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

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