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Echo Mountain previously climbed Sat, Jun 25, 2011|
Mt. Deception previously climbed Sun, Jan 14, 2007
Tom Becht had been hiking HPS peaks since before I first knew him more than six years earlier, though at the time he knew little to nothing of the list or the other Sierra Club peak lists that I had become well versed in. He had joined us for a few days of the 2006 Sierra Challenge and that winter I climbed some peaks with him and other in the San Gabriels, his home turf. They were the first of many as I was pursuing the HPS list and would drag Tom along whenever he would let me. We did DPS peaks with similar frequency and some Sierra ones outside the Challenge as well. All this time I was educating (some might call it brainwashing) Tom as to the great importance of these lists. Eventually Tom noticed that he had been to quite a few of the HPS summits, enough to incentise him to pursue the rest of the list, even without my assistance or encouragement. The "training" had taken.
Six years later Tom was ready to wrap up the few remaining peaks. Illness and bad weather hampered several efforts to complete three of the harder ones in Santa Barbara County, but he eventually powered through it. That left him with two easy summits near Mt. Wilson, Occidental Peak and Mt. Deception. He planned to hike these the hard way, starting from the base of the mountains in Altadena which makes for more than 5,000ft of gain. But it was designed to allow others to share in the celebration with a far easier approach starting from Mt. Wilson Road. In order to make sure things would go smoothly, Tom went up a week before to scout the route across the summit of Occidental and groom the less frequently used route from the west. He found it far more difficult than most folks would appreciate and ended up climbing over the summit to remove it from the finale. So he was left with just Mt. Deception when it came time to gather for the list finish on a Saturday morning after Christmas.
There were seven of us at the end of Lake Ave in Altadena around 7a. Tom had brought Zeus and Loki, two of his most loyal hiking partners, to join us. The weather report had a 60% chance of rain and snow which did not portend well. It was heavily overcast and looked like it could start raining within the hour. Our delayed start was due to our waiting for an eighth to show, Tina, who was running late. We ended up starting shortly before 7:30a before Tina had arrived - we couldn't wait too long since we needed to meet others who would be joining us a few hours later up by the Mt. Wilson Rd.
The Sam Merrill Trail is very popular and today was no exception even with the uncertain weather. Runners with an early start were already finishing up as we were just beginning. I was thinking these guys were pretty smart. I carried a day pack with extra clothing and gloves, expecting snow and cold, but I didn't know if the others had done likewise. Some were Tom's work friends who may not have known exactly what they were getting into. They would find out in due time. Fifteen minutes up the trail we got word via cell phone that Tina was on the trail making her way swiftly to catch up with us. Because the trail switchbacks steeply up the hillside initially, it was not hard to scan the trail below. Tom spotted her dressed in dark clothing making quick progress - up the wrong trail. She had turned north at the wrong fork and was making her way to a dead end near a covered reservoir in Las Flores Canyon. She was too far to hear someone shout from above, but the problem was soon resolved with a cell phone call to redirect her to the right trail. Once we saw her on it we continued up.
We took a little over an hour to reach Echo Mtn, our first stop. To start the celebration, I pulled a small bottle of Jose Cuervo margarita from my pack. The cold weather had kept it nicely chilled and it didn't last long when passed amongst us. While waiting for Tina to catch up, some of us hiked the short distance out to the point on Echo Mtn that used to house the tram building and all sorts of other recreational sites. There are still some pieces of gear left from the tram, but mostly just a lot of signs showing what used to be here. Once we had regrouped, we started up the Castle Canyon Trail. I was trailing most of the group on this segment, hanging back with Tina and Erin in the rear guard. Around 9a the first snowflakes began to fall and within twenty minutes they were beginning to collect on the foliage, the hillside and the trail. By 9:40a our group had reached the lookout at Inspiration Point with the snow falling harder, colder and getting close to whiteout conditions with perhaps half an inch of snow on the ground. Everyone was putting on more jackets, hats and gloves. Tom somehow persisted in just shorts. I was colder just looking at him. Glenn and I didn't have waterproof jackets so we got out our dollar plastic rain ponchos to help keep us dry. They look silly, but they work. I had three layers on under mine with one more in my pack. It could get a little colder, but not much. We shared a second bottle of Jose at Inspiration Point before continuing up.
We took the Mt. Lowe West Trail for almost an hour. There was more than an inch of snow on the ground when we passed by the spur trail to Mt. Lowe's summit. It had been planned as the third stop but nobody was interested in the extra diversion now. We had the third bottle of Jose on the trail at the junction and pretended to be taking in the sweeping views the summit affords. We next stopped at a saddle just north of Mt. Markham around 10:50a. This was where we were to meet the less-ambitious crowd looking for the "easy" hike to Mt. Deception. There was no easy hike to anywhere today. Laura, wearing her signature moose hat, came out from under the cover of a tree to greet us warmly. "Where are the others?" Tom asked. "What others?" was her reply. The snow had closed the Angeles Crest Hwy sometime earlier. Laura had gotten lucky by arriving early before crews had closed access. There was some small discussion on what we should do. We were still a mile away from Mt. Deception. Our little outing had come to resemble the sort of outing found in the far north, not our cozy Southern California. The original plan called for more than just Laura to meet us here, followed by a nice picnic celebration, then a carpool to get us all back down to the start. Now we had only one vehicle and nine of us standing about. At least some of us would have to hike all the way back to the start. Erin was the first to make the connection that if she had to hike back down, she had little interest in continuing to the summit no matter how far it might be. Tom suggested we could all go back and do the finish another day, though I don't think that was his first choice. When someone asked me what we should do, I confidently replied, "Go to the top, of course!" I didn't care if we had to hike all the way back down. Erin cared, and made this pretty clear. She was not having so much fun anymore and quickly had four like-minded supporters. It was decided that the five would head back down while Tom, Laura, Glenn and myself would continue on with Zeus and Loki. We'd figure out how to fit us all in Laura's already stuffed Element when we were done.
Tom had thought we'd only a mile to go but it turned out to be twice that and it would take us more than an hour. We followed a trail north to a saddle between San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment where we started following a road downhill that would lead past Mt. Deception. With three inches of snow now on the ground, we quickly found the road had a thin layer of ice over the asphalt as one by one we took turns slipping and falling on the ice. Sometimes the feet would fly out in front and land you on your posterior. Other times you might fall sideways or face first. We all fell multiple times with the exception of Zeus and Loki who were at an advantage with their quadripedal locomotion. We laughed whenever someone else fell but instinctively screamed out when we fell ourselves. I suppose we were lucky that no one was seriously injured. We took to hiking on the side of the road where the ice was absent where we could, but the person out in front was always at peril of discovering the next patch of hard ice hiding under the snow cover.
We eventually found our way to the east side of Mt. Deception where a use trail led up from the road along a tree-lined ridgeline. The snow made an otherwise simple climb a bit treacherous as we had to be careful to keep from slipping and tumbling down the slope. Around noon we found ourselves at the apparent summit among a tangle of barren trees, but finding no cairn nor register, we were not at all sure. We explored a bit further west before concluding it must have been the summit. Returning, we spent a frigid few minutes passing around the last Jose Cuervo bottle and snapping a few "victory" photographs. Having removed my hands from my gloves to perform these tasks as well as to put on my last layer of clothing, I now discovered my fingers to be half-frozen and began swearing up a storm when I found it difficult to get them back into the gloves. The others found this somewhat amusing and though I didn't find it particularly funny at the moment, I have no doubt it would have been the height of hilarity if the shoe had been on the other foot.
Somewhere along the way back up the road the snow let up for good. It seemed like only a lull, but that was the end of the precipitation for the day. We judged there to be about four inches total from the storm. We slipped and fell a few more times on our way back, but overall the uphill direction was much safer than downhill. We returned to the trail junction where we'd met Laura, then continued east through the Mueller Tunnel and back to Laura's car at the trailhead. We rearranged the contents to push as much stuff to the back compartment as we could, making room for Glenn, myself and the two dogs to sit in the back. Zeus and Loki had performed admirably the entire day. No food, no water, no warm clothing, no gloves and no complaints. Though they tired at the end, they seemed to enjoy it tremendously. They were certainly tougher than most humans.
Laura insisted that she could put on chains faster without our help, and the three of us in the car who were trying to warm up were happy (but guiltily so) to let her. Laura would also be the one to get out fifteen minutes later to remove them when the road was free of snow & ice. She drove us back down to the Angeles Crest Hwy where we found orange cones blocking the road where crews had stopped traffic early in the morning. After getting around these, Tom broke out a bottle of his mom's homebrewed hooch - a concoction of brandy and coffee and who knows what else, but it was the best damned tasting thing the rest of us had ever experience. It's entirely possible that alcohol and antifreeze or battery acid may have had the same effect on us, but we didn't let that concern us and praised Mom's moonshine even after the last drop had been consumed a few minutes later. "Was there any more?" we asked from the back seats. There was not.
But there was a damp but cozy celebration waiting for us back on Lake Ave where the others who had returned and those who had been unable to reach the upper trailhead had gathered. There was champagne, beers, rum cake and even non alcohol-related drinks, snacks and goodies. We spent several hours here reveling in our roadside party, to the partial amusement or annoyance (it was hard to tell) of passerbys and neighbors. Laura even broke out her propane coffee maker as the final touch as the party was winding down. Eventually the gathering of perhaps a dozen folks dwindle to just Laura, Tom and myself. It was time to call it a day. I would see both of them the next day for my own list finish in the Santa Monica Mountains. In the meantime, I headed to the west end of the San Fernando Valley to spend the night at my sister's home. Good times in SoCal...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Echo Mountain - Mt. Deception
This page last updated: Mon Oct 3 10:21:08 2016
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