Fox BM P300 HPS
Condor Peak P500 HPS
Peak 5,162ft P300
Iron Mountain P500 HPS
Mt. Lukens P1K HPS

Sun, Feb 19, 2006

With: Matthew Holliman
Glenn Gookin

Fox BM
Condor Peak
Iron Mountain
Mt. Lukens
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2

There was more snow and more cold weather that fell through the night. Not much snow, but the temps were cold, hovering just above freezing as Matthew and I drove from my sister's place in Santa Clarita out to Glendale where we were to meet up with Glenn. It was overcast, drizzly, and not altogether inviting. We had canceled the more ambitious plans we had made earlier, setting our sights considerably lower for some HPS peaks north of Tujunga Canyon in the western Angeles National Forest. Our plan was to hike up the Condor Peak Trail as far as we could in the day, tagging Fox, Condor, Iron, and Gleason along the way - the last one would be a stretch. The good news was the road was opened and paved - getting to the trailhead would be easy enough.

After first missing our TH and driving several miles past it, we backtracked and found the starting point shortly after 7a. After an initial climb, the trail leveled off and actually started downhill, as it traversed along the hillside not far above the road - not what we had expected. Later we found that if we had read the maps more carefully, we could have started at Big Tujunga station and shaved at least half a mile off the trail. Not long after we started the traverse the drizzle turned to rain. I stopped to put on all my rain gear while the others went ahead, but I soon caught up with them doing likewise while huddled under some overhanging branches trying to keep dry. It was sad and dismal-looking, there was no denying it. Yet I did. Matthew and Glenn were ready to throw in the towel, but I persisted. I can't even say I tried to reason with them since reason would have dictated a retreat, so instead I tried to appeal to that common being that the three of us shared - a love of suffering. This wasn't the sort of suffering they had in mind, they explained. Still I wouldn't give up. Maybe the rain will stop. Maybe it will turn to snow. In part I think they didn't want to admit defeat from a peak barely 5,000ft in height, and partly (maybe mostly) because they wanted me to shut up, but they agreed to give it ten more minutes. I had no expectations that things could be appreciably different in ten minutes, but what the hell - at least they gave me that.

After traversing around until we were above Big Tujunga Station, the trail finally began the long climb we had expected all along. Ten minutes came and went, and thankfully no one reminded me. Though the rain had subsided it was still drizzling. We hiked across a few fern gullies that I tried to imagine were far more exotic and tropical-like than they really were. Clouds billowed above and around us, sometimes giving us a view across the canyon, but always blocking the summits including the one we were heading towards. After an hour and a half, the rain began to slowly change to snow as we climbed above the 3,500-foot level. Ah - something to look forward to. Before long there was no more rain and just the gentle falling of flakes. The ground took on tints of white, and above us we could see that the snow was more substantial. The others were no longer threatening to turn back or complaining. Not that I could have heard their complaints - the two of them were several hundred yards out in front of me keeping a much brisker pace than myself. I felt like the old dog trying to keep up with the fitter youth.

By 9:45a we had reached the turnoff to Fox Mtn, and made our way up the steep firebreak towards the summit. There was 2-3 inches of snow on the ground as we remarked that we never expected to be mountaineering on a 5,000er. The summit was just above the bottom of the cloud layer so we had almost no views. We took a few photos through breaks in the clouds below, signed into the register, and had a quick snack. As soon as we had returned to the trail 400ft below, the clouds parted enough to leave the summit in blue skies. We could only laugh.

It took another hour to reach the summit of Condor Peak. It has two summits separated by a short walk between them, and we found the register under a cairn on the slightly higher summit further to the west. Though Condor was higher than Fox, we were no longer in the clouds, the weather was giving us a bit of a break. Iron Mtn was higher still, further to the north, and I was eager to head off towards it. Unbeknownst to me, Matthew and Glenn were ready to call it a day, not particularly interested in going further to Iron. They thought we were going to discuss it when we got back off Condor's summit and onto the trail, but the discussion never happened. I had jogged on down from Condor ahead of them to get a picture of them on the ridge, then I just kept going to Iron. As I had the car keys, they reluctantly followed.

It took another hour to reach Iron's summit, the last half mile up the steep southern ridgeline starting from the trail. I had expected the others to catch up the whole way, but they never did. When we regrouped at the summit, the first thing they commented on was my undemocratic decision to keep going. They weren't exactly mad, but they didn't seem so happy either, and I wasn't too successful at pleading innocence. I thought the views were grand, getting better as we surmounted each higher peak in the chain. We could see to Santa Clarita, the Mojave Desert, and portions of the LA Basin. All the hills around us were wintery white, and even the clouds looked less menacing and more picturesque. The others seemed to feel otherwise. "I guess this means Gleason's out of the picture, eh?" I commented. They didn't bother with a reply, but their feigned laughs suggested it was out of the question.

We started talking about the return and another trail we had seen just before leaving the Condor Peak Trail to head for Iron Mtn. It had stuck in my mind because it had an odd name, the Trail Canyon Trail. Matthew's map showed this to be a shorter return to Tujunga Canyon Road, only about five and half miles, and best of all it was all downhill. The only downside was that it would leave us still three miles away from the car once we got to the road - nonetheless, it seemed better than taking the Condor Peak Trail back with its up and down sections.

When we got back down to the junction, we decided to start jogging as we had the day before. Right away I knew Matthew would beat Glenn and I down which seemed like a good thing - only one of us had to hike/thumb back up the road to our car. I offered to carry Matthew's pack if he'd go back to get the car, but he declined. I got him to pause long enough to give him the car keys, then off he went. Glenn and I descended together, a mostly pleasant trail, down through the snow, then into lusher region in the canyon bottom where a delightful creek ran underfoot and sycamores, oaks, and other trees towered above. There were even some wildflowers already out in bloom. There was also a good deal of poison oak, in many places crowding the trail. We started running into a few people when we were halfway down the canyon, then more and more as we neared the trailhead. It was a bit after 2p when Glenn and I sat ourselves down along side Tujunga Canyon Road and waited for Matthew's return. I took my boots off to dry my feet while we sat there soaking up the warm sun - what a change from the dismal weather earlier in the day. Matthew drove up about 20 minutes later and we all piled into the van and headed back to Glendale.

Back at the grocery store parking lot, I tried to talk the others into one more peak - Mt. Lukens. Matthew declined, preferring to do some scouting for a place to live since he planned to move down this way in a few months. Glenn took me up on the offer, so the two of us drove out to nearby Dunsmore Canyon to give it a go. We found the HPS written directions didn't exactly match up with the marked map from their site, and the trails have been reworked from what is shown on the topos. We got a bit lost, but with only a short stretch of backtracking, eventually found our way. We took a trail north out of Dunsmore Canyon and into Cook Canyon. This narrower side canyon is one of the more interesting features around this peak, a beautiful fern-filled canyon with steep walls and a pretty stream running down the middle. The trail follows the stream only a short distance before it climbs out of the canyon and onto a ridge to the west. Our map showed a firebreak to be followed, but a newer trail eases the grade and increases the length of the route to where it meets up with the Mt. Lukens Road. We then followed the dirt road dutifully to the summit where we arrived shortly before sunset around 5:30p. There were some techicians at the communications installations at the summit, along with their families - giving the latter a chance to play in the snow while the former got some work done. Clouds enveloped us while at the top so we were denied any views - not fifteen minutes after we'd started descending the clouds would depart. We found the summit register at a false summit a few hundred yards to the southeast as directed by the HPS instructions. It had only been there about a year, mostly with HPS signatures - seems the registers don't last long on this popular peak.

Having spied another trail south of the peak during the ascent (one that wasn't shown on our map) we took a bit of a chance to head for that one to make a loop out of it. It looked like it headed back down to Dunsmore Canyon, but we weren't entirely sure. The worst we figured was we'd have a five mile walk through Glendale if it took us down the wrong way. Happily, it went right were we hoped it would. Sunset came while we were still high on Mt. Luken's Road, and darkness followed after we'd found the turnoff and were halfway down the trail. We got out our headlamps and finished the last half hour in dark. It was actually a very enjoyable descent, watching the city lights slowly take hold of the evening. Glenn and I both agreed it was the best of the four peaks we summited that day.

The next day I drove myself out to Frazier Park with the intent of climbing a few HPS peaks in the Lockwood Valley area of the Los Padres NF. For the first time in days the skies were sunny with only a few hints of clouds. It seemed like it ought to make for a fine day except that the temperatures were quite cold. It was below 20F when got to Frazier Park, and while I drove the additional 10 miles to Lockwood Valley (elev ~4,000ft), the temperature dropped steadily until it was a frigid 9F when I got to the trailhead. I have only been in temperatures that cold once before in my life and the memories were all unpleasant, to put it mildly. I got out of the car only briefly to confirm my expectation that I would turn cold within minutes, and decided to save myself the suffering for mundane peaks, and drove back to San Jose.

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