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Monrovia Peak, a prominent summit on the south side of the San Gabriels, is visible from much of the LA metropolitan area on a relatively clear day. It seemed like a stiff effort, some 5,000ft+ when climbed from the south out of Monrovia Mtn Park. "Route #1" in the HPS guide usually corresponds to the most frequently used route to a given summit, not so in this case. Turns out there is a mostly-driving route up from the backside that in combination with a special Forest Service permit (to unlock the gate), you can do it with only 600' of gain and a mile round trip. The latter choice seems rather wimpy, but that wasn't the reason I chose not to go that way. The fact is, I didn't get past Route #1 when I was perusing the guide and didn't know about it until later.
As I had the past two nights, I slept in the back of the van the night before the hike, this time choosing a dark and secluded residential street in suburbian Monrovia. It was a rather upscale neighborhood, and in order to not attract attention by parking in front of somebody's house, I found an unlit section of a steet without any homefronts. Though no homeowner called in my suspicious-looking vehicle, that didn't keep the Monrovia police from stopping by to check me out. Roused out of a dead slumber around 1:30a, for the second time in three nights the local law enforcement wanted to check in on me to see what I was doing. Several voices called out "Police!" and flashlights beamed through the windows like some out of Close Encounters. Fortunately they weren't there to perform experiments or mind probes on me. After a simple explanation they again left me be to sleep there the rest of the night. They certainly were a friendly bunch, but they don't let anything the least bit suspicious get by. I was actually a bit surprised that I hadn't violated some local ordinance by sleeping in the van.
I got up at 5:30a and did a short bit of driving to find a legal place to park near the entrance to Monrovia Mtn Park. The park doesn't open until sometime later, and a combination of somewhat confusing No Parking signs made it tricky for me to match the HPS guide to a legal parking spot. I eventually found one that only disallows parking on Wednesdays for street sweeping. Ah, the joys of urban hiking!
I started off by headlamp, but didn't need it for more than about 20 minutes. I was a bit nervous walking up the road because almost immediately I spotted a skunk crossing my path in my headlamp's beam. Hmmm. Do headlamps make skunks nervous? Is there more than one that I might startle? Getting sprayed by a skunk not only would end my hike in hurry, but it would be about the worst thing that's ever happened to me on a hike. Fortunately, I saw no more skunks.
I found the start of the "Bill" Cull Trail easily enough past the entrance kiosk. The quotation marks aren't mine, but part of the sign - apparently it might not be obvious to the casual hiker that Bill is just a nickname and his real name is William. I followed the trail to a sign that indicated a new trail was being considered for this area. A use trail led through the thicket behind the sign, a left turn off the main trail. This was the junction described in the guide, but it seems that either the sign wasn't there when the guide was written, or else it wasn't mentioned for liability reasons. In any event, I passed the junction and continued on the Bill Cull Trail for another half mile until I was convinced there were no other trail junctions.
Returning to the sign, I slipped into the brush and made my way through the small tangle of thicket. This soon emerged onto a less tangled trail that had much evidence of once being a real trail maintained at some time in the past. It had switchbacks and rock-reinforced embankments and also some erosion that probably accounts for it having fallen out of favor. The moderately heavy growth around the trail was my first clue that the route is not regularly used anymore as it doesn't seem to have been trimmed much in the past few years.
I followed this use trail up to a saddle and a junction with another little-travelled use trail, just north of Pt. 2,065ft. Here the trail contours to the northwest a short distance, with parts of the trail heavily eroded from slides. This lead to the ridge east of Clamshell Canyon, and from there the trail follows through an old firebreak heading directly up the ridgeline. Though steep, the trail was easy to follow as it was mostly knee-high grass and chaparral on the drier ridge. Fine views were to be had of Clamshell Canyon and the Mt. Wilson area to the west, Monrovia Canyon to the east, and the LA Basin behind me to the south.
I followed this minor ridge north for almost an hour and a half, gaining altitude at a steady clip. The ridgeline terminated with the first of three peaks on the main southwest-northeast ridge. Clamshell Peak is the lowest of the three, just off the Upper Clamshell Road (which offers an alternative route to the summit suitable for mountain bikes). I found a register here amongst some summit rocks, along with a bit of snow lingering from a few days previously. Most of the snow below 5,000ft had already melted, with just those places shaded on the northern exposures still having any coverage.
From Clamshell I hiked down the northeast side of the summit to the graded dirt road which I followed to the northeast for a little more than a mile. Where the road turns north to traverse the northwest side of Rankin and Monrovia peaks, I turned onto an easily found use trail which follows the ridgeline to the other two summits. I reached the summit of Rankin by 9:40a, finding not one, but two monuments to the Rev. Edward Payson Rankin for whom the peak was presumeably named. One of the monuments was placed in 1935 to honor the reverend's 90th birthday, which places his birthdate in 1845. I never did find any other information concerning the man in an online search a few days later (if anyone reading this knows of more, please point me to it). Monrovia Peak, the highest point on the ridge, is but a short distance from Rankin Peak, up and over an intermediate bump. The two peaks are nearly the same height.
By 10a I was on the summit of Monrovia Peak, with fine views all around. The Mt. Wilson area lies to the west, the Angeles Crest to the north, Mt. Baldy well to the east, and of course the ever-present LA dominating the views to the south. There were ample fresh bootprints in the thin snow around the summit of Monrovia which clued me into the existence of an easier approach I had missed. A large Sierra Club Party had just visited the previous day. I decided to make a large loop for the return, and the many prints made it trivial for me to follow the otherwise faint trail heading down the northeast side of the summit. Where the prints turned left off the north side of the ridge to the Rincon - Red Box Road a short distance below, I continued northeast down the ridge to intersect the road a bit further east.
I followed the road under two sets of high-voltage towers, then further to a saddle between Pt. 4,804ft and Pt. 4,750ft. Here I cut off half a mile of road travel by descending a steep gully a short distance to intercept the Clamshell Truck Trail (really just another graded dirt road) below. This was the most adventurous part of an otherwise tame outing. There were a few short waterfalls (dry at the time) to descend, all easy enough, but the thick bed of decaying vegetation made it a rather fun romp. In addition to a few rusty tin cans, there was other evidence of human presence in the gully including a well-worn tennis shoe.
Once back on the road, I alternately hiked and jogged my way back down to White Saddle (named, it seemed obvious, for the prominent white cliff found there. On the way to the saddle I passed a few mountain bikers who were heading up. Easy enough for hiking, it's a pretty stiff grade for biking and these guys were having no easy time of it.
From the junction at White Saddle I turned west, following the road down Monrovia Canyon. After about a mile I came to a junction with a sign indicating the Ben Overturff Trail was closed due to weathering. Had the sign not been there I might have just gone by, but now I was curious to find out how badly the trail had been damaged. It was a fairly nice trail as it turned out. It follows through shaded oak forests, crossing several streams that gurgled with fresh, clear water. Aside from some recent blow-down, there wasn't any washouts that I could find. That is, until I came to another sign that warned of narrow trail ahead. This was a really cool stretch of maybe 20 yards that follows along a surprisingly airy edge. At its narrowest it is no more than a foot wide, yet it drops sharply about 50ft on the southeast side, and almost as sharply about 40ft on the northwest side. The spit of land is all dirt from what I could tell, and it was amazing that it could support one's weight at all. I met up with an elderly gentleman a short way's past this section who was doing trail maintainance. He pointed out the new trail that was being constructed around the thin ridge section, and informed me that the trail used to be a good deal wider, but had eroded badly on the side facing the main Monrovia creek channel. It's almost too bad that this exciting bit of trail will be lost to obscurity, but I had to admit it wasn't terribly safe.
The rest of the hike was fairly uneventful as I rejoined the dirt road. It soon turned to pavement where it passed by a Boy Scout camp, and continues down to the defunct concrete dam at the base of Monrovia Mtn Park. I got back to my car at 1:15p, making for a 7hr outing. It took another 6hrs of driving to get back to San Jose. It had been an enjoyable and productive 4 days, visiting 14 peaks including 12 HPS ones.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Monrovia Peak
This page last updated: Tue Aug 23 11:52:02 2011
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