Tag Archives: San Gabriel Mountains

Backpacking The Gabrielino Trail

Over Easter Weekend my friend and I decided to backpack the entire 28.5 miles of The Gabrielino Trail.  Our plan was to spend 3-4 days on the trail depending on our progress and energy levels.  We had a friend drop us off Friday afternoon at Chantry Flats where we started the first stretch of our hike to Spruce Grove Campground.

Gabrielino Trail Sign

This section of the hike was not new to us, having been down if before to go camping at Spruce Grove in the past.  When we got to the campground we found it fairly vacant, with only two other groups there.  We were pleased to see it so empty and picked ourselves a nice spot near a fire pit and table.

Spruce Grove Trail Camp

Shortly after we finished setting up camp one more fellow hiked in and set up next to us.  He was friendly and we chatted a while before going to bed.  The next morning we awoke to the clamor of day hikers.  We had a quick breakfast, packed up, and said goodbye to our new friend.  The section we were planning to hike this day was going to be from Spruce Grove to Valley Forge Trail Camp.  Our first goal of the day would be hiking over Newcomb Pass, something neither of us had ever done before.  It was a nice day out, and the climb up towards the pass was pretty gradual and had a good amount of shade.

We found a picnic table at the top of the pass which was nice.  We had a short break there, ate a couple CLIF BLOKS, then continued down the trail towards Devore Trail Camp.  On our way down from the pass we came across Rincon-Redbox Road where we lost the trail for a minute. It just took us walking down the road a bit to find where the trail picked up again.  There probably could have been a trail sign here to make it a little less confusing.

Gabrielino National Recreation Trail

We continued our way down to Devore where we came across two other backpackers that had just been there for the night and were now heading to Spruce Grove.  Bottoming out into Devore was real nice.  I had really been looking forward to checking out this trail camp as well as West Fork.

West Fork Trail Camp

There was only one couple camping there when we arrived.  We made note of how awesome and beautiful Devore was, picturing ourselves camping there sometime in the future.  Not today though, we continued onto West Fork.  The trail over this stretch is a gradual climb upstream with a lot of creek crossings.

By the time we got to West Fork Campground we were ready for another break and an actual meal.  When we arrived at the campground the whole place was very busy with campers and day hikers.  We chatted with one of the other backpackers camping there and shared a pot of ramen before we hit the trail again.  The trail became a little more uphill and also started becoming more exposed to the sun.  Some parts we hiked through were previously burned, so there were not a lot of tall trees to provide shade.

Maybe I was just getting tired, but it seemed like a long slog until we finally arrived at Valley Forge.  My feet were definitely hurting now and the first thing I did when I arrived was take my shoes off and lay down in a grassy field.  We only saw one group of guys hanging out at the campground but they left shortly after we arrived.  It looked like we were going to have the entire place to ourselves.

Valley Forge Trail Camp

This was my second time visiting Valley Forge.  The first time I hiked in from Red Box Junction for a quick one-nighter.  I didn’t mind being back; it’s a great little backcounty campground.  If you’ve ever been there before, you know there’s a little bridge across a small stream that leads you over to the “secret” campground.  While exploring the area we found out that we were not alone, and that some other folks had beat us to the “secret” spot.  It was a gorgeous day at the campground when we were there:  the grass was green, flowers were in bloom, and there were butterflies and ladybugs everywhere.  The whole area resembled a scene from a fairy-tale.

The next morning we headed out for Red Box where I had previously stashed some beers the weekend before.  After locating them in the hiding spot where I had tucked them away, we took a break near the visitor center at Red Box.  This is a great spot to stop for a break.

Red Box Junction

The visitor center at Red Box sells snacks and drinks, there is a potable water spigot, and also a payphone if you need to make a phone call.  We took full advantage of these conveniences.  It was nice to buy some snacks as we had not had a proper breakfast on this day.  I made a phone call to my family to let them know we were doing well, and finally we refilled our water packs.  With all that done, we started out for our next stop, Switzer Picnic Area.

Red Box Junction

This stretch of trail was all new to me.  A lot of was all expose, but down hill and well maintained.  It seems this section is popular among mountain bikers, so we had to watch out for them.

Although this section of the trail offered some great vistas, it was also in close proximity to the Angeles Crest Highway.  There was a lot of motorist noise along the trail here which wasn’t something we were used to hearing.  Despite the noise and getting hit by the sun, I mostly enjoyed this part of the trail.  I may not have liked it so much if I was coming uphill though!

Switzer Day Use Area

It was nice to finally cruise into the shaded tree canopy of the Switzer day use area.  We took another break here and had another one of our beers to lighten our loads a bit.  There were a lot of people at Switzer’s on this day (Sunday), which is not unusual for the weekend.  If you’ve ever visited this area you know how popular it can be on a nice day.  I was honestly happy to be hiking pass all the crowds and day-hikers back into the peaceful solitude of the mountains.

We passed by Comodore Camp, which really isn’t much of a campsite anymore.  It was a possible location for us to camp if we really needed to, but we had good energy and it was still early in the day.  At this point we were thinking we could either finish the rest of the trail today, or end up camping at Oakwilde if we got too worn out.

As we made our way down into the Arroyo Seco we came across a few obstacles.  The first one was where part of the trail was very washed out on the side of a hill and we had to be careful crossing the landslide so we wouldn’t end up down the hill.  At another part of the trail there were two large trees with dense branches which had fallen across the trail.  There was no good way to get around them without going all the way down into the steep gorge below.  We decided to climb over and through them, using the branches as a ladder.  Some parts of the tree I cut through with my Leatherman to make it easier to pass our gear through.  We had to hand our large packs over and through one by one.  Eventually we made it past that last obstacle and it was smooth sailing from there, however the long day was starting to take it’s toll on us.

Paul Little Picnic Area

We were hoping to take a break at Oakwilde Camp since we were starting to feel tired from the long day of hiking but we must have passed it because we never saw it.  I was a little disappointed we didn’t get to check out Oakwilde, but we decided to keep pushing onward despite being very worn out.  We finally made it to Paul Little Picnic Area where we had a well deserved break.  After one more break at Gould Mesa we pushed through the final part of the trail finally coming to it’s end near the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

We did this hike before the trail was officially completely opened.  There is a closed section of trail between Switzer and Paul Little Picnic Area.  The Gabrielino Trail is scheduled to be completely re-opened sometime in late 2018.

More pictures from this trip can be found here.


Camping in Cooper Canyon

A buddy of mine asked me if I wanted to go camping soon, and of course I was game. I looked up some trail camps in the local mountains that looked like they might be good for a short backpacking trip and finally decided on Cooper Canyon Trail Camp off the PCT. We drove out on Saturday morning, met up with some people in LA and drove up the 2 to Cloudburst Summit. The camp is about a 2.5 mile hike from the highway but we decided to take the trail up to Winston Peak first for a small detour.

It was a bit of a workout hiking straight up that small peak with our packs on, and coming down it wasn’t all that easier either. The other side of the peak descended sharply and had lots of lose gravel and rocks.

We started hitting our first large patches of snow here.

After coming down from Winston Peak we met up with the PCT trail and had a quick snack break.

After meeting up with the PCT the trail descended down into the canyon. This area was a beautiful place to hike through. I wanted to take like a million pictures.

It didn’t take long to eventually arrive at the trail camp. We were happy to find that the stream nearby was still running enough that we could use it as a water source.

We were also happy to see that no one else was occupying the campsite so we had it all to ourselves! What, no one else wants to camp in the mountains in the middle of January??

After a quick lunch at the campsite we decided to take a day hike down to the nearby falls before it got too late in the day. We took the PCT/Silver Mocassin Trail from camp down about a mile where we spotted the top of the falls.

It took us a second look to figure out how to get down to the falls but we eventually found a trail that led down to a spot where someone had installed a convenient rope (that was actually in good condition).

There was a good amount of water still coming down the falls, but I’m sure it was nothing compared to what it would look like in springtime.

After hanging around the falls a while we decided we should head back to camp to set up our tents before it started to get dark. I took my time getting back to camp taking a bunch of pictures on the way; I really loved this area.

By the time we got back to camp it had already started to get chilly so we started a small fire in one of the stone stoves. It was nice to have something to warm your hands over.

Before the sun went down we had camp set up pretty well. The sky during sunset was awesome looking from camp.

As night rolled around it started getting quite cold, but of course by this time we already had a nice campfire roaring to keep us warm as we stayed up into the night.

The moon and stars were everything I would expect from a crisp, clear mountain night.

In the morning we restarted the fire for some warmth. We could tell the temperatures dropped below freezing as some of our water that was left out froze over night.

The morning sun peaked through the trees as we readied breakfast and coffee.

After downing our hot coffee and getting down on some excellent breakfast we packed up and headed out. We decided to take a cross-country route up out of the canyon.

It was a little strenuous but we eventually met up with a forest service road which took us back to the trailhead at Cloudburst Summit. Below is the GPS track to the camp, the falls, and back to the trailhead.

A Snowy Icy Hike up Mt. Baden-Powell

Saturday morning a few friends and I cruised up to Vincent Gap off Hwy 2 to hike Mt. Baden-Powell. We noticed a lot of snow patches still lingering in the mountains and hoped we wouldn’t hit too much snow on the trail since we were not quite prepared for it. Despite the possible snow and ice we might encounter, we hit the trail with high hopes.

This trail quickly gained elevation and started giving us great views right away. It was a great day to be hiking in the mountains.

It wasn’t long on the trail until we started encountering icy patches of snow that were very slippery if you walked on them. We did our best to walk around these areas but in some cases it was not possible so we had to tread carefully over them.

Eventually the icy snow patches started becoming more frequent the further we got up the trail. Walking over snow and ice started to become the norm. We ran into a solo hiker who was coming back down the trail and said he was turning back due the large amounts of ice on the trail. We decided to push onward.

Some areas we just decided to cut straight up the mountain through large blankets of snow to avoid the icy parts on the trail. Although very tiring, this approach worked out quite well for us and was better than traversing across the slippery ice.

The views got excellent as we climbed higher.

We kept following tracks in the snow up the mountain. It started becoming a very exhausting climb through the snow but we gradually drew closer to the summit.

Since we were without proper snow gear, a few of us ended up with soaked shoes and socks; the only thing keeping our feet warm was the movement we got from hiking. We trudged along and finally made it to the Mt. Baden-Powell PCT Junction; now there was just a little ways to go until we reached the summit.

The last leg of the trail to the summit was windy and cold, but with less ice and snow which was nice.

There were a couple small switchbacks right before the summit. It was nice walking up and having the Boy Scout Monument and summit register come into sight.

Now it was time for some well deserved summit snacks.

It was pretty nice on the summit, not to cold or windy, and the air was clear so the views were great. We could see all the way to downtown LA.

Since we had a time constraint we didn’t spend too much time on the summit. After finishing our snacks and signing the summit register we started our decent back down.

The trip took us about 5 hours all together. In retrospect we realized we should have came prepared for snow and ice, but the hike was still a lot of fun despite being ill-equipped.

Hiking Mount Baldy

I thought it would be good to start the new year off with a day hike up Mount Baldy. I conjoined with some friends in Ontario and we made our way up towards the mountains. On the way I got a call from my buddy Eric who got a late start but said he would meet us on the summit. We parked at the trailhead near Manker Flats, geared up, and hit the trail around 8am.  There were still some icy patches near the trailhead.

It was a cold morning in the mountains which made for some good hiking weather. We made our first stop at San Antonio Falls and then continued up the trail. We were planning on going up the Ski Hut Trail but we ended up missing the trail junction so we continued on the road that leads up to the Mt. Baldy Ski Lodge.

We took a quick break near the ski area and then headed up towards the Devil’s Backbone Trail. As we headed up we could see there was a good amount of snow in the mountains near the ski area.

We started coming across more patches of snow and ice at this point but nothing that would impede us.

It was a little cold and windy at some points up on the ridge.

We quickly made our way across the Devil’s Backbone which had a few patches of snow and ice.

Then we headed past Mt. Harwood and drew closer to Baldy.

As we got closer to the final climb to the Mt. Baldy summit I saw a red speck in the distance in front of us on the trail. I thought, hey that is probably Eric!

When we made it to the summit my suspicions about the tiny red spec were confirmed. Eric had taken the ski lift up to Baldy Notch and had been in front of us the entire time. We had some snacks on the summit and took the obligatory group summit picture.

It was a nice day to be on the summit; not too cold or windy and with clear views all around.

We decided to make our decent on the Ski Hut Trail since we missed it on our way up. There were a lot of patches of ice in the shady sections of the trail on the way down we had to negotiate. There was one point were I slipped on some and only caught myself from tumbling downhill on a large tree that I ran into.

When we made it to the Sierra Club Ski Hut we found that it was open (even though it was a Monday) and we were able to go inside and check it out.

The inside of the hut was a lot roomier than I had imagined and had an upstairs area with a bunch of bunk beds. Downstairs there was a kitchen area with a wood burning stove and a sink which continuously ran with mountain spring water (no need to filter). This was nice since I needed a refill on water.

After chilling out at the hut for a little bit we hit the trail again and returned to the trailhead near Manker Flats. The hike took us around 7 hours all together. It was an awesome day to hike Mount Baldy and was even cooler that we were able to meet up with Eric on the summit.

Lewis Falls & Crystal Lake

Monday I headed up highway 39 with a group of friends for a short hike to Lewis Falls.  I had recently read about this hike on Modern Hiker and thought it would be good for us to do since we didn’t have a lot of time.  When we arrived at the trailhead we noticed a large boulder in the middle of the road and other large rocks and debris that had fallen down near where you were supposed to park.  We took this as a warning to park our vehicles a little further down the road.  The last thing I want when I return from a hike is a smashed car.

The trail was nice and pretty easy to follow for the first half.  It followed a creek and passed by some old cabins.  Some of the cabins looked in good repair and some were in ruins.

When we started to lose track of the trail we just kept following the creek upstream. There were some areas where we had to climb up rocks and cross the stream on a large fallen log which was kind of fun.

When we arrived at the falls we discovered a grip of folks there which explained all the cars at the trailhead. We hung around the falls for a bit and then quickly made our way back out.  This was definitely a short hike.

Since the hike took less time than we thought we decided to hop in our vehicles and drive a little further up the 39 and hike to Crystal Lake.  We found a spot to squeeze into and park and took another short hike to the lake.

The water level in the lake seemed low but there were still a lot of people there hanging out around the shore and I even saw a couple people fishing. It was the first time I had been to the lake and I felt like it would be a cool spot to kick back with a few brewskis, but it might be better to come around springtime when the lake is fuller.

Be sure to check out http://crystallake.name for updates and info about the Crystal Lake area if you plan on visiting.