Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Leatherneck Ridge, Mt. San Jacinto

While hiking the Skyline trail on Mt. San Jacinto recently, three companions (Fernando Lara, Steve Irvin, and Tina Fiori) pointed out a cross-country route they had done on the other side of Chino Canyon. Though they referred to it as the “north ridge” route, internet research suggests that it is commonly called Leatherneck Ridge (after marines who were rescued there).

Our Leatherneck Ridge short-cut.

The complete Leatherneck Ridge route apparently begins at an elevation of less than 1000 feet on highway 111 and tops out at ~8700 feet between Cornell Peak and the upper tram station. We, however, started just below the lower tram station at an elevation of ~2400 feet. With all of the ups and downs on the final north ridge stretch, the total elevation gain of our variation is approximately 7000 feet. Though there is no sustained rock scrambling, there is enough of it, including lots of awkward traversing, to merit a class 3 rating.

At 6:15AM on February 13, Patrick Moran, Dave Gillanders, and I walked across the parking lot and immediately encountered our first obstacle: a creek crossing. The east side of the creek is covered in a dense, bouncy carpet of grapevine that is riddled with trip-wires. After negotiating this unusual terrain, we were faced with an awkward crossing that resulted in one drenched shoe. Unfortunately, that shoe was on my foot.

Across the creek, we immediately began climbing steeply up the obvious ridge, with occasional bits of scrambling here and there. After 2700 vertical feet of climbing, we gained Leatherneck Ridge proper, which afforded a striking view of Mt. San Gorgonio. I found the terrain on this stretch to be really aesthetic, with varied vegetation, flat sandy patches, and interesting rock crags reminiscent of Joshua Tree.

Patrick and Dave low on the ridge, with the parking lot in the background.

Looking up toward Leatherneck Ridge.

The complex Chino Canyon drainage. The upper tram station sits atop the ridge left of the central notch.

Patrick and San Gorgonio.

 Looking up Leatherneck Ridge toward the conifers.

Eventually the ridge became steeper and brushier, leading to a gorgeous stand of tall conifers. These conifers were followed to the point where all of the subsidiary ridges, including Leatherneck Ridge, converge into a single, north ridge. At this point, we were suddenly rewarded with a breathtaking vista of the Falls Creek drainage, including the spectacular northeast face of Miller Peak.

Patrick enjoying the shade of the conifers. 

 The upper reaches of the Falls Creek drainage. 

The final stretch along the north ridge involves several peaks and notches and lots of tedious side-hilling. The last half of it was plastered in snow that was either icy or unconsolidated, which slowed progress. Further slowing progress was a bout of stomach flu that hit Dave with a vengeance. Consequently, that final 1.5 mile stretch took over six hours.

Patrick astride the final north ridge. 

Dave enduring one of many stretches of side-hilling.

Only a few more notches to go until Shangri-La.

By the time we reached the crest, it was dark. Although the half moon directly overhead provided just enough light to illuminate our way, we donned headlamps anyway. Not wanting to take any chances, I consulted map and compass and closely monitored our bearing until the light of the tram station came into view. We entered the upper tram station at 6:45PM, 12.5 hours after starting.

 The northeast face of Miller Peak.

Dave's photos are here.


Norma said...

Sweet! I could see San J from Villager and knew you were there somewhere. Hope you had an extra sock for that wet foot. Look forward to joinging you on a return trip!

Wild said...

Wow! What an amazing route! Good job guys, and props on the new(?) route!

Sam Page said...

Norma: no extra sock, unfortunately. But for some reason, I've carried extra socks since then!

Wild: it's not a new route. I know several other people who have done it.

tony said...


Great TR. We used it to complete the Ridge yesterday (May 5, 2012). The side-hilling was fun.


Guy McCarthy said...

Nice photos