Ascent of Black Mountain on 2017-08-24

Climber: Joseph Esparza

Date:Thursday, August 24, 2017
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Black Mountain
    Elevation:7772 ft / 2368 m

Ascent Trip Report

Black Mountain (7,772') and Hall Canyon Grove of Giant Sequoias

High on the western slopes of Black Mountain in the vicinity of Hall Canyon, a rather inconspicuous vale one the western side of the San Jacinto Mountains, live true wonders. Here growing over two-hundred miles south of their native range, a mature and expanding grove of Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) unbeknownst to most Southern Californians, thrives. Along the way, the hiker experiences first hand the robust individuals of this ancient species, as well as plenty of solitude on this seldom used steep trail. Starting in montane chaparral, traveling through mid-elevation coniferous forest, before reaching the summit with its active fire lookout tower, this trip offers hikers with an interest in botany and natural adaptation, a rare opportunity to delight in this fascinating part of the wonders of creation.


Category: Strenuous
Miles: 7.5
Elevation Gain: 2,800'
Location: San Bernardino National Forest

Hall Canyon Sequoia Research:

The Trail: From the dirt lot trailhead just off Highway 243, proceed upwards along the obviously marked Black Mountain Trail. The route start out rough immediately, gaining over one thousand feet in about one mile. Thankfully nearby vegetation and wildlife can make the trip easier going. Dense old-growth stands of tree-like manzanita and inland scrub oak, forming an impressive canopy in some places. In between this dense growth are stands of hardy Canyon Oak and Black Oak, as beautiful a tree as any in Southern California. Scattered between even these are individual southern California endemic drought-tolerant Coulter Pines and Bigcone Douglas Firs, with the latter producing the largest and heaviest pine cones on the planet easily recognizable by their massive sheer bulk and curved spiked protrusions on the sides. Turkey Vultures loft along the bright blue sky as various species of lizards bask on gigantic granite boulders and outcrops. Take the first mile slow going, as it, along with most of this trip, can be miserable on hot summer days. As you gain elevation and the temperature slowly cools, an increase in conifers appears, as do fleeting views down into the San Gorgonio Pass and Sonoran Desert. The trail winds around a large bulwark of mountain, before heading up Hall Canyon about 2.3 miles from the start.

Here, as the forest in some ways grows ever denser with second growth trees, remnants of an old wildfire can be detected by the great snags of pines, and fallen logs and limbs of decades past. Around 6,500', if careful and keen in plant identification, two abnormalities depart from the usual native species of trees in these mountains. These trail-side companions are the first visible members of the Hall Canyon Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Planted in 1974 following a devastating wildfire, young saplings were planted in a small area with the intention of returning the mountain to pre-fire vegetative conditions. Since the 1990's, a few botanists became enamored with not only the sustainability of this collection of trees, but their ability to thrive in a range so foreign to what was previously thought friendly to the species. Today, nearly 160 individuals can be seen over many acres along the trail in elevations from 6,500' to over 7,000', forming in some places thick groves of mature trees. If there near-fifty year survival is not fascinating enough, their ability to thrive and colonize the slopes of Hall Canyon is all the more incredible. Usually thought restricted to cool moist slopes on the western Sierra Nevada, this grove has prospered in a climate with less rainfall and snowfall than their Sierran homeland. Nonetheless, the fire-burned slopes when these trees were first planted destroyed competing vegetation allowing the Sequoias to gather required soil and water nutrients, as well as open the forest canopy for photosynthesis. The reproduction of the species is more baffling, and more research still must be done to determine the extent and detail of the trees' cone production.

Fundamentally though, the Giant Sequoia has become naturalized in the San Jacinto Mountain of Southern California. Several large some trees reach heights over 50'. While native species of pine have doubtless taken a blow in the constant struggle for resources, the Giant Sequoia is now thriving in the mountains above millions; yet it remains a virtual secret to all but the most astute in outdoor adventure. Hiking about these naturalized infant giants which can live over 3000 years and grow around 300' high so far from their native range, is not only a testament to the supreme adaptability of creation, but is also a personal encounter with ancient wonders. More questions need to be answered of course regarding this grove, and although some have helped to do just that, what is more important is that these trees ought to be experienced in their full glory by hikers who can appreciate their majesty as the uprising generation of the largest living thing on the planet growing along the mountains millions look out to daily.

After passing the upper grove around 7,000', the trail switchbacks up the westside of Black Mountain, before joining a dirt road, just shy of the summit. Continue the final steep quarter mile southeast, passing a large water tank on a non-maintained trail to the summit, and its impressive lookout tower. When manned, volunteers welcome hiker up to the balcony to more fully appreciate the views which stretch from the heights of San Jancinto, down the steep San Gorgonio Pass, up to the lofty stretches of the San Gorgonio Wilderness, and down into the Inland Empire, and Santa Ana and Palomar Mountains. After enjoying the view, return the way you came, passing once again through the Hall Canyon Sequoia Grove back to the trailhead.

Hall Canyon Sequoia Research:

Hiked 8/24/2017. No Adventure Pass Required.
Summary Total Data
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Hot, Calm, Low Clouds

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