Lots to See on Pacific Crest Trail Big Bear Section at Onyx Summit

Pacific Crest Trail in Big BearOne direction there’s a sofa and dumpster, the other lions and grizzly bear. You  just never know what you’ll find on Pacific Crest Trail as it crosses over Onyx Summit off Hwy. 38.

Through the years we’ve found abandoned and/or wrecked cars in both directions. One was just feet off the trail south of Onyx, no road anywhere close, leaving one to wonder how it got up there in the first place, outdated Snow Summit parking sticker still intact.

The other was a hundred feet or so below Hwy. 38 which we spotted across the way on an outing on the PCT’s north side. When our trek was over buddy John Daskam hiked down to the car, half-expecting to find a body in it, but fortunately it was empty. We reported it to authorities who said since there weren’t any reports of people missing, they assumed it was just another way to dispose of an unwanted car. Anyone ever hear of charity?

Usually all we see are spectacular views, some of the best Big Bear has to offer. Both directions serve up awesome vistas of Southern California’s highest peak, Mt. San Gorgonio at 11,499 feet, especially the southern slice. Head north from Onyx on the PCT meanwhile and about one mile in be treated to a 180-degree panorama of San G on the left to Baldwin Lake and the high desert at right.

Last year we didn’t get any views from Onyx. That’s because the Lake Fire in June that roared through the San Gorgonio Wilderness decided to take an unexpected turn north. It threatened the Onyx Summit area for a while where a few rugged homeowners who find ways to live off the grid were evacuated. The fire burned just east of the PCT past Onyx but the area stayed closed through the summer, yellow closure tape strung across the trail before we ever had a chance to hike it.

A bummer, because at 8,000 ft. elevation the PCT’s Onyx portion serves up big-mountain hiking just 20 minutes from Big Bear. While there’s no developed trailhead per se there is a wide turnout that affords suitable parking. Hikers get an immediate workout humping a hundred foot vertical climb from the turnout up the dirt road to the trail junction, a fact we’re reminded of on our first Onyx outing in a few years in early August.

Since Onyx is officially listed at 8,440 feet that extra hundred reaches 8,500 or better. Daskam and I are huffing and puffing pretty good as we decide north or south on the PCT. Opting for north we continue a gentle climb, probably reaching 8,800 feet before we see something else in the distance: smoke.

We have heard there was a small fire near Crestline, a hundred acres or something. Instead we are seeing a massive plume as the Pilot Fire takes off. Winds are pushing it to the high desert, obviously more than 100 acres.

Just before the trail reaches 1N01 we see something different on the trail: a dumpster and sofa! We have a seat but are almost afraid to peer inside, for the same reasons as the previous car. Finally we lift the lid and discover it’s a through-hiker cache with drinks, snacks and staples.

After seeing so much it’s only natural for us to head back to Onyx next week and try the PCT south. For starters it’s the only trail around where we’re guaranteed to see wildlife, lions and bears at that! Only we’re talking African lions, not cougars, and grizzly bears, not black.

That’s because heading south on the PCT leads to Predators in Action, a facility which trains exotic animals for photo shoots and movie productions. I  don’t know what we’ll see—the facility was evacuated last year for the fire—but sure enough there is a handler out working with a big cat. That in itself is unusual; though we’ve been here a few times through the years, I don’t remember seeing people on the other side of the barbed wire fence. Usually it’s just peering eyes of a tiger or other beast in an enclosure, staring us down.

The handler even waves, we wave back. “You mind if I take some photos?” I ask Dan. He’s got an even better idea. “How about if I try something up close?”

So he takes my phone and proceeds to fire off a few shots of the incredible lion, pictures posted on Facebook. Terrific quality too, given a couple hundred pound cat keeps jumping up and circling around rubbing against him, just like a housecat.

Predators in Action is founded by Randy Miller, renowned for his work with exotics. He was a stunt double working with lions on the movie “Gladiator” and has been profiled in many newspaper stories. Unfortunately computer-generated animals are safer to work with and easier on movie budgets, so with the advent of CGI much of that work has gone away.

We see the sun is setting in the west and it’s uphill going back so we get on our way. We’ll see you on the PCT!

–by Marcus Dietz

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