With Southern California in the throes of a record dry year, and temps in the valleys topping 100°F, this San Gabriel Mountains course was a good way to get in a long trail run at a cooler, higher elevation and enjoy some mountain scenery. A big plus was that there would be a source of ice cold spring water at the turnaround point.
Concerned that another usually dependable water source might already be dry, we started our run from Vincent Gap in the wrong direction, headed downhill on the Mazanita Trail. A couple of drainages and about a mile and a half later we were happy to hear — and then see — a diminished, but still gurgling ribbon of water.
In a couple of weeks, I might do the Islip – South Fork – Vincent Gap – Baden-Powell – Islip loop as part of my training for the Mt. Disappointment 50K. With Lamil Spring likely very low, and the connecting segment of Highway 2 closed, the loop would be difficult to do without this key water source.
Soon we were back at Vincent Gap and switch-backing up Mt. Baden-Powell. Even though mountain temps had recently been in the 90’s, today the temperature was comfortably cool. That would be the surprise of the day. Ocean-cooled breezes would keep the mercury in check and make the running along the ridge between Baden-Powell and Little Jimmy almost Spring-like.
Including the extra bit at the start, the run worked out to be about 22 miles, with an elevation gain/loss of over 5000 ft.
This was my first time back to Mt. Pinos since being caught in a fierce thunderstorm last July. No thunderstorms this time — just wonderful running on the air-conditioned ridge between Mt. Pinos and Mt. Abel.
The sky was brightening in the east, and sunrise was approaching when I met Miklos and Krisztina at the Denny’s in Sylmar. We were already wasting light. The plan was to drive from near sea level up to Horseshoe Meadows, at about 10,000′ on the Sierra east side. The hike/run we had in mind was a keyhole loop from the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead up (old) Army Pass and then down New Army Pass. If we felt OK at the top of Army Pass, we would also do Mt. Langley (14,026′).
The weather forecast looked good. There was a chance of some gusty southwest winds in the afternoon, but temps were warm and there was virtually no chance of T-storms. With a record low Southern Sierra snowpack, there was almost no chance that an ice axe would be required on Army Pass. I was familiar with the route on Langley and down from New Army Pass, and expected to be back to the car well before sunset. But, just in case, the moon was about half full.
In fact, there had been very little snow on Army Pass, or anywhere else. We reached the pass relatively quickly, and decided to continue to Langley. Now, after another hour of hiking, we were above a prominent rock band that extends across Langley’s south face, and making good progress.
I’ve been convinced for some time that pursed-lip breathing helps me at higher altitudes, particularly when I’m not well acclimated. There’s a skill to it. There seems to me an optimum blend of heart rate, respiratory rate, and the amount of resistance created on exhalation. When all these factors are in balance, the breathing technique is almost automatic and effortless, and it really does seem to help. It certainly seemed to be helping me now.
I topped out a few hundred yards west of the summit, and ambled over to the high point of the peak. On a scale of 1 to 10, I felt pretty good — maybe a 7. Making an effort to stay hydrated, consume plenty of calories, and not push the pace too hard seemed to have worked — at least this time.
The view along the crest to Mt. Whitney and the peaks of the Kings-Kern Divide was telling. It was remarkable just how little snow there was at the highest elevations of the Sierra. A week before I had been paddling the Kern River. Now I could see why the flow on the upper Kern was dropping so fast.
Miklos and Krisztina joined me on the summit, and after taking a few summit photos, we headed down. Screeing down the slopes below the rock band, we were startled when a herd of perhaps 20 big horn sheep rumbled across the slopes below us. They flowed across the rough landscape like quicksilver. Graceful and robust, they moved effortlessly between the rocks and up a small slope. In the moments it took me to react, grab my camera, and turn it on, all but two large rams trailing the group, had disappeared.
Energized by the sight of these fleet-footed animals, we continued down to the saddle at Army Pass, and then up and over New Army Pass. Before sunset we would be back to the car, and before dark, eating dinner at Lone Pine. Before midnight we would be back in L.A. Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of our route.
Note: Going to higher altitudes without properly acclimating can result in very serious, life-threatening illnesses. There is much information available on the Internet regarding altitude sickness and acclimatization. As a starting point see International Society for Mountain Medicine: An Altitude Tutorial and Wikipedia: Altitude sickness.
Sitting on a weather worn log, I emptied the grit from my shoes and asked Miklos how much water he had left. We had just finished the 3 mile segment of Pleasant View Ridge, between Mt. Williamson and Burkhart Saddle and were debating continuing along the ridge to Will Thrall Peak and the next peak to the northwest. Abiding by the “here now, climb it now” philosophy, we took the first few steps up the steep slope.
A little more than a mile and 1200′ of gain later we were enjoying the panoramic view, and pondering why there would be a benchmark stamped “PALLETT” on the summit of a peak named “Pleasant View Ridge,” on Pleasant View Ridge, in plain view of Pallett Mountain.
With the addition of the segment from Burkhart Saddle, this extended version of the Pleasant View Ridge hike/run included the following peaks and high points:
Mt. Williamson (8214′) – As marked on the Crystal Lake topo.
Point 8244 – The Mt. Williamson register is normally here.
Point 8248 – This is the highest point on Pleasant View Ridge.
Peak 8160+ – Peak east-southeast of Pallett Mountain.
Pallett Mountain (7760+’) – Peak just east of Burkhart Saddle.
Will Thrall Peak (7845′) – Peak just west of Burkhart Saddle.
Pleasant View Ridge 7983′ – Peak northwest of Will Thrall marked with a benchmark stamped “PALLETT.”
Each year, thousands hike, ride or run the 2.3 miles up Rocky Peak fire road to a high point with a nice view of Simi Valley. This is near the point marked “ROAD” in this overview photo. Many turn around here, but some continue along the main road to the Johnson Trail, Chumash Trail, Fossil Point, or beyond.
Another option is to follow a spur trail that branches off the main road at the high point about a quarter-mile to an airy overlook. From this viewpoint you can see the San Fernando Valley and surrounding mountains, and trace your route through Rocky Peak Park’s unique sandstone formations.
The overlook marks the end of the “easy” trail and the beginning of a rough, rudimentary trail that leads east-northeast through large boulders and outcrops to the summit of the Rocky Peak (2714′).
The summit of Rocky Peak is one of the points that defines the border between Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Last year, I was surprised to find evidence that a coyote had recently visited this summit!
It’s not often that the highest elevations of the San Gabriel Mountains are snowless on Memorial Day weekend. If nowhere else, there will usually be a patch of white on the north side of Mt. Baldy. Two years ago there were 10-15 ft. drifts on Baden-Powell that persisted into July. Not this year.
This year, usually dependable water sources might not make it through the Summer. On the way to Baden-Powell I stopped at Little Jimmy Springs. Descending to the spring, I didn’t hear the usual splitter-splatter of water streaming onto the rocks. For a worried moment I wondered if the spring could already dry.
It wasn’t dry, but the spring was nearly as low as it was in August 2002, following the driest water year ever recorded in Los Angeles. Whether Little Jimmy Spring will last through this Summer, after what is likely to be an even drier year, we’ll just have to see. To date, Los Angeles has received only 3.21 inches of rain since July 1, 2006, and will very likely break the record set in 2001-2002.
When on the trail between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell, I almost always visit Little Jimmy Spring. The area surrounding the spring is lush and green, and in midsummer is accentuated with the yellows and reds of wildflowers. There are several impressive Incense Cedars nearby, and one huge tree must have enjoyed the idyllic setting and refreshing waters for at least a few centuries. The tree was threatened by the 2002 Curve Fire, but fortunately only a part of its fire-resistant trunk was burned.
At the spring, I filled my Camelbak to the brim. On the way back from Mt. Baden-Powell, I was planning to climb Mt. Burnham, Throop Peak, Mt. Hawkins and Mt. Islip. Most of these peaks are relatively easy ascents requiring short detours from the main trail. Mt. Islip requires a little more effort, and is about a mile by trail from Windy Gap.
According to my Forerunner 205, the distance from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell is about 8.1 miles. Depending on how Islip is done, the total mileage including the five peaks is in the neighborhood of 17-18 miles, with an elevation gain and loss of about 4700′.
Note: Angeles Crest Highway (SR2) was open to Islip Saddle.