Local Trails

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Mount San Antonio, locally known as Mt. Baldy, would be our highest peak yet. Towering at 10, 064 feet, it is the highest point in Los Angeles County.  We are familiar with Baldy since we have hiked almost every peak southeast including Cucamonga, which we summited 2 weeks earlier.

View of Mt. Baldy and the “Baldy Bowl” from a previous trip

Since we wanted to challenge ourselves in terms of mileage and elevation gain, we decided to do one of the longer routes. We started at Manker Flats campground and began hiking up the road which leads to the Baldy Notch ski lodge.  As we hiked on the road we could see other day hikers and sightseers riding the ski lifts up and down, but we only became jealous when trucks would drive by leaving us in a cloud of dust.  After 3 miles and 1,300 feet we reached the lodge and decided to treat ourselves to a quick sandwich at the Notch Restaurant. Then we headed up the ski routes to the section of the trail fondly called Devil’s Backbone.

Looking back after crossing a narrow section of the Backbone Trail

The trail is literally on the top of the ridge and at times is narrow and gets crowded with hikers.  Once past the Backbone we could see the summit, but we had to make one more short stop.  Mt. Harwood is a lesser known peak just to the east of Mt. Baldy and is also on the hundred peaks list*.

Hiking up the gravel pile

In our opinion Harwood is just a giant gravel pile with little trail or plant life but it did offer some nice views and a good look at the climb still ahead.  After tromping through the loose rock we got back on the trail and started the ascent to Mt. Baldy.  It was a tough climb on the loose sand up to the bald peak.

 Popular and crowded summit

Since this is a popular day hike there were at least 20 people on the peak at one time.  If you’re looking for solitude this is not the hike for you.  Knowing we had a long way down we didn’t linger and headed down a different route that follows the Baldy Bowl and passes a Sierra Club ski hut. The trail along the Baldy bowl is much steeper and at times you feel as though you are sliding down more than hiking so there aren’t many photos of the descent.

All in all the hike was a pretty long 10.3 mile and strenuous 3,950 feet of elevation gain but we definitely felt the steep descent the most. Luckily we knew the next weekend was going to give us a little break from hiking to go kayaking in the Channel Islands.


*The Hundred Peaks List actually has 248 peaks. So far we’ve summitted 18 of them and if all goes well by the end of the summer we’ll have completed 21.

Every time we go on a day hike, we always try to get an early start. Katharine can be particularly slow in the morning, but for our hike to Cucamonga Peak (11.5 miles, 4,300 ft gain) we managed to get out the door almost on time. Unfortunately we didn’t check the local news so we had no idea that we were headed up the route of the “King of the Mountain” stage of the Amgen Bicycle Tour. Apparently amateurs like to ride the route earlier in the day so the road up to the trailhead was crowded with cyclists weaving up the hill. So in the end, we had a late start as usual.

The hike starts with a 3.5 mile climb up Icehouse Canyon, one we were familiar with from our first solo backpacking trip 2 years ago. That trip the climb seemed never ending, but this time our packs were slightly lighter, we were better conditioned, and it wasn’t as hot.  We quickly reached the saddle and headed another 2 miles toward Cucamonga Peak.

Katharine taking a break on the steep climb – July 2010


We tried to count the switch backs to the top and debated whether some counted or not depending on their angle or length.  When we reached the peak we had it all to ourselves so we had a snack and took pictures of the sun bleached trees.


As you can see we were in good spirits.  Usually if there isn’t pictures of us at the top it’s because it was too crowded or we were too exhausted.


To the west we could see 2 of 5 peaks we bagged during our backpacking trip; Bighorn and Ontario Peak.  The saddle between the mountains was just above our campsite, Kelly Camp.  Mount Baldy’s bowl can be seen behind the mountains.


We headed back down through Icehouse Canyon at a pretty brisk pace.


By the time we got back to the car, the Amgen Tour fans had left and only the race banners remained. We were relieved to drive down the empty mountain road!


This hike was mainly a training and conditioning hike to prepare for Mt. Whitney later in the summer.  Although the mileage and elevation weren’t as severe as Mt. Wilson, the altitude played a larger role in our endurance.  Mt. Wilson was a painful and tiring hike, but was at the very start of our serious hiking training season.  Since Wilson we had hiked 41 miles, so it was definitely starting to pay off. The trail up Baden-Powell was consistently uphill with switchback after switchback, but it wasn’t too steep so we were able to keep a decent pace.


We did run into some large snow drifts on the north side near the top, which we easily traversed using our micro spikes.  It was clear and sunny at the 9,407′ peak.


Near the summit we passed the “Wally” Waldron Tree, a limber pine that is believed to be over 1500 years old.


On the way down the 2,800 foot climb we tried to keep a brisk 3 mph pace down the switchbacks, which felt more like trail running.  We finished the hike in 5 hours without feeling too tired, but we were definitely hungry. The hike gave a good sense of accomplishment and it was the first time we could tell all the training was paying off.


We ended up going down the mountain to the local ski resort to grab some pizza.  It was weird to drive down the mountain to get to the ski resort, which was deserted without any snow.



At the very end of April our friends Aidan and Aditya joined us for a hike to bag 4 peaks in 7.5 miles in the Angeles National Forest: San Gabriel Peak (6161′), Mount Disappointment (5960′), Mount Markhan (5742′), and Mount Lowe (5603′). This trail was recently reopened due to a rockslide near the tunnel.

Mueller Tunnel Constructed in 1942

Each peak was somewhat unique; San Gabriel Peak is the highest of the 4 and has old concrete foundations from a fire lookout post, Mount Disappointment is covered in humming radio towers, Mount Markhan is narrow and less traveled, and Mount Lowe has a few welded pipes for viewing other peaks in the area.

Mt. Baldy (future day hike)

Mount Markhan’s trail is narrow and is more of a boulder scramble to the top.


On the way up an unusual creature crossed our path.  Although they are hard to see these horned lizards (Phrynosoma) aka horny toads are found throughout the southwest.

Can you spot the extremely camouflaged young lizard?! (HINT: In focus just to the left of the stick)

Prehistoric looking creatures

To my surprise we saw two in one day even though we’ve been hiking all over Southern California for years now without ever seeing one.


Many times when we reach a peak on our hikes we are greeted by these pale yellow butterflies that  fly circles around us.  I’ve tried many times to catch them in flight, but settled for this one resting on a plant, you can actually see the hairs on its back!

Female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus)

Note: Updated training hike list can be found here.

As we’ve mentioned before, one of our goals for 2012 is to summit Mt. Whitney. At 14,504 feet, Mt. Whitney is the highest point in the lower 48. The most popular route to the summit via the Mt. Whitney trail does not require any mountaineering skills and most people do it as a long day hike (it is 22 miles with 6,600 feet of gain). We plan to do it as a 2 or 3 day backpack since we are not very fast hikers and prefer to take our time and take lots of photos. Although the hike is not all that technically challenging, the high altitude makes you weaker and proper preparation and training is a must, especially if you want to enjoy the experience. Unfortunately, its relative ease and the fact that it is the highest peak in the lower 48 means that it is extremely popular and entries are strictly limited by a permit system. We applied for the permit lottery in March, but unfortunately we didn’t get one. Still, we are hopeful we can get a permit day-of, so we haven’t given up hope on our goal and have already started training.

Moon Over Mt. Whitney - Photo © by Jim Baumgardt, Image Counts, www.ImageCounts.com

At the beginning of the year, I began researching training strategies and tried to find local hikes to prepare for Mt. Whitney. The 6-pack of peaks by SoCalHiker was a great place to start, then I added a few other hikes with long mileage, lots of gain, and/or high altitude. Some we will do as backpacking trips, others just as day hikes with car-camping near the trailhead as needed. There were a ton of other hiking sites that inspired my list including Modern HikerNobody Hikes in LALocalHikes, and Dan’s Hiking Pages. In the end I upgraded the 6-pack of peaks to a 10-pack and scheduled them each for a weekend, counting back from our planned date for Mt. Whitney.

The 10 major training hikes:

Mt. Wilson (5,710’) – 14 miles, 4000 ft gain [completed]

Mt. Baden Powell (9,400’) – 8 miles, 2800 ft gain

Cucamonga Peak (8,859’) – 11.5 miles, 4300 ft gain

Mt San Antonio aka Baldy (10,064’) – 10 miles, 3900 ft gain (depending on route)

San Bernardino Peak (10,649’) – 16.5 miles, 5000 ft gain (2-day backpack)

Santiago Peak (5,689’) – 15 miles, 4450 ft gain

Mt. San Jacinto (10,800’) – 10.6 miles, 4300 ft gain (depending on route)

Telescope Peak (11,050’) – 14 miles, 3000 ft gain

Mt. San Gorgonio (11,502’) – 21 miles, 4600 ft gain (2-day backpack)

White Mt. (14,246’) – 14 miles, 3300 ft gain

Compared to: Mt. Whitney (14,504’) – 22 miles, 6600 ft gain



The trail to Mt. San Jacinto when we attempted to summit in May, 2011

However, all of the above hikes besides Mt. Wilson and Santiago Peak are at such high elevations that they will likely still be snowy through May, so we took the first few months of the year to warm up with some easier hikes. For most we weighted our packs with water to make the hike a bit more challenging and to get used to carrying a heavier load.

Completed hikes:

Mt. Islip Attempt – 4.6 miles, 1000 ft gain (Jan)

Echo Mountain – 5.5 miles, 1400 ft gain (Jan)

49 Palms Oasis (Joshua Tree NP) – 3.1 miles, 600 ft gain (Feb)

Towsley Canyon – 5.1 miles, 1100 ft gain (Feb)

Griffith Park – 7 miles, 1200 ft gain (Mar)

Mt. Wilson – 15 miles, 4000 ft gain (Mar)

Smith Mt. – 6.2 miles, 1800 ft gain (Apr)


As you can see, the hike to Mt. Wilson had significantly more distance and gain than any of the others, and we definitely struggled with both aspects, so we know we still have a lot of work ahead of us. Also, we have really only been hiking at low altitudes, so we are looking forward to challenging ourselves with higher altitudes on future hikes.

This weekend we are headed to Bryce Canyon National Park for a couple days of photography and relatively easy hikes (although likely in snow), and then we will do a 2 day / 21 mile backpacking trip in Buckskin Gulch, the longest and deepest slot canyon in the Southwest. Soon after we return from that trip, we will really start tackling the list. In addition to doing those hikes on the weekends, I’m hoping we’ll also be able to do some short but relatively steep hikes during the week with loaded packs… there are a few options that are conveniently on the way home from work.

But for now, I’ll leave you with the picture of Buckskin Gulch that inspired me to plan a trip there (courtesy of Kolby, TheHikeGuy). I’ve been wanting to go since he blogged about it in 2010! So here’s hoping for clear weather on Monday and Tuesday… keep your fingers crossed for us!

Buckskin Gulch - Kolby Kirk - www.thehikeguy.com

The goal for this day hike was to reach the summit of Smith Mountain (5,111 feet) in the San Gabriel Mountains.  The 3.5 mile trail to the top starts with a steady but doable climb for 3 miles to Smith Saddle (4,290 feet). The trail continues on into the San Gabriel Wilderness, but we were headed off-trail to the peak. To reach the top of Smith Mountain you start climbing up a steep fire break that soon degrades into a use-trail through boulders. The path climbs 820 feet in just a 1/2 mile which definitely felt steep.

Katharine at the top of the fire break

Resting at the false summit looking back at another peak and trail to Smith Saddle

While boulder scrambling to the top we startled a lot of lizards basking in the sun.  Some lizards were paralyzed by the warmth so I took the opportunity to try out my new 24-105L lens.

King of the Boulder

Western Fence Lizard

The lizards remained perfectly still while I spent 10 minutes taking 41 photos adjusting my camera settings and reviewing my photos.

This is why I love my new lens, 7D, and Lightroom 3: the photo below is the original photo and the one below that is cropped.  This is where the 7D 18 MP has an advantage over my older 40D 10 MP camera.

24-105 mm @ 84mm, ISO 250, f/5.6, 1/2000 sec

You can see the unique blue markings on the underside of it’s chin.

Katharine enjoyed the view at the false summit while I stalked lizards around the boulders.


We finally made it to the top and enjoyed the 360 degree view including snowcapped Mount Baldy.


We then quickly headed down the mountain maintaining a pace of 3 mph for the last 3 miles to the car.

All in all it was an enjoyable day hike with incredible weather.

We’ve hiked in Santa Anita Canyon starting at Chantry Flats a few times in the past.  One time we went fishing with Rick and another we did a short weekend backpacking trip camping at Spruce Grove.  This time we had a much longer hike ahead of us, so we didn’t have any extra time for fishing or much photography.  It had rained a couple days earlier so the streams were full of water and there weren’t as many people on the trail.


The canyon is really beautiful and the first part of the trail goes by a number of private cabins. Most of the trail is pretty shaded by the trees, but occasionally there were some spring flowers.


Our goal for the day was to summit Mt. Wilson. Although it’s only at 5710 ft, it required 4,000 ft of gain to get there over 7.5 miles. We started around 10 am and after 3 miles of gentle grade began the tough climb to the peak.


It took about 3.5 hours to get to the top and we were exhausted.  The weird part was reaching the top, which has an observatory accessible by car with 50 or so visitors. Since you can drive to the top we found ourselves surrounded by energetic kids and people in suits and dresses probably after church.  We grabbed a cup of hot cider and a crappy cup of hot chocolate and ate lunch in the parking lot.  After resting we were tempted to hitch hike down, but left civilization once again for a grueling 7.5 mile hike back to our car.

On the way back we passed a lot of casual day hikers enjoying the streams and cool shade.



We can generally tell how tough a hike was and how tired we were feeling based on the amount of photos we took.  This hike was 15 miles, 4,000 feet of gain, 8.5 hours and we took only 28 photos.  The next weekend we hiked up Smith Mountain which was only 7 miles, 1,500 feet of gain, 4 hours and we took over 100 photos.

The tough climb to Mt. Wilson definitely exhausted us, but it was a good experience for training for Mt. Whitney and showed us where we still need to gain some strength.

In our quest to hike Mount Whitney we hiked some local trails in Griffith Park to keep building up our endurance.  We took advantage of the park being close to our house and designed the hike as a point-to-point using a car at each end of the trail.  We started to the west of the Hollywood sign and hiked east to Burbank Peak overlooking both Hollywood and Burbank.


We continued east to Cahuenga Peak then to Mount Lee, where the Hollywood sign is.



We then headed further east to Mount Hollywood, the highest point in Griffith Park, looking down on the observatory.  It was interesting to see the famous landmarks from different vantage points.


Then we hiked down to the observatory and checked out some of the exhibits inside.

We finished by hiking down to the bottom of the park near Los Feliz Blvd.  The entire hike was 7 miles and 1,000 feet of elevation gain, not too strenuous but a decent work out since we had extra weight in our packs.

For the last weekend in February we wanted to get another hike in, so we decided to revisit an old favorite and invite some of Katharine’s coworkers along. We met 6 others at the trailhead in Ed Davis Park off I-5 and started on the Towsley Canyon Loop trail.


We did this hike a couple years ago when were just getting into hiking and really loved it for the nice mountain views, interesting rock cliffs, stream area, and the bubbling pits of tar!


On this trip we didn’t see as much tar as we remembered from before, but it was still a nice hike and a pretty good work out. We filled our packs with bottles of water (and camera equipment) to increase our pack weight to make it a bit more challenging. The group also went at a pretty quick pace, so that helped make it a good training hike.



We also saw an interesting red furry ant, which apparently is a type of wasp without wings!

Overall a fun hike and nice to share it with friends. Seems like we will have to make group hikes a more regular occurrence!

Since our first hike of 2012 ended up being so snowy and icy, we decided to stick to the lower San Gabriels for our second hike.

We decided to do a classic hike in our ‘backyard’ to the top of Echo Mountain. If we had more time, we would have liked to continue on to Inspiration point (see Modern Hiker’s descriptive write-up), but we only had a couple hours.


The hike was a great workout with 1400 ft of gain, and at the top of Echo we got to explore the ruins of an old mountain resort that was accessible by a very steep railroad in the late 1800s to early 1900s.


This was the first time we really got to appreciate living in Pasadena and being so close to some local trails. It only took about 10 minutes to get to the trailhead, which was really nice since we had so little time. Once daylight savings begins, I’m hoping we can even do some hiking on the weeknights every now and then.


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