Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hike 109: Heaton Flats Trail to Heaton Saddle

Hiked Tuesday, December 14. Today's hike begins the same as my Hike 103 of November 22. Same trailhead and same first 1.7 miles. The differences were that it was clearer today than it was the last time I was here, and I went an additional 2.2 miles on the trail.

I got a very late start today because I was skeptical of the clouds even breaking. In fact, when I got on the freeway (around 10:45am), I was leaning towards driving all the way out to either Whitewater or Joshua Tree. i wasn't thrilled with the idea because of the late start, but I didn't want to rehike an area where the clouds would again block my view. Fortunately, by the time I approached the 605 freeway, the sun started breaking through the clouds. I didn't check the clock, but I probably got to the trialhead around 11:20am.

Over the previous three weeks, the sycamore leaves that had turned yellow were now brown. Nearly all of the snow on Baldy's south and west sides had melted. Only a thin cap on the crest was still visible.

Because it was clearer, it was a little bit easier to put everything into context. I discovered that, although the Heaton Flats trail heads largely to the east as it climbs, shortly after the Wilderness sign (which I am convinced must be placed well west of the boundary shown on the Harrison map), the trail bends towards the north. If not for the vegetation, the East Fork canyon would have been visible for most of this hike.

Regarding the Wilderness boundary, the sign at the Heaton Flats trailhead (.5 mile from the parking area) says it's 1.2 miles to the Wilderness boundary. My borrowed GPS concurred, and gave an altitude of 3184. Unless I am severely misreading the contour lines on my Harrison map, that would put the boundary sign right about where the trail stops heading east and starts heading north. By contrast, if the sign were where the Wilderness boundary is marked on the Harrison map, the altitude should be somewhere around 4,000 feet.

The GPS altitude I read as I crossed various high points as the trail ran northeast along the ridge started at about 4,100 feet and topped off at about 4,770, which is also consistent with my assumption about where the Wilderness sign was versus where the Wilderness is indicated on the map. Also, my turnaround point (near, but not on, a saddle) had a GPS altitude of 4603, which is quite close to the indicated altitude for Heaton Saddle of 4,585.

I'm starting to get a real kick out of using GPS altitudes to mark trail points and compare them to map altitudes. (The scale of the map I'm using makes using actual coordinates a little harder to line up).

Oddly enough, near the tallest of the peaks along the ridge, someone had cemented roadway pavement reflectors, in red, yellow, white, and blue. Not sure what that's all about.

From Heaton Saddle, the trail (which already got thinner shortly after the Wilderness boundary) becomes confusing. I spotted at least four separate traces heading away from the saddle. One heads along the southwest slope of Iron Mountain, and probably continues to the Allison Mine. One heads along the southeast slope of Iron Mountain, and may head towards Coldwater Saddle and Coldwater Canyon, and or may head to the Baldora mine. Two drop more sharply to the east and probably head to the Widman Ranch and Coldwater Canyon. The steeper trails were most overgrown and would require ducking under branches. The higher trails seemed more exposed to drop offs than anything I had covered on this trail before.

Just before I reached that last saddle, I could see an area of construction down below, which I assume to be a part of the Widman Ranch.

That means the Harrison map (which simply shows the trail ending at Heaton Saddle) seems a reasonable representa-tion of what you should expect. On the other hand, a large group of older (meaning older than me) Asian hikers I passed on the way in said they went all the way to Coldwater Canyon. Not sure which route they took, but apparently it is still doable.

Turned around some time around 3pm; the GPS said I had traveled 3.8 miles from the Heaton Flats trailhead, which is within .1 mile of the distance the Harrison map says it should be from the trailhead to Heaton Saddle. Got back to the Heaton Flats trailhead around 4:50pm, and got back to my car at 5:05pm. It was getting dark by then.

7.6 miles and a net 2,700 feet of altitude gain from Heaton Flats trailhead to Heaton Saddle. Add an additional 1.0 mile roundtrip from the parking area to the trailhead, and that's 8.6 miles total distance. Probably a gross gain of well over 3,100 feet, given the ups and downs.


  1. Hey Skyhiker, thought you might enjoy this:

  2. Yep, can't remember where I read this, but I did read this recently. Might have just been in the LA Times.

    Voyager crossing the sun's bowshock reminded me of the "old days," when Voyager was still approaching Jupiter and it kept crossing Jupiter's bowshock. Of course, crossing out of the sun's bowshock is a bigger deal, since that's one way of deciding when it's left the solar system. Still some Kuiper belt objects further out, though.