Red Box – Bear Canyon – Switzer’s Loop – July 2021

Bear Canyon Trail Camp. July 25, 2021
Bear Canyon Trail Camp

I’d decided to stay off the higher peaks because a combination of monsoon moisture and an upper level low was probably going to produce some thunderstorms in the high country. The action was forecast to stay east of of the Mt. Wilson area, but there was a chance there might be enough clouds to knock the temperature down a few degrees.

But a chance is just that, and the day dawned mostly clear and warm at Red Box. A few feathery high clouds had no effect on the sun, and as I jogged up Mt. Wilson road to the start of the Mt. Disappointment Trail, the temperature was already in the 80s.

Blazing star near the Mt. Disappointment Trailhead on Mt. Wilson Road
Blazing star near the Mt. Disappointment Trailhead.

I was doing a 15-mile version of the Red Box – Bear Canyon loop. The main trails that make up this version of the loop are the Mt. Disappointment Trail, San Gabriel Peak Trail, Mt. Lowe Fire Road, Upper Bear Canyon Trail, Bear Canyon Trail, and the Gabrielino Trail. Refer to a trail map for additional details.

As it turned out, the Bear Canyon Trail was in the best condition I’ve seen in years. Thank you Bear Canyon Trail Crew! While still rustic, the trail between the old cabin site and the trail camp was a bit more worn than usual, and a little easier to follow. In some years it can be much more difficult to navigate.

No one was camped at Bear Canyon Trail Camp. The condition of the creek was similar to 2018. There were a few small pools here and there, but almost no surface flow. In addition, strict fire restrictions are currently in effect. See Forest Order No. 05-01-21-04.

The dry conditions had one benefit — I didn’t have any issues with stinging nettle. There was still plenty of poison oak, but it was drying out and turning red. For the most part the poison oak could be avoided.

The Gabrielino Trail between Switzer Falls and Switzer’s Picnic area was as busy as usual, including one hiker walking their cat!

Arroyo Seco from the Gabrielino Trail, about 1.5 miles from Red Box
View down Arroyo Seco from the Gabrielino Trail, about 1.5 miles from Red Box

As I worked up the Gabrielino Trail above Switzer’s, I kept looking for those monsoon clouds. Temps in the sun on the exposed trail was in the high 90s, and it was a relief to finally get to the more shaded sections near Red Box.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of my GPS track of the Red Box – Bear Canyon – Switzer’s Loop. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. For help controlling the view, click/tap the “?” icon in the upper right corner of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Note: Heavy rain can produce flash flooding and debris flows in Bear Canyon and Arroyo Seco.

Some related posts: After the Station Fire: Back to Bear Canyon, Red Box – Bear Canyon Loop Plus Brown Mountain, Bear Canyon Loop Plus Strawberry Peak

Inspiration Point to the Pine Mountain Juniper and Pine Mountain

Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from Pine Mountain
Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from Pine Mountain

This 17 mile trail run and hike is a longer version of the Inspiration Point to the Pine Mountain Juniper adventure run. Additional details and photos can be found in that post.

The adventure combines a seven-mile run on the PCT along Blue Ridge with a strenuous 1.5 mile, 1500′ climb up the North Backbone Trail to the summit of Pine Mountain (9648′). The Pine Mountain Juniper, estimated to be 800-1000 years old, is found at the 9000′ level of the North Backbone Trail.

Massive trunk of the Pine Mountain Juniper
Trunk of the Pine Mountain Juniper. Click for larger image.

On the way out I was glad to see the PCT had been rerouted around a steep, rocky stretch of trail below Mountain High West’s snow-making pond. I stayed on the PCT except for a very short section of dirt road between the top of the Acorn Trail and the overlook of the huge Wright Mountain landslide scar. The single track is more pleasant, and I didn’t have to worry about vehicles or their dust. I left the PCT when I was directly above the North Backbone Trailhead. A short path descended to the road.

The North Backbone Trail was as steep as it has always been. It’s not a constructed and maintained trail, but one that has evolved through use. Stretches of it are very steep, loose and rocky. The tree on Point 8555 that was struck by lightning in 2006 has finally fallen. There must be a lot of lightning activity here because a nearby pine had been recently struck by lightning.

The North Backbone Trail seems to be getting more attention these days. This adventure could be extended to include Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy. A similar route was part of the 44-mile Big Pines Marathon — possibly the first mountain ultra in the U.S.

Northeast Ridge Lone Pine Peak – July 1982

Phil Warrender climbing the first of a series of towers on the Northeast Ridge of Lone Pine Peak. July 11, 1982.
Phil Warrender climbing the first of a series of towers on the Northeast Ridge of Lone Pine Peak. July 11, 1982.

WARNING: The North and Northeast Ridges of Lone Pine Peak are long, complex, alpine climbing routes. Many people climb them without issue, but some are forced to retreat, bivi, or have other difficulties. Some have problems finding the descent routes. Depending on your mountaineering and rock climbing skills, the weather, and your judgement, these climbs can be a fantastic experience or an epic nightmare.

The soaring knife-edge ridges and sweeping granite faces of Lone Pine Peak are compelling features that mountaineers and rock climbers find irresistible. The North Ridge — the right skyline of the peak when viewed from the Owens Valley — is the most popular climbing route on the mountain. It was first climbed in September 1952 by A. C. Lembeck and Ray W. Van Aken. In the 1954 edition of the Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra, it was described as a long class 5 route requiring six pitons.

What’s old is new again, and with the rapid evolution of climbing in the ’70s, the North Ridge was rediscovered. I think I first heard about an “amazing ridge” on Lone Pine Peak out at Stoney Point. There was a group of us that bouldered at Stoney on Tuesday and Thursday and then climbed at Tahquitz, Suicide or JT on weekends. Periodic multi-day trips to the Needles, Yosemite, Tuolumne, and the Sierra rounded out our climbing routine.

Phil Warrender and I, along with other climbing partners, climbed the North Ridge many times. We’d drive up from L.A. after work, sleep at Whitney Portal, and would climb the ridge the following day. I don’t think I climbed the North Ridge by the same route twice. That was part of its attraction.

Because we were familiar with the approach and descent, climbed the ridge without a rope, usually didn’t have route-finding issues, and ran down most of the Meysan Lakes Trail, we were able to do the North Ridge comfortably in a day. Starting at the Portal 6:00 a.m., we typically made it back in the mid to late afternoon.

You can’t climb the North Ridge, or look at Lone Pine Peak from the Owens Valley, and not think about climbing the Northeast Ridge. To our climbing eyes, the Northeast Ridge looked like it was going to be more difficult than the North Ridge. The Northeast Ridge looked sharper and the towers more dramatic. And, it looked like the ridge ended at a headwall.

Whether it was the perceived difficulty and the strenuous approach — or just random chance — nearly 30 years after the first ascent of the North Ridge, there was no record of the Northeast Ridge having been climbed.

Phil and I did a lot of rock climbing and mountaineering in 1982. That June, along with Rich Grigsby, we climbed Whitney Portal Buttress. Lone Pine Peak was across the canyon, and I think that’s when we decided we had to get on the Northeast Ridge as soon as possible. We scouted the approach and waited for the snow higher on the ridge to melt.

A month later (July 10) we parked in the pinon pines and sagebrush at the end of an obscure dirt road at the base of the peak, pulled out our packs, put on some sunscreen, and set off to climb the Northeast Ridge.

To give ourselves the most daylight for dealing with possible problems on the technical part of the ridge, we decided to hike the non-technical section in the afternoon, then bivi and start climbing early the next morning. One downside of this decision was that it was July, and we did the hike during the hottest part of the day.

Phil Warrender on an easy, but exposed, ramp on the Northeast Ridge of Lone Pine Peak. July 1982.
Phil Warrender on an easy, but exposed, ramp on the Northeast Ridge of Lone Pine Peak. July 1982. Click for larger image.

To save weight we carried a minimum of “just in case” climbing gear. We took the good half of an 8 mm rope that had been damaged. We packed “swami belts” instead of climbing harnesses. The webbing was much lighter and more compact, and might come in handy if we had a problem. We took a few slings and maybe a nut or two. In a pinch we figured we could use natural protection or chock some appropriately shaped rocks. We hiked and climbed in approach shoes. Phil’s shoes were Nike Lava Domes. I don’t recall what shoes I used, but I do remember that the soles started to delaminate during the climb.

We each took a couple bottles of water. We thought there was a slight chance of finding an accessible patch of snow higher on the route, but that didn’t happen. There was a little snow in the gully between the Northeast and North Ridges.

We both carried (film) cameras. My camera (and maybe Phil’s) was a Pentax ME. At that time, I was shooting a lot of B/W film – rolling my own cartridges from a bulk roll of fine-grained 2415 Tech Pan film and developing it myself.

Serrated section of the Northeast Ridge of Lone Pine Peak. July 1982.
Serrated section of the Northeast Ridge of Lone Pine Peak. July 1982. Click for larger image.

Our bivi spot was just below where the interesting climbing began, at an elevation of about 9400′. It had a great view of Bastille Buttress. We didn’t have sleeping bags, but with the warm weather slept well and started climbing shortly after sunrise.

The climb could not have gone more smoothly. It was a granite playground of ramps, towers, and feldspar dikes and crystals. Everything that looked like it might be a problem had a solution. My notes regarding the route were pretty sparse:

“Ramp on right of first major tower. Followed a dike on another. Traverse on shattered ledge/weakness on final headwall.”

Phil Warrender climbs a feldspar dike on the Northeast Ridge of Lone Pine Peak. July 1982.
Phil Warrender climbs a feldspar dike on the Northeast Ridge of Lone Pine Peak. July 1982. Click for larger image.

We never used the rope or any of the climbing gear. There were a few bouldering-type moves, but overall the climbing was surprisingly straightforward. The rock quality was generally good. The granite is peppered with large feldspar phenocrysts. These can make great holds, but can also pop unexpectedly.

Judging from the sun angle and shadows, it was around noon when I took this last photo high on the ridge. That would have put us on top about 1:00 p.m. It may have been earlier. Low on water, we briefly visited Lone Pine Peak’s summit, and then hiked south to the usual descent chute on the west side of the peak.

Hurrying down the scree, we thirstily drank from the first little stream we encountered. After rinsing off the granite grime at a nearby tarn, we found the Meysan Lakes Trail, and headed back to the Portal.