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.


  1. Nice pics. Sad to see the burn damage. The purple flowers looks like poodle-dog bush, common in burn areas. And it's an irritant to skin much like poison oak.

  2. Good call, Dan. I think you're right. The pictures I found when I googled "poodle dog bush" look like what I saw. I also came across an article warning about the effects of the plant.

    It's impossible to make it up this trail without rubbing either yourself or your clothes on the plant, because they are growing thick and are in full bloom all along that last stretch up to San Gabriel Peak.

    Fortunately, I apparently didn't get enough contact to cause any problems for me.