Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bare-ly Any Choice But Hillyer

Mt. Hillyer Trail from Rosenita Saddle
It was a damn good plan. Drive the ACH on a warm and snowless January day to Three Points, follow the Santa Clara Divide Road (3N17) to Pinyon Flats, ascend Bare Mountain by way of its south-western ridge (HPS Route #1), loop back down to Pinyon Flats using Bare's south-eastern ridge (HPS Route #2), then drive back home basking in the glory and after-glow of my mountaineering accomplishment.

But much to my dismay, my plan was foiled by a Forest Service gate blocking my path near the last private camp before Bandido that told me that Santa Clara Divide Road was "Closed for the Season."

Shut Out - Santa Clara Divide Road
What is this "season" concept to which the Forest Service was making reference? The sun was out. The sky was blue. It was clear and warm with no hint of a season other than summer. Just like yesterday. And the day before yesterday. And the day before that. Christ, it's been nothing but sunny and warm for the past four years now so the whole concept of "seasons" has become a completely foreign to me. As a result, it didn't even occur to me that Santa Clara Divide Road might be closed for the "winter."

Undeterred, I jumped out of the car and began the westward trek toward Pinon Flats. After all, I hadn't come all this way to be turned back by a Forest Service gate and a little road walk. Or so I thought until half-way to Pinon Flats when I was forced to reconsider. It was already about 1:00 p.m. and I still had about 2 miles to go just to start my ascent of Bare Mountain. If I kept to my original plan, there was a good chance I'd be walking 3N17 back to the car in the dark. I cursed the Forest Service out loud and considered my options.

Mt. Pacifico from Near the Junction with 3N14
Granite Mountain from Near the Junction with 3N14

Round Mountain from Near the Junction with 3N14

View North Toward Rock Creek 
Back at Rosenita Saddle there was a marked trail that lead south to the "summit" of Mt. Hillyer. Named for Mary Hillyer, a clerk who once worked for Angeles National Forest Supervisor William V. Mendenhall, Mt. Hillyer was once the preferred hideout of notorious bandit, horse thief, and general all-around bad-ass Tiburcio Vasquez (for whom Vasquez Rocks in Soledad Canyon is named). Near Mt. Hillyer, the names of both Bandido and Horse Flats Campgrounds give a nod to the time that Vasquez and his horse-stealing boys spent here. Although I hadn't scouted the area and was without map, Mt. Hillyer would have to be my destination for the day.

Mt. Hillyer Trail from Rosenita Saddle
Spontaneous Rock Art Along the Trail Left by Forest Gnomes
The trail leading south from Rosenita Saddle meanders through the forest rising slowly until it eventually arrives at the broad, flat plateau that is the "summit" of Hillyer. To call the top of Hillyer a summit is being pretty darn charitable. Hillyer has a summit in the same way that Wright Mountain has a summit, except the latter peak is toothy and prominent compared to Hillyer. Those shortcomings notwithstanding, Hillyer does offer expansive views south of the Alder Creek drainage, the Chilao area, the Mt. Wilson cluster, and Strawberry Peak. It also provides some unique views west to Pacifico and east to Mt. Waterman and the Twins.

View Southwest Into Alder Creek from Mt. Hillyer
View Southeast Into Chilao from Mt. Hillyer

Communication Towers Atop Mt. Wilson

San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment

North Face of Strawberry Peak

Mt. Waterman and Twin Peaks from Hillyer

Twin Peaks from Hillyer's Summit

Mt. Waterman from Hillyer's Summit

Mt. Hillyer's "Summit" Such as it is

Pacifico Mountain from Hillyer
After exploring the area for awhile, I retraced my steps back to Rosenita Saddle to began the road walk back my car. On my way, I ran into Sewellymon who was grinding his way up to Hillyer from Chilao on his mountain bike. Along 3N17, the clouds began to creep across the sky providing some interesting and beautiful lighting to the south.

Despite my early fumble, this day was not ultimately disappointing. The mountains and forest still provided. They always do.

Road Walk Back to the Car Along 3N17
Winter Sky from Santa Clara Divide Road

Cargo Ships and Santa Catalina from the ACH

Snow-Capped Mt. Baldy from the ACH

Monday, January 19, 2015

Respecting Mt. Lawler

Nobody hikes Mt. Lawlor. Everybody hikes its neighbor Strawberry Peak. Because Strawberry Peak is taller. And sexier. And better looking. Strawberry Peak is Santa Barbara while Mt. Lawlor is Bakersfield. The Rodney Dangerfield of the San Gabriels. It is so disrespected that apparently, the peak-naming Gods couldn't even get the spelling of its namesake right--Lawler instead of Lawlor.

I'm not really sure why. I've been to Strawberry Peak and the route is fun and the views are good, but still. How much better could it be than Lawlor, especially if you're coming from the east? On Sunday, I set out to answer that question.

View West down the ACH from 12W05.2 at Lawlor's South Ridge

Mt. Lukens to the West

Josephine Peak from 12W05.2
By the number of folks scaling Strawberry that day, you would assume the answer would be "a lot." The parking lot at Red Box was stuffed with cars. A steady stream of folks populated the well-maintained and gently ascending trail between the trailhead and the Strawberry-Lawlor saddle. The saddle itself was crowded with about twenty or so hikers from a Korean hiking club who had just come off Strawberry's east ridge and were yammering away, presumably about their adventure.

Trail 12W05.2 Cutting Across Lawlor's Rugged South Face

Looking North from the Strawberry-Lawlor Saddle
Beginning of Route Up Lawlor's West Ridge
But I didn't find Lawlor to be less worthy of attention. The faint use trail from the saddle that haphazardly zig-zags its way up the steep west ridge offers some fun class 2 scrambling. The flat summit, offers unobstructed views into the West Fork watershed, north to Barley Flats, and east toward Mt. Baldy and beyond. And the summit offers relative sanctuary far from the madding crowds who congregate on Strawberry to the immediate west. The register, which is located in the only visible cluster of rocks on the summit, revealed that it had been a week since the last hiker had visited.

Apparently, there is an alternate route to Lawlor's summit that involves ascending (or descending) Lawlor's steep south ridge. Looking at that supposed route on Google Earth, you can see what looks like a faint firebreak leading along Lawlor's south spine from the summit to its intersection with trail 12W05.2. I looked at that ridge from up top and again from below and I'm not inclined to go that way as it is very steep and choked with a lot of sharp, pointy plant thingies that would make this option a suffer-fest. I spoke to a Korean hiker back at Red Box who had broken from the group to ascend Lawlor and descend this route and he confirmed that it was a steep, loose, brushy slog.

Mt. Baldy from Lawlor's Summit

Mt. San Jacinto in the Distance

Telescopes Atop Mt. Wilson

Strawberry Peak, that Sexy Bitch

Pacifico to the North

Barley Flats with Waterman and the Twins in the Rearground

Twin Peaks from Lawlor's Summit

From L-R, Mt. Wilson, Occidental Peak, San Gabriel Peak, and Mt. Disappointment

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Rose Valley Falls

It's been a long time since there was enough water in the Los Padres to cause the Rose Valley Falls to be anything other than a dry cliff face, but the rains this weekend changed all that, at least temporarily. So I made a dash up the Maricopa Highway to Rose Valley on Sunday afternoon to scope things out before the multi-year drought currently gripping California reclaims its dominance. 

Trail Leading to Lower Rose Valley Falls

Moss and Lichen Grow Thick on the Trees Here

Creek Running Adjacent to the Rose Valley Falls Trail
There are two sets of falls at Rose Valley: a lower fall and an upper fall. The falls are reputed to be the highest in the entire Los Padres. Both are accessed by a short footpath that tracks south from the back of the Rose Valley Campground. The trail crosses the stream twice before gently ascending to the lower falls through a dense and gorgeous forest canopy. The day I visited, water music played in the stream and the forest was lush, cool, green, and drippy.

Stream Below the Falls

Falls Below the Falls
The formal trail terminates at the base of the lower falls. From there, you can continue to the upper falls by climbing the steep hillside using an obvious use "trail" to the left of the lower falls. The ascent involves a steep Class 3 scramble over loose dirt, rock, and roots to a vantage point high above the lower falls where views of the Rose Valley open up. The day I went the hillside was wet and the rocks were extremely slippery making the climb somewhat sketchy. The down-climb was downright dangerous. Given the fact I was solo, I shouldn't have attempted it. And at the end of the day, the upper falls weren't even flowing so there was limited reward for the risk taken.

Lower Rose Valley Falls

Water Flowing Over the Lower Falls

A Tangle of Tree Roots
Back at the campground, I spoke with a lady who had spent the previous night at the campground. In the past, Rose Valley had a reputation for being the Monte Cristo of the Los Padres and I was curious about whether times had changed. They haven't. The camper told me that despite the pouring rain, about 20 twenty-something young men spent the entire night in the campsite adjacent to her drinking by the fire and puking in the bathrooms. Remnants of their night of debauchery, including an abandoned tent frame and smoldering fire, was still evident as I left the campground. I guess that means Rose Valley is still in my no-camp zone.

Upper Rose Valley Falls

Ancillary Upper Falls

Ancillary Upper Falls

View of Rose Valley from Upper Falls

Back at the Lower Falls

Lower Rose Valley Falls

Lower Rose Valley Falls

Lower Rose Valley Falls

Foliage in the Fall Mist

Lower Falls Greenery
On my way out, the sun finally burst through the clouds allowing for unobstructed views of Piedra Blanca to the north and the Maricopa Highway as it winds its way south toward Ojai.

Piedra Blanca Formation

Piedra Blanca Close Up

Clouds Creeping Up the Maricopa Highway