Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hike 2011.042 -- San Gabriel Peak

Hiked Thursday, June 30. Forty-second hike of the year, meaning I'm somewhat behind schedule if I'm going to make a second year of 100 hikes or more. I spent the last week getting ready for an interview, then flying out, interviewing, and flying back from the Nashville, TN area. It would certainly be culture shock to live and work there, even if only for a school year. But it would beat continued unemployment!

Because it's been another week without hiking (and several days of sitting in airplane seats or airports or rental cars, driving to and from my destination), I was itching get my boots on the ground, but didn't want to try something overly ambitious. So, even though I was up at 4am today (I had been waking up at about 4am PDT the previous two days, and got up at 6am PDT on the day of my flight out to TN), I stayed another 2 or 3 hours before getting out of bed, eating breakfast, and thinking about what I might do today. A recent write-up on the Nobody Hikes in L.A. blog got me thinking about doing San Gabriel Peak, the easy way.

The easy way is to drive up the Angeles Crest Highway, rather than hiking from the front range, past Mt. Lowe, and on to San Gabriel Peak.

I didn't actually leave home until about 10:00am, and, by the time I finished some errands I had to run around town, I didn't reach the trailhead until well after 11am. Worked my way up to the 210 freeway and exited north, on to the Angeles Crest Highway. About 12 miles up, I reached Red Box Junction, where the road to Mt. Wilson splits off from the ACH. A short 4/10ths of a mile up that road, and the paved (but unsigned) service road to Mt. Disappointment was on the right. I actually went past it, then had to make a U-Turn on Red Box Road because I wasn't sure if that was the road I wanted or not. So here's how to be sure: Once you get on the Red Box Road, if you see a paved road on your right, THAT'S the road. :D

Today, the gate that would normally prevent driving any further was open, but I was pretty sure tourists weren't supposed to drive there, anyway. However, if I were on a mountain bike or horse, riding up the paved road would be the only way up. The trail is for hikers, only.

The trail is less than obvious, unless you're looking for it. It's across the road from the parking area, and heads steeply up the hill, soon ducking behind one of many oak trees. This particular area, in fact, seems to have mostly escaped the Station Fire, and many oak trees, manzanita "trees," and a few conifers and other perennial plants are still thick here. The trail is narrow in spots, but otherwise easy to follow 1.3 miles, until it officially dumps you off on the service road.

It also approaches the service road about half way up to that point.

In other words, you could walk up the pavement rather than the trail. It would be somewhat longer, but less steep than the actual trail. Can't actually tell you how much longer, as the map I have does not seem to indicate either the road or the full trail. The sign where the trail formally joins the road, however, says that way is 1.3 miles. And it has "JPL" on the sign, so I assume if the JPL guys can measure distances to other planets, they can measure 1.3 miles of dirt to the trail.

Once you rejoin the service road, you go left (south). Mt. Disa-ppointment is to your right, with antenna and buildings atop it. San Gabriel Peak is ahead and to your left. Follow the service road for about 1/4 mile. Where the main road makes a sharp turn to the right, and you can see the road leading to the top of Mt. Disappointment, you turn left, along another paved road. A rocky outcropping would be visible just in front of you as you turn. A concrete building pad (the building is gone) is in front of the outcropping.

Matilija poppies were also common near this turn. Except, instead of large bushes, 5-7 feet tall (like near Echo Mountain), these guys were mostly single stalks, maybe 2-4 feet tall. They're probably just a year or two old, and will take years to grow as large as their relatives near Echo Mountain.

Having made a left turn, the slope of San Gabriel Peak is now right in front of you, as are a lot of large, burned, dead oaks and conifers. This is one of the places where, were it windy, you'd have to keep your eyes on the lookout for falling branches.

Below and beyond the dead trees, purple flowers (don't know the species) and Spanish broom were both in full bloom. The trail you want to take leaves the pavement on your left, right around where the road turns to the right, towards the non-existent building on your right. It descends briefly before beginning a short but steep ascent. The trail here is very narrow and not as clearly defined as the lower section. Obviously, no mountain bikes or horses should continue towards San Gabriel Peak. They should be satisfied with the concrete pad, or heading up the pavement in the other direction, to Mt. Disappointment.

On this last stretch, the purple flowers are thick. They're also thick at the summit. Few perennial plants in this area survived the flower, although I did see one yucca in bloom. That probably means that, in about twenty years, the hill will be covered with yucca, nearly all with the same ancestor plant.

Once you get to the top, you're 6,161 feet above sea level. That's about 350 feet higher than Mt. Wilson, which will be just a bit south of east from here. The parking lot is at about 5090, so net gain for this hike is about 1,100 feet. Total mileage is about 4.5 miles, total.

In addition to the antenna and telescope domes of Mt. Wilson, antenna atop Mt. Disappoint-ment, and antenna far away (possibly on Mt. Lukens?), you've also got a distant view of Mt. Baldy and his friends. I could also see Mt. San Gorgonio, although I can't see it in the photographs I took. Markham Peak is pretty much due south.

Meanwhile a view to the northeast overlooks a large chunk of the burn area, with the Angeles Crest Highway cutting right through it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hike 2011.041 -- Sunset Ridge

(Pictured: Saucer Branch Falls). Hiked Tuesday, June 21. The first day of summer brought above-average temperatures into the San Gabriel Valley for the first time in quite a while. My plan, then, was to hike early and relatively short, so I would still be rested enough to get some work done in the afternoon.

The trailhead for this hike was above Altadena, off of Chaney Trail. To get there, I took the 210 freeway to Lake Avenue and headed north. Lake terminates in an L-turn, with the trailhead to the Sam Merrill Trail on the right and Loma Alta Drive heading off to your left. Approximately one mile east of Lake (about 1/3 of a mile after crossing Fair Oaks), a small and nondescript road called Chaney Trail heads off to the right. There is a street sign that gives the name of the street, but no indication that this road, unlike the others you've passed, heads into the Angeles National Forest.

Just over 1 mile north on Chaney Trail (which quickly becomes a narrow and winding, but still paved, road), and the road reaches what seems like a crest. A sharp left turn would keep you on Chaney Trail and take you down to the Millard Canyon picnic area. However, since the trail to the waterfall is still closed, there was no reason for me to drive down there.

Instead, I went straight where the road made the hairpin turn. About fifty yards in front of me was a locked gate, and 3 or 4 cars parked near (but not blocking) the gate.

I'm moderately sure an Adventure Pass is needed here, but it's possible you don't actually need it until you drive over the crest and down into the canyon. Also, today (June 21) was a fee-free day on all the federal lands that charged entrance fees. Nonetheless, since I already own an Adventure Pass, I hung it on my rear view mirror before leaving.

The road here at the gate was labeled as 2N50.

After 3/10ths of a mile up this paved road, two trails intersect the road. First (and less obviously if you're heading up hill), there's the dirt trail that came up from Millard Canyon, on your left. About 20 yards after that is a more obvious trail that also heads to the left. There's also a trailhead register right between these two trails, on the right side of the main road.

Either the paved road or the actual Sunset Ridge trail (12W18) actually take you to pretty much the same place, and in roughly the same distance. If you were on a mountain bike, it would therefore make sense to just keep riding up the pavement. Hikers might prefer the trail. It gives a better view of several waterfalls down in Millard Canyon.

The trail is somewhat narrow, and it's difficult to impossible to walk it without rubbing on the plants that line the way. Keep an eye out, because some (not a lot) of those plants are poison oak.

Plenty of flowers are still in bloom. Spanish broom seems the most common. I also saw phlox, primrose, scarlet larkspur, cliff aster, and several flower species I did not recognize.

About 1.5 miles after the second "trailhead," the Sunset Ridge Trail runs immediately adjacent to the paved road. If you get off the trail and make a hard right, you'll be in the midst of a picnic area, with several benches and pine trees to give you some shade. If you were to get on the pavement and turn left, you'd reach hit the same paved road you got off of 1.5 miles previously. You could return that way, or continue up the pavement, if so inclined.

If you stay on the trail, instead, it's another 2/3 of a mile or so until you reach the rail bed, just below The Cape of Good Hope. There are also potential routes from along the Sunset Ridge trail that would take you (the long way) to Switzers Falls, although I think those routes are still within the Station Fire closure order.

Once I reached Cape of Good Hope, I no longer had the motivation to continue towards Echo Mountain (That would have been an additional 1/2 mile according to the trail sign, or 8/10ths of a mile, according to my Tom Harrison map). It was getting warm and the bugs were starting to get on my nerves. Also, I've been to Echo Mountain often enough that I didn't feel the need to visit it again. Besides, as I said earlier, I had stuff I wanted to work on this afternoon and didn't want to get too tired hiking.

(Pictured: Millard Falls, from quite a distance). On a somewhat related note, I had a flurry of job-related contacts yesterday. The bottom line is I now have two phone interviews set for Thursday, and an in-person interview scheduled for next Tuesday. The bad news is that all three are far out of the local area, so a move would be involved, no matter what. Also, only one of the three is for a permanent position. Too convoluted to get into all the details, except to say that, from what I have been told, I'm a pretty good bet for one of the temporary positions, but one of many candidates for the other two jobs. Obviously, I'd prefer a permanent position to a temporary one, but I'm not sure if the guys hiring for the permanent position will be able to extend an offer before I'd have to say yes or no to the temporary position. Of course, I've been confident before, so it's definitely within the realm of possibility that none of the three will pan out.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hike 2011.040 -- Switzers Falls

Hiked Thursday, June 16. STILL getting over my cold, but tired of not getting out and hiking. Figured on something short and not too steep, and settled on Switzers' Falls.

This is in an area that's been under Station Fire Recovery Area Closure Order since my hiking adventure began, so it's a place I had not yet hiked. I'm pretty sure I never made it here in the years prior to my 100 hikes, either.

The trailhead is off the Angeles Crest Highway. To get here, take the 210 Freeway, exit at CA-2 (Angeles Crest Highway), and head north. 3/10ths of a mile after the Clear Creek Junction (where the Angeles Forest Highway comes in from Palmdale), the Swtizers' campground is off on the left. You'll need an Adventure Pass to park.

Today, as I drove up, the cloud deck had me shrouded until the last mile or so of my drive. The car thermo-meter said it was in the low-50s. The pavement was clean and dark.

I didn't break out of the clouds until very near Clear Creek Junction. After passing the Junction, I had my eyes peeled for Switzers. An unsigned (as of June 2011) parking area eventually appeared on the right.

The lot was striped for about 17 spots, and there's a chemical toilet at this point. A closed gate blocked a steep and narrow but paved road that would have led the way down to Switzers. Had it been open, I could have knocked off about 1/2 mile each way. Instead, my hike would begin with a steep descent, and end with a steep climb.

To the south, I could see the burned conifers in the foreground, and unburned conifers and deciduous trees closer to the water. Clouds tried to make it over a distant ridge, but were mostly unsuccessful.

When I reached the bottom lot, I saw a sign pointing the way to Switzers Falls. It was across a pedestrian bridge, then downstream.

From the bottom parking lot and for the next 1/2 mile or so, there were numerous picnic tables, trash cans, and chemical toilets. I doubt many would want to lug a picnic down the road, but when the lower lot is open, this would definitely be a nice (though, on a weekend, very crowded) place to eat lunch.

This area of the hike was pleasantly shaded. It looked a lot like other canyons in the San Gabriel, with plenty of alder near the water and a smaller number of sycamore and conifers mixed in. The water gurgled and helped make this section feel cool and comfortable.

After about one mile and five stream crossings, the Gabrielino Trail split away from the water and headed up. After about five minutes, I had a nice, elevated view to look up and down the Arroyo Seco. A chain link fence kept me from getting too close to the edge. I suspect that's more for the safety of people who might be down in the Arroyo rather than for hikers up on the trail. You get a few peeks at Switzers Falls, but the view is mostly blocked by vegetation. The sound of rushing water makes it up fine, though.

A signed junction pointed to the closed section of the Gabrielino trail. Instead, my route was to head left, down the Bear Canyon trail. The descent was again rather steep.

When I again reached the water level, a couple of signs indicated that the waterfall was upstream, while the Bear Creek trail was downstream. I headed back upstream, towards the waterfalls.

As I neared a set of cascades that were a prelude to the actual falls, I passed the remains of a small car. It had a rusted in-line six cylinder engine facing up, a small frame, and at least a few wheels visible. Curious how it wound up here.

Shortly after the car remains, I reached the cascades. It was only a long five minutes since reaching the water level.

Initially, the cascades seemed to block the trail, as the canyon walls moved in tighter around the river.

However, a clearly-defined trail made it up the right side (as seen when facing upstream) of the cascades. It climbed and weaved among a couple of old tree trunks, which provided plenty of hand and foot holds, and also helped hold the soil up.

Although good care should be taken if proceeding past the cascades, I was able to pick a route where I thought the odds of falling was low, and the worst-case scenario if I did fall was minimal. A few minutes of careful steps had me above the first cascade. Getting by the second was even easier.

From the top, it's a shorter five minutes of walking before I reached the end of the line.

Again, I could hear the waterfall before I could see it. In fact, the falls itself flows at greater than a ninety degree angle to the general flow of the river, so it's partially shielded by the cliffs that surround it. The water falls into a deep alcove, probably 25-30 feet in the final drop (there are cascades above these falls, but you can't see them from down below). Opposite the falls, water seeps and drips, keeping a hanging garden of grasses and ferns well-watered, at least as of June.

To get a better view of the falls, I could either try to edge precariously up along the left wall, or just take off my boots and socks and walk into the pool. There was a sandbar created by the turbulence, which gave me a path that was no more than 18 inches or so in depth. From there, I snapped some pictures of the falls, face-on. then I continued past, and got a few reverse angle shots. The reverse angle shot is at the top of this post.

I also shot some pictures of the dripping walls behind me, and some video. If I ever succeed in getting the video loaded, it'll be at the end of this posting.

Then I made my way back to outside the alcove and let the sun and wind dry my feet. After no more than ten minutes, I laced up the boots and was on my way.

On the return segment, I moved somewhat faster. I still had to slow down on the crossings, but with waterproof boots, stepping across and keeping my socks dry was pretty easy.

I also took a short detour to look down the falls from the top. Can't get much of an angle from the top, though. Also, the perspective from up here tends to flatten things. You don't get a real sense for how large the pool of water down there is, nor for how much further below the lip of the falls you're looking.

I seem to recall this trail is supposed to be about four miles. Since I had to start and stop from the Angeles Crest Highway instead of the parking lot, and also made the short detour to the top of the falls, I figured I covered about five miles. Pretty short, but enough, considering my condition.

(Edit--July 5-- When I drove past this area a few days ago, on my way to San Gabriel Peak, the parking area at the top of the road for Switzers was coned off. Cars were parked along the road east and west of Switzers. Also, you could park in the large lot where the Clear Creek ranger station used to be and take a .5 mile trail from there to the road leading to Switzers.)

Hiking-wise, I'm falling behind if I am to complete a second year with 100 hikes. My persistent cold (and the fact that I got two this year, both of which lasted over a week) were a setback. To stay on track, I'd need to complete 10 more hikes in the next two weeks. That's not going to happen, but hopefully I can get a few more in, and try to make the rest up over the course of the year.

With any luck, I'll be able to start July somewhat closer to 50 hikes than I am today, and with at least some part-time employment lined up. With some real luck, maybe something full-time will finally pan out, although that might require relocating. I'm not thrilled by the prospect of having to move, but things have been so sour for me locally that I almost feel like I need to. Yeah, that job in southern Utah would have been nice. . . .

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Hike 2011.039 -- The "C" Trail (above Cedar City, Utah, Dixie National Forest)

Hiked Tuesday, June 7.

Although I was still recovering from an annoying late-spring cold, I was up here in Cedar City for a job interview. That was most of the day on Monday, June 6. Late in the evening, I did the Spring Creek hike posted previously. On Tuesday, June 7, I was up early (before 6am), so I decided to eat an early breakfast, then try to squeeze in a local hike before heading back to southern California.

It seems like the webpage I got the list of area hikes from is incon-sistent in loading, especially using Chrome. So here's the link to the page the address that links to the hiking sheet:
Cedar City Hiking Sheet

If that doesn't work, go to and click on the "Hiking Trails" link below the "Community" heading. Even that doesn't seem to work, so I think the problem is in Cedar City. Anyway. . . .

The top one on the back of the page of hikes was yesterday's hike. The third one was today's hike.

In reading it, I saw that one could just drive up to the top. But that would require a car shuttle. Not going to happen. I also noticed that the second car was supposed to be left "at the dirt parking lot at 820 South and 300 East."

Most towns in Utah use a grid numbering system, with something like Main Street being the north-south running center of town, and Center Street being the West-East running center of town. Streets are numbered consecutively as 100 North, 200 North, 300 North, or 100 South, 200 South, 300 South, etc, in each direction from the center line. So an address like "820 South and 300 East" told me the "end" of this trail would be 3 blocks east and just over 8 blocks south of downtown Cedar City. Not exactly a hard place to find, even without a map.

I drove there late on Monday night, and saw a sign that pointed to "C-Trail Parking Lot." It wasn't clear to me if they meant this wide area at the corner was the parking lot, or if I should drive down the dirt road further to the south. On Tuesday morning, I figured I should drive to the end, first. If there was parking permitted at the end, good. It would save me some walking. If there was not, I'd just drive back to 320 East 820 South and start from there.

Turns out there was a large parking area at the end of this road, so the directions on the Cedar City flyer are out of date. Rather than parking at the corner, drive east along the dirt road (320 East) until it reaches a dead end, and park there. A trailhead sign starts you on your way.

Near the paintball-ridden sign announcing that this was a Utah statehood centennial project is a bench, indicating an elevation of 6128 feet above sea level, and a distance of 4.24 miles from there to the top (and 0 miles from there to the bottom).

Rather significantly, it does NOT tell you the elevation gain this trail will require. Nor did the flyer include this information. Still, I figured I could do an 8 1/2 mile hike in under five hours, so starting near 7am would give me enough time to finish the hike, get back to the hotel room, shower, change clothes, and check out.

So, up I began. Although the temp-erature was just 50 degrees, I decided to go with shorts, a t-shirt, and a sweater. I figured the sun would warm things up, and with the climb, I would probably feel much warmer in just a short time. Besides, I always "run warm," and usually have a bigger problem with staying cool than staying warm.

In retrospect, this was probably a mistake. Because this trail climbs a west-facing mountain, the sun doesn't hit you until somewhat later than you might expect. The first 90 minutes or so were mostly in the shade.

The trail starts out steeply. The guys who placed benches apparently knew this, or at least believed you'd need more rests near the bottom than near the top. As a result, there are five rest benches on the way up, but three of them are in the first 1/3 of a mile. You reach Bench 5 (the first one on the way up, the fifth from the top) just .17 miles from the start, at an altitude of 6214. You reach two more benches in the next 1/5 of a mile (three rest benches in just 1/3 of a mile).

Bench 2 does not appear until 1.63 miles from the bottom (1.3 miles from Bench 3) and at elevation 6,991. Bench 1 is at 2.39 from the bottom and elevation 7,257. Elevation at the top? The sign there said 8,212.

As local LDS kids might say, "Oh, my heck!" At least the ones in Provo used to say that. I'm not sure if it's statewide or just Utah Valley.

That means it's about 2,100 feet of vertical climbing over 4.24 miles. Not just that, but you're already starting at 6,100 (about San Gabriel Peak's altitude). I have to admit, this was more than I bargained for. Also, the air was cooler than I expected (because, yes, I'm a moron). By the time I finished this hike, my chest was not feeling good. I wound up the day feeling worse than I started it.

So, on the one hand, good for me: I got some much-needed exercise in. But I should have worn long pants.

Despite the steep altitude gain on this hike, the last 1.85 miles includes substantial level areas. There are some nice meadows along the way. They provide a good foreground to view the distant mountains to the west, southwest and northwest. The earlier section, by contrast, was just steep. Also, unfortunately, each of the first three benches was at a location that gave a view directly to the west. And what's there? A Wal-Mart Supercenter, across the I-15. Great.

Fortunate-ly, as you get higher, the Wal-Mart eventually fades from view (or at least is less imposing), and the prettier aspects of the landscape begin to dominate. Not so fortunately, there are also a couple of houses way up this way. That also takes away some from the sense of accomplishment as you hike up to where others dare to drive.

The view from the top is spectac-ular, and probably looks nicer if you walked up than if you drove up. There was an informa-tion sign with various peaks labeled. While I was there, it seemed easy to match up peaks I could see with their drawings on the map. However, sitting here in the comfort of home, the matching is a little tougher. Still, there seems little doubt that many of the mountains I could clearly see were over 60 miles away. The most distant, snow-covered peaks to the northwest were probably the Mountain Home Range, over 80 miles distant. Anyway, I posted a pretty large version of that chart, so if you want to try to match the chart with some of the distant mountains I photographed, have fun!

Despite the fact I'm feeling pretty lousy (health-wise), it was probably a good trail to hike that day. It had an impressive pay-off, yet I'm unlikely to ever return there specifically to hike this trail. It's more of a locals hike (or mountain bike), and not someplace you'd drive a great distance to hike. Those "destination" hikes, I could save for a real vacation. This was a job interview, with the hikes tacked on to make the most of the trip. Besides, if I get the job, I'll have plenty of time to do the other hikes. Or, if I don't, I am more likely to make a hiking-specific trip to the national park areas than I would be to hike a city overlook trail.

With any luck, I'll either hear good news via a phone call around the end of the week, or early next week, at the latest. If I don't hear from them by Tuesday or so, it's likely the offer went to someone else, and then I'd just be waiting for the "Don't let the door hit you on the way out" rejection letter in the mail.

Oh, and the "C"? You can't see it from the start of the trail, and I didn't see it until the last 30 minutes of my climb. Even then, it was hard to see, and it was only visible for about 100 yards of walking up (and also from the top, if you leaned over far enough). Hasn't been painted this year, I guess.

After I got back to my hotel room, showered, packed the car, checked out, then got ready to drive away, I made one last look to the southwest. Well, I'll be:

I could see the "C," at last. But, yes, it was pretty faded and not very large. You really had to be looking for it if you wanted to see it. It's directly above the truck's front tires. Even after you click on the picture to enlarge it (and even if you click on it again, to get it a little larger, still), it's just a small whitish smudge. It ain't no "Hollywood" sign, that's for sure.