Sunday, April 24, 2016

Counting Peaks Around Monte Cristo

The Iron Hiker on Monte Cristo Ridge
The plan was to meet Keith "the Iron Hiker" Winston at 6:30 a.m. at the entrance to Monte Cristo Campground in the upper reaches of Mill Creek Canyon to tackle a 4 peak loop that we had both been eyeing for some time. That loop involved a mostly cross-country, counter-clockwise route that would take us to the summit of Iron Mountain #3, Round Top, Granite Mountain, and Rabbit Peak (with the provisional "peak" Monte Cristo thrown in for good measure). Since Keith was coming from south Orange County and I was coming from eastern Ventura County, I figured I'd have no trouble beating him to our rendezvous. But of course the best laid plans of mice and men were foiled when I couldn't locate some of my gear that morning, had to stop for gas, and then misjudged how long it would take me to get to Monte Cristo. When I finally arrived at our pre-ordained meeting spot some 30 minutes late, Keith was preparing to walk off without me, figuring that I had probably died in the zombie apocalypse (or maybe that I had just stood him up).

Not wanting to delay our adventure any longer, I scrambled to get my act together and then off we went. It was a gorgeous, cloudless morning with the early sun throwing shadows into the crevices and folds of the surrounding canyons. At the entrance to the campground after crossing now dry Mill Creek, we entered a small drainage which afforded us easy access to the Monte Cristo Ridge.

Ascending the Ridge from Monte Cristo Campground
View North from the Monte Cristo Ridge
View South from the Monte Cristo Ridge
The ridge climbs moderately to a high point (Monte Cristo) before dropping to a saddle and then regaining some elevation before intersecting the fire road that contours around the western face of Iron #3. The brush was minimal here and travel was easy. This was a common theme for the day - none of the ridges we walked involved any real bush-whacking. From Monte Cristo we could easily see the rest of the circuit we had planned for the day.

On gaining the fire road, we tacked right (south) and followed it to the point where Iron's southwest ridge intersected the road. Here the road cut was low which permitted us to jump on the ridgeline and begin the push for Iron's summit. A short, stout climb later and we were atop Iron #3. On top we found a triangular post and a soggy register, but no benchmark. Views here of the backside of the front range, particularly Strawberry's north face, were impressive. Looking northeast, the steep and somewhat intimidating ridge route to Round Top was plainly visible.

The Circuit - Iron #3 Out of Frame to the Right
View South from the Summit of Iron #3
The Route to Round Top as Seen from Iron #3
The North Face of Strawberry Peak - Still Waiting for a TR from Taco About This
After some water and a snack, we dropped off the north side of Iron, crossed a fire road at the head of what the topos call Lynx Gulch (the topos also show the Gold Bar Mine in the bottom of the gulch), and began the 1,600 foot climb up Round Top. This is the crux of the route which follows a old firebreak up and over a couple of bumps (false summits) before topping out on the broad, rounded summit of Round Top. The climb along this ridge is steep in places, but the brush was minimal, footing was good, and use trails abound. Views from atop Round Top are quite exceptional even though the summit itself is somewhat uninspiring. To the east you can see Mt. Waterman, the Twin Peaks, Mt. Hilyer, and the entire Chilao area. To the north, Granite and Pacifico Mountains loom large. To the west the Gleason Ridge stands out. And looking sound affords a good look into the entire Upper Tujunga drainage. 

Once atop Round Top's exposed summit, the winds really began to pick up, so we quickly refueled and then made haste for Granite Mountain by way of the Round Top Truck Road which we followed north for a short distance to the toe of Granite's southeast ridge. A mellow ascent through some light brush and dead fall led us to the big, broad, burned-out summit of Granite which is appropriately dotted with a number of large, granite outcroppings. Here, like Iron, we found a damp summit register, but no benchmark. The winds were now howling at a sustained 30-40 mph so we huddled behind some rocks while we ate lunch, appreciating the fact that the next leg to Rabbit Peak was almost all downhill.   

The Steep Firebreak Leading to Round Top
Cross-Canyon View Toward the Gleason Ridge
Over-the-Shoulder Look of the Ridge Leading to Roundtop - Iron #3 Center-Left
Keith Contemplating the Final Push to Round Top - There are a Couple of Bumps Along the Ridge
Into the Light
Pacifico Mountain from Round Top
Granite Mountain from Round Top
View East from Round Top - Hillyer, Wintson (I think), Waterman, and the Twins
Mt. Gleason from the Fire Road to Granite
Granite from the Fire Road from Round Top
The Iron Hiker Atop Some Granite on Granite
High Desert View from Granite's Summit
Remnants of the Station Fire Atop Granite - 7 Years and Counting
The southwest ridge off of Granite is obvious and we followed it down to a saddle before making the final climb of the day to the top of Rabbit Peak. Once again, the brush was minimal and there was a fairly obvious use trail along the entire ridgeline. On the summit of Rabbit, the winds really died down so we lingered a bit after signing the register to appreciate the moment, the warmth of the day, and the big, brilliant azure sky.

From Rabbit, we descended the steep and loose south ridge to a jumping off spot which deposited us onto the fire road in the canyon bottom near the Black Cargo Mine. Hindsight being what it is, we should have just followed the ridge to its logical terminus further down canyon, but we hadn't done our homework and so were not aware that was even an option. In the canyon, we walked the fireroad adjacent to Monte Cristo Creek (which still had some flow) back to our starting point at the entrance to Monte Cristo Campground.

It is worth noting that this route can be done in a clockwise direction instead of the counter-clockwise variation that we followed. In fact, Cucamonga Man and Cecelia recently completed the circuit in that direction. But after descending the ridgelines off of Rabbit and Granite, the counter-clockwise variation that we took appears to me to be the better option.

More info and pics about this route can be found on Iron Hiker's fine blog here.

Our Route Down the Southwest Ridge - Rabbit Peak in the Center
The Ridge Route Off  Granite as Seen from Rabbit
Mt. Gleason from Rabbit's Summit
Keith Taking in the View Atop Rabbit Peak


  1. Nice report! I think your photos turned out better than mine. Thanks for the great hike.

  2. Thanks for the report. Glad you didn't get blown off the ridge. Someone needs to invent waterproof summit registers.