Companion blog: Adventures In Stoving

Monday, April 29, 2013

East Barton Flats to Grinnell Ridge Camp

UPDATE 16 July 2015:  Many (but not all!) areas in and around the San Gorgonio Wilderness are currently closed due to the Lake Fire.  See Lake Fire Closure Map for details.  Unfortunately, the Lost Creek Trail did burn and is closed, but there are many other really worthwhile trips that are described here on my blog that are not closed.

The Lost Creek Trail is one of the lesser used trails in the beautiful San Gorgonio Wilderness.  If solitude is what you seek, chances are that you'll find it on the Lost Creek Trail.
The Lost Creek Trail.  Note how the pine needles show little wear.  This is a lesser used trail.
 As the Lost Creek Trail crests the shoulder of Grinnell Ridge, one comes to Grinnell Ridge Camp, a fine place to spend the night.
"Rush hour" at tranquil Grinnell Ridge Camp
Well, if the Lost Creek Trail is such a nice hike, why isn't it used more often?  I think there are three reasons:
  • The attractive presence of nearby "name" destinations like Dollar Lake and Dry Lake.
  • The 5.3 mile/ 8.5 km with nearly 2000'/600m of gain climb from the Lost Creek trailhead.
  • Apparent lack of water (there's actually a nearby spring, but most people don't know about it -- more on that later).
I won't try to argue that lakes aren't an attractive destination, but if crowds are something you'd like to avoid, then perhaps the Lost Creek Trail and Grinnell Ridge Camp are worth a look -- particularly in a dry year like 2013 when both Dry and Dollar Lakes will probably just be mud holes by mid-summer.

But what about the other two "negatives" associated with Grinnell Ridge Camp, the climb to get there and the apparent lack of water?  Well, let me address each of those in turn in the form of a Trip Report, to wit:

East Barton Flats to Grinnell Ridge Camp
I had always liked the "away from it all" feel of Grinnell Ridge Camp ever since I had first visited it about 20 years ago.  However, the 10+ miles (16+ km) round trip required to get there seemed a bit much for a non "destination" single day hike, a "destination" hike being one where one reaches some attraction like a peak, meadow, lake, or view point.   In other words, the hike required is a bit much for a trail with no particular "destination" other than the flat spot that is the camp.  But what if there were a better way to get there?

On a recent trip down the Lost Creek Trail, I noticed something:  An old road descending into the South Fork drainage that separates the Barton Flats area from the Lost Creek area.
An old road descends from Barton Flats into the canyon of the South Fork of the Santa Ana River
At the bottom of the drainage lies the South Fork of the Santa Ana River.  If I could use this old road as an entry point for a hike, I would add a water source to the otherwise dry hike!

Intrigued, I checked my topographic map.  Sure enough, I could see the old road on my map (from points "A" to "B").  Although the old road is shown as abruptly ending on the map, I'm sure that it originally linked up to point "C."  From past experience, I knew that the lower portion of the Lost Creek Trail was at one time a road.
The lower section of the Lost Creek Trail.  Clearly, it used to be a road.
But hiking from point "B" to "C" would take me in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go.  Then I noticed the shallow saddle at point "D".  The contour lines leading up to the saddle looked quite gentle.  Could I make this into a cross country route?  I decided to try.

First I mapped out a route that would take me to Grinnell Ridge camp (point "T") and some intriguing points to the east.  I'll say more about those points to the east in a minute.

Then, I had to locate the old road in the Barton Flats area.  Fortunately, just by entering the flats on the main dirt road marked simply "East Flats" and heading east, I was able to find what I felt must be the right road.  However, it's not as simple as it might look on the map:  there is a web of small, unmarked dirt roads all over the East Flats area.

I have a good sense of the area having done many previous scouting trips, and the road's direction matched that of the road marked on the map, so I set out.  I had to park my car quite a bit farther than the map would indicate; there is a locked metal gate at point "A" on the above linked map that prevents further driving access.  By the way, I was driving a Honda Civic.  With care, I was able to negotiate the dirt roads.
The old road in east Barton Flats
At point "B," I met with a typical conundrum in the East Flats area:  an unmarked junction with another road.  My topo map showed the main road heading east.  I went east, which turned out to be the correct choice.

Soon, I came to the lip of the canyon.  Turning right (SSW), I found my road.  The way was clear!
The start of the old road heading down into the canyon of the South Fork.
Note the large avalanche path on the mountain in the distance.
Obviously the road hadn't been maintained in a good long while, but it was certainly passable on foot, and it led me to...
Downed tree across the old road
...the South Fork of the Santa Ana River!
The South Fork of the Santa Ana River
Crossing the river, the road wasn't in such good shape.  Clearly, the river itself is a barrier to further progress to the east.  Fortunately, this (2013) is a dry year, and I was able to cross without incident.
The road on the far side of the river.
After crossing the river, I turned right (SE) to follow the little side drainage marked as point "E" on the above linked map.  The drainage proved to be a bit brush choked.
Heading up the side drainage away from the river.
Given the brush, I decided to climb out of the drainage.  Arriving at the lip of the drainage, I was pleased by what I saw:  Relatively open terrain, easily suited for cross country hiking.  Hallelujah!  There would be no bush whacking today, just open country off trail hiking, one of my favorite activities.  Trails are just a crutch, you know.  ;)
Open terrain east of the South Fork
Heading up, I reached the top of the first major ridge to the east and found the Lost Creek Trail.  My new "trailhead" route had proven to be very workable indeed.
The Lost Creek Trail
Since I've been working so much, I'm pretty out of shape right now.  I opted to follow the Lost Creek Trail's gentle ascent path up Grinnell Ridge rather than cutting steeply up the slope directly.

Grinnell Ridge is fairly flat topped in the vicinity of Grinnell Ridge camp, terrain again easily suited to cross country.
The terrain levels out considerably as one approaches the area near Grinnell Ridge Camp

I again left the established trail and headed due south to Grinnell Flats (points "O" and "P").  Grinnell Flats is an interesting, large flatish area atop Grinnell Ridge.
Grinnell Flats
Now, from point "P" in Grinnell Flats, I could easily head WSW to Grinnell Ridge Camp, but I'm not going to.  Why?  Well, I'm looking for Mosquito Spring, a small spring that lies to the east of Grinnell Ridge Camp.  It's a bit of a trick to find, but I've been able to find it every time I've looked for it.  The real trick is to know that it's there; it's only marked on old maps.  Mosquito spring lies at approximately elevation 8070 feet/2460m on a small ridge east of the main spine of Grinnell Ridge at approximately point "R."  The location of the spring is a bit odd in that it's on the ridge rather than down in the drainage just west of the ridge.  Look for a spot of bright green vegetation.
Bright green vegetation is the tell tale that will help you find Mosquito Spring
The spring itself is in a shallow grass rimmed depression.
Mosquito Spring
Notes on Mosquito Spring:
  • Flow is very low.  In dry years, the spring will be dry in late season.  In multi-year droughts, the spring may be dry earlier in the season.
  • The spring is shallow.  Bring a sierra cup or something similar to scoop water with.
  • There typically is a bit of organic material (pine needles, grass, etc.) in the water.  Filter through a bandana to remove.
  • Even though it's a spring and springs are usually safe drinking water sources, I would treat this source (filter, UV light, chemical, or boiling).  The water has a bit of an oily sheen too it which is probably organic in origin, but just in case.
  • If you plan to use a backpacking filter, bring a pot or other container that you can fill first and then filter from there.  If you filter directly from the spring, you'll stir up too much muck.  The spring is very shallow.
  • Please see Appendix A for other water alternatives.
There are some nice rocks near Mosquito Spring, so hungry and thirsty, I set up my "kitchen."
My kitchen set up
My kitchen on this trip is a Ti-Tri Sidewinder cone and a 12-10 alcohol stove (both from Trail Designs with a 1.3L Evernew pot .  The small ring seen at the left is a simmer ring for the 12-10 stove.  The pouch is from Gossamer Gear and contains my spoon and my lighter (among other things).  If you're interested, I have a review of the Ti-Tri Sidewinder posted on my other blog, Adventures In Stoving.

Using my kitchen, I first get my water to a rolling boil.  Then, I put on the simmer ring, which tones down the flame substantially (takes a while for it to kick in) and add my noodles and dried veggies.  I follow the old mountaineer's trick of adding more water than the recipe calls for in order to hydrate better.
Lunch is served!
My repast consumed, I then head a few more minutes east to Hook Point which as its name suggests hooks out into the void that is the canyon of Lost Creek (Point "S").  Hook Point is one of the traditional camps of yesteryear before the permit system was established.  If one looks carefully, one can still see the remains of fire circles of old.  The Grinnell Mountain Track leads further into the Lost Creek  drainage, but my time was running short for this trip, so I opted to head to Grinnell Ridge Camp and to start the homeward leg of my journey.  I've actually explored down into Lost Creek before, but I'll save that write up for another time.
Hook Point Camp

From Hook Point, I head WNW on what remains of the Grinnell Mountain Track.  The Grinnell Mountain Track is extremely faint and in many areas is completely imperceptible.  In fact, the only way I was sure that I was actually on the old trail and not a game trail was this cut log.  Logs are generally only cut like this to allow a trail to pass through.
The Grinnell Mountain Track is a very faint trail of yesteryear.
Finally, I arrive at Grinnell Ridge Camp.  I won't spend the night here this time, but here I can pick up the Lost Creek Trail which will take me back to my car.
The Lost Creek Trail departs from Grinnell Ridge Camp
I won't bore you with the return trip.  Please see Appendix B for other route alternatives.

I thank you for joining me on this little trip to a somewhat forgotten but very much worth while corner of the San Gorgonio Wilderness.


Appendix A -- Water alternatives for Grinnell Ridge Camp
  • First of course is Mosquito Spring, but the spring is unreliable in late season and may even be unreliable in early season during multi-year droughts.
  • Just east of camp, there are often snow banks on the shaded north slopes.  These snow banks will persist into early May in decent snow years and will persist all the way until June in heavy snow years.  In early May 2012, there was snow.  In late April, 2013, there was no snow.
  • Water may be carried in one mile (1.6 km) from the South Fork Meadows area.  If one approaches Grinnell Ridge Camp from the south (i.e. from the South Fork Trail), this is a very good option.  The trail is relatively flat and not overly long.
  • Water may be carried in from the lower reaches of the South Fork of the Santa Ana River if one uses the route from East Flats (i.e. the route described in this trip report).  Not particularly desirable, but it can be done.
  • Water may be carried in from the Lost Creek trailhead near South Fork Campground.  This is the least desirable option unless you're really strong.
Appendix B -- Route alternatives
  • The most obvious route to Grinnell Ridge Camp is from the Lost Creek trailhead.  It's a fine hike of about 10.6 mi/17 km round trip and 1800'/550m gain and loss. 100% maintained trail.
  • The second obvious route is from the South Fork trailhead.  The round trip distance is identical according to the mileages listed in Tom Harrison Maps.  The gain and loss is only 1250'/380m.  This route has the great advantage of having water en route, only one mile (1.6 km) from and only 130'/40m of gain to camp.  Grinnell Ridge Camp is the closest authorized backcountry camping location to the South Fork trailhead.  100% maintained trail.
  • Grinnell Ridge Camp makes a wonderful overnight stop as part of the Grinnell Mountain Loop.  The Grinnell Mountain Loop starts at South Fork Campground, takes the Santa Ana River Trail to Fish Creek, follows an unmarked but easily followed trail up Fish Creek to Aspen Grove, joins the main trail from Aspen Grove to Fish Creek Saddle, goes to Dry Lake from Fish Creek Saddle via an unmaintained but still followable trail, heads from Dry Lake down to South Fork Meadows, climbs gently to Grinnell Ridge Camp, and then descends via the Lost Creek Trail back to South Fork Campground.   In the process of completing the loop, one completely circumnavigates Grinnell Mountain, hence the name "Grinnell Mountain Loop."  100% trail although some sections are unmaintained.  Approximately 22 miles/35km. 
  • Then there is the route described in this trip report that goes from  East Barton Flats to Grinnell Ridge Camp.  Combination old roads, cross country, and maintained trails.  Approximately 8 mi/13 km round trip.
  • Finally, there is a cross country variant of the Grinnell Mountain Loop.  Instead of taking trails from Fish Creek Saddle, climb the flanks of Grinnell Mountain and descend Grinnell Ridge cross country directly to Grinnell Ridge Camp.  This route is a map and compass challenge for those well versed in such travel.  Not recommended for those new to off trail navigation.  Cuts off a mile or two from the standard route (see above), but is slower due to its cross country nature.  Additional gain required to attain the flanks of Grinnell Mountain.