|The Los Angeles Basin from the Ramada at Inspiration Point|
In the summer, I'd hit the trails and explore all of the canyons along the east bench of the valley. Parley's, Lamb's, Millcreek, Neff's, Big Cottonwood, Little Cottonwood. I explored them all, sometime with a friend, but most of the time with just my dog Shadow. I got to see quite a bit of the Wasatch range during those outings, but I also left much undone. When I finally left Utah for the gold of the Golden State, I regretted that there were still many trails that I hadn't trod and a bunch of places that I hadn't seen. I felt that perhaps I didn't take full advantage of the opportunities that were right outside my front door. Looking back on it through the prism of time, it now seems that I spent far too little time in the mountains, not too much time.
If and when I finally leave this place, I don't want to feel that same regret. I don't want to look back on my time here and lament the fact that I didn't see, feel, smell, and fully experience my own backyard. So, as a hedge against those potential future feelings of regret, I committed to myself to see as much of the San Gabriels, the southern Los Padres, and the Santa Monicas as reasonably possible. Finding time to do that is more difficult now that the absolute freedom of youth is a thing of the past, and one could easily spend an entire lifetime trying, and yet failing to get intimate with every nook and cranny of just these three ranges. But I'm going to try.
One of the places I'd been wanting to get to was upper Eaton Canyon. Looking at my Tom Harrison map of the front range, the Idlehour Trail was a glaring gap in my previous outings. An experience gap that I wanted to fill. But being mostly a solo hiker, the logistics had always deterred me. I'd thought about starting at Red Box, ascending the Bill Reilly Trail, dropping down to the Markham Saddle, contouring around Mt. Lowe's east flank and down to the saddle near Mt. Lowe camp, and then connecting to the Idlehour Trail at its northern terminus. But that option eventually spit me out at the Eaton Canyon Nature Center meaning I'd need to rely upon someone else to shuttle me between the drop off and pick up points. I'd also looked at a loop route involving the Echo Mountain trail, Castle Canyon, the Idlehour Trail, and the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. But this option also involved a shuttle to avoid a road walk. The final option, an out-and-back, was to just power up the Mt. Wilson Toll Road to the Idlehour Trail junction above Henninger Flats, ascend upper Eaton Canyon to Inspiration Point, and then double-back and retrace my steps. Having gone up the uninteresting, south-facing Toll Road, that option seemed the least appealing even though it didn't require any shuttle.
Finally, the lure of the canyon became greater than concerns over potential inconvenience, so I persuaded my daughter to join me and we just went. Our route took us up the Echo Mountain Trail, through Castle Canyon to Inspiration Point, into Upper Eaton Canyon by way of the Idlehour Trail, down the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, and then back to the car on Lake Avenue in Altadena. If the app on my mobile device is to be believed, the total distance for this route ended up being just shy of 17 miles with approximately 4,700 feet of gain.
|View South from the Echo Mountain Trail on the Ascent to Echo Mountain|
|Trail Conditions - Echo Mountain Trail|
|Making Our Way to the Echo Mountain House Ruins|
|Downtown Los Angeles and Beyond from Echo Mountain|
|Pasadena, the Verdugos, and the Valley from Echo Mountain|
|Obstructed View Atop Echo Mountain|
|Sacred Datura on the Summit of Echo Mountain|
|Bright Sunshine - Summer in the Front Range|
|The Trail Leading Into Castle Canyon|
|Deeper in Castle Canyon|
|Castle Canyon was Cool and Lush. There is Still Water in the Canyon Bottom.|
|Over the Shoulder View from Upper Castle Canyon|
|Switchback in Upper Castle Canyon|
|Beautiful Castle Canyon Flora|
|First View of the Ramada at Inspiration Point from the Castle Canyon Trail|
Like Echo Mountain, Inspiration Point has a rich history tied to Professor Lowe and others. The point, and the views it affords, was a popular objective for guests of the Mt. Lowe Tavern. It was also the terminus of the Ed Tobin's One Man and a Mule Railway which transported folks from Inspiration Point out to Panorama Point, another view point overlooking the San Gabriel Valley. So here, as at Echo Mountain, we felt a strong connection to the past and a kinship with those adventurous and durable souls who trod the trails a century or so before us.
|Inspiration Point Ramada|
|View South from Inspiration Point - To Infinity and Beyond|
|Spotting Tubes at Inspiration Point|
|Spotting Tubes from the Other Side|
|Locating Los Angles|
|Locating Inspiration Point - There's a Joker in Every Crowd|
|Beautiful Buckwheat with a Different Pollinator|
Given how little traffic the Idlehour Trail receives compared to the surrounding trails, I was anticipating some over-grown and washed-out stretches. But we were pleasantly surprised to find the trail in really great shape and clear of brush all the way to the Mr. Wilson Toll Road. I give much thanks to the trail crews that labor in obscurity under the hot sun and in thorny conditions to keep the local trails open and passable.
As we descended into the canyon, we could distinctly smell here and there what we thought were Apricot fruit roll-ups. After sniffing around a bit, it seemed to us that the fragrance was coming from some berries that were growing intermittently along the path, but we couldn't be certain because we found so few of them. A short while later, as the hillsides morphed from sunny chaparral into a darker evergreen and deciduous forest, our discussions turned to bears. When the topic arose, I confidently informed my daughter that I'd been roaming the Angeles and Los Padres National Forests since the early 1990s and had only caught the flash of a bear once on remote Monte Arido Road. I also told her that although black bears do in fact inhabit the Angeles National Forest, our chances of seeing one were almost zero.
As soon as those words came out of my mouth, we heard something big moving quickly and loudly through the brush about 50 yards in front of us. We stopped and listened and so apparently did "the thing" because the movement stopped as well. We looked at each other, decided there was no way in hell we were turning around to walk back out, and then starting whooping it up and loudly clapping our hands. At that, "the thing" which I am convinced was a bear began rapidly moving up the adjacent hillside crashing through the undergrowth and knocking boulders down the slope as it went.
|Beginning of the Idlehour Trail - The Trail Was in Good Shape the Whole Way|
|Trailside Pipestem Clematis|
|The Trail Traverses a Burn Area|
|The Potential Source of the Apricot Fruit Roll-Up Aroma|
|The Trail Becomes More Shaded as You Lose Elevation|
|Pretty Little Dudleya Clinging to a Rock|
|Looking Down Upper Eaton Canyon - The Forested Flat in the Distance Sits Above the Mt. Wilson Toll Road|
|Looking Back Up Canyon Toward Mt. Lowe from the Same Spot|
|The Bottom of the Canyon was Luxuriant and Green|
|Forest Canopy from the Canyon Bottom|
|The Path Forward|
|Idlehour Trail Camp|
|The Trail as it Ascends Out of Eaton Canyon|
|Lateral Drainage Leading Into Eaton Canyon|
|Junction of the Idlehour Trail and the Mt. Wilson Toll Road|
Then, as we arrived at Henninger Flats, it hit me. The soda machine only took quarters. And I had no quarters. Deflated, we shuffled into the Visitor's Center and looked longingly at the soda machine, knowing that what was behind the plexiglass case inches away was unattainable. We resigned ourselves to be satisfied with what was left of our now warm water.
Just then, a lady and her daughter walked in looking for the attendant. She had lost her keys the previous week and was hoping that someone had returned them. After she and her daughter banged around the place a bit, opened and knocked on various doors, and generally made a racket, a gentlemen magically appeared from the inner sanctum of the building. After the lady told him what she was looking for, he went behind the door and disappeared for what seemed an eternity. He then suddenly re-appeared empty-handed and the keyless lady and her daughter moped away.
Since we were still milling about pretending to look at the dusty stuffed animals and counting the rings on the exhibit about the slice from the gigantic tree that was alive when the Magna Carta was signed (although, ironically, dead now because we chopped it down), he asked us if there was anything we needed. I pulled two crumpled dollar bills from my pocket a pleaded for quarters. At that, he produced a key, unlocked a drawer, pulled out a magic box containing a zillion shiny silver coins, and handed me 8 quarters. Quarters from heaven! I could have kissed the guy right then and there, but we hustled over to the soda machine instead and thirstily exchanged 3 quarters each for a cold can of 7-Up and Orange Soda. The guy behind the counter, probably amused at this stage by the whole pathetic display, then mentioned that Henninger was out of water. We knew and that was ok. We had carbonated nectar from the mountain Gods. We didn't need no stinkin' water.
|Approaching Henninger Flats|
|The Lower Campground at Henninger Flats|
Drinks finished and snacks consumed, we started the dull descent down the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. It was mid-afternoon now and the sun beat down on us mercilessly. Eventually, we dragged ourselves across the Eaton Canyon bridge where the Altadena Crest trail picks up. Here our options were the Altadena Crest Trail or a long road-walk back to our starting point. My daughter wanted nothing to do with more climbing at this stage and I wasn't enthused about that prospect either if truth be told. So we hoofed it up to Pinecrest Drive, dropped down to Altadena Drive, followed it west for an eternity, then climbed Lake Avenue north back to the car for a total road walk of about 2.5 miles.
Luckily, we had parked immediately adjacent to Farnsworth Park (named after Gen. Charles S. Farnsworth who, in the early 1900s, championed use of the land as a public park) which has lots of grass, lots of trees, and a water fountain. We used the latter amenities to soak ourselves with warm water and then flopped down in the shade as one of Pasadena's finest eyed us with suspicion. In our sweaty and dirty condition, that was probably understandable, but he eventually left to monitor bigger and badder criminals. And we packed it up and headed home after a gratifying day in the historic San Gabriels.
|Our Path, the Road Less Traveled|