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.
|"Rush hour" at tranquil Grinnell Ridge Camp
- 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).
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
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.
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
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.
|Downed tree across the old road
|The South Fork of the Santa Ana River
|The road on the far side of the river.
|Heading up the side drainage away from the river.
|Open terrain east of the South Fork
|The Lost Creek Trail
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.
|Bright green vegetation is the tell tale that will help you find 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.
|My kitchen set up
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!
|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.
|The Lost Creek Trail departs from Grinnell Ridge Camp
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.
- 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.