Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hike 2012.031 -- Echo Mountain from Lake Avenue

Hiked Monday, May 28. Although this is the trail I've hiked on more than any other, I was surprised to discover in looking over this year's hikes that I hadn't been up here, yet. How about that?

The trail head is at the top of Lake Avenue, where Lake and Loma Alta run into each other, in front of the gates of the historic Cobb Estate. For most folks, this means taking the Foothill Freeway (I-210) to Lake, then heading north about five miles. Lake and Loma Alta approach the Cobb Estate perpendicular to each other, and form a right angle as the north-trending Lake reaches the east-trending Loma Alta.

Sometime after my last trip here, they re-aligned the lanes up here, so now Lake is a one-lane road each way the last bit of the way. Sort of make sense, so that people needing to parallel park here can do so without fear of getting rear ended.

Since I parked on Lake, I didn't drive around the corner to see if the lanes on Loma Alta had also been changed at all. I don't even remember if it was two lanes on that side or not.

I got a moderately early start to my hike on Sunday, getting on the trail by 9am. Just ate some oatmeal, then tossed a quart of Powerade and a few Powerbars into my pack. Yeah, I'm lazy that way. Also, cheap, yet still like to eat brand-name stuff.

As I left the house, I wasn't even sure where I would go hiking. I was aiming for something moderately difficult, but not an all day thing. Just kinda wound up heading north. Because I'm local, I didn't need to take the freeway. I just took surface streets to get to Altadena Drive, and headed north. As I drove past the Eaton Canyon Nature Center, I was slightly startled by the mass of cars parking on the road, with the nature center parking lot presumably already full.

I continued past that parking lot and past Crescent Drive (the access point nearest Eaton Canyon Falls), at which point Altadena Drive begins to head west, towards Lake Avenue. Turned right on Lake and continued to the trailhead.

There were a lot of cars parked here, too, but still fewer than at Eaton Canyon. I guess a large proportion of folks with Memorial Day off decided a hike in the morning would be a great way to start the day.

I walked rather slowly, snapping many pictures along the way. Despite the dry we had, most of our rain fell late, and the mountains above Altadena still look green (by southern California standards, mind you). The sage is still somewhat sporadic, but there were plenty of other flowers to admire. A growth of dudleya was the most impressive, but I also saw some lupine, morning glory, Canterbury bells, with a blue penstemon and five-spot at Echo Mountain. I also passed what I'm pretty sure was scarlet larkspur, though they weren't in full bloom yet so they didn't quite look right.

The trip up Echo Mountain today was somewhat similar to my hike up the Garcia Trail, at least in terms of the number of people. But the density is lower, because this trail is longer. Many were obviously coming up here for the first time, and they were uncertain about their progress. For those that asked, I recited the total distance to Echo Mountain (2.7 miles), the mile markers along the way, and my unquantified but dedicated belief that when you pass under the electrical transmission towers, you're halfway there.

I've been up to Echo Mountain more times than I can count, but I still get a kick out of seeing the ruins of the White City. Years ago, a friend, looking around the ruins, remarked, "Ape has killed ape," and I think of those words when ever I'm up there. It's easy to stand among those ruins and realize how quickly the works of man can be converted from a sparkling resort to a few fractured foundations and concrete stairs.

As you approach the ruins atop Echo Mountain, there are numerous interpretive signs, picnic benches, and trail posts. Three trails continue up from near here, and an additional one heads back down into Rubio Canyon, giving those with the time and inclination a plethora of options. Even as I arrived at Echo Mountain, I was still debating if I would try an alternate way further or back.

On the backside of Echo Mountain are picnic benches, nestled among trees. I often wonder if the pines growing here were native or brought in with the resort development, and have simply managed to outlive their benefactors?

The stairs around the terminal of the railway were teeming with people, many posing for phone pics with their friends. In the background, I heard someone say, "Look at that. We're so high up, we're above that jet." I thought they must have been exaggerating, but it was true. Down below, above the 210 freeway, a large military cargo jet (probably a C-17) flew slowly across the valley.

That was an unexpected surprise, because the vertical climb for Echo Mountain is a modest 1400 feet. That puts us no more than 2000 feet above the 210 freeway, and that plane was clearly several hundred feet below us. That put it only 1500-1800 feet above the streets of Pasadena.

It must have been making a flyover for a Memorial Day event somewhere below. After is passed the Arroyo Seco area, you could hear the engines rev as the jet climbed up and away.

It was a hazy day, so neither Santa Catalina Island nor the Pacific Ocean were visible. Downtown L.A. was visible, but, unlike some days, it looked like quite a distance away.

To the northeast, I saw what seemed like a relatively recent earth slide, with an arrowhead-shaped bare spot on the mountains.

After cooling off at the resort for a few minutes, I continued another 1/2 mile or so, to the first water crossing of the Castle Canyon trail. I was giving some thought to heading for Inspiration Point, but I didn't bring enough water to drink and I had work to do when I got home, so I didn't wan to exhaust myself on this hike.

The extra mile or so roundtrip was fun, though. While the water is but a trickle, it totally changes the composition of the flora here. Within the course of fifty yards, I saw fir, oak, sycamore, and walnut trees, all old, tall, and standing strong.

My little detour was short enough that when I got back to Echo Mountain, many who reached that point either shortly before or after me were still on the mountain. I chatted with a couple from the Inland Empire. They mentioned a Sapphire Road out that way, and another road I could take to a nice hiking area. Unfortunately, I waited too long, and now the other name has slipped my mind. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

At any rate, about 6.5 miles miles for the day, and a net 1400 foot gain. This trail is wide and well-engineered, so getting lost or falling off the side of the mountain are not considerations. Definitely kid-friendly, although there are not restrooms either at the trailhead or along the way. Nearest restrooms are down Lake about a mile, at Farnsworth Park. If it's hot, I'd recommend an earlier morning hike, as you get some shade on the way up in the morning. In the afternoon, it's pretty much all exposed.

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