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)
Group descending the lowest point of Colby Canyon trail.
The start time was set for6:00 AMand 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.
By6:15AM, 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.
1.75 miles | +1700 FT | -200 FT
Approaching the water tower (center left) at Josephine/Strawberry Saddle.
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!
The route becomes obscure as bulging granite and sand interweave the 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 we cautiously moved past it.
The Mountaineers Route to Strawberry Peak
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!
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.