Mon, Jun 28, 2010
We parked at the Griffith Observatory following the directions given in the LPC guide. The Charlie Turner TH is obvious from the north end of the lot, and we took this trail to the summit of Mt. Hollywood about a mile and half away. The trail passes by the Berlin Park, an ever-so-small park-within-a-park dedicated to one of Los Angeles's sister cities, consisting of a few picnic benches shaded by some thirsty pine trees atop a dirt-covered knoll. The trail passes over a tunnel we had driven through on our way in, then switchbacks up the southwest side of Mt. Hollywood. We chose several of the well-worn shortcuts up the steep South Ridge on the right side of the switchbacks that probably cut off close to half a mile along the trail.
Atop the summit we saw almost nothing in the way of views due to lingering noontime fog. The Hollywood sign is located several miles away on Mt. Lee, but not visible to us at this time. Ryan sat on the perimeter fence continuing to look dejected. Mt. Hollywood and the other peaks we would visit are located within Griffith Park, described as the largest urban wilderness park in the country. I have no idea what they mean by wilderness because there was almost nothing I would have judged to go by that term. Large as it is, there's few places where one can't see and hear traffic down below in the surrounding communities. The park is criss-crossed with paved and dirt roads with a good deal of development dating back almost a hundred years. Most of the buildings were removed though foundations still exist and there is an antennae complex atop Mt. Lee. The area is very popular with hikers, joggers, equestrians and mountain bikers. But "wilderness" must be very loosely applied here.
The sky slowly began to clear as we continued from the summit along the Ridge Trail towards Mt. Lee. Ryan began to come out of his funk as we plied this undulating crest with views the whole way though the haze was very relunctant to clear. The famous Forest Lawn cemetery could be seen sprawled down below on the north side of the park. Ryan mistook it for a golf course, so green were it's many subdivisions.
We landed on the paved road heading up to Mt. Lee, following this nearly to the top until we came to a fence clearly marked for trespassers. Ryan took notice at this point and was having more fun as we slipped behind the fence and started up to Cahuenga Peak. It was only another ten minutes along a well-defined use trail to the summit, the highest in the park. Thankfully the summit was free of any signs of development. At one time Cahuenga Peak was part of a parcel owned by Howard Hughes who wanted to build a mansion retreat for himself and then girlfriend Ginger Rogers. Ginger apparently balked at the idea and Tommy Lee would not give Howard access to his property via the road to Mt. Lee, killing the project. The only think of note we found at the summit was a battered benchmark. Bothersome flies drove us off the summit after just a few minutes.
Now for the interesting part, we thought. Dropping back down off Cahuenga, we stayed on this side of the fence when we returned to the Mt. Lee Rd. We moved over to the south side and looked for a way to hike down to the Hollywood sign about 100ft below us on that side of the mountain. The first use trail we attempted was too far to the west and ended in a clump of brush. We climbed back up and were in the process of searching out a better one when we heard a voice from a loudspeaker, "CLIMB BACK UP AND RETURN TO THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE!" I looked up and spotted a City of Hollywood police cruiser not 30 yards from us uphill on the Mt. Lee Rd. How did I miss that? He must have been watching from higher up the hill. Dutifully we walked back along the fenceline until we reached the use trail that does an end-around past the fence, while the police car stayed in its place, no more words from the bullhorn. It looked like we were just getting a warning, no citation.
Undaunted, I still wanted to climb to the top of Mt. Lee which would mean going by the patrol car. I figured we'd go ask the officer to make sure it was ok before hiking up to the end of the road. I motioned to Ryan to follow me, but he was reluctant and wanted no part. I motioned a second time and indicated it was not really something Ryan had a choice in, and so he followed at a short distance. It turns out the officer wanted no part of such a conversation either. When he saw me walking directly towards him, he started up his car, drove right by us, turned around at a wide spot just below and then drove back up past us and into the gated communications area near the summit. I found it highly comical. I imagine he figured I was going to come up and give him grief for not allowing us to visit the Hollywood sign close-up. He'd probably heard such whining more times than he cared and only wanted to do his job - without personal interaction, if he could help it. It reminded me of a similar scene many years earlier when a friend and I were out driving somewhere beyond the legal blood-alcohol limit. Steve got pulled over for throwing a beer bottle out the window (he had targeted a road sign, missing it in the over-the-hood toss with the left hand, a skill he had developed in his teens in the backwoods of Illinois). I had been shocked that Steve would challenge the officer to produce any evidence (he had gone back and looked at the wrong place on the road) and the two of them spent something like 20 minutes discussing it, all the while the officer was writing a ticket and checking on Steve's license and car plates for anything outstanding. The officer had even asked Steve if he had been drinking, to which Steve replied, "Yes, a few hours ago," but the officer must have thought him too sober to fail a breath or urine test (he would have failed miserably). After Steve came back to his car where I lectured him on arguing with the police officer, Steve suddenly recalled something else he wanted to bring to the officer's attention and went back for more discussion, against my pleading. The officer had had his fill of Steve by this time and simply rolled up his window when he saw Steve approach, and drove away. But I digress.
I was happy to find the highpoint of Mt. Lee was actually outside the fenced area at the west end near the road's terminus. There was a small survey marker at the summit which afforded a fine view of the backside of the Hollywood sign. The officer was outside his patrol car again inside the fenced area, peering over the side and looking for more trespassers. Several more times on the hike back we would here the bullhorn warning to other intruders, even though we were more than a mile away.
After hiking back down from Mt. Lee, we took a slightly different route back, following one of the old paved roads no closed to most vehicle traffic. We came across more hikers and cyclists on this route as well. It was slightly longer, but involved less undulations and elevation gain and took a little more than an hour to return to Griffith Observatory. Ryan was happy and having a good time by the time we returned to the van, and was even happier when we stopped for victory snacks on the way home. It was his first brush with the law and somewhat thrilling. He probably would have been even more scared if he hadn't been with his dad. And so continues Dad's bad lesson-teaching. Of course I didn't share with him the story of driving with Steve (at least until he reads this someday). And for the curious, yes, it's the same Steve.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Mt. Hollywood - Cahuenga Peak
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