Hiked Wednes-day, December 1.
From the 210 freeway, exit at Azusa (CA-39) and head north. Currently, the Upper Bear Creek trailhead is at the end of the road, at mile marker 32.14. (Edit--In March 2011, CA-39 was open to just past Crystal Lake. That means this trailhead is no longer at the end of the road. Look for the "30mph Ahead" sign, and that's your parking area). That's about five miles past where the East Fork Road splits off.
According to the Tom Harrison map, it's 5.6 miles to the end of the trail. According to the sign at the trailhead, it's 3 miles to the San Gabriel Wilderness boundary and 10.2 miles to the West Fork National Scenic Bikeway.
The trail starts just to the right of the pit toilet. It starts out with a shallow incline as the parallel highway 39 drops down towards Azusa. After about 1/4 mile, the trail begins a series of switchbacks as it climbs towards the west. You get some good views both up and down San Gabriel Canyon as you climb, and you can see your car for much of the first 1/2 mile. At about the 1/2 mile point, however, the trail curves around a bend and enters the Lost Canyon drainage.
Well after making your way into one "cove" and out the other side, you pass a metal stake and wooden stake, each with a "1" on them. My borrowed GPS confirmed that it was one mile from the parking lot.
However, when I reached the "2," my GPS said I had only gone 1.9 miles, and when I later reached a "4," my GPS said 3.8. I would tend to assume they got it right and mine was thrown off by the occasional tree and ridgeline interfering with satellite communication.
During this section, you may (depending on season and how early in the morning you're walking) be in shade. As I made my way along the various coves, I had a direct view of what my map says is Mt. Smith.
Not long after passing mile marker 2 (and seemingly well under one mile later), I reached the saddle that marks the boundary of the San Gabriel Wilderness.
Interesting bit of trivia: The San Gabriel Wilderness (previously the San Gabriel Primitive Area) was created under Forest Service laws and regulations prior to the 1964 Wilderness Act, so I was told there was no permit requirement to enter this Wilderness area. In fact, that's why I took this hike today: I was planning to hike out of Heaton Flats again but the entry station wasn't open when I drove in (about 9:40am) and there was no sign indicating when or if they would open today. Since I wasn't about to drive back down to Glendora or wait indefinitely to get a Wilderness permit, I decided on an alternate hike that wouldn't require a permit.
My GPS gave an altitude of 4281 for the saddle. It also gave an altitude of 3281 for the trailhead, which is nine feet less than given by Harrison. That means the altitude I got for the saddle is probably pretty close to correct.
I forgot to check the mileage I had walked to get to the saddle, but, as I said, it felt like it was a little less than 3 miles.
From there, you can just see a portion of Mt. Baldy, to the east-northeast. To the west, the San Gabriel Wilderness looked surprisingly green. Lots of live oak. Also some scrub oak, really tall manzanita, and many more plants I don't recognize.
There's a pretty impressive peak to the northwest. The only named peak on the Harrison map in that direction is Twin Peaks, and the mountain did have a sort of twin peaks appearance.
Mt. Wilson is also easily visible from the saddle.
While the trail up to the saddle was very wide and well-defined, the trail on the other side is much narrower and not as well maintained. Downed tree branches and rock slides made the going a little tricky. It's not dangerous, but it wouldn't take a very long distraction to find yourself falling quite some distance.
In shaded spots, small amounts of snow remained. On some of the snow were paw prints. Don't know if it's from a dog or a coyote. Here they ware with my feet for reference (size 8 boots, probably a little over 12 inches long on the outside).
I wasn't sure how far I would go. If I could have found the five mile marker, that would have been fine. Otherwise, I figured I'd just go until I reached Bear Creek. Since I never did find a "5" marker, it was plan B.
I could hear the rushing waters of Bear Creek long before I could see it. The tree canopy around the river was very thick. They covered a number of very large pools, and a lot of boulders that had been polished by years of waterflows. Yeah, they were slippery.
When I finally did enter my "turnaround" in the GPS, it said I had gone 5.1 miles. (Oddly enough, when I got back to the car, it said my total distance traveled was 9.8 miles). Again, I suspect it's inter-ference that causes it to miss some of the distance covered in tight and covered switchbacks. The vegetation is pretty thick in the Wilderness, particularly as you get closer to the river.
The altitude at my turnaround was 2525, which is 125 feet higher than the trail end indicated on the Harrison map. I'm pretty sure I didn't quite go to the official end, so the altitude and distance indicated reflects what I would expect it to be.
That meant a total hike distance of between 9.8 and 10.6 miles, and a gross altitude gain of about 2750 feet. It was a pretty good hike. Much shorter than many I've taken, but long enough to feel like a full day.
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