Thursday, December 22, 2011

Hike 2011.094 -- Echo Mountain via Rubio Canyon, Return via Sam Merrill and Altadena Crest Trails

Hiked Wednesday, December 21.

Still not in much of a driving mood, and keeping things close to home. I did add a slight twist to the usual Echo Mountain hike by approaching from the trailhead at Camp Huntington Road.

This trailhead is at the curve where Loma Alta Drive turns into Rubio Canyon Road, in Altadena. From the east, I think the easiest approach would be to take Altadena Drive north from the 210 Freeway, following it past Eaton Canyon. As Altadena Drive approaches the foothills, it curves to the west. About 2-3 miles past the Nature Center driveway, you can make a right at either Tanoble Drive (which has access to the Altadena Crest Trail) or Porter Avenue. Both are narrow residential streets, so watch your speed as you head north about 1/3 of a mile to Loma Alta Drive. Make a left there. After another 1/2 mile or so, Loma Alta will curve to the right and climb, going past Zane Grey Terrace (another access point to the Altadena Crest Trail). As the road goes past a large detention basin on the left, it will curve to the left. At the curve, Huntington Camp Drive is on the right, where a street sign that marks the change in the name of the road you're on (from Loma Alta Drive to Rubio Canyon Road). However, there is no parking at this point.

Instead, continue another 150 yards or so, to Rubio Crest Drive.

If you park at the base of this hill, you can then backtrack to Rubio Canyon Drive, walk left, and reach Camp Huntington Road (that name does not appear on the Loma Alta Drive/Rubio Canyon Road street sign at that corner) after about 150 yards, across the bridge.

Alternatively, you could turn right when you got back down to Rubio Canyon Drive, walk about 20 yards, and head up the Altadena Crest Trail, up to the Lake Avenue trailhead for the Sam Merrill Trail.

For me this day, I went left, up Camp Huntington. I hiked a bit in this area a few weeks ago. Walked up the road, went past the metal fire road access gate on the left, past the water company facilities on either side of me, and up Rubio Canyon. I ignored the trail that switchbacked up to the right, which would climb out the east side of Rubio Canyon. Instead, the trail I followed continued up canyon, crossing the dry wash. About 50 yards after crossing the wash, the trail turned sharply up the west side of the wash. This section was very steep and narrow. It looks like a recently-engineered trail, weaving between and under foliage that still encroaches on the trail.

At the end of what must be a 100 feet of vertical climb in only a few hundred yards of horizontal travel, you pop up on the main Rubio Canyon Drive, maybe 1/5 of a mile from the Rubio Canyon trailhead. (Had you driven up Rubio Crest, made a right at Rubio Vista Drive, and driven up to where that road makes a sharp left turn and changes name to Pleasant Ridge Drive, you would have been at the trailhead for what I consider to be the main Rubio Canyon trialhead).

Going up from Camp Huntington Drive probably adds about 300 yards and 150 vertical feet of travel on this approach.

Once on the main Rubio Canyon trail, it's about 1/2 mile of narrow trail to the foundation of the pavilion that used to be the start of the railway up to Echo Mountain. A 6-inch thick metal pipe runs right near the trail at this foundation. Passing the foundation, you have the choice of either heading down to river-level, which would take you further up Rubio Canyon to a series of waterfalls, or heading up the side of the canyon, in a very steep and not very stable (though much improved from just a year or so ago) trail that climbs all the way up to Echo Mountain.

Along the way, you've got a view up rugged Rubio Canyon, where you can hear (and sometimes see) the sound of the numerous waterfalls up that way. There's also a number of steep and narrow trails on the other side of the canyon, which you would take to get to those waterfalls. I saw a trio of hikers heading down one of those trails as I climbed up the opposite side of the canyon. Seeing them in the close-up picture posted below (while comparing it to the wide-angle view of the same wall, above) gives some perspective to the steepness and size of this canyon.

Here (even more so than in earlier portions of this trail), you need to take care not to cause excessive erosion. In a few places, there may be anchored nylon belts tied to trees, which you may (or may not) choose to aid in the climb. You also pass several more rail anchors, and the occasional rail segment and rail tie remnant).

At the top is, of course, Echo Mountain.

After drinking some water and admiring the view, I headed back down the Sam Merrill Trail, towards Lake Avenue. At the bottom, rather than continuing across the Cobb Estate to Lake Avenue, however, I turned left, down the Altadena Crest Trail. Initially, this trail stays in the canyon bottom, with some huge old oaks providing shade and serenity.

After a few hundred yards of that, however, you pop out on a street, continue following the trail near a home's front and back yards, then wind up walking on a barren access road, adjacent to a concrete drainage ditch. After about 1/2 mile of this, you pop back out at Rubio Canyon Road. From there, you make a left, and reach Rubio Crest Drive in about 50 yards. Back at the car.

I'd estimate the day's distance at about 5.5 miles, with an altitude gain of about 1600 feet.


  1. Hey Skyhiker, so you hiked straight up the incline tram bed all the way to Echo? I've been planning to do that route.

  2. Yep. Gone up that way maybe 2-3 times, and down that way at least twice. The first time was by accident, when I was just following the Rubio Canyon trail. The route up the canyon wall was more obvious to me than the trail heading down to the creek, so I followed the trail up, thinking it would just bypass a section of canyon then drop back towards the waterfalls. By the time it was clear that it wasn't coming back down, I high enough that I didn't want to just turn around, so I kept going on up to Echo Mountain.

    It's very steep, but not treacherous. Nearly all class 1, except for maybe two segments where you'll need to use your hands. Even in the areas with the nylon ties, it's not that hard to climb those rocky areas without using the ties. You just need to pay attention, and be willing to rub against a lot of foliage. Also need to check for ticks, just in case.

    In the past, I've made it a loop of just the Sam Merrill and Rubio Canyon Trails. Then I discovered the Altadena Crest Trail, and that reduced the amount of time spent walking on roads. Now, with a Camp Huntington Drive access, you can make a loop with only 50 yards or so is on pavement. Pretty darn steep climb out of Rubio Canyon, but definitely doable.

  3. Very cool! I've gone half way up the incline it's time to climb to the top. Thanks!

  4. Based on photo number 5, which shows Leontine Falls at the left, I don't think Skyhiker went up the Incline but just went up the standard Incline to Chalet to Echo Mtn route. I did build a trail for about 100 yards up the Incline from the standard route junction to meet the trail that goes over to the Pole Line Trail and then either up to Echo or down to the Merrill at the SCE towers, but between there and Echo Mountain I don't think there is an improved trail.

    Paul Ayers

  5. I did not know there were multiple routes up from the pavilion. I just knew there was a point where I was looking up at about half-a-dozen stone foundations for trellis anchors, and another where I was walking over rail and rail tie fragments. Sorry for the confusion.

  6. I did this today and even from the rubio canyon trailhead to the pavillion the over growth is dense. Bush wacking required if you do this one. Wear long sleeves and pants. I flicked off two ticks before i reached echo summit.

  7. Rubio Canyon is the only place "local" where I've picked up ticks, though both times I was semi-off trail. Picked them up in the hills, heading beyond the Thelehaha Falls overlook. I sometimes had trouble picking up the trail from the overlook over to the descent to the base of Leontine Falls.