Category Archives: san gabriel mountains

It’s Mid-July And There Is Still Snow in Los Angeles County!

Snow in the lee of the West Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell.
Snow in the lee of the West Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell.

You might not see it from the Los Angeles side of the mountains, but there is still some snow on the higher, north-facing slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains.

During and after storms, snow-laden southerly winds dump their load on the backside of the crest, creating deep drifts, cornices, and compacted slabs of snow. This snow is often the last to melt, not only because it doesn’t face the sun, but because there is more of it.

Mt. Burnham, Peak 9086, and Mt. Baden-Powell from near Throop Peak.
Mt. Burnham, Peak 9086, and Mt. Baden-Powell from near Throop Peak.

This morning, I was doing an out-and-back from the Windy Gap Trailhead in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area to Mt. Baden-Powell. The Windy Gap Trail climbs 1730′ in 2.6 miles, joining the PCT at Windy Gap. From there the trail follows the spine of the San Gabriels past Mt. Hawkins, Throop Peak, and Mt. Burnham to Mt. Baden-Powell.

I usually do this run from Islip Saddle, but with Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) closed between Red Box and Vincent Gap, the Islip Saddle trailhead isn’t accessible.

Snow on the west ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell. July 9, 2023.
Snow at about 9100′ on the west side of Mt. Baden-Powell.

Whether you start at Crystal Lake or Islip Saddle, the length of the run is about the same — a bit over 16 miles. The main difference is that the Windy Gap Trailhead is about 800′ lower in elevation. On the plus side, the Windy Gap Trail is very scenic; on the minus side, it faces south and can bake in the midday sun.

On today’s run, I encountered the first snowbanks at an elevation of 8870′, near the Dawson Saddle Trail junction. Out of curiosity, I tried to follow the trail and soon realized that was a mistake. I was more or less forced to skirt the downhill side of a lengthy and deep drift — it being too steep and icy to cross directly.

Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. July 9, 2023.
Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. July 9, 2023.

For the remainder of the run, I switched to the early season tactic of staying on the crest when the trail deviated onto shaded, north-facing slopes. These areas might have significant snow on the trail. This only happens in a few places, such as when the PCT works around Mt. Burnham. There is a use trail that ascends the west ridge of Mt. Burnham, and then returns to the PCT.

The conditions today are reminiscent of those found here in early July 2005. July 3rd of that year there was still snow on the summit of Baden-Powell, and there was deeper snow in the areas where there was snow today. We had a lot of storms this rain season, but in Rain Year 2004-2005 Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded about 9 inches more rain than during the 2022-2023 rain year!

Here is a short slideshow of some photos taken on the run. I’ve also included a few photos from the run to Baden-Powell in 2005 for comparison.

After the Bobcat Fire: Running the ANFTR 25K Course

San Gabriel Mountains. Photography by Gary Valle'.

On June 1, Angeles National Forest reduced the size of the Bobcat Fire Closure, opening up most of the upper West Fork San Gabriel River area. Curious to see how the West Fork area is recovering from the Bobcat Fire, today I ran a slightly shortened version of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 25K course.

Since the Mt. Wilson parking lot is usually closed until mid-morning, this morning’s run started and ended at a small turnout near the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail on the loop road on Mt. Wilson. The ANFTR Trail Races start at the main Mt. Wilson parking lot.

I’d recently done the San Gabriel Peak and Bill Riley Trails and knew they were in reasonable condition. And I’d read that AC100 Trail Work Teams led by Gary Hilliard and Ken Hamada had cleared the Gabrielino and Kenyon Devore Trails earlier this year. So, I didn’t expect to have a repeat of the epic fallen-tree obstacle course that I experienced doing this course in 2020.

Here’s a slideshow of what I found.

Explore the scenery and terrain of the Mt. Wilson – Red Box – West Fork – Kenyon Devore Loop using our high resolution,  interactive, 3D viewer. The imagery is so detailed, it’s almost like being there! The loop is a slightly shorter version of the ANFTR 25K. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen, the CTRL key and your mouse, or touch gestures. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Snow, ice, poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Related post: An ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 2020 Adventure

Red Box – Bear Canyon – Switzer’s Loop – Memorial Day Weekend 2023

Marine layer pushing into Bear Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles.
Marine layer pushing into Bear Canyon

The Red Box – Bear Canyon – Switzer’s Loop trail run is a favorite I’ve enjoyed doing for many years. Part of its attraction is the isolated, backcountry feel of Bear Canyon, particularly between Tom Sloane Saddle and Bear Canyon Trail Camp. It’s worth spending a few minutes at the old cabin site in the upper canyon to contemplate a lifestyle from an earlier century.

Early morning view from the Bill Reily Trail (aka Mt. Disappointment Trail).
Early morning view from the Bill Riley Trail (aka Mt. Disappointment Trail).

The descent of Bear Canyon is always adventurous in some way. Based on what I’d been seeing on other trails this year, I’d expected upper Bear Canyon to be a mess. I had braced myself for downed trees, washouts, and overgrown, hard-to-follow sections of trail.

But just a few minutes below Tom Sloane Saddle, a tree blocking the trail had been cleared, and the saw cuts were fresh! As I worked down the trail, I was excited to find more trailwork had been done. Branches or trees that had fallen across the trail had been cut. Some overgrown sections of trail had been trimmed. One washed-out section of trail looked like it had just been repaired. Someone had even trimmed a little of the poison oak that is so common along the trail.

Bear Canyon Trail near Arroyo Seco
Bear Canyon Trail near Arroyo Seco

As I discovered when I encountered them lower in the canyon, the Bear Canyon Trail Crew had been hard at work, and they were working in the canyon again today!

The last time I was in Bear Canyon (April 2021), the creek had been nearly dry. This year there was plenty of water and plenty of stream crossings. Unlike several recent runs, I had my poles and was able to keep my shoes and socks mostly dry.

Trailside wildflower garden on the Bear Canyon Trail.
Trailside wildflower garden

I had debated whether to do this loop on Memorial Day Weekend. It passes through Switzer’s Picnic Area, one of the most popular day-use areas in Angeles National Forest. Many visiting Switzer’s do the hike down the Gabrielino Trail to see Switzer Falls, and many of those continue down the Bear Canyon Trail to the area below the falls.

Today, the two-mile stretch from below the falls to Switzer’s was as busy as expected. One issue I hadn’t anticipated was that some stream crossings were backed up like the Hillary Step on Everest. Other than wading, there was usually only one “dry” route across the stream. At one busy crossing, a hiker — clutching a dog under each arm — deftly balanced across a sequence of slippery rocks and branches, keeping his and his charge’s feet dry.

Crimson-spotted rock rose along the Gabrielino Trail between Switzer's and Red Box
Crimson-spotted rock rose along the Gabrielino Trail

Once past Switzer’s, things returned to normal. From Switzer’s, it’s about 4.5 miles up to Red Box, with an elevation gain of about 1350′. I had been on this section of the Gabrielino Trail about a month before and was curious to see if a mass of fallen trees blocking the trail had been removed.

The trees still needed to be cleared — Forest Service rules require a qualified sawyer to do that kind of work — BUT the remaining 2.5 miles of trail to Red Box were being trimmed and cleared by several dozen members of the Mt. Wilson Bicycling Association. I wondered why I wasn’t seeing any mountain bikers on the trail — they were all working on it!

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of the Red Box – Bear Canyon – Switzer’s Loop. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Some related posts: Bear Canyon Loop – 2021, Red Box – Bear Canyon Loop Plus Brown Mountain, Bear Canyon Loop Plus Strawberry Peak

Canyon liveforever (Dudleya cymosa) in Bear Canyon.
Canyon liveforever.
Paintbrush along the Gabrielino Trail between Switzer's and Red Box.
Paintbrush along the Gabrielino Trail.

Strawberry Peak Summit Loop – Spring 2023 Update

The northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak just before the Class 2-3 rock climbing segment.
The northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak just before the Class 2-3 rock climbing segment.

Usually, I prefer to start the Strawberry Peak Summit Loop at the Colby Canyon Trailhead on Angeles Crest Highway. But it had been a while since I’d done the loop from Clear Creek, and I was feeling a little nostalgic. One of the aid stations for the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment race is at Clear Creek, and the course climbs Josephine Fire Road.

I was also curious how my time to Josephine Saddle using the fire road would compare to the direct route up the Colby Canyon Trail. As it turned out, at a moderate pace it was about the same either way.

Foliated rock along the use trail to the northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak
Foliated rock along the use trail to the northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak

The use trail up from Josephine Saddle was in decent condition. It looked like it may have recently had a snip here and there. Part way up the path, an outcrop on the ridgeline provides a good warmup for the climbing higher up. The circuitous path eventually ends at the base of the steep, jumbled northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak. I was surprised to find two small patches of snow here.

It’s difficult to describe the route on the ridge since there are many variations. It’s not fear-mongering to say that people get into trouble on this section. A common comment about this segment is, “Don’t climb anything sketchy or difficult.” But what is an easy scramble for one person may be nearly impossible for another. With 50+ years of rock climbing experience, I still remind myself not to climb up anything I’m not 100% sure I can climb down. If you don’t have “real” rock climbing experience, go with someone that knows the route.

Snow on the NW side of Strawberry Peak on April 30, 2023.
Small patches of snow on the NW side of Strawberry Peak on April 30, 2023.

Following a wet, snowy, cold Winter, I took extra care while climbing. Solid holds and blocks can sometimes be loosened over the Winter and fail unexpectedly. This morning, I didn’t notice any obvious changes on the route I climbed.

The setting changes dramatically on the east side of Strawberry Peak. You go from the cool shadows of a steep, rocky face with (typically) no one around to a sunny, sandy, busy summit and trail.

As I approached the summit, a couple of people were setting up to do a video for a vlog. Another person had just reached the top, and another hiker wasn’t far behind. With snow in the high country, Hwy 2 still closed at Red Box, and the Bobcat Fire Closure still in effect, the trail up Strawberry was a popular option. The question of the day from the people coming up was, “How many false summits are there?”

Looking across the canyon to the Gabrielino Trail below Red Box, and Supercloud Canyon
Looking across the canyon to the Gabrielino Trail below Red Box, and Supercloud Canyon

Overall, the Strawberry Peak Trail was in reasonable shape. The trail needed a little work in a few places, but as far as mountain trails go, its condition was about what you would expect. In several places, the trail was carpeted with the remnants of old yucca leaves. Very nice!

Just before reaching Red Box, I snapped a photo of the snow on Mt. Baldy. At Red Box, all but one parking space was taken, and that one was snagged by an arriving car.

As I started down the Gabrielino Trail from Red Box, LASD Air Rescue 5 began to orbit overhead. Apparently, there had been yet another vehicle accident on Angeles Crest Highway. It wasn’t long until I heard the whaling sound of sirens coming up the canyon.

Upper Arroyo Seco at Switzer's Picnic Area.
Upper Arroyo Seco at Switzer’s Picnic Area.

Some trailwork had been done on the upper half of Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Switzer’s. Quite a few small trees and limbs had been removed from the trail, and the bushes trimmed. Most of the work (as of today) ended at mass of fallen trees halfway down the trail.

Upper Arroyo Seco was flowing. The sound of water plunging over the debris dams made the flow seem higher than it was. There were a couple of minor creek crossings.

Switzer’s was busy — as usual. To finish the loop, I walked up the stairs to the access road and hiked up to the start of Nature’s Canteen Trail. It was a bit overgrown, but I was back at Clear Creek in a few minutes.

Some related posts: Strawberry Peak Summit Loop; Plan B: Barley Flats; Strawberry Peak, Switzer’s and the Old Colby Trail

Condor Peak and Fox Mountain Adventure Run

Condor Peak from Fox Mountain
Condor Peak from Fox Mountain

The out and back trail run to Condor Peak (5440’+) and Fox Mountain (5033′) from Vogel Flat is an adventurous 17-mile, lower elevation run in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Exposed stretch of the Condor Peak Trail
Exposed stretch of the Condor Peak Trail

When I last did this run (May 2020), portions of the trail below Fox Mountain were washed out and overgrown. Later I learned that this was before the Condor Trail restoration project had been completed. Thanks to the hard work of the Lowlifes Trail Crew the trail has been brought back to life. Today, several groups — including hikers, bikers, and runners — were making their way to Condor Peak.

Hazy view of snow on Mt. Waterman and Twin Peaks from the Condor Peak Trail.
Snow on Mt. Waterman and Twin Peaks from the Condor Peak Trail.

As mentioned in my posts from 2007 and 2020, this adventure is best done when the weather is cool. It can really bake on the south-facing sections of trail. From the Vogel Flat Trailhead on Big Tujunga Canyon Road the trail climbs about 2600′ in 6 miles to reach Fox Divide. Much of this stretch is surprisingly runnable. As with most mountain trails, extra care is required because of steep drop-offs and other hazards.

Today, the trail was in the best shape I’ve seen in years. The weather was relatively cool and good for running. As has been the case in other low elevation areas, a colorful assortment of Spring wildflowers were blooming along the trail. With our copious Winter rain, two small streams were crossed on the traverse above Fusier Canyon. It’s hard to say how long they will last.

USGS Lidar-based 3DEP 1m contour map of Condor Peak
USGS Lidar-based 3DEP 1m contour map of Condor Peak

Condor Peak has twin summits. A register and summit sign currently reside on the west peak, but USGS 3DEP 1-meter Lidar-based data suggests the west and east peaks have virtually identical elevations – about 5441′.

This time, after climbing Condor Peak, I also climbed Fox Mountain. Although steep, it’s short, and doing Fox only added about 30 minutes to the total time.

Here are a few photos taken along the way. Additional info, photos, and an interactive map with 3D terrain can be found in the following related posts.

Some relate posts: Condor Peak Out and Back Adventure Run, Condor Peak Trail Run

Snow-Covered San Gabriel Mountains From Lasky Mesa

Snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains from Lasky Mesa in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch)

It had rained another inch overnight, and my shoes were soaked from the wet grass along the trail. Seeking some relief from the 20 mph northwest wind, I descended a single-track trail to an old paved road east of the ranch house on Lasky Mesa.

Motivated more by staying out of the wind than anything else, I did two sets of hill repeats on different sections of the road. Then, on tired legs, I jogged up to Lasky Mesa and was greeted by an Arctic blast. The temperature had dropped to the mid-40s, and the wind was blowing a steady 20 mph, gusting to around 30 mph. I didn’t need a wind chill chart to tell me the effective temperature was in the 30s.

I was so focused on dealing with the cold I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings. Deciding to do one more hill, I rounded a corner, and the brilliantly sunlit, snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains came into full view. It was just jaw-dropping!

Here is a wider view of most of the Front Range of the San Gabriels, white with snow.

Some related posts: Chasing Rainbows at Ahmanson Ranch, Looking for Snow on Topanga Lookout and Saddle Peak