Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mt. Waterman by Snow

Southeast Ridge of East Twin Peak
I don't own that much snow gear. But it hasn't always been that way. When I was a younger fellow living in Utah, I had plenty of cold-weather gear because I was out in the snow every chance I got. But those days are a distant memory. I'm a Southern Californian now. As a result, I'm what you might disparagingly call a fair-weathered hiker. And unfortunately you'd be right.

But with the spate of recent storms, I've been watching the snow pile up in the local mountains. And I've been hearing about everyone's amazing winter adventures. And suddenly I got a longing to be out in the snow again. So this weekend, I gathered together my rather skimpy collection of winter gear--boots, gaiters, micro-spikes, jacket, gloves, hat, and pack--and headed up the Angeles Crest Highway. Mt. Waterman Ski Lifts was reporting between 14-22" of snow so that was my destination.

Driving up the ACH, the roads were clear and the sailing was smooth until I reached Newcomb's Ranch. Beyond that point, the traffic suddenly began to bunch up. Then it came to a complete standstill. Traffic jam 51 miles up the Angeles Crest. Jesus, I can't escape it even in the mountains.

The source of the traffic jam, I discovered was the hordes of Angelenos who had brought their kids into the mountains that day to do the exact same thing I was doing: to play in the snow. They crowded the roadways, filled the parking areas to capacity, and occupied every hill and dale between Newcomb's Ranch and Cloudburst Summit. I admit to being irritated by the throngs as I crawled up the highway, but it was hard to be angry at them because I understood the magnetic force that drew them there. And candidly, I felt a bit sorry for the kids for whom snow is such a novelty that even a thin, solitary patch of dirty ice was cause for excitement and celebration.

At Cloudburst, the traffic fell away again and a short time later I was trudging up the Mt. Waterman trail. Between the trail head and the fire road spur to the east, the path had been broken but had not seen much use. Beyond that point, the track was traveled, firm underfoot, and easy to follow.

Despite temperatures in the high 30s, the day felt warm as I ascended the trail in solitude so I quickly jettisoned my jacket. Water music was playing at the first creek crossing. Where the path attains the ridge, clouds boiled up from the valley and I could see Ontario Peak peaking out from behind the grey cover to the east.

3/4 of a mile before the summit, at the junction with the trail that comes up from Three Points to the west, I stopped briefly for water and to take in my surroundings. The snowy path leading to the Twin Peaks was pristine and unbroken. If anyone has been out that way recently, if wasn't from the north. Beyond the junction, the path swings gently around to the north side of Waterman before cresting the broad dual-humped summit. Here, the pleasant path through the soft, powdery white stuff was slightly less-traveled but still obvious. This was the best part of the trail.

Atop Waterman, thawing ice was falling from the trees creating a cacophony that continually disrupted the quietude. There, I sat on a log by myself listening to the mountain symphony, absorbing the moment, and storing it in my memory bank.

As I retraced my steps on the way down, the forest began to get misty and mysterious as the low clouds I saw earlier breached the ridge and spilled into the Buckhorn area. The temperature was perceptibly lower now and the snow crunchier. I stopped one more time at the creek crossing to admire again the strangeness of water coursing down the channel before the short walk back to the trail head. Reflecting on the day back at the car, I realized how beautiful and unfamiliar the mountains are in a blanket of snow. If this winter thing starts to become a regular occurrence, I just may have to get myself some proper gear so that I can graduate to become a foul-weathered hiker like the rest of you.

Beginning of the Trail

First Creek Crossing

View Toward Pleasant View Ridge

Snowy Trail

Easy Track to Follow Through the Forest

Ontario Peak and Turtle's Beak Peaking Out from the Clouds

View North to Burkhart Saddle


Can't Get Enough of this View

Along the Switchers

Unbroken Snow at Intersection with Twin Peaks Trail

The Final 3/4 of a Mile

Nearing the Summit

The Twins from Waterman's Summit

Waterman's Snow-Capped Summit

Reluctantly Heading Back Down

Encroaching Cloud Cover

Getting a Bit Foggy

Blessed Snow

Clouds Spilling Over Kratka Ridge

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

San Gabriel 3-Pack

Snow-Capped Mt. Baldy from the San Gabriel Peak Trail
I've been missing the San Gabriel Mountains something fierce lately. Looking back at my pictures, I realized why: it has been nearly two months since my last visit. In those two months, I have been to the Los Padres and trod the trails of the open space surrounding my house, but I had neglected one of my first local loves. So Sunday, I decided to make a dash up Highway 2 to embrace an old friend before the deluge the weather experts were predicting hit the southland.

Without a concrete plan, I started up the Angeles Crest out of Pasadena figuring I'd stop when something tickled my fancy. That tickle came at Red Box when I thought about the cluster of peaks and fine scenery available immediately out of Eaton Saddle. So I swung the car onto the road leading to Mt. Wilson and shortly thereafter I pulled into a relatively empty parking area at the head of Eaton Canyon.

The day was warm and gorgeous despite the impending storm as I started down the road leading to the Markham Saddle. This was not new territory for me, but I had forgotten how utterly dramatic the headwall of Eaton Canyon is. The ruggedness of this place is made all the more impressive by the impenetrable walls of Mt. Markham and San Gabriel Peak which flank the fire road and tower overhead as you head west. 

Through the Mueller Tunnel and at the Markham Saddle, I angled left following the well-established trail leading toward Mt. Lowe. To my right was beautiful upper Bear Canyon. At the saddle an easy stroll later, I made a hard turn left and followed the obvious use trail east along the ridgeline to the summit of Mt. Markham. The last time I was out this way, this ridgeline had a healthy population of Turricula parryi that you needed to negotiate. That Poodle Dog is still there, but now it is very easily avoidable. On top, I lounged on a big rock at the eastern terminus of the long, flat summit while I admired the views and listened intently to the quiet. The gigantic summit cairn I had encountered on my previous visit had been dismantled in favor of a shallow windbreak of sorts. The summit register was no where to be found.

Looking East Through the Gap at Eaton Saddle
Upper Bear Canyon from Markham Saddle

My Throne on the Summit of Mt. Markham

San Gabriel Peak as Seen from the Summit of Mt. Markham

Mt. Baldy from the Summit of Mt. Markham

The Peaks of the High Country from Mt. Markham

Looking Down on the Mueller Tunnel from Mt. Markham

Eaton Canyon and Henninger Flats from Mt. Markham

The L.A. Basin and Beyond
After lolly-gagging around for entirely too long in the mountain sublimity, I reluctantly roused myself from my high-altitude stupor and headed back to the Markham Saddle. There, I veered north and started the enjoyable climb to the summit of San Gabriel Peak. This is a more popular destination and I encountered a number of folks going up and coming down the well-trod trail. A short time later, I crested the high point of San Gabriel, stretched out on the ample summit bench, and resumed the slothful ways I began on Mt. Markham.

San Gabriel is a super nice peak. Quintessential San Gabriel Mountains in more than name. To me, it epitomizes what the front range is all about. If I had visitors from out of town who only had one day to explore and wanted to experience the history, beauty, and ruggedness of the Angeles National Forest, this is where I would send them.

Eventually, the breeze started to blow and the temps began to drop some, so I turned tail and headed back down. At the trail junction leading to Mt. Disappointment, I continued straight on a whim and then ascended the short and boring asphalt road to the top of antennae-clad summit of Mt. Disappointment. Viewing the ugly summit, one could be forgiven for believing that the name of this peak is somehow related to its present looks. But as you all know, the views from this peak are anything but disappointing.  

On the way back to Eaton Saddle, I stopped briefly at the eastern entrance of the Mueller Tunnel to admire the remnants of the treacherous Cliff Trail that the tunnel rendered obsolete. What remains of that track, which cuts across the sheer southern escarpment of San Gabriel Peak, can still be seen on the outside of the cliff face. It's had to fathom that trail as the only route between Eaton Saddle and Markham Saddle. I imagine folks from the past, men in their wool suits and hats, and women in their gunny sack dresses and clunky shoes, crossing that precipitous stretch of trail as they carefully made there way from Professor Lowe's Ye Alpine Tavern to the summit of Mt. Wilson. Hardy bastards they were back then. A short distance later, I passed a group of new-agers burning incense and practicing yoga at a vantage point on the edge of fire road. This too was quintessential San Gabriel Mountains.

Although it did rain later that night, the overly-hyped and much anticipated storm of Biblical proportions never materialized. It never does in these perpetual times of drought. But the mere threat of it occurring was motivation enough for me to get back into the Angeles National Forest after a short hiatus. And like every time I step into the forest, I'm very grateful that I did.

Mt. Baldy and Friends from the Summit of San Gabriel Peak

DTLA from San Gabriel Peak

Million Mile Views from Atop San Gabriel Peak

San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Markham from Mt. Disappointment

Mt. Markham and Mt. Lowe from Mt. Disappointment

The Views from Mt. Disappointment are Clearly Not Disappointing Even Though the Summit Is

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Escape: Scenes from 2016

2016 is in the books. Looking back, and with a few notable exceptions, it seems like I explored closer to home this last year than I have in the past. I was also a bit more social in my explorations as I had a number of outings with family and friends. Another memorable year. Can't wait to see what 2017 has in store for us all. Happy New Year everyone. Get outside and get some.

Apology: I lost some image quality in the upload so the images are not as crisp as they should be. Apologies for my technical ineptitude.

Copyright Disclaimer: The pictures here are mine. The accompanying music and lyrics are not and I claim no right, title, or interest to them. Instead, they are the intellectual property of the band Radiohead and/or its members and/or their label and/or ASCAP.