Thursday, July 14, 2011

Hike 2011.044 -- South Hawkins from Crystal Lake

(Pictured: Drainage of the North Fork of San Gabriel River, as seen from South Mt. Hawkins). Hiked Wednes-day, July 13. I think I'm in denial about how long it's going to take to pack things up for my impending move, because I seem to get so little done, yet it's taking a long time. Lots of little things have been eating up my free time, so I hadn't gone hiking in about a week.

Today, I finally had a chance to do some hiking. Relatively late start, hitting the road by about 9:30am. Photocopied a page from my Tom Harrison map, but then promptly left it at home. That meant I was going to be walking somewhat blind.

My walking today started from the ranger shack at the Crystal Lake camp-ground. To get here, you take the 210 freeway, exit at Azusa (CA-39) and go north. You'll pass the Morris and San Gabriel Reservoirs (the former down about 25 feet from two months ago; the latter is still near the top of the bathtub ring) and the East Fork Road. Not long after the East Fork Road broke off to your right, there's a new sign announcing the presence of Crystal Lake Snack Bar, 14 miles ahead. So after driving the next 12 miles or so, as you're nearing the end of the open section of CA-39, a road (and, probably, a sign indicating the snack bar is open) will be on your right. Turn up that road. After two miles, the road more or less ends. The ranger shack (open on the weekends, I think) is on the left side of the lot. The snack bar is hard on your right. Residences appear to be further down the right. Parking for the snack bar is a soft right, while public parking for non-snack bar users is to your left.

You'll need an adventure pass. If you don't already have one, you can buy a day pass from the snack bar. Or, if you came up between Thursday and Sunday, you could have bought one from the entry station at the bottom of the mountain, or from a number of other vendors.

After parking, leaving my car, then returning because I forgot to hang my permit, I headed up the main road, which is now to your right. A locked gate blocks access to the actual camp-ground and trailhead parking lot, adding about 1/2 mile each way to the hike.

From this lot, I walked back past the ranger shack and turned right (north), up what seemed to me to be the main road. A locked gate was this way, as well, but I walked around it and continued north. In checking a map later, it seems I could also have continued past my lot and around a different gate, to my east--looks like they wind up at the same place, only the latter would be quicker.

Plenty of trees are still green and growing in the camp-ground, although some were affected by bark beetles and/or burned in a fire a number of years ago. Dead trees, standing and downed, become more common the higher you go.

I followed the main road (the one with the double-yellow lines) as it switch-backed up towards Windy Gap (which was visible in breaks between the trees). If I was certain about where the trailhead was, there's no doubt a more direct (albeit steeper) route to get to the trail. But because I wasn't sure, I took the scenic route.

Finally, at a point where the double-yellow lined road seemed to reach an apex, I found the trailhead sign, on my left. A large (but, because of the locked gates, inaccessible) parking lot was directly across the way, and a pit toilet was a bit above and to the right.

The earlier part of this trail starts off under the forest canopy, which, as noted earlier, is a mixture of growing, dead-standing, and dead-and-down trees. Even now, in mid-July, several seeps of water trickled across the stream in places, providing areas of verdant growth and flowering shrubs. With the altitude in the 6,000 foot range and temperatures unseasonably cool, the feel was very Sierra-like.

Windy Gap was up and a bit to my left. Initially, I planned to go to Windy Gap, then run east, along the ridge, to either Mt. Hawkins or on, to Throop Peak. However, when I reached a junction with South Hawkins Road, for some reason, that trail called my name. It's an old dirt road, and maybe I figured it was a surer route for someone walking without a map (although, of course, I have a fairly good idea of the layout of the peaks around here, and you're almost never out of sight of the Crystal Lake area).

The trail/road to South Mt. Hawkins is thus pretty hard to lose, although there are two significant washed-out sections that require a little care in traversing. There are also about a half-dozen places where fallen trees require ducking, climbing, or bypassing.

South Hawkins Road bears easterly, then curves to the south as you gain altitude. Before long, you've got a nice view of the Crystal Lake Basin. Mt. Islip is across the way. When you get a clear view to the south, the now-blue reservoirs behind San Gabriel and Morris Dams should be visible. Today, they were a little hazy, as a marine layer was heavy in the basin and scattered sunlight closer to the mountains.

You also get a nice view to the west, to the Mt. Wilson area. It's a different perspective from what you see in town. From the east, the flat area of Mt. Wilson is dotted with antenna and observatory buildings. Then, as you scan to the left, the mountain drops off noticeably before reaching the little outpost of antenna on Mt. Harvard. Of course, when viewed from town, Mt. Harvard (because it is closer) appears taller than Mt. Wilson, and the gap between them is less obvious.

Under clear skies, I imagine I ought to be able to see clear out to the ocean.

Along the southward stretch of this trail, I came across a number of flowers, including a cool yellow one I hadn't seen before.

When the trail finally turns to the east, you've got a straight-on view of South Hawkins, and a whole bunch of dead trees. Still, you've got several switchbacks and a bit more climbing to go. At the saddle, there's a trail junction, with another old dirt road heading north, skirting the Sheep Mountain Wilderness and heading towards Mt. Hawkins. Harrison says it's another .6 miles (the sign says .5 miles) to the South Hawkins lookout.

The trail actually circles around the summit, making a 360 degree-plus route to the top. Once at the top, the foundation and some burned lumber indicates where the lookout used to be. Under the lookout, charred glass, plastic, and steel is in several small piles.

Just east of the actual summit is a small radio communications shack with solar panels on the room. Between the shack and the lookout remains is the foundation of another structure. A toilet seat remains, mounted on top of a vault.

South Hawkins gives a pretty good view in all directions, making it a logical lookout location. Of course, views are clearest to the south, overlooking the drainage of the North Fork of the San Gabriel River (pictured at the top of this post). Trees partially obscure the view to the north and northwest, although Hawkins and Throop are visible that way. Baldy and friends are visible to the east. On the trail near the summit, views that way are dramatic, as the drop off from near South Hawkins into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness is dramatic and wide open.

Both the signage along the way and the Tom Harrison trail map give the distance of this trip as 4.8 miles each way, but that would be from the official trailhead. Add roughly an additional 2/5ths of a mile each way to get to the parking area near the ranger shack, so figure 10.0 - 10.5 miles total distance, and a little under 2,000 feet of vertical gain.

Had I gone to Mt. Hawkins instead of South Mt. Hawkins, my trip would have been about 1/2 mile longer each way, and had an additional 1,000 feet of elevation gain. I might try to fit that hike in on Friday.

In addition to the flowers and butterflies pictured in this post, I also saw a number of lizards, at least four species of rodents (grey squirrels, brown squirrels, antelope squirrels, and a chipmunk-looking rodent), lots of lizards and birds, one large deer (sprinting away and knocking rocks around by the time I saw him), and either a large fox or a small coyote. It looked too large to be a fox, but it had a long tail and an elongated body, like a fox. I was too busy digging for my camera to be sure.

Although I couldn't photograph the coyote, I did get a picture of a squirrel, which was calling out a loud and annoying warning as I passed. I don't know if he was warning about the coyote or about me.


  1. Thanks for the post. I'm eyeballing that hike so your description is helpful. I've heard the FS is abandoning the So. Hawkins Rd, which is a shame.

  2. Ah, that would explain the large wash-outs along the way. . . .