ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SAN GABRIELS
Hike H6. Bull Canyon
- Hiking time: 9 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 6.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 3060 feet
- USGS Topo Maps: Cucamonga Peak
- Difficulties: 7 rappels ranging up to 140ft in height.
- Special equipment: Rapelling equipment with a 160ft rope, a 160ft recovery cord, 60ft of webbing, 7 rappel rings.
- ACA Rating: 3A IV
The precipitous southern cliffs of Cucamonga Peak tower nearly 9000ft over the city of Rancho Cucamonga in the eastern San Gabriel valley and provide a majestic background for those in the valley below. Up near the summit the cliffs are awesome but highly fractured, making climbing very difficult and dangerous. Lower down the slopes are more stable, the canyons older and more weathered. Two canyons in particular dominate, namely Deer Canyon and Day Canyon and these carry most of the run-off from the southern slopes of Cucamonga Peak. Indeed during major storms, these canyons become raging torrents of water, mud and rock. As a result, they are broad boulder-filled washes during the rest of the time. This adventure takes you up the boulder highway of Deer Canyon to where an old road crosses the wash. This now-abandoned dirt road used to allow off-road travel from Cucamonga Canyon, across the south face of Cucamonga Peak and down to Sevaine Flats and thus to Lytle Creek. It is now so damaged that it is unlikely to be made passable again. But it allows easy hiking and from the Deer Canyon crossing we hike east for several miles to the head of Bull Canyon. The descent of Bull Canyon provides an exciting and challenging canyoneering adventure for it contains a series of spectacular waterfalls, usually dry or with a trickle of water. The final series of large rappels, 100ft and 140ft in height are particularly exciting. At the bottom Bull Canyon exits into Deer Canyon and you return to your starting point. The hike is good at any time of year though, in the summer, it may be too hot.
From the 210 freeway in Rancho Cucamonga, exit at the Haven Avenue offramp and drive north on Haven to where the road narrows to a single lane. If the single lane road is closed park here. If not, continue up the single lane road to a point just past a turn to the left where there is a large dirt parking area on the left side of the road (34o10.31'N 117o34.52'W, elevation 2550ft). Park here. Note the gated asphalt road that forks off to the northeast that is the route for the start and end of the hike.
Start the hike up the gated narrow asphalt road (34o10.31'N 117o34.52'W, elevation 2550ft) that passes several water towers and then climbs over the west end of the wide debris dam at the mouth of Deer Canyon. Turning north, after 0.5mi you will pass another pair of water tanks (note these as a landmark for the return hike) and the road becomes a rough dirt track that has been well chewed up by storm runoff. After another 0.25mi look across the wash and you should be able to readily identify the mouth of Bull Canyon. Deer Canyon turns sharp left and the back to the right. You will find stretches of the old rough track on the left side of the wash but interspersed with new boulder deposits and run-off trenches. After 1hr 50min and 2.5mi you will arrive at the obvious junction where Calamity Canyon joins Deer Canyon from the west (elevation 4430ft). Continuing up Deer Canyon (the right fork) and changing over to the easier right side of the wash you will arrive after 2hr 20min and 2.9mi at the place where the old Cucamonga/Lytle Creek road crosses the Deer Canyon wash at 34o12.14'N 117o35.13'W and an elevation of 4950ft. There is not much sign of it left in the wash itself so watch for the road off to the right side.
(Photo by Bob Shear)
The hike to the east up the gently rising road is easier than the climb up the wash. You cross two major drainages where the road has been deeply eroded away and a number of other smaller slides and erosions. After another 1.5mi you will arrive at a point where the road rounds a major ridge at an elevation of 5490ft, 3.5hr and 4.4mi from the start. From this vantage point look east and you should be able to easily discern the low ridge that forms the east side of the Bull Canyon watershed. Hike another 10min or so along the road to 34o11.87'N 117o33.92'W, and an elevation of 5620ft looking for an obvious steep slope that drops down into the Bull Canyon drainage. Up here there are several branches of Bull Canyon that you can follow but they all merge before too long. After dropping several hundred feet you will probably find it easier to follow the hard rock of the streambed rather than the slopes to either side. After a number of small downclimbs and bypasses we came to a long downclimb on solid rock that brought us down to the junction with another fork coming in on the left (elevation 4600ft, 4hr 20min from the start). The canyon is now wider and deeper and just a short distance beyond the junction you come to the first rappel at about 4600ft. This is a 25ft drop from a tree anchor on the right; though downclimbing is possible here, a rappel is much safer.
Penultimate 100ft rappel
(Photo by Nathan Wozny)
In this section, you can see the valley far below you as the canyon drops down through a long series of steps in mostly solid granite. Most of the steps are just downclimbs. However, at an elevation of 4480ft and 5hr 10min from the start you should rappel the 30ft vertical dryfall rather than try to downclimb the loose material in the gully on the left; the anchor is a stout bush on the left. Shortly thereafter you arrive at a more challenging drop that requires a 70ft rappel from a tree on the left; overhanging rocks mean that a small piece of this is free rappel. Down canyon a trickle of water may appear before you come to a small 15ft drop that still requires a rappel using a tree anchor on the right. Then, just a short distance downstream at 4010ft elevation and 6hr 20min from the morning start, you come to perhaps the prettiest rappel in the canyon, a 70ft vertical drop from a broad shelf. Use the anchor around a boulder in the streambed center for a good view of the falling water (if any).
Last 140ft rappel
(Photo by Bob Shear)
Another short hike brings you to the edge of the final, big drop-off (34o11.22'N 117o34.09'W, elevation 3770ft) consisting of a 30ft downclimb followed immediately by rappels of 100ft and 140ft. From the top this presents an awesome prospect. The first 30ft drop does not have an obviously safe rappel anchor but provided there is not much water flowing it is fairly easy and safe to downclimb by chimneying down the slot where the water flows (the alternative would be to build a deadman anchor). This downclimb brings you to a broad flat place that ends in a dramatic 100ft drop. A tree on the right side of the lip provides a good anchor for this vertical rappel down to another flat place where the canyon turns sharp right and arrives at the top of the final precipitous 140ft rappel. A large boulder near the middle of the lip makes a good anchor for this exciting final descent.
You should reach the bottom of this last rappel (elevation 3500ft) about 8hr and 5.6mi from the start. Here you can stow your gear for there are only a few short downclimbs between this point and the mouth of Bull Canyon. At the mouth (elevation 3120ft), turn left and hike Deer Canyon wash to the remains of an old gauging station(?). From here cut across to the right to the twin water tanks you noted in the morning and follow the asphalt road down to your parked vehicle (34o10.31'N 117o34.52'W, elevation 2550ft). You should complete the 6.8mi hike in about 9hr.
Last updated 7/30/99.
Christopher E. Brennen