Sunday, June 28, 2009

Three Peaks in One Day...

...and One More the Night Before!!!

San Gabriel Mountains
Forest Road 3N17
Mill Creek Summit to Three Points
(and back again)

Okay, I'll admit it up front -- I cheated! Two of the four summits could be reached by driving, and the other two totaled approximately 2 mi round-trip. But it was a good workout for me, we got to shake down gear, and the driving helped break up the hiking as my feet learn to adapt to the idea of walking distances again.

Since we've each got new gear we want to try out before getting too far off the beaten path, my hiking buddy, DH, and I have all been interested in doing a simple night out under the stars with a bit of hiking the next day. The mountains in our backyard offer plenty of opportunities for that, so we set out on Friday after work to Mill Creek Summit, then headed east on Forest Road 3N17 toward Pacifico Mountain.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Pacifico Mountain
7,124' elevation

We had not gone very far on the dirt road before we had to pull out for passing traffic. "Are you headed to Pacifico?" the driver asked. "Because it's already full there." I glanced at the clock, incredulous: barely 6 p.m. "Maybe some of them aren't staying the night," I hoped aloud. "What's Plan B?" DH asked. "There is no Plan B; just find a place to camp," I told him.

The drive on 3N17 and up the Pacifico Mtn turnoff was terrific, with dropoffs and vistas that sent my hiking buddy scrambling to the opposite window to focus on the wildflowers that lined the road. But when we reached the summit of Pacifico, we found all the campground sites were indeed full. Full of amateur astronomers with telescopes! We had managed to pick a night when the waning crescent moon would be setting early, making viewing conditions up there ideal. We stopped at the bathrooms before circling the campground and heading back to the 3N17; and that was our summit (my second) of Pacifico Mountain!

Reaching the junction with the 3N17, we agreed to continue traveling east despite the fact ALL of our maps omit this one little section where we were heading. I had a pretty good idea where more campgrounds were, closer to the junction with Hwy 2. The sun was setting behind Mount Gleason to the west of us as we rolled slowly along the bumpy, rocky road.

When we reached the junction with Sulphur Springs Road, we turned left toward Sulphur Springs. It was nice to be on paved (loosely speaking) road again! Those trees with the yellow flowers were blooming everywhere, giving the appearance of fall colors in early summer. Then, before we could even make a move for a camera, a young buck appeared in front of us. We stopped to watch him; he chose a safe distance from which to watch us. We could see his mule-deer ears, and his small antlers, approximately 6 inches long (but no prongs yet).

We headed on toward the campgrounds at Sulphur Springs. But apparently the campground, which turned out to be a group one, is closed, due to the Arroyo-toad closure of the Littlerock Dam Recreation Area. Gates and fences across the road blocked further travel. We turned around and headed back the other direction on Sulphur Springs Road, knowing we would find campgrounds along Hwy 2 if not before then.

And sure enough, just as it was getting to be dusk, we found Horse Flats Campgrounds just past where I wanted to start the next day's hiking. We quickly snagged a spot, got a campfire going, and set up our deluxe air mattress beds. I changed into the gear I bought to wear for a week on our backpack: rainproof zipoff pants and an SPF 50 shirt. Everything felt comfortable. I slicked on some Cutter's stick and headed into the bugs to sit by the fire.

Not sleeping on the ground if I don't have to!
Click on any picture to see larger version.

B-52-sized bugs zipped by me, but the Cutter's did its job. As it got darker and cooler, I found I needed a sweatshirt to keep warm. We roasted beer brats over the fire and indulged in some absinthe while watching the stars come out. Before too long, I was eager to climb into my new mummy bag and check out its warmth!

I had a fairly unobstructed view of a good swath of the sky, so I entertained myself watching satellites and falling stars. All in all, I saw about 8 falling stars, including 2 or 3 that streaked brilliantly across much of the sky, before falling asleep.

I'm happy to report I like the new bag, a Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15 Long. My buddies report I look like an inch worm in it, as it perfectly cocoons me (and I would have to inch my way back up the mattress as I kept sliding down). I stayed warm all night, although I did wake up several times.

Toward morning, the coyotes came out and sang to us, calling to each other. One on the hill right behind us answered back, singing different tunes to communicate who knows what to the others. Impossible to sleep through; it was really cool, and something our hiking buddy had never experienced before!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

In the morning we had a quick, light, cold breakfast as we rapidly tore down camp. We threw everything into Big Blue, then jumped in and headed the opposite direction of where we wanted to go---we drove to the junction with Hwy 2 so we could say we had done the whole road; then turned around to measure the mileage to our first stop, Mt. Hillyer.

Mt. Hillyer
~6,200' elevation
1.5 mi roundtrip
300' elevation change
(avg. 7.5% grade)

It was 9:45 a.m. by the time we hopped out at Rosenita Saddle and pulled on our packs. The flowering yellow trees were thick here; I wish I knew their name! The trail started off wide and level, then begin climbing. It was a gentle enough grade that we could enjoy a leisurely hike. The air was still cool in the shady areas; it felt nice. Wildflowers were still out, particularly penstemmon. We took our time, my hiking buddy snapping pictures. I would've been snapping pictures, but someone who shall go nameless did not put the card back in my camera after a recent outing.

Strapping on the packs at the trailhead.

Fremontia (named for John Fremont), aka slippery elm.

The trail starts out fairly level and wide before beginning to climb.

The views were enjoyable from the trail, and we also liked checking out all the varied rock "sculptures" that littered the area. We checked out a little "summit" along the way; not the one we're looking for. We trudged on a bit further, looking for the landmarks given by our guide. By 10:30 a.m., we had reached the top and were having a summit celebration of jerky and trail mix.

The view as we climb.

Mountain wildflowers.

One view from atop Mt. Hillyer.

Looking down the side of Mt. Hillyer.

We explored the top a bit, but never found any summit register. After munching for a bit, we clambered about some rocks; then headed back down the trail. For some reason, I failed to note what time we left or what time we arrived back at the trailhead. Guess I was having too good a time to remember to take notes!

Whatever time it was, it sure felt good to climb into BB, blast the a/c, and DRIVE to our next destination...

Granite Mountain
~6,600' elevation
0.5 mi roundtrip
300' elevation change
(avg 23% grade)

Traveling further west on 3N17, we passed the turnoff for Pacifico Mountain and opted to not "summit" it again today. But we all agreed we wanted to return another time to camp there. Not far past the turnoff, we reached the junction with Forest Road 3N90; a road that goes past Granite Mountain (#1) and dead-ends at the summit of Round Top Mountain.

Less than a mile later, we were parking in a small saddle area and strapping on our packs again. We started up the trail at 11:55 a.m. Like Hillyer, this hike offered a 300' gain in elevation---only this time over a much shorter distance. We followed a deer trail up the steep side. We know it was a deer trail, 'cause we found the pellets to prove it!

Unlike Hillyer, this was no leisurely hike! I would pick my way up the loose path from shady spot to shady spot, resting every so many yards to catch my breath and let my leg muscles stop screaming so much. It was a slow trip!

And though it was hot, we were glad for the sunny day. Looking around us, we could see most of the trees had been "topped" at some point over their lives by lightning strikes. This area is renowned for lightning strikes causing forest fires.

Wonder why it's called Granite Mountain?

Lightning often strikes this peak.

We gasped our way up the last bit and reached the top at 12:20 p.m., 25 minutes after we started out. Wow, that was steep! We wondered how much butt-sliding we would do on the way back down. Then we settled in to a more lengthy summit celebration, breaking out our food and picnicking at the top.

Granite offered us a spectacular view of the dichotomy of this area: rugged wilderness one direction and arid desert the other. We enjoyed the view each direction, plus the little wildflowers in our picnic spot.

Looking east of Pacifico. You can see the 3N17 mid-photograph.

Looking toward Mt. Gleason from the top of Granite.

Looking southwest from Granite.

Dense and lush on the wilderness side.

Looking out at the Mojave desert side.

Picnic wildflower.

At 12:55 p.m., 35 minutes after we'd arrived, we packed up our picnic and started back down the deer path. I borrowed DH's walking stick for the steepest part; I wasn't interested in doing any sliding! A mere five minutes after we left the top, we were back at BB. Now that was a steep hike!

This time when we climbed in BB, I went ahead and pulled off my hiking boots and socks, then zipped off my pants to make shorts. I slipped into a pair of flipflops, pointed the a/c vents at my face, and off we went, headed for the next stop...

Round Top
~6,316' elevation

Like Pacifico, the summit of Round Top can be reached via a road that dead-ends at the peak. So we headed further south on 3N90, which turned out to be another really fun road filled with vistas and dropoffs and some good climbs. BB handled it all well; nothing like a good ol' Chevy engine and high clearance to get you there!

Although I hadn't planned on doing any more hiking, I did end up jumping out and exploring all the corners of the peak. It was a bit more hiking in flipflops than I had planned, but I enjoyed it.

Looking toward Mt. Wilson (towers visible).

We spent about 20 minutes at the top taking pictures and walking about, then piled back in and pointed BB the direction home. The road sure seemed shorter going out than coming in, and in no time at all, we were home and back to the heat. So not bad: three summits in one day. Even if I did cheat, I still got a workout!

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