; or Hwy 395 to Hwy 89 to Hwy 4 from the east side, gets you to Mt Reba country. On the map look for the intersection of Hwy 4 and Hwy 207, west of Ebbetts Pass, in western Alpine Co. Bear Valley Mountain Ski Resort and Lake Alpine are nearby .
There are a couple starting point options for this hike/snowshoe:
1) From the roadhead on the east side (right) of Hwy 207 a couple hundred yards up from the Hwy 4 intersection, on the north side of the Poison Creek crossing. It’s Forest Service Rd. 7N93 (Mokelumne Wilderness map USFS 1988); Google Maps calls it a “packtrail”. There’s enough room along the highway to park safely. (During the winter Hwy 207 is not part of the Cal Trans designated “SnoPark”, which is around the corner, on Hwy 4, to the east, where Cal Trans closes Hwy 4 – so no SnoPark Pass required .) Road 7N93 goes a short distance up Poison Creek Canyon before a left begins the ascent of the toe of the ridge to the top of what I call the west Poison Canyon Ridge. This road is a real 4x4 style two track road during the dry season. (Sure… you could drive almost all the way to Mt Reba during the summer, but what’s the fun in that?)
2) According to the map (see above) there is a trail that leaves the north side of Hwy 4 a short distance east of the entrance to Silver Tip Campground, in the vicinity of the west end of Lake Alpine. ( This trailhead is behind the highway closure gate during the winter months, so no auto access.) This trail parallels Hwy 4 briefly before being joined by a trail out of the Chickaree Picnic area and turning north up Bee Gulch to the saddle at the east head of Round Valley.
Two “official" routes are depicted on Forest Service and USGS top maps: Forest Rd 7N93 off Hwy 207 and the Bee Gulch trail off Hwy 4 at Chikaree picnic area . The page author has only used the 7N93 /Poison Canyon ridges routes for multiple mid-winter treks. The following does not include any Bee Gulch related route info. Among my images there is a Google Earth "map" that may be handy to review.
Looking at the map one will note Poison Canyon to the north of the Hwy 4 – Hwy 207 intersection. Using Google Maps in Terrain mode, Google Earth in satellite view or a USGS topo map one will see the two ridge lines encircling Poison Canyon. This text refers to them as the west and east ridges. Poison Canyon is oriented Northeast (head) to Southwest (mouth at Hwy 4/207).
At the head of Poison Canyon the ridges merge and circle east then north forming the divide between Round Valley, Poison Canyon and Bee Gulch. This divider ridge runs up north intersecting with a ridge that runs generally west to east. I refer to this ridge as Reba Ridge (it’s not labeled on the maps). At the west end of Reba Ridge is Mt Reba. Far to the east this ridge peters out at Ebbetts Peak above Hwy 4 near Mosquito Lake.
Either the west or east Poison Canyon ridges can be used as a route to Reba Ridge. The ridge lines are wide and open allowing opportunities to see far ahead and chose routes to your liking. The exception being the toe of the east ridge as it turns toward the hwy intersection. Here you are in the trees so forward vision is somewhat hindered. If you’ve studied your map and can follow and interpret your gps device you won’t have any trouble finding your way.
For winter snowshoe treks the west ridge may be the best choice for starting your climb due to it’s proximity to free parking and it’s thinly forested lower slopes . During the dry seasons it would be easy enough to just follow the road up. That’s a little difficult during the winter as it’s buried under several feet of snow. When trekking in the winter the snow cover and snowshoes allows one to deviate as desired from the actual road grade and go “cross country”; it’s easy just to follow the terrain up. It would likely be a little less steep if one followed the road during the dry seasons, at least for the first ¼ mile up.
There is a series of four benches, or moderate flats, along the spine of the west ridge going up. The fourth and biggest is marked on most topo maps with the Poison BM (Bench Mark). Here you’re a little over 8400’ and have climbed 3-4 steep pitches running 20-30+%. Take a break! Enjoy the view of Mokelumne Peak to the north and the Dardanelles to the southeast.
From here the terrain mellows a bit as the ridge runs northeasterly across the head of Poison Canyon, but there is still another steep pitch up to the 8600’ point where the west and east Poison canyon ridges meet. Your back in an open stand of trees here as you now swing northbound and descend into the saddle divide between Round Valley and Bee Gulch. The high Reba Ridge looms above you due north, while Round Valley spreads out to your left and Bee Gulch drops away to your right.
From the saddle the terrain and lack of vegetation allow you to choose any route that appeals to you. During the dry seasons you’ll see the USFS 4x4 road swing off to the west across the face of Reba Ridge as depicted in the maps, and another set or two of two-track scars continuing forward through the saddle and straight up the ridge line to the top of Reba Ridge. In the snow one can traverse across the face or trudge straight up; depending on how you feel about climbing. Proceeding straight ahead northbound up the ridge tops you out just shy of 8700’.
Once you top out on the spine of Reba Ridge take another break and soak up the 360degree view… it’s awesome! When you’re ready turn west and follow the ridge out to Mt Reba. During the winter notice that there will likely be a nice cornice along the northern edge of the spine – use caution! It may not be safe to venture too close to the edge me friend. The high points along the spine are around 8800’. The highest point, located at the “end” of the 4x4 road (as depicted in Google Earth/Maps) is marked Reba BM on the topo maps. From this point, running due north is a spur ridge that divides Lake Valley to the west and Underwood Valley to the east. A short distance from Reba Ridge along this dividing ridge is a large black volcanic rock outcropping this author calls the "Big Black Fin”. From here at the Reda BM it’s approximately .75 miles out to the actual Mt Reba, following the spine of the ridge.
From Mt Reba summit the view of Mokelumne Peak is pretty spectacular, especially during the winter. And Lake Canyon and Round Valley and the Bear Valley Ski resort are pretty impressive too. But perhaps the coolest view is looking westbound down the Mokelumne River Canyon, all the way to Salt Springs Reservoir. An amazing example of Sierra mid-slope topography. Of course on a clear day I’m guessing some of those peaks one can see far to the north are in the Tahoe area; and the ones far to the south are in Yosemite and closer in is the entire Carson/Ebbetts/Sonora pass country. Stunning anytime, spectacular during the winter.
All that’s left is the return leg… head east along Reba ridge, or traverse the south face of the ridge, back to the saddle. Progress through the saddle and up-and-over the 8600’ high rise, or swing around it’s flank to the east. Once on the south aspect of the rise you’ll see the east Poison Canyon ridge dropping away in front of you. It’s a steep slope off the high rise onto the ridge. There’s no official trail or 4x4 track down this ridge but during the dry seasons you may see two-track scars. So you’re officially “off trail", following the terrain and your map/gps back to your start point. Poison Canyon spreads quietly below to your right. The more rugged Bee Gulch to your left.
As you progress down the spine of the east ridge you’ll see below you another black volcanic rock outcropping, forming yet another fin of sorts. At the base of this outcropping, on the west aspect, you’ll see a stand of trees. The author chose this as his route down and around this fin. Hikers have also been seen scrambling up and over this fin; and there were tracks in the snow around the base on the east side too. Either route, year around, it’s steep at the base of the fin, in the trees, on both sides. Caution is suggested as by this time fatigue may be an issue for the average hiker/ snowshoer; footing and balance could be compromised.
Below the fin the ridge continues southbound in a series of short steep rises, long flats and steep descents. Refer to the map and you’ll see a point at which this east ridge splits: a short spur dropping to your left, eastbound into Bee Gulch, and a long flatter swoop to the right, southwest toward the hwy intersection. Take this right hand ridge, the long swale downward. Your still in the open here, the sky is wide open over head, and the view of the Dardanelles and Lake Alpine continue to amaze. To your right the treeline has risen up to the west edge of this ridge covering the slopes of the west aspect. At the end of this nice gentle section you’ll drop off onto a steeper descent and enter a relatively open forest. Your "off trail" going "cross-country" now remember... during the dry seasons there may be enough deadfall and understory brush to make this last forested section a little challenging when it comes to picking your way along. During the winter, with a couple feet of snow the going is easy. Just follow the terrain and your map/gps down and down, back to the highway, your vehicle and the end of a pretty dang epic hike. Congrats!!
No permits required for day-use adventures. If your intent is to use the USFS Rd or the Bee Gulch trails to access the Mokelumne Wilderness to the north and east for an overnight adventure you will need Wilderness Permits from the Forest Service. Either the Stanislaus Nat. Forest Calaveras Dist. 209-795-1381 Hwy 4, Hathaway Pines CA or Alpine Station Hwy 4 just east of Bear Valley Village 209-753-2811 summer only; or the El Dorado Nat. Forest Amador Station off Hwy 88 at 26820 Silver Dr Pioneer 209-295-4251.
During winter months a SnoPark pass ($5) is required if you park along Hwy 4 at the closure gate at Silver Tip Campground. Sport shops in Arnold and in Bear Valley Village have them.
Mt Reba and it's southern approaches offer year-round access. Hwy's 4 and 207 are kept open.
Lots of Forest Service campgrounds in the vicinity of Lake Alpine. Lodging nearby in Bear Valley village, and further west down Hwy 4 in Arnold.