Keller Peak • San Bernardino Mountains
• San Bernardino County


Approaching the top from the east. The lookout tower is to the left. Note the thick woody chaparral.
 

Backside: Lookout tower to the right, Big communications tower to the left.
 

The communications tower.
 

View from the top: Sugarloaf Mountain and the north slopes of San Gorgonio. A plume of smoke is visible on the ridge at lower right.

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Summitpost

 

Date: August 9, 2012 • Elevation: 7,882 feet • Prominence: 1,042 feet • Distance: 3 miles • Time: 1 hour • Gain: 500 feet • Conditions: Humid and hot

Keller Peak is located in the San Bernardino Mountains near the town of Running Springs. The summit features a lookout tower and a giant communications building, and a narrow paved road leads all the way to the top. While not a major hiking endeavor, Keller Peak’s lookout tower offers views into the San Bernardino Mountains as well as down into the smoggy Inland Empire basin. The north side of the peak is rocky with forest lower down, and chaparral higher up. A nearby sub-summit, Slide Peak, tops the main local ski area.

I had been on the road since 1 a.m. from Arizona, and earlier had hiked Sugarloaf Mountain. From there I drove into Big Bear, killed time, waited for the storms to pass, and slowly drove into Running Springs around 3 in the afternoon. Here, the storms were not as severe, and it seemed like the storm-margin was at Keller Peak itself. I drove up the road about four miles to the upper Exploration Trailhead, then parked about 300 feet higher up in a wide dirt clearing. I sat in my truck and waited to see how things would progress.

Although I could have driven the whole road, I wanted a sporting hike so that I could feel good about claiming this peak. But the weather was still kind of variable. Finally, I decided to roll the dice. With things above me still cloudy but still, I grabbed a water bottle and my camera, and started hiking up the road.

The hike was easy and I made good time. I had plans to cut some of the distance by going directly up-slope when possible, but the chaparral is man-high, woody and impenetrable. I was forced to stay on the road. A couple cars passed me, as well as a green Forest Service Hot-Shot team. They pulled aside early and were looking out east somewhere. Me, I just kept on walking. The road makes a long sweep to the other side of the summit, then zigs and zags a couple times before finally reaching the top. The extra meandering probably added a half-mile each way.

Just as I walked to the top, the Hot-Shot crew pulled up. The lookout guys were all talking and looking east, too. Normally the tower is open to hikers, but when I climbed up its steps, they kindly asked me to leave as they had an active “situation” going on. I didn’t object and walked right back down.

The actual highest point is the tip of a giant boulder sitting very near the lower steps of the tower, but chain-link fencing keeps one from tagging this point from the steps. Instead, I climbed up these rocks near a small out-building and got “near” this rocky tip, but it’s blocked slightly by a mass of conduit and wires. Not wanting to arouse suspicion from the tower guys, I laid down on my back like I was relaxing, then stretched out and gave the highest point a quick tag. Normally, tagging this point would be no problem, but given it was so near the wires, and they had a “situation” going on, I figured it was best to be sly.

I didn’t stick around long, and walked back down the road, taking time to look out over the eastern viewshed where I could see the smoke plume they were all looking at. A helicopter was already buzzing this plume, and I don’t think it got much beyond a small localized fire. Still, it added excitement. I was back to my truck shortly, the whole journey taking 90 minutes.

From here, I drove down state route CA-330, a steep drop of over 5,000 feet in 14 miles from Running Springs into Highland and San Bernardino. In Berdoo, it was about 107 degrees and uncomfortable. I drove west and north and finally rolled into Wrightwood, where my mother was already there.

I had a restful night in the mountains and slept well, preparing for more hiking the next day, with Waterman Mountain next on my list.

(c) 2012 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.