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


  1. Nice snow trip! I was surprised to hear about heavy traffic on the ACH. I thought the crowds would stick to the south side of the mountains.

    1. The snow on the south facing slopes was pretty thin. I didn't really begin to see any significant snow until I got past past 3 Points.