#BagginPeaksandHavinDrinks

Transverse Ranges

February 02, 2018

Iron Mountain's North Ridge

North Ridge Iron Mountain via Heaton Flats San Gabriel Mountains Angeles National Forest | TRVRS Apparel

Ben Broer, reaching Iron Mountain via its North Ridge.


There exists a mountain in the Angeles National Forest whose approach includes steep class 2-3 terrain for roughly 7 miles and 7,000 feet of vertical gain. Many have dubbed the trail "The hardest hike in the San Gabriel Mountains". While this is true for any 'single summit day hike' on an official (more or less) trail, there is another approach to this same Iron Mountain that is far more difficult. The route includes a half mile of dense bushwhacking, class 3-4 boulder scrambling over degraded granite, and over 4,000 feet of vertical gain in 2.5 miles. All of this takes place after a 7 mile approach in a canyon that features nearly a dozen creek crossings through a constantly diminishing trail flanked by poison oak. In spite of all of its difficulties, the North Ridge of Iron Mountain includes some pretty spectacular views of Fish Fork and the Pine Mountain Ridge as well as the extent of the San Gabriel River toward Mount Baden Powell.

North Ridge Iron Mountain via Heaton Flats San Gabriel Mountains Angeles National Forest | TRVRS Apparel

Google Earth overview of the East Fork and Iron Mountain.

Heaton Flats and the East Fork

I met Ben at the local Starbucks to see if the Barista offered shots of espresso intravenously before we carpooled up the highway 39. The often congested Heaton Flat parking area was nearly empty at 7:00 AM and the stale morning chill was a great motivation for sticking to our plan of jogging to the bridge. We used this time to discuss the expectation ahead and with each use of the term "bushwhacking", Ben would waste no time at firing off a joke regarding his relationship with my mother. Game on. 

Beyond The Bridge to Nowhere

4.5 miles | 1,600 ft. vertical gain

The Narrow of East Fork via Heaton Flats - San Gabriel Mountains Angeles National Forest | TRVRS Apparel

The Narrows of the East Fork.



We made it to bridge within an hour knowing that every mile past this point would be more difficult than the last. Essentially all of the difficulties faced along the trail before the bridge were enhanced vastly. Poisonous plants riddled the trail, creek crossings were far more consistent and searching for the overgrown trail became second to wading through the edge of the creek bed. After an additional 1.2 miles (and 550 feet of vertical gain), we had made it to Iron Fork. We stayed to the right at this confluence to continue toward our next destination.

Fish Fork

7.5 miles | 2,800 ft. vertical gain


We had made it to Fish Fork within another hour, which meant that the 3 mile stretch between the bridge took us as long as the 4.5 mile stretch from the car. Still, we felt confident in our efforts to shave off as much time from the easy part as possible. Excited that we were doing well, I pointed at the most obvious gully to the right and decided it was the one we would ascend. We took some time to filter water before starting the climb. Twenty feet from the bottom, the large shale slabs started to slide down the slope. We carefully ascended toward the ridge and as I reached the top, I noticed that everything ahead of us was completely overgrown. I had brought us up the wrong gully. I looked back at Ben to give him the news and he was mostly just disappointed that we had to go back through the loose rock. Before descending, we made sure to get a good view of the other potential gullies ahead.

The North Ridge of Iron Mountain

8 miles | 3,000 ft vertical gain.

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Ricardo Soria, navigating the Gully.



As we made it back into the canyon, I started thinking back to my first experience on this climb. I read reports stating that the correct gully was about a half mile past Fish Fork and at the time had no idea what a gully was. I started climbing a combination of visible tree roots and granite right at the edge of the ridge before finding myself surrounded by brush and realizing my error. I checked the distance and set my sights on finding the visible tree roots along the right side of the canyon. The previous setback made Ben a little more careful of trusting my navigational efforts and he moved right passed my landmark. Within a quarter mile, he asked what I was thinking and I told him I was absolutely positive that we had missed our train. We moved back toward the landmark and backtracked further to the next most obvious gully where we began to ascend.

Topographical map with route - North Rige Iron Mountain | TRVRS Apparel

Caltopo.com, topographical overview of our selected route on the North Ridge.



This gully was slightly more forgiving then the last. The worst of the scree was easily avoided and small segments of the route had the faint resemblance of a use trail. Our progress up the ridge paralleled a growth in confidence until we climbed roughly 500 feet and found ourselves engulfed in chaparral for 500 feet more. This on and off bushwhacking occurred twice over the course of a half mile until we finally reached a clearing. 

North Ridge Iron Mountain via Heaton Flats San Gabriel Mountains Angeles National Forest | TRVRS Apparel

The cliffs above Falls Gulch reached out toward the pseudo-summit while our ridge laid the path to the left. Although we had finally polished off the bulk of the chaparral, some mostly avoidable buck thorn lined the path as if to taunt us. Ahead of us were two potential routes, a lighter colored granite chute to the left and a darker series of chutes to its right. I recalled taking the option to the right during my previous ascent and we stuck to it. We could immediately tell that the steep granite was crumbly and even with our best efforts at watching our step, experienced several close calls. One particular occurrence of which included a four hundred pound boulder being displaced from the class 4 exposed chute Ben was in the middle of ascending. We were both lucky I had decided against following him moments before it happened. 

North Ridge Iron Mountain via Heaton Flats San Gabriel Mountains Angeles National Forest | TRVRS Apparel

One of the knives edge ridgelines during our class 3 ascent.




North Ridge Iron Mountain via Heaton Flats San Gabriel Mountains Angeles National Forest | TRVRS Apparel

What the hell is even happening here. This is like climbing the cliffs of insanity on the Princess Bride!


The entirety of this seemingly endless rock scramble took us about an hour and thirty minutes for a grand total of .8 miles and 2,300 feet of vertical gain which qualified the north ridge as the steepest sustained ascent I had ever made within the Angeles National Forest. 

Iron Mountain Summit to Heaton Flats

10.6 miles | 8,000 ft. vertical gain


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Panoramic view of the Southern view from Iron Mountain summit.



1:00 PM -- We had reached the pseudo peak and final plateau. The adrenaline from putting the difficulties of the climb behind us combined with the panoramic view of the Ross Mountain Ridge left us overwhelmed with joy. The triangular witness post was now in plain sight and a 250 foot hike brought us to the summit at 1:15 PM. After signing the register and taking a few photos of the infamous San Antonio Ridge Traverse, we scarfed down the majority of our remaining snacks and made for the trail. Ironically, Ben had never ascended Iron before and although all that was left was a descent, we both knew that we were in for a rough landing at Heaton Flats. 

We shuffled down the steep south ridge and parts of my body I didn't know existed were now screaming at me. My knees seemed to buckle with every step and my hips felt like jello. The morning marine layer had dissipated, leaving us completely exposed to the sun. By the time we had reached the car, we were pretty toast and the summit beer we had denied ourselves at the peak during the trek was now calling to us. We had completed the North Ridge of Iron Mountain and a celebration was in order.

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Total Distance: 17 miles

Total Elevation Gain: 7,500-8,500 feet. (This is our best estimate based on three GPX files uploaded to Strava, Caltopo, and Google Earth. The canyon seems to not like GPS equipment).

Trail Difficulty: Ridiculously Hard - Ben even stated that this route was harder than Triplet Rocks several times upon our completion. I'd say it was AS hard and definitely more dangerous.

  • Class 1-2 defined trail for first 4.5 miles. Use trail passed the bridge that becomes increasingly difficult to find.
  • Half mile of bushwhacking on a steep ascent. 
  • Class 3-4 degraded granite for more than a mile
  • 4,000 feet of vertical gain in 2.5 miles.
  • Rockfall is inevitable on this route even with a careful team. Helmets advised. 
 
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. Our completion time was roughly 9 hours, but other groups have taken up to 17 hours on this route. There is plenty of filterable water from the trailhead all the way up to the Fish Fork at which point you will need to carry everything you need for the remaining 10 miles back to Heaton Flats.

RESOURCES

 

North Ridge of Iron Mountain via San Gabriel River Trail - GPX FILE
Ricardo Soria Jr. (writer) - Please read the report before using. There are two errors on this GPX file that could save you a lot of time! 


January 14, 2018

Strawberry Peak via South Colby Canyon (Mountaineers Route)

Strawberry Peak via Colby Canyon (Mountaineers Route) San Gabriel Mountains | TRVRS APPAREL

Final ascent of Strawberry Peak. Photo by Jeremy Boggs.


Strawberry Peak, a 6,164 foot mountain in the Angeles National Forest is located along the California Highway 2, just 10 miles north of  Pasadena. The peak features incredible views of both the western San Gabriel mountain range as well (on a clear day) the entire southern California coast. It was named by some highly creative mountaineers who felt that the peak had "striking" visual similarities to that of an actual strawberry (go figure). It is more commonly known for its class 3 approach via the mountains western ridge; a caliber of terrain that is more often found on extremely difficult day hikes such as the San Antonio Ridge Traverse,  or the approach to Triplet Rocks. On January 6th 2018, twenty-seven avid hikers met at the Colby Canyon trail head to make for the peak. 

South Colby Canyon Trail Head (3,500 ft) 

Strawberry Peak via Colby Canyon (Mountaineers Route) San Gabriel Mountains | TRVRS APPAREL

Group descending the lowest point of Colby Canyon trail.

The start time was set for 6:00 AM and to my surprise, I woke up on time and ready to party. I stopped at the La Canada Flintridge Ralph's for a lunch and some snacks before heading north on the Angeles Crest Highway (California Highway 2). The South Colby trail head is a large dirt turnout on the left just passed the Switzer Picnic Area parking lot. As I arrived, I discovered four other cars.. I knew it was going to be a good group.
By 6:15AM, the turnout was completely filled and two other hikers were forced to park in the overflow parking a quarter mile up the highway. We counted 25 hikers in total before going over logistics and making for the trail. We descended to the bottom of the canyon and crossed the dry creek bed before climbing a couple of switchbacks moving north-east. Even without the single file of hikers spread across the route, its switchbacks were visible along Josephine saddle's southern slope as the trail made its way through the dense chaparral. A  welcome addition to our hike was a bit of drizzle in the morning gloom.

Josephine Saddle

1.75 miles | +1700 FT | -200 FT

Strawberry Peak via Colby Canyon (Mountaineers Route) San Gabriel Mountains | TRVRS APPAREL

Approaching the water tower (center left) at Josephine/Strawberry Saddle.


Strawberry Peak via Colby Canyon (Mountaineers Route) San Gabriel Mountains | TRVRS APPAREL

Overlooking the group from the water tower with Strawberry Peak in the back.


8:00 AM - We approached the big cement water tower located near the saddle and the goal became clear. Strawberry Peak's eastern ridge and the final class 3 climb were now all we had left. The front of the pack took a break at the saddle to allow everyone to catch up as planned, and for good reason. Three additional hikers had arrived late and made it to the saddle in time for another briefing on the trail conditions to follow. From the saddle, we would leave the trail almost immediately and head north east along the ridge (the path to the right of the main trail) for less than a quarter mile before our first rock scramble. 

Obstacles along the Ridge!

 

Strawberry Peak via Colby Canyon (Mountaineers Route) San Gabriel Mountains | TRVRS APPAREL

The route becomes obscure as bulging granite and sandstone interweave with dirt trail, creating veins along the ridge and it can be very easy to turn a short 15 foot scramble into a class 4 exposed climb. The trick here is to stay to the left as you approach the rocky terrain. The entire group managed this part no problem and we continued north for 600 feet before I saw it; my nemisis. A small poodle dog bush lay dormant along the right of the path. I stayed behind as several hikers passed to warn more of the group.

For those unaware, Poodle Dog Bush (Eriodictyon Parryi) is a shrub unique to Southern California that thrives in areas that have recently been disturbed by fires or landslides. The plant can grow to be as tall as six feet and features hairy leaves as well as bright purple flowers in the summer months. For all its beauty and benefits of rehabilitation to the land, touching it can cause major skin irritation and blistering that can last up to several weeks. It is a nuisance! I warned enough people and decided to keep moving. 

The Mountaineers Route to Strawberry Peak

Strawberry Peak via Colby Canyon (Mountaineers Route) San Gabriel Mountains | TRVRS APPAREL

After climbing 2,500 feet in a total of 2.7 miles, we had made it to the base of the infamous class 3 section; a 500 foot scramble made up of solid granite with almost no exposure. I looked up toward the route and some of the front runners navigated the ascent. 

We arrived to the peak at approximately 8:30 AM (an extremely fast time for a group of 27). The mountain welcomed our arrival with beautiful clear skies and endless views of Southern California's coast to the south and Big Tujunga to the north. I quickly reached into my pack and pulled out my summit beer first just in case the early morning completion scared anyone into actually having a beer. After all, we are a group of beer enthusiasts who like to get outdoors and I came to party. Cheers!

Strawberry Peak via Colby Canyon (Mountaineers Route) San Gabriel Mountains | TRVRS APPAREL

Our entire group of 27 with Jeremy Boggs behind the camera.

LOGISTICS

Where we started:  701 Angeles Crest Hwy, Tujunga, CA 91042 (search Colby Canyon Trail head on Google Maps/Waze).

MORE INFO

Total Distance: 7 miles 

Total Elevation Gain: 2,700 ft +
Completion Time: 5 hours (group of 27 including 45 minute break at the peak)

Trail Difficulty: Moderate
  • Easy class 1 trail up to Josephine saddle
  • Use trail along the ridge with potential exposed class 3-4 rock climbs if not careful of finding the route.
  • Poodle dog bush (poisonous plant) along the trail for the majority of the last mile. 
 
November 21, 2017

Gabrielino Trail (West to East)

Aaron-flynn-newcomb-pass-gabrielino-trail-west-fork-sturtevant-trail-trvrs-apparel

Aaron Flynn, descending Newcomb Pass toward Sturtevant trail.


The Gabrielino trail is a 28.5 mile path that lies in the canyons of the Angeles National Forest. Its spans from Alta Dena, California to Chantry Flat recreational area (just north of Arcadia, California). It was created in 1970 when several existing trails were renamed as a consequence of the National Trail System Act. The Forest Service announcement read as  follows:

"This trail has been created for you - the city dweller - so that you might exchange, for a short time, the hectic scene of your urban life for the rugged beauty and freedom of adventure into the solitary wonderland of nature."

In 2009, over 160,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest were devoured by the Station Fire (one of the largest wild fires in the history of California). The fire's impact compromised the Gabrielino trail's integrity, leaving portions closed for nearly 8 years. 

The national recreational trail is made of nearly 100% single track trail, with many sources of filterable water (during winter and spring) and travels through shaded and desolate canyons of the Angeles National Forest. Its terrain includes mostly defined class 1 trail, several creek crossings, and a few downed trees. It weaves through the lush, forested canyons of the Arroyo Seco and West Fork. All of these qualities make it an endurance runners dream trail and fortunately for us, it was recently reopened due to the fantastic trail work of Southern California's incredibly motivated mountain biking community.



The Arroyo Seco

gabrielino-trail-sign-jpl-arroyo-seco-trvrs-apparel

Trail sign in Alta Dena marking the beginning of the Gabrielino trail in Alta Dena, California.

Sunday November 12th, 2017 -- After our plans of hosting a larger group run had dwindled down to two, Aaron and I arrived at the Windsor blvd trail head parking lot to start at 7:30 AM. We strolled North along the fire road at an easy pace mostly to catch up since the previous week's C2C2C adventure. Within a couple of miles, the fire road gave way to single track and it was just too enjoyable to hold back.

gabrielino-trail-jpl-chantry-flat-arroyo-seco-trvrs-apparel

The infamous Brown Mountain Forest Service Dam in the Arroyo seco.

By 8:10 AM, after staying within the lowest point of the canyon for 4 miles, we had made it to the Paul Little picnic area junction, and took the path to the right where we would climb roughly 100 feet to bypass the infamous Brown Mountain Forest Service Dam and land back in the Arroyo Seco. At this point we had already crossed the mostly calm creek around 8 times and this trend would persist.

Overlooking Bear Canyon

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Bear Canyon with San Gabriel peak in its wake.

We made it to the Ken Burton Trail junction where we stayed along the canyon and just a mile later, we reached a confluence in the Arroyo Seco. We took the North Fork to begin a 1,300 foot climb toward Commodore Switzer Camp. From the highest point, we could see all of Bear Canyon and its surrounding peaks; the change of scenery was refreshing. We met an older couple following the path in the opposite direction. The woman stood quiet while the gentleman asked about conditions, noting that they had spent the night at Devore Campground. We assured him the trail was passable and he let out the most classic "OH BOY!" as he walked away. The reassurance of being nearly finished with their trek must have been extremely motivating, especially after backpacking 10 miles in a day on a trail he wasn't sure would get he and his wife safely back to civilization.

Switzer Picnic Area

8.5 mi | + 2552 | - 700 ft


switzer-picnic-area-gabrielino-trail-chantry-flat-arroyo-seco-trvrs-apparel

Approaching the Switzer Picnic Area from just above Switzer Falls.

By 9:45 AM, we had reached Switzer picnic area and besides a couple of hills the grade was steady enough to maintain a strong jog for most of the ascent. We quickly passed the parking area to cross a bridge and return the fun single track. The now east facing canyon trail paralleled the Angeles Crest highway. Several miles later, we reached another false junction (ladybug Canyon rd?) but easily avoided falling off track by staying to the South side of the canyon (away from highway 2) and continuing our ascent toward Redbox Picnic Area.


Red Box 

14 miles | + 4600 ft  | - 1168 ft

red-box-lady-bugs-gabrielino-trail-chantry-flat-arroyo-seco-trvrs-apparel

A lady bug orgy.

Aaron and I both brought water filters (Katadyn Befree, and the Vestergaard LifeStraw), and although we had passed a lot of stream water on the way up, we knew we that there was reliable water source at Red Box. I stopped in the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center for a Coke and some Knott's Cookies and within minutes we were back on the trail (located near the bathroom), descending the opposite side of Red Box Gap in the West Fork San Gabriel River.

Confusion near Devore


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There is a fungus Among us.

Six miles and 2,600 feet of descent lead us past both Valley Forge and Kenyon-Devore trail junctions, and we earned a stay at West Fork campground. So far, our trek had included five different campsites with flowing water at each and we were now in a lush green forested landscape. I was beginning to understand both how good of a backpacking trail we were running through and, as the trail became more overgrown, how little research we did on an entire 2 mile section. 

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Two lost dudes, happy as ever. 

Approaching Devore campground the path became increasingly vague; often presenting sections overgrown with ferns, tall grass, poison oak, and my absolute favorite STINGING NETTLE. We cautiously navigated the route and as our confidence started to fade I decided to use my GPS device to help us stay on track. To my dismay, I had  failed to upload the route correctly. Fortunately, Aaron had a topo of the area on his phone. We quickly found our way and put my lack of preparedness behind us. 

Newcomb Pass

21 miles | +6,500 ft | -1168 ft

herman-kuhn-newcomb-pass-gabrielino-trail-chantry-flat-arroyo-seco-trvrs-apparel

This sign really pulled through on inspiring me to give the rest of the trail a good effort. Thanks Herman.

 As we climbed south from devore, the path crossed Rincon Red Box Road before finishing off with a few switchbacks and topping out at Newcomb Pass. The 1,200 foot hustle left us winded and relieved to know that were now sure there would be no more climbing. After taking a minute to admire the plaque commemorating a deceased Forest Service Volunteer, we made for Sturtevant Camp.

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We knew we were almost finished and Landing on the classic Mount Wilson loop made it real. With each passing day hiker, the vision of my car and more importantly what was inside of it became clearer. A fresh room temperature beer was anxiously waiting to be imbibed and it had its beer goggles set on me. The remainder of the climb toward Chantry Flat would be a breeze (kind of). 

Sunset on Register Ridge

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Yep, we ACTUALLY made it for sunset mid-Register Ridge after a near 30 mile day and some Chipotle for lunch.

I drove along the mildly congested 210 freeway while Aaron was catching up on his phone, he abruptly turned his head asked if I'd like to go climb Mount Baldy with a friend. We turned the car around and made for Manker Flat...The END.

LOGISTICS

Where we started: 898 West Altadena Drive, Altadena, CA 91001

Where we left my car: Adams Pack Station, Chantry Flat Road, Arcadia, CA


MORE INFO

Total Distance: 28.5 miles 

Total Elevation (feet): 6,500 ft +
Completion Time: 6.5 hours (running with minimal breaks)

Trail Difficulty: Easy/Moderate.
  • Steady class 1 trail.
  • Trail is well marked, but being inside of the canyons can cause difficulties navigating due to loss of direction. Bring a compass/GPS watch/do your homework.
  • Great for backpacking or long day hikes if you are ready for the mileage.
  • Mild bushwhacking near Devore campground.
 
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. Although the the trail is well marked and water is usually not an issue, the sheer distance makes this backpacking trail a toughie for the average day hiker.


RESOURCES

Gabrielino Trail (Trail Run) - GPX FILE 
Please be aware that distance, route and overall elevation gain may vary. Uploading this to Cal Topo, Google Earth & Strava, I found that there was a difference of +500 ft of vertical gain and up to 2 miles. Thats a big deal when you're dragging your knuckles across the floor.

November 07, 2017

Cactus 2 Clouds 2 Cactus ( C2C2C )

On Thursday November 2nd 2017, I had reached out to Ultra Runners Aaron Flynn and Vincent Lopez about sharing a few miles that weekend. Southern California's late October heat wave was followed with cooler weather and some heavy anticipation. We spent a few days watching weather forecasts and leaning toward one trail or another before deciding on the infamous Cactus 2 Clouds trail. The route consisted of climbing from the desert floor of Palm Springs to the top of San Jacinto Peak and back down to the Aerial Tramway, where most people purchase a lift ticket to descend via the tram and shuttle back to their car. The Cactus 2 Clouds trail includes roughly 18 miles with 10,800 feet of vertical gain. Our plan was to complete the route and bypass the tram/shuttle entirely. A route called called "Cactus 2 Clouds 2 Cactus" (more commonly abbreviated as C2C2C) As the day approached, four other runners would join our collective and a party would be had. 

Continue Reading →

August 05, 2017

Sespe Hot Spring via Piedra Blanca Trail

OVERVIEW

Sespe Hot Spring Los Padres National Forest - OVERVIEW | TRVRS APPAREL

Los Padres National Forest Piedra Blanca Trail - Sespe Hot Spring | TRVRS APPAREL

Located Deep within the Los Padres National Forest, nestled in one of Sespe Creek's northern reaching canyons, lies a nearly one mile stretch of what is said to be one of the hottest natural hot springs in Southern California. Sespe Hot Springs at its source produces water upwards of 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Its heat can be felt in the stream all the way through the foot of the canyon and the floor of the campsites that dot the trail are substantially warmer than sites located near the Sespe River Trail. The beauty behind this hidden gem falls not only on the quality of its real estate, but in the fact that it lies over 15 miles away from civilization as this entire section of the Sespe River is protected under its designation as a National Wild and Scenic River. Its flow is completely uninterrupted by dams or concrete channels.

However, laying in one of Sespe Hot Spring's natural pools requires quite a bit of commitment; 15 miles and over 2,000 feet to be exact. Besides the distance, its trail includes ten river crossing and is nonexistent for up to an entire mile after recent storm conditions flooded portions of the trail. Its also dotted with poison oak, rattlesnakes (in the warmer months) and fallen trees toward the second half. For most, backpacking to the springs in a day is almost completely out of the question. And so, on April 17th we set out to do exactly that. 

ITINERARY

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - PIEDRA BLANCA TRAIL | TRVRS APPAREL

Although the Sespe River flows year around, the water levels can diminish during the Fall due to intense summer heat while Winter storms often leave the creek completely impassable. For the most part, the segments of the Sespe River Trail that aren't obvious paths are well marked with cairns, but bringing a map is crucial to any successful outing and here, the trail seems to diminish due to both recent flood conditions and its lack human contact.  It is absolutely necessary to check out the Forest Service website regarding road closures and trail conditions and even call the Ojai Ranger District to ask for updates before you lose cell service. 
Most would agree that staying three nights on this trail is optimal to spend ample time taking in the exquisite landscapes while minimizing fatigue. However, one of the great things the Sespe River Trail has to offer in the Spring time is seemingly limitless options for water filtration and camping. You can push to the edge of comfort knowing that another primitive site is most definitely around the corner.
The evening of Sunday April 16th was spent shuffling around the house, packing and hoping for a good nights rest so that we could get an early start on the trail. I had made some estimates on hiking time including buffers like short five minute breaks to use the restroom or filter water, but we were shooting for a 25 minute mile average with an hour of stopping time to account for the rest. 

THE SESPE RIVER TRAIL

Piedra Blanca trail head | Elevation 3,069 feet

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - PIEDRA BLANCA TRIAL | TRVRS APPAREL

Monday April 17th -- 8:30AM. I was awoken by the soothing sound of my 2004 Nissan Xterra being driven over small pothole, a jerky rattle similar to that of a tool chest being dropped from a second story window. I sat up and was treated to endless clusters of sandstone and chaparral unique to the Los Padres National Forest. We were coming down the last stretch of Rose Valley Road (Forest Route 6N31) where we would soon pass the Middle Lion Campground junction before the final descent into the Sespe Creek Canyon. 
The parking area was almost completely empty with the exception of two gorged trash cans which indicated the weekend rush that we just missed. We grabbed our packs and made for the trail head which is obscurely located to the east of the the parking lot. The conditions were perfect. Billowing clouds rolled in from the west offering shade while hints of blue sky relieved us from any fear of weather.
There are 11 notable river crossings throughout the canyon and three of them exist within the first mile. We prayed that the first two were easy to manage since our last attempt at reaching the Hot Springs only one month prior to this trip was just after a thunderstorm which made the water levels chest deep and forced us to turn back. The first bed was only a foot and a half at base level, and we plowed joyously through. Although many of the the crossings feature some sort of obvious rock path to avoid wet feet, a lot of them do not and the first is no exception.  We prepared by bringing light weight trail runners in favor of traditional hiking boots since they would dry faster and help us to avoid blisters. Within a half a mile, we had come to the Piedra Blanca trail junction. We shifted right following the River toward Bear Creek trail camp.

ONTO BEAR CREEK TRAIL CAMP

Bear Creek Campground | Elevation 2,812 feet

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - PIEDRA BLANCA TRAIL | TRVRS APPAREL 
The trail was easy to navigate, being as wide as 10 feet in some sections and featured a slow and steady descent. The most difficult part here was resisting the urge to tear off our clothes and jump into the many swimming holes the river bed had to offer. We strapped on some horse blinders and managed a strong pace, eating and adjusting our packs as we walked. 
By 10:20 AM, we had completed 4.5 miles and a most of our homemade turkey club wraps. We could have easily bypassed the gorgeous Bear Creek Trail Camp by staying to the left most trail, but its shaded sites and sandy beaches are always worth investigating. We spent all of two minutes admiring its comforts before strolling further East.

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - WILD FLOWERS | TRVRS APPAREL

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - WILDFLOWERS | TRVRS APPAREL

Just passed the camp, the path crosses the channel for the fourth time and although the trail appears to continue east after crossing, it instead shifts south-west to climb a quick switchback, bringing you above the floodplain where it remains for another mile before crossing the river yet again. We filtered some water and made way for the creek bed. This one is probably the longest creek junction, spanning at nearly 50 feet of shallow water. Once we made it across, we were greeted with an array of wild flowers including Notch-Leaf Phacelia and Bristly Fiddleneck. Their miniature purple and gold buds contrasted each other wonderfully making for a great visual experience.

ROLLING HILLS & OAK FLAT CAMPGROUND

Oak Flat Campground | Elevation 2,600 feet

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - PIEDRA BLANCA TRAIL | TRVRS APPAREL

After a mostly steady descent for nearly 6 miles, the trail begins to move away from the creek, climbing the northern hillside. At the top, we were rewarded with some spectacular overhead views of Oak Flat Campground and another descent. This 'rolling hill' fashion would continue for the remainder of our trek toward Willet (mile 9.5) for a total of five climbs ranging from 100-200 feet which can be a pleasant change of scenery or an exhausting challenge, perspective dependent. 

WILLET & THACHER CAMP

Willet Camp | Elevation 2,520 feet

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest | TRVRS APPAREL

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - Willet Campground Ruins | TRVRS APPAREL

12:40 PM -- We started descending the last of the rolling hills after nearly 4 hours of determined motion and although the early morning blessed us with cloudy weather, the afternoon brought on clear skies and just a little more sunshine than we needed. We continued along the hillside staying west of the creek passing the many sites of Thacher Camp since the year before, we had spent the night there and were under the impression that the trail to Sespe Hot Spring continued on this side of the Creek. I even went as far as confirming the route with two other skeptical backpackers along the way. Within minutes of passing the Willet Hot Spring junction and a few old rustic metal shack ruins, the trail began to disappear and I knew I had done something wrong. I pulled out my map and was able to determine that we should have crossed the creek near Thacher Campground and avoided Willet altogether. We shuffled through the bush, where we quickly found a washed out trail.

***If you are wondering why we didn't just drop our packs and head for Willet Hot Spring to call it a day, its because Willet Hot Spring is a algae ridden, murky man made pool with smelly luke warm water. Plus we had already done that last year guys, c'mon!

DIFFICULTIES UP TO HARTMAN CAMP

Hartman Camp | Elevation 2,489 feet

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - HARTMAN CAMP CAIRN | TRVRS APPAREL

The humbling experience of falling off track was cause to halt our hiking trivia game and focus on navigating, especially since the prior months storms had mostly washed away portions of the trail leaving nothing but muddy foot prints flanked with poison oak. At mile 10.5, we crossed the creek yet again which brought us to Hartman Camp. The cool water soothed our aching feet while trail cairns and a wide open path brought us some much needed comfort after our previous difficulties. We were now just over a third of the way to the hot springs and a victory glass of wine.

Coltrell Flat

Coltrell Flat Campground | Elevation 2,312 feet

At 2:20 PM we had traveled 12.3 miles, climbed 1,300 feet, descended just under 2,000 feet and crossed Sespe Creek nine times in total. Our heavy packs were no longer a burden since our shoulders and hips were mostly numb. We were in autopilot. Our eyes followed the dirt path as it parted the lush grassy hillside ahead. This would be the biggest climb yet, but we were up for it. We knew were close.

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest | TRVRS APPAREL

We marched onward and as we reached the top, a progressively strong breeze set off what seemed like a choreographed waltz in the meadow that surrounded us. The views from the top of this hill were some of the best our trek had to offer and the majority of mile 13 would consist of a barely visible trail between a pasture of tall grass with Coltrell Flat somewhere in the center. It looked like something out of the Land Before Time.

The Johnston Ridge Trail

Poplar Creek Canyon Junction | Elevation 2,365 feet

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - HOT SPRING SIGN | TRVRS APPAREL

As we made another short ascent, we reached an intersection (mile 14) with a sign that read  'HOT SPRING'; the arrow pointed north. The reassurance that we had almost arrived to our destination was welcomed and after taking a quick photo, we made moves away from Sespe Creek and onto the Johnston Ridge Trail which followed Poplar Creek. Just half a mile later, We had reached the ironically titled Cold Water Fork and as the trail crossed over the now negligible creek, I decided to stick my hand in the water. It was warm. 

The Sespe Hot Springs Trail

Sespe Hot  Spring Trail Junction | Elevation 2,643 feet

Sespe Hot Spring Canyon - Los Padres National Forest | TRVRS APPAREL

 

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest | TRVRS APPAREL

At mile 15, we had reached another Fork and the final creek crossing. It was here that our prior research had indicated the Johnston Ridge trail would continue to climb out of the canyon (an adventure we had hoped try out another time) while the Sespe Hot Spring Trail would follow the eastern side of this ridge. However looking around, we could see some really nice camp sites. We followed the trail through some surprisingly dense bush and popped out in a wide open canyon. A group of palm trees stood out in the distance and I knew we had reached our oasis.

CAMPING NEAR SESPE HOT SPRINGS

Sespe hot Springs Camp Site | Elevation 2,700 feet

Sespe Hot Spring Los Padres National Forest - CAMPSITE | TRVRS APPAREL

We had made it to the Springs at 4 o'clock PM where saw a couple of backpackers nestled under the Palm Trees in what looked like the best site available.  We introduced ourselves and found out that Joey and Spencer were locals who had been there dozens of times. They noted that the only filterable water was just a quarter mile upstream and was much cooler than its sulfur instilled counterpart. We thanked them for the information and finally parked our gear just 200 feet south of their location near the water.  We set up our tent and sat inside to avoid the bugs and the heat,  but we were completely exposed and the sun would not go down for another hour.
Moments later, my girlfriend noted that a bug was inside of the tent. At first I dismissed the remark as I scrolled through photos we had taken during the day but when she called for my attention again, I turned to see a massive tick crawling on the tent floor. I looked around for something to smash it with but its exoskeleton seemed to be impervious. I ended up having to wrap it with a bandana and twist it like I was trying to ring out moisture. After three attempts, it finally stopped moving and I threw it out of the tent only to see a black widow climbing onto our tent fly, which I quickly flicked off. There we sat; dirty, hot, and confined. It was a freaking paradise. 

Sespe Hot Spring Los Padres National Forest | TRVRS APPAREL

After enjoying a well deserved dinner, we decided to take our wine down stream to see if we could find cooler pools since we could only stand the intense heat of the ones near our tent for moments at a time. We found a small pool with two strange looking men wearing nothing but bath robes. We said hi and kept our distance. Within minutes, the awkward silence was broken by one of the men. He asked us what we were drinking and offered to share his plastic bottle of rum with us. We kindly refused and left shortly after.

FINDING A GOOD POOL 

The next morning we decided to follow the stream even further down. We were determined on finding a comfortable pool with some privacy. The route was a little tricky, and we often needed to negotiate fallen brush, but within a quarter of a mile, we had found an 8 foot pool with about 2 feet of depth. The temperature was perfect and there were no strange dudes in sight! We very quickly realized that this pool was closer to the Fork we had passed before, which featured a few shaded camp sites as well as opportunity for hammock. We agreed that if we ever came back, it would be to camp there. 
After an hour, we decided to return to camp and pack so that we could spend the rest of our morning drinking coffee at our new resort before high tailing it out of there. We returned to a slight sprinkle and the warm creek water below perfectly contrasted the cool moisture from above.

GETTING BACK HOME

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - Johnston Ridge Trail | TRVRS APPAREL

Within minutes of setting out, the light drizzle became showers and we nervously adjusted our layers. I knew that we weren't expecting a down pour so flooding was out of the picture, but if the moisture lasted for the extent of our hike back, we would probably be uncomfortable and in low spirits. The showers stopped shortly after we made it back to Sespe Creek and we were left with the scent of fresh rain and vibrant cloud work.
There was really no destination or deadline since we had planned on spending one more night in the wild and empty campsites riddled the trail. However trekking back to Bear Creek Trail Camp seemed ideal, so that the last push for the trail head would be short and sweet. Plus, Joey and Spencer had said that they were going to spend the night there and they seemed like good company.

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - BUTTERFLY | TRVRS APPAREL

At around 3 o'clock PM, we had reached Bear Creek where we saw our friends. We spent the evening laughing over an imaginary campfire with a few drinks and the following morning we decided to hike out together. They schooled us on a number of other great adventures in and around the Los Padres National Forest and by the time we had made it to the cars, we were ready for more.  

Sespe River Trail Los Padres National Forest - GROUP PHOTO | TRVRS APPAREL

 

MORE INFO

Distance (from trail head to hot spring) : 15.6 miles

Commulative Distance (out-and-back) : 31 miles

Elevation gain (to hot springs): 2,142 feet

Total Elevation gain : 4,797 feet

Trail Difficulty: Hard.
  • Class 1 marked trail for most of the route
  • Trail includes 10 creek crossings, rattle snakes, and poison oak.
  • The only real difficulty is the sheer mileage from trail head to the hot springs, but its worth it!
 

RESOURCES

Sespe Hot Spring via Piedra Blanca Trail (April 2017) - GPX

Please read the trip report as we fall off track shortly after Willet Camp. That is good information to know!

November 21, 2016

South Hawkins Ridge Traverse

Video by Jeremy Boggs (instagram: @Adventurela)

Overview

Angeles Forest Overview - South Mount Hawkins Ridge Traverse | TRVRS APPAREL
Overview of the Angeles National Forest's Sheep Mountain Wilderness - South Mount Hawkins Ridge Traverse via Rattlesnake Peak (Shoemaker Canyon Road)

In the middle of the Angeles Forest and the San Gabriel Mountain range, sits a 7,782 foot peak named South Mount Hawkins. The peak is most commonly accessed from its Northern Ridge via Crystal Lake's Windy Gap Trail and a small section of the Pacific Crest Trail. However, a close look at its surrounding topography reveals that this ridge continues south along the Western edge of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness to a mountain called Rattlesnake Peak (5,826 feet). Rattlesnake Peak is in itself one of the harder peaks to bag in the San Gabriel Mountains; its terrain and grade often being compared to that of Iron Mountain. The trail head can be found near Azusa Canyon's Shoemaker Canyon Road which is most famously known as the "Road to Nowhere" due to its incomplete construction. 

Rattlesnake Peak Group Photo - South Hawkins Traverse | TRVRS APPAREL
Group Photo atop Rattlesnake Peak | Photo credit: Jeremy Boggs (instagram: @Adventurela)

 

On November 13th, TRVRS Apparel held its second ever group hike in which eighteen of Southern California's strongest outdoor enthusiasts (and one bad ass dog named Rebel) set out to climb South Mount Hawkins by way of its southern ridge starting at Shoemaker Canyon Road, a trek that climbs over 7,000 feet in under eight miles including some off trail navigation, bushwhacking and Class 2 terrain with the exception of a couple of minor Class 3 moves. Its difficulty is matched only by its awe-inspiring views of the Pine Mountain Ridge, the entire East Fork, the San Gabriel Reservoir, and the beautifully forested landscapes of Crystal Lake. This write-up should serve as a guide for anyone interested in the South Hawkins Ridge Traverse as well as our account of what turned out to be an incredible experience with some amazing individuals.

Itinerary

This trek is long and difficult even besides the fact that it includes off trail terrain, so it is important to plan its completion in accordance with your groups abilities. Our original plan was to finish the 17-mile out-and-back since the weather a few weeks prior to the date had been cool and cloudy. We went on a day when the heat peaked at 86 degrees and used most of our water by the time we had reached South Hawkins. We probably could have made it back to our water cache, but we all agreed to call for someone to pick us up at Crystal lake. Had we decided to head back, we wouldn't have made it to the cars until 9 or 10 pm. However, it would not be wise to depend on that kind of thing. Instead, prepare a shuttle at your finishing point OR if you are really looking for an adventure, enjoy the ridge as a backpacking trip starting at the bottom of the canyon and using the Crystal Lake Cafe as a resupply point and its campgrounds to stay the night before descending the following day.

The Road To Nowhere

Shoemaker Canyon Road | Elevation 2300 feet

November 13th, 2016 -- 4:00 am. The original meet time was set for 5 o' clock, but the weather indicated a hotter day than originally expected. Roberto and Tammy suggested that we move it back an hour to get a head start on the sunlight. Ironically, they were the only two hikers to show up late while the rest of us waited, sleep deprived in a parking lot for their arrival. After organizing a carpool, we caravaned up Highway 39 and made it to the trail head.  We began unloading and preparing last minute provisions and at 5:20 am, we made for Rattlesnake Peak. 

The Road to Nowhere is a mostly flat fire road walk, which allowed us to socialize and warm up the legs in preparation for the real climb. Eventually, I heard a yell from the back of the pack. I had missed the turnoff for our ascent. Although the fire road continues toward a massive tunnel, the route to the peak abruptly heads east 1.5 miles from the trial head after climbing 500 feet. I rushed past a bunch of wary hikers toward the offshoot while casually reminding everyone that I knew what I was doing. 

Ascending to the South Ridge

Elevation 4043 feet

 

South Ridge of Rattlesnake Peak and adjacent Eastern Spur | TRVRS APPAREL
Jason Sudo (@sdhiker) ascending Rattlesnake Peak's South Ridge | Photo Credit: Justin Williams (@wjustin1781)

 

The moment we left the fire road was discouraging as it is mostly made of loose dirt held together by dead roots and eroding rock. This type of terrain is quickly replaced by hard packed dirt, but continues to make appearances throughout the ascent toward the South Ridge of Rattlesnake peak. After five minutes climb, the trail continues north-west, crossing a gully before rounding the spur to the left. From here it is a consistent ridge line hike all the way up to Rattlesnake Peak, climbing 3,200 feet in under 3 miles. This portion of the trail although steep is mostly easy to navigate, but the further we climbed the more I noticed that the chaparral had grown since an ascent a year earlier and shoulder level Poodle Dog Bush now dotted the last quarter mile to the peak. The seemingly rapid growth of plant life was a consequence of the Williams fire which burned 4200 acres of this area in September 2012. Still we couldn't help but admire the panoramic views of the East Fork and they were only getting better with each step.

Rattlesnake Peak

Elevation 5826 feet

8:35 am -- Our arrival to the Summit was both rewarding and shocking. Although we had potentially completed half of our climbing efforts, the heat of the day had not yet set in, only reaching around 72 degrees, and a lot of us had used more water than we expected. On top of that, South Mount Hawkins and most of its Southern Ridge were now in plain sight, which allowed the days challenge to sink in. We took a long break to regroup, enjoy some snacks, and prepare for the rest of our trek. After some brief discussion on how we should approach the descent, we eventually agreed that we would drop down just North of the summit.

 

Rattlesnake Peak Descent - South Hawkins Traverse | TRVRS APPAREL
The team negotiating the steep descent to an unnamed Saddle past Rattlesnake Peak. | Photo Credit: @Hikerfighter

 

Initially, the steep terrain was made of mostly loose dirt and grass, which alleviated any fear of taking a plunge. A safe descent only required that we lean into the hill as we dropped down, but within minutes we were facing some class 3 exposure. It didn't feel right, and upon closer inspection of our surroundings, we all agreed that we had come the wrong way.  A clear animal trail traversed the south-west side of the peak. I was able to confirm this trails usability a few days later when I came back to collect our water cache and a lost Walkie Talkie.*


* I found that backtracking about 300 yards from the peak is a landing (flat open area) with less plant life. It is here that you can round the south-west side of the summit safely and traverse the faint animal trails that lead you across the gully to the western ridge of Rattlesnake Peak. Upon my completion of this route, I actually made an arrow out of rocks with the initials "SMH" to signify both "South Mount Hawkins" and also "Shaking My head" at your decision to continue past Rattlesnake Peak.

 

Arnold's Drum

An Unofficial Peak | Elevation 5335 feet

 

South Hawkins Traverse San Gabriel Mountains - Arnolds Drum | TRVRS APPAREL
A small hill between South Mount Hawkins & Rattlesnake Peak. | Photo Credit: Arnold Levin

 

After dodging another batch of Poodle Dog bush, we began to approach the first of two saddles along the ridge and it was clear that the transformation from our traditional Angeles Forest front country to its forested high country counterpart was beginning to take shape. We planted most of our water at the saddle and made for the next 300 foot hill climb. After taking another short break at the top of the hill (5 miles, 5335 feet climbed), Erin and Sara noted that our Sweeper Arnold had deviated from the trail at the bottom of the hill and had not yet arrived. They asked him why he was not following the group to which he responded something along the lines of "theres a drum in my head and I walk to the beat of it!" before disappearing into some bushes. I tried to contact him on his Walkie Talkie, but the only response I could make out was short bursts of word fragments and silence. This made me even more nervous.

The logic of going around the small hill was good in theory, but I can think of several scenarios in which I had done this in the past only for it to backfire. We had all seen the route that he took, but the clear open trail up and over the hill was just so definite that we decided to stick with it. Finally, Arnold responded, saying that he was negotiating some steep rock walls riddled with degrading tree roots in which his only option was to friction climb across. I stood at the top of the hill with a couple others while the rest of the group began to descend to the next saddle and finally Arnold responded again saying "Hey! I'm with Tammy and the others! Whats taking you so long?" I let out an awkward combination between a sigh of relief and a chuckle before making for the Devil's Saddle. 

 

South Hawkins Ascent

Devils Saddle | Elevation 4890 feet

Ascending Hawkins Ridge from Devils Saddle | TRVRS APPAREL

Chris Johnson ascending Hawkins Ridge from Devils Saddle. | Photo credit: Danny Valadez (@mountainfiend)

 

At 10:20 am, after climbing 4,205 feet in 5.3 miles, we had reached Devils Saddle, which is no official name but I am calling it that anyway because it lies just above Devils Gulch to the east and it sounds cool. The views up to this point had made our next goal very clear. We had one more long rolling ridge to climb straight to the peak and most of it was exposed to the harsh sun. On top of that, most of the group had already begun to express concern for the amount of water they were consuming and the rest of mile 5 (3/4 of a mile) featured a little under 1,200 feet of gain making for a very slow and draining start. Eventually, the steep terrain started to level, only to be replaced by a plant I had been all to familiar with. Loose, airy Buckthorn lined the trail throughout the rest of mile 6 like an obstacle in a Spartan race. We got lucky as it was mostly avoidable, but I wouldn't want to be here in another year or two when it will likely be overgrown and tricky to navigate without becoming intimate with.

 

Hawkins Ridge Traverse San Gabriel Wilderness - Buckthorn | TRVRS APPAREL
Manuel Herrera (@trailseeeker) & Tammy Luther (@ourmillionmiles) Buckthorn overgrowth near mile 6 on Hawkins Ridge. | Photo credit: Jeremy Boggs (instagram: @Adventurela)

 

True Angeles Forest High Country

South Mount Hawkins | Elevation 7,782 feet

South Mount Hawkins Ridge Traverse - Final Section | TRVRS APPAREL

Mark Ochoa (@8a_marc) and Cisko Serrano Jr. (@hikerfighter) on Hawkins Ridge | Photo credit: Jeremy Boggs (instagram: @Adventurela)

 

After making it through most of the Buckthorn, we sat under the shade of a tree for one last regroup before our final push. Everyone was hot, tired, and ready to be finished. Phoning for a ride had now become a serious topic of conversation. Because I didn't have a phone or think that cell phone reception was an option, I got up and made for the peak. It seemed that the entire group was comfortable moving at their own rate and Jose, an experienced mountaineer and ultra runner who I had met that morning was right behind me, motivating me to continue at a strong pace. I was in autopilot when I noticed a drastic change in the environment. Sharp chaparral had been replaced by soft grass and large pine trees, and a cool breeze now cloaked the effects of the relentless California sun. I turned away from the peak to take in the view. The Pine Mountain ridge extended outward to the east, grasping for Mount Baldy who hovered over Iron mountains shoulder like an older sibling in a family photo while the San Gabriel River lay across its base. The adjacent south-west  spurs of Hawkins Ridge featured massive firebreaks that pointed toward the San Gabriel Reservoir and a little further north was a sea of blue hues made up of hundreds of peaks and canyons I couldn't name. We had entered true Angeles Forest high country. 

At 1:20 pm (8.5 miles, roughly 7,400 feet climbed), Jose and I had made it to the peak. South Mount Hawkins has quite the wide open area to explore including a small brick building, a broken down picnic bench, and a toilet which we thought may have held the summit register. It didn't. We parked up next to the building to keep an eye out for the others but immediately sprawled out to take a nap and about 45 minutes later, we heard the rest of the group start to arrive. They had used their time climbing the ridge to find us a ride from Crystal Lake, which turned an extremely difficult 7 mile off trail descent into a very easy 5 mile fire road walk. This gave us plenty of time to hang out around the peak and share a few laughs. 

A Hike for Mike

RIP Michael Powell San Gabriel Mountains | TRVRS APPAREL
Pen & Ink drawing of Michael Powell by Ricardo Soria Jr. | Photo credit: Lorena Rubio (@loreluvsu)

During the weeks of planning this hike, we had decided that it would be dedicated to the memory of Michael Powell. A man who was a strong member of the Southern California hiking community, a photographer, and a founding member of the group Hike Likers. He had passed away on October 18th while descending the Mount Whitney trail. Although a lot of us barely knew him, it was obvious in our short interactions that he was a great person and the circumstances from which he left us sent a ripple effect throughout our community bringing together hundreds of hikers to use the hash tag #hikeformike on their own memorial outings. We carried a summit register to the peak including an original pen & ink sketch of Michael and built a rock cairn for any visitors to find it. Michael made it clear that he wanted to join us on this hike the weeks before the date and we all felt like he made it up. 

 

Descending to Crystal Lake

Crystal Lake Cafe | Elevation 5830 feet

 

Crystal Lake Campground View San gabriel Mountain Wilderness | TRVRS APPAREL
Crystal Lake view from Forest Road 3N07. Photo credit: Jose Montellano (@bmxboyforever)

 

At 3:30 pm, we decided it was time to head down to Crystal Lake by way of Forest Road 3N07 which is the same one that loops around South Hawkins' Summit. Sara's father was to meet us there at 5 pm and the 5 mile trek would take us roughly an hour and a half at a steady pace. The descent offered some excellent perspectives of the Windy Gap and Mount Islip's South Ridge with Twin Peaks steep northern slope in the background. The highlight of the descent was about 2 miles in when we encountered an entire herd of Big Horn Sheep which in Southern California is a spectacle as rare and magical as a shooting star. We stood in awe until they left our view and continued on the path with smiles from ear to ear. 

We had arrived at the Crystal Lake Cafe at 5 pm just as our ride got there and started to shuttle back to Shoemaker Canyon Road. It took two hours to collect everyone's vehicles and head back to Azusa where our adventure had begun. Most of the group had called it a night after picking up their cars, but a few of us went to the Congregation Ale House to have a drink and reflect on the incredible journey we had completed. A strong group was being formed and we would share many more adventures in our local wilderness.

 

Elevation Profile

San Gabriel Mountain - South Hawkins Ridge Traverse Elevation Profile | TRVRS APPAREL

Total Distance : 13.5 miles

Total Elevation (feet): 7565 feet 

Time to completion: Our 18-person group of strong hikers finished this hike in just under 12 hours with an hour long break at the summit. Safe to say a smaller group also experienced in off trail navigation could complete this in the same time.
 
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. There is absolutely no water on this trail and we were very LUCKY to find cell service to call for a ride. You will need 6-8 liters to do the out-and-back comfortably in the same weather.

RESOURCES

Chris Johnson's GPX via Strava App (iphone)

June 01, 2016

Triplet Rocks of the San Gabriel Wilderness | The Definitive Guide

Triplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains Angeles Forest || TRVRS APPARELTriplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains Angeles Forest || TRVRS APPAREL

DISCLAIMER

There are a handful of cross country hikes here in the Southern California Wilderness that push the limits of the word "adventure" for several reasons. They are extremely remote locations that most people will never have the pleasure of seeing. A consequence of their isolated location is that rescue is highly unlikely in the case of an emergency. 

That being said, it is the responsibility of the few that are capable of reaching these locations to practice safety when traveling to them.

  • Double and triple check your supplies (especially water).

  • Check weather conditions right before you lose cell service.

  • Always be aware of your surroundings.

  • Always let someone know where you are going and what time you intend to return.

  • Use the Leave No Trace principles.

TRVRS Apparel is all for encouraging new and exciting adventures, but part of the adventure is doing adequate research ahead of time to assure a safe and fun trip which is why we've decided to document these back country hikes. Stay safe!
 

DIRECTIONS TO THE TRAILHEAD

From the 210 Freeway:
 
Take exit 20 for CA-2 Angeles Crest Hwy toward La Cañada Flintridge North
You will continue onto CA-2 for 34 miles before making a left into an East facing turnout just past mile marker 58.
The official Mount Waterman trailhead begins across from this turnout.
(If you can't find it, you can also follow the road a few hundred feet up past Buckhorn Day Use Area where you will see a fire road with limited access. Walk along this road observing to your left and you will eventually see the single track running parallel to it. Take it!)

Alternatively, you can use Google Maps to route you there.
 

OVERVIEW

Triplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains Angeles Forest - OVERVIEW || TRVRS APPAREL

Located in the middle of the San Gabriel Wilderness, towering over the Devils Canyon, West Fork, and Bear Creek is an unofficial summit unknown to most local hikers due to its remote location as well as its tremendously difficult approach. Peak 6151', otherwise known as Triplet Rocks is named after the three enormous boulders that make its prominence. The out-and-back cross country excursion begins on the more "defined" Mount Waterman Trail, just off of the California Highway 2 in the Angeles Forest near Buckhorn Day Use Area. After rounding the South-East side of Mount Waterman via the Kratka Ridge, the trail descends further South onto the Waterman / Twin Peak Saddle before a short but tough ascent to Twin Peaks East. The 3.5 miles that follow are where this adventure gets its reputation. The trek requires consistent focus to navigate a near nonexistent trail laced with dense bush, scree fields, and upper class 3 climbs over degraded boulders that crumble under each step.

 Triplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains Angeles Forest - RETURNING || TRVRS APPAREL

The most draining part of the trek is that even when you've successfully summited Triplet Rocks, you will still have no trail to follow back, and unlike most strenuous hikes in the San Gabriel Wilderness, the ascent doesn't start until you've begun to return home. I've completed this route four times with a fifth attempt that excluded the last half mile, the San Antonio Ridge Traverse twice and a handful of other cross country hikes in the Angeles Forest.  I've come to the personal conclusion that this is the hardest known day hike out there. The following write up is (instead of a trip report) an outline of my combined efforts on this ridge as well as information from some other local mountain masochists, because it wasn't until after the third attempt that I was finally able to set a solid route to the peak. 

THE MT. WATERMAN TRAIL

Triplet Rocks Ridge from Kratka Ridge || TRVRS APPAREL

For those that spend more time in the front country, the drive past Chilao will be a refreshing start to your day. The San Gabriel Wilderness high country is a beautiful mixture of tall Pines, Cedars, the occasional downed burn victim from previous fires and jutting waves of granite rock formations. The Mount Waterman trail offers more of this elegance, at first teasing you with partial views of Will Thrall and the Pleasant View Ridge as you begin a steady ascent onto the Kratka Ridge (1.2 miles, 500 feet climbed). Although this section is fairly easy and straightforward, it will be hard not to take a short break here as this will be a great opportunity to take in the panoramic views of the full route and end goal. That being said, if you've in any way timed this correctly, you won't see anything quite yet, because you'd be starting in the dead of night with plans of reaching Twin Peaks just before dawn.
 Waterman Mountain Trail Junction || TRVRS APPAREL

At 2.2 miles (after climbing roughly 1,000 feet), you will arrive at a trail junction. The trail to the right is part of the Waterman Loop which takes you up to Mount Waterman (.75 of a mile further, with roughly 300 feet of gain) and finishes on the same fire road from which you started to complete the loop. The sign also states that the route to Twin Peaks continues to your left. All trails indicated on this sign are in fact the Mt. Waterman Trail, so don't get to wound up about which is which. Stay to your left for a 1,000 foot descent in two miles. Easy right? Except there is a small catch. Somewhere in that stretch of fairly straightforward switchbacks is a sign that may or may not be posted which reads "Twin Peaks Saddle | (Dead End)". If this sign is not along the trail, it can be really easy to miss a crucial switchback taking you further West and leading you toward Three Points instead of South toward Twin Peaks Saddle. Regardless of whether or not the sign is there, take care to notice your surroundings and be sure to continue Southeast on any unmarked switchback junctions. 
 

THE TWIN PEAKS SADDLE

Triplet Rocks Twin Peaks Saddle || TRVRS APPAREL

After a hopefully quick descent to make up for the time you are doomed to lose later, you'll find yourself out of the tree cover. The Twin Peak / Mount Waterman saddle features an abundance of waist level Green Leaf Manzanita as well as an official sign that reads "Twin Peaks Saddle, Elevation 6,550 ft., Heliport 1/4". Any sign of an official heliport has long been overgrown by chaparral, but if you're interested in taking a look, you can walk directly South from the sign to the top of the small hill on your way to Twin Peaks. Otherwise, look for the remains of a downed tree near the saddle sign and you will find the trail picks back up on the other side of it.
 

TWIN PEAKS EAST

Triplet Rocks High Country San Gabriel Mountains || TRVRS APPAREL

The next quarter of a mile will further express the tranquil qualities of the San Gabriel mountain high country. Wide open forested flatlands extend endlessly to the East and West creating a humbling feeling similar to whats instilled from standing atop a lone peak. Enjoy this while it lasts because the ascent to Twin Peaks is what follows where you'll climb over 1,100 feet in 3/4 of a mile over some
class 2 granite terrain which makes for slow and tiring knee high steps. At the peak (4.8 miles, 2,200 feet climbed), you'll be rewarded with the expansive views you came for. To the East sits Islip Saddle and the abandoned highway 39 project, with Bear Creek at its base. Travel just a few hundred feet to the west and you'll overlook Twin Peaks West with the Devils Canyon stretching out from behind its lengthy ridge. Finally, to the South, you will see a stunning overview of Triplet Rocks and the rugged ridge you will traverse to reach the peak

TRIPLET ROCKS RIDGE

Triplet Rocks Ridge view from Twin Peaks || TRVRS APPAREL

At this point, you will likely start to count the pseudo peaks between yourself and the summit, especially since you'd have come more than half of the total distance to the peak. Wipe the grin off of your face and prepare for a long day because the next 3.5 miles will likely take you over 4 hours (one way). Each of the major hills hides one or two small ridge spurs and saddles made of extremely rugged terrain that will leave you gasping for air after the completion of each section, only to be welcomed by more of the same.

As stated earlier, the lack of a trail can make the return trip as difficult to navigate as the way there, so it would be wise to take note of any landmarks. Someone was kind enough to hang trail tape in a few of the trees which is extremely helpful. However, there are still many strenuous sections that do not include markings. Fallen trees and large oddly shaped boulders are great examples of some things to look out for en route but by far the best way to recall where you came from would be to stop every few minutes and look back at the way you came. This way, by the time you get back, your instinct will be much more accurate and you'll be more focused on climbing.

Triplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains Angeles Forest - RIDGE TERRAIN || TRVRS APPAREL

Starting from the peak, you will follow the Eastern slope of the ridge while keeping an eye out for Cairns that line the quickly diminishing trail. In fact, if you take a look around, you'll notice that the Western slope is covered in dense bush while the East side consists of scree fields and big rocks. The choice is yours but I guarantee you that you will have a much better time steering clear of the brush as often as possible. Move slow and observe your surroundings while keeping in mind that if you're having a lot of trouble or are in an extremely uncomfortable position, you most definitely could have found a better route. Although this peak is difficult to bag, you should be able to avoid most class 4 exposure and a lot of the dense brush.
 

THE GULLY

Triplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains Angeles Forest - GULLY || TRVRS APPAREL
The last hill you'll climb before your final ascent (mile 7 or 8 depending on your GPX) will leave you atop a massive rock slab with a clear view of your continued route to the right and those three beautiful boulders in the distance. From this overlook, back track a couple dozen feet and off of the slab to descend the Gully to the West. This is the steepest section of the entire hike and it is filled with a combination of (you guessed it) loose dirt, scree and brush. The most important thing to remember while descending the gully in a group setting is to be extra careful of rockfall. The steep grade combined with the contour of the land will funnel any fallen rocks directly onto anyone below your path. 

THE PEAK

Triplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains Angeles Forest - FINAL ASCENT || TRVRS APPAREL
Staring at Triplet Rocks from the Gully, you may notice a small plot of flat dirt to the right of the continued ridge with a relatively clear path between you and it. From here it is a straight shot back onto the ridge before a 50' foot near vertical class 3 ascent up some large granite boulders before leveling out. Finally, you'd have made it to Triplet Rocks after 9 long miles, standing at 6,151' feet. Pat yourself on the back because there are roughly 30 names in the register with some repeat offenders and you are one of the few to traverse a strong contender for the most difficult ridge in the Angeles Forest. 
Alright, enough slackin'. You've still got to get back to the car, and the climb has just begun...

Triplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains Angeles Forest - BASE || TRVRS APPAREL
Triplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains Angeles Forest - BELOW || TRVRS APPAREL

Addendum

On September 11th, 2016, a few local mountain goats set out to become the first group to climb the true summit of Triplet Rocks or the "middle block", which is maybe two feet taller than where the Summit Register lies. Eric Su was part of this group and wrote a great trip report on his blog, which is a tremendous resource for many Southern California excursions. 

March 30th -- Ben Broer and I set out to complete the same task after reaching out to Eric about his rope method. A quick lesson in Prusik ascent and rappelling left me intimidated, but I understood the concept and we made for Triplet Rocks. After a long day of tag-teaming the the rugged spurs and saddles, we made it to the peak. 

Ben quickly devised a plan for our attempt and after a few failures, he was able to anchor the rope to a large rock north of the middle block with some webbing. We hobbled back to the other side of the block and went over the methods once again. By the time I had climbed to the top, I was completely shaken from the thought of falling. We were the second group to summit Triplet Rocks true summit and the first to share a Summit Beer over the matter. 
Ben Broer Standing Atop Middle Block Triplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains | TRVRS APPARELSummit Beer Atop Triplet Rocks True Summit San Gabriel Mountains | TRVRS APPAREL


ELEVATION PROFILE

Triplet Rocks San Gabriel Mountains - ELEVATION PROFILE (ONE WAY) || TRVRS APPAREL

(IMAGE IS BASED ON ROUTE TO PEAK AND DOES NOT INCLUDE RETURN TRIP)

Total Distance :
16-17.5 miles

Total Elevation (feet): 6,500 feet (rough estimate)

Time to completion: The first time I completed this Death March, I was in the best shape of my life having trained as an ultra runner and I did it alone in under 11 hours including a quick stop at Mt. Waterman. The last time I went was with a group and we finished in 17.5 hours. Plan accordingly.
 
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. This is not the kind of place to experience additional problems like empty water bottles, bad weather, or a lack of nutrition. Prepare for the worst and do your best.


RESOURCES

Triplet Rocks - GPX FILE

Triplet Rocks - STRAVA ACCOUNT