Friday, November 19, 2010

Hike 102: Shoemaker Canyon

Hiked Friday, November 19.

I hadn't been on Dan Simpson's hiking page in a while, but I was poking around there a few days ago and saw a few in the San Gabriel Canyon. I wasn't sure which areas were open in the Canyon, but I figured I'd give it a try. Here's his write-up for Shoemaker Canyon, which sounded interesting to me.

To get to the trailhead, you take Azusa Avenue (CA-39) north from the 210 Freeway. You get to drive past the new Azusa Target store, which is built between the northbound and southbound lanes of CA-39. It's been open only a few months.

Shortly after the two directions are merged back together, you'll pass the entry station (San Gabriel Canyon Gateway Center), on the right. There's no gate here, like in a national park. Instead, you'd have to turn off the main road to get to the entry station. They have a small parking area in the back, and three or four long lanes that I assume are set up for vehicles with trailers to line up while they go inside. If you didn't already have one, you could buy an Adventure Pass here. They also have books, maps, stuffed animals, rocks, and assorted other stuff in there. I think the store is usually staffed by volunteers, although actual USFS employees probably work out of there, too.

In the back, there's a small planted area with signs, so you could learn some of the plants that grow in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Getting back on CA-39 north, you'll soon drive by the old Encanto, which used to be a restaurant but is now the headquarters for the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, more commonly known as the RMC. The (San Gabriel?) Watershed Conservation Authority also has offices there, as may other agencies. I'm not sure.

Drive north on the canyon road for about nine miles, past the two big dams and reservoirs. At the tail end of the upper (San Gabriel) reservoir, the East Fork Road branches to the right (east--duh!). Just over three miles up the East Fork Road (past Burro Springs shooting area (on your left) and the defunct and closed Follows Camp (right), a sign on the right side of the road will announce that you are approaching Shoemaker Canyon Road, which will be on your left. Take that road up to the gate (about two miles) and park in the large parking area just south and east of the gate.

This hike itself is very straight-forward. You just walk around the gate, up the broad dirt road, until the path gets too hard to follow. For most people, that's about 2 1/2 miles away, just after the second tunnel.

What's that? Tunnel, you say? Yes, two large tunnels. The first seems to be about 400 yards long. The latter is about 250 yards long. Both are tall enough that an 18 wheeler could drive right through.

The entire hike is extremely heavily engineered. We're not talking about some path bladed clear by a tractor. In addition to the tunnels, there are several huge cuts through hills. If they're not 100 feet down, they're close to that.

Because of the heavy engineering, the path has a low slope. There were only two places where my heartbeat picked up some: Just before the first tunnel, then again in the area between the two tunnels. Otherwise, I felt I averaged about 3mph heading up, and 3.5mph heading down.

The USFS gives a distance of 5.5 miles round trip and 900 feet of elevation gain. I'm not sure what they consider the official turnaround point, since you can go beyond the second tunnel. Depending on how much scrambling and erosion you're willing to cause, you could probably go on for miles. I was only willing to go about .5 mile past the second tunnel, enough to get around the next serious point, then down to the next "bay," and a bit out again. I could have gone further, but I did not want to cause further erosion.

However, clearly people do push on. Signs of plant cuts and bends and a clear (albeit rough) trail continue quite a bit further than where I stopped.

It was cloudy when I went, so I couldn't see all the views that this hike would offer. But I was impressed by what I did see. Nice views up and down the East Fork, many tall peaks framed by road cuts or other peaks, and the sound of the roaring river when ever I peeked over the road shoulder to look down below. Near the start, you can look down on Heaton Flat. It's definitely a good reward for a pretty easy hike.

Because I continued past the second tunnel about .5 mile, and also took an alternate route around the second tunnel (on the use trail that skirts the mountain, so you get a better view down the gorge), I figure I did about six miles of walking this day, and a bit over the 900 feet of advertised elevation gain.


  1. Cool. I remember seeing pictures of this hike somewhere else before but never actually got around to hiking this trail. I miss those mountains...

  2. They're still here. :D

    I was under the impression that large portions of San Gabriel Canyon were also closed due to a separate 2009 fire. If so, it appears they're mostly open.

    I'm planning to try Bear Creek before the year is out.

    The upper part of the north fork is still closed, however. That's due to a wash-out of CA-39.