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Day Hike

Mt. San Bernardino Terrain Challenges Hardy Veterans

August 29, 1987|JOHN McKINNEY

Mt. San Bernardino, with its twin peak Mt. San Gorgonio, just five miles away and 900 feet higher, anchors the eastern end of the San Bernardino Mountains.

At 11,502 feet, Mt. San Gorgonio is the peak by which all other Southern California peaks are measured. Mt. San Bernardino too is quite a landmark.

In 1852, Col. Henry Washington and his Army surveying party were directed to erect a monument atop Mt. San Bernardino. The monument was to be an east-west reference point from which all future surveys of Southern California would be taken.

The colonel's crew took many readings, but heat waves from the San Bernardino Valley below befuddled their triangulations. The surveying party ingeniously solved this dilemma by lighting bonfires atop the peak and making their calculations at night.

This trail takes you from deep pine forest to exposed manzanita slopes and visits the old survey monument. The higher slopes of Mt. San Bernardino are beautiful and rugged subalpine terrain. A number of trail camps along the way offer spring water and rest. You won't forget this hike for a long time.

You should be in good condition. High elevation coupled with a steep ascent means this trail is most certainly not "a walk in the park." Those hikers in less than top form might consider going only as far as Columbine Spring, beyond which the trail becomes very steep.

Camp Angelus trailhead is less visited than others at the edge of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, but nevertheless it receives a lot of use during summer weekends, and a permit is required for entry into the wilderness.

You can secure a permit by mail from the Mill Creek Ranger Station, San Bernardino National Forest, Route 1, Box 264, Mentone, Calif. 92359. Be sure to state the number in your party, as well as the date and locale of your trek. Information about San Gorgonio Wilderness trails: (714) 794-1123.

Mill Creek Ranger Station is located one mile east of the hamlet of Mentone, seven miles out of Redlands on California 38. Station hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. You can pick up wilderness permits, maps and trail information here.

A "self-service" display in front of the station dispenses a limited number of day-use wilderness permits to day hikers.

Directions to trailhead: From Interstate 10 in Redlands, take the California 38 exit. Follow California 38 20 miles east to Angelus Oaks. Turn right near a fire station at a sign that reads "San Bernardino Peak Trail." Soon you'll turn right and follow a dirt road one-quarter of a mile to the large parking area at Camp Angelus trail. Signed San Bernardino Peak Trail is at the north end of the lot.

The Hike: The trail begins ascending through a mixed forest of pine, fir and oak, switchbacking up a beautifully wooded slope. You mount a ridge, walk along its crest for a brief distance, then continue climbing. You're welcomed into the glories of the San Gorgonio Wilderness by a wood sign, two miles from the trailhead. A little beyond the boundary, the grade grows less severe. As you climb above 8,000 feet, the Jeffrey pines become widely spaced. The trail penetrates a manzanita-covered slope. You reach a signed side trail leading to Columbine Spring Camp.

Bear right on this trail. You'll descend steeply past all-but-dry Manzanita Spring and continue one-quarter mile down to Columbine Spring Trail Camp, a shady lunch or rest stop. Columbine Spring, surrounded by columbine, has a moderate flow of water at this time of year.

Rangers suggest San Gorgonio wilderness hikers treat all backcountry drinking water.

Option: To San Bernardino Peak. A short distance beyond Columbine Springs Camp Trail Junction, San Bernardino Peak Trail begins climbing more earnestly. The trail ascends in fits and starts over slopes covered with manzanita and homely chinquapin and in 1 1/2 more miles, reaches Limber Pine Bench Camp. Another quarter mile up the trail is Limber Pine Spring, a bare trickle this late in the summer.

The trail begins a long traverse south, offering superb views as it switchbacks above 10,000 feet in elevation. About 100 yards from the trail, you'll spot Col. Washington's baseline monument, which resembles a pile of stone rubble. The trail climbs yet another half mile, where it intersects a brief side trail that takes you to the summit of Mt. San Bernardino (10,649 feet).

San Bernardino Peak Trail

Camp Angelus to Columbine Spring Camp: 9 miles round trip; 2,000-foot elevation gain.

Camp Angelus to Limber Pine Bench Camp: 12 miles round trip; 3,200-foot elevation gain.

Camp Angelus to San Bernardino Peak: 16 miles round trip; 4,700-foot elevation gain.

Wilderness permit required .

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