Trip Archive — Canyoneering the San Gabriels

Okay, since it’s still a while until I take off on my trip this summer, I figure I’ll post some past trip reviews in the meantime. This will be my “Trip Archive” series. My first featured trip is the one I took over Spring Break this year. I went to the San Gabriel Mountains with 5 of my friends for a week of canyoneering, rappelling, backpacking, and camping. Read on to experience my trip vicariously!

Mike, Josh, Sarah, Alexis, Amber, and I left the desert to travel 5 hours to the west in mid-March. We ended up in the San Gabriel Mountains, a range in the vicinity of San Bernardino, CA. Our plan was ambitious: we were going to embark on a 7-day/6-night tour of the mountains, hiking up thousands of feet only to rappel back down the beautiful waterfalls. Our goal was to cover approximately 25-30 miles, repeating the up and down process several times. Turns out that wasn’t in the cards, but we did manage an epic trip, nonetheless.

The weather was great (75+ degrees and sunny!), our packs were heavy (50 lbs!), and we were ready to set out (yay!). Our first day was all uphill — literally. We traveled approximately 7 miles and 3000 vertical feet, and the weather turned windy towards the top of the mountains. The first night we camped out up top near the enormous downed tree pictured to the left.

We spent the next 2 and 1/2 days trying to schlep our butts back down the mountain through a canyon. We were crawling over rocks in the creek and setting up rappels over waterfalls and treacherous drops, which is why it took so long. At the bottom of the canyon was a series of three waterfalls, known as Upper, Middle, and Lower Bonita Falls. We had to rappel over all three in order to reach the bottom. The first two rappels were only 60-80 ft. long, but the last was much closer to 160 ft.! This was a definite trip highlight.

The next several days entailed an epic failed attempt to crest another mountain (via a new canyon). From the bottom of Bonita Falls we began to traverse a decimated canyon trail. All manner of natural disasters must have plagued the area in recent years. There seemed to be evidence of forest fires, flash floods, and avalanches. We picked our way across miles of fallen trees, clearly burned and battered. Some of the trees still standing held boulders the size of ovens perched in their branches. This trail was particularly difficult to navigate, and I highly doubt we could have counted the number of bruises and cuts earned on that day without reaching triple digits. Highlights of the day included Sarah and Josh spotting a baby rattlesnake eating a toad, and all of us catching a black widow and a scorpion getting a little too cozy near our tents.

After a slightly paranoid night’s sleep (no black widows in my sleeping bag, please!), we continued up the canyon. The canyon walls became steep, and the rock was quite crumbly. We were definitely wearing our helmets at times for fear of a skull crushing rock slide. There was evidence of massive avalanches — we saw steel grates (originally designed to shore up the rocks along pathways and trails) twisted and contorted into the most bizarre positions. Eventually we came to a rock wall less than 400 ft. from the top of the mountain. Mike and Josh tried for hours to set up a climbing route so that we could continue on our way, but eventually we had to abandon the plan. They nearly caused an avalanche themselves, and we had to ditch one of our ropes to avoid worsening the situation. We resigned ourselves to a descent back through the same canyon and the forest of fallen trees — but not before dark. We camped out and seriously considered wearing our helmets in our sleep.

The next day we continued, taking it kind of easy, enjoying one of our last days in the canyon. We camped out early in the only moderately grassy patch we could find. We built a campfire, ate well, and rested up for the final day of the trip.

Our 8th day without a shower dawned as beautiful as the rest, if a bit smellier. Our packs were a bit lighter (maybe only 40lbs.?), our cuts were scabbing over, and our tans were hard to distinguish from the dirt that covered our bodies — sure signs that we’d spent an epic week away from civilization. We ate endless Mountain House meals (highly recommended); drank gallons of pumped and filtered water a day; and lived without cellphones, television, or Internet for a whole week. It was one of the neatest trips I’ve ever gone on, and I hope to go on several more. Bring it on, Mother Nature!

One Response to “Trip Archive — Canyoneering the San Gabriels”
  1. Karen Brady says:

    So cool to read about your trips this way, Jackie. I hope you are able to update often while you are traveling Central America later this summer!!Love ya!Ma

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