Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Hike 2011.043 -- Idlehour Trail

Hiked Monday, July 4.

Despite an early start, my hike today was under uncomfort-ably hot weather, particularly given the distance (about 10.6 miles RT) and altitude change (about 2500 total altitude gain, including about 500 of that gained on the return from Idlehour to the Toll Road.

The trailhead I took was the Pinecrest access, which you reach by taking Altadena Drive north, a mile past the entrance for the Eaton Canyon Nature Center. Turn right on Crescent and park near the stop sign. Then walk an additional 1/8th of a mile on Pinecrest, to the gated entry. The gate is locked dusk to dawn, so don't park here if you plan to get back to your car after dark.

This is the same place you could park to access the eastern end of the Altadena Crest Trail, the trail to Eaton Canyon Falls, or the Trail to Henninger Flats and Mt. Wilson. For this hike, I followed the Mt. Wilson Toll Road through Henninger Flats, and an additional 1.1 miles past Henninger. There, where the road makes a sharp, 180 degree turn from north to south, is the beginning of the Idlehour Trail.

At this point, you will have traveled about 3.8 miles total from the trailhead and gained about 1700 feet. That's already not a bad short-day of hiking. Ahead of you is a slight decline, then a climb of about 300 feet over 1/4 mile. From there, you decline over the next 1.25 miles, your trail either follows contours or declines into ravines, eventually dropping you a total of about 1,000 feet by the time you reach Idlehour Camp.

At times, you've gone nice views of Mt. Wilson, to the north, and Mts. Lowe, Markham, and San Gabriel (Peak), the the northwest.

This section of trail is relatively narrow, though well-defined. There's also quite a bit of poison oak, so you'll want to keep your eyes on the trail as you walk. In several spots, flowers were thick with bees and butterflies. On drier areas, lizards scittered about

Idlehour Camp has several metal stoves, where fires are normally permitted, with a fire permit that you would have had to get at the Henninger Flat ranger station. A creek splashes noisily to the west. This is all part of Eaton Canyon, so if you were to bushwhack down this stream, you'd eventually wind up at the the top of one of Eaton Canyon's waterfalls. I made no attempt to do this, of course, because that hike would be long, tough, probably full of poison oak, and probably not possible without several dangerous rappels.

Alternative-ly, if you continued up the Idlehour trail, 3 miles and 1800 feet later, you'd reach the rail bed, right across the road from where the Sam Merrill reaches the railbed. A short hike from there would take you to Inspiration Point or Mt. Lowe (depending on which way you went).

This wouldn't be a very fun hike on a summer day, however. I was already feeling burned out by the time I got to Idlehour Camp. I just wanted to see what this area (which had been in the Station Fire Recovery Order) looked. It looked fine, by the way. I didn't see any evidence of significant fire damage. I'm sure that would change if I went further, because the upper section of this trail (in the West Fork of the San Gabriel River's headwaters) goes right through an area that looked like a moonscape last year.

I returned, hot and thirsty, to my car. On the way down, I saw (but did not photo-graph) a large buck, lurking in the shade of some trees, above the toll road, not far from where the Idlehour Trail reached it. It seems like I see deer in this area more often than not.

On the way up, just past Henninger, I passed a gopher snake. When I reached him, he had his head in a gopher hole. When he heard me, he pulled out his head and flicked his tongue in the air a few times. Then he slithered into the hole, which is how they get their name.

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