Iron Mountain P500 HPS
Bonita Peak LPC
Occidental Peak P500 HPS
Mt. Deception HPS

Sun, Jan 14, 2007

With: Tom Becht
Augie Medina
Travis Linds

Iron Mountain
Occidental Peak
Mt. Deception
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2 3
Mt. Deception later climbed Sat, Dec 29, 2012


After two days of subfreezing temperatures, the weather was starting to break. It was still cold, but not so bad as previously. The plan was a climb of Iron Mtn, a 7,000ft+ effort that is considered the hardest summit to reach in the San Gabriels of Southern California. Tom Becht, Augie Medina, and Travis Linds were the only three to show up at the Heaton Flat TH by 7:30a. Rick, Ryan, and Glenn were no-shows. We didn't wait for them past the planned start time since they weren't exactly sure they'd be showing up for the day's fun. From the parking lot, Iron Mtn is visible to the northeast, not looking altogether that far off. Boy, how looks can be deceiving.

The first 15 minutes of the hike is along a dirt road from the parking lot to the Heaton Flat campground. There was ice in places on the road and it was quite cold in the shade, but once we started up the grade of the Heaton Flat Trail, we warmed quickly. By 8:15a we had reached the first saddle above Heaton Flat and welcomed the morning sun. We stopped here to remove our extra layers. I would be able to manage the rest of the day in just a tshirt.

From the saddle, the trail more or less follows the ridgeline connecting it to Iron Mtn. After another 30 minutes we topped out on a local rise (labeled "Bonita" on the map) where we got another view of Iron Mtn. It didn't seem to be getting much closer. I suspect the exceptionally clear air had something to contribute to that. Mt. Baldy dominated the eastern skyline while Rattlesnake Peak and Mt. Baden-Powell rose up to the west. They would be constant companions for the whole hike.

As we climbed higher along the trail we began to encounter lingering snows from the past few days. It was little more than a dusting at these lower elevations. It was 9:30a when we reached the trail junction at the saddle on Iron's south side. The other three left me at this point as they planned an alternative adventure doing some canyoneering in Allison Gulch. It was a technical affair involving several rappels, and turned out to have some tense moments rapping in freezing waters, dropping into similarly chilly pools. cold for my liking. They disappeared through a thin opening to what turned out to be an abandoned road to the Allison Mine on Iron's SW side. The road is heavily overgrown now and barely discernible as it traverses the hillside, but a thin use trail makes it passable. I continued up from the saddle, no longer on a maintained trail, but easily following a well-worn use trail. It becomes rather steep in places, and from this point on I had nearly continuous snow coverage. Happily there was no ice under the thin layer and I never needed the crampons I had stowed in my pack.

For whatever reason I thought I had climbed 2/3 of the distance to reach the saddle, and I thought I could reach the summit in a swift time of just over three hours. More deception. That was only the halfway point it seemed, as it took me a total of four hours before I finally topped out on the rounded summit at 11:30a. I found the regiser, signed in, and took a short break while I contemplated the Iron-Baldy ridge. I would have loved to do the traverse over Mt. Baldy to Manker Flat, but hadn't arranged a shuttle to either get me back to Heaton Flat or get my van over to Manker Flat. The snow on the ridge was continuous and would certainly slow me down. Had I started some three hours earlier I might have been able to make it to Baldy and back (an even more ambitious outing that Rick Graham and Rick Kent had each already done on separate occasions). Not today.

On my way donwn I began to entertain other possibilities since I would probably get back with a few hours of daylight left. Rattlesnake Peak was nearby, but out of the question since it had far too much elevation gain after what was already a long day. Maybe some peaks I had missed previously in the Mt. Wilson area? I would see when I got back down to the van.

On my way down to the saddle where I had left the others, I began to hear faint voices off in the distance. I was surprised that I might be able to hear the others as I guessed they should be more than a mile away. Could their voices carry that far in the canyons? The mystery was revealed a short time later when I came across a group of 7-8 hikers stopped along the trail having lunch. They had European accents, but from which country I couldn't guess. Their English wasn't all that good, but far better than my European. They were a bit surprised to see me and asked if I'd been to the summit. They hadn't gotten started until 9:30a and were realizing now that they were running out of daylight. They decided not to go to the summit. Continuing, I ran across another member of their party fifteen minutes further down. She had been left behind by the others and was unsure just where the rest of them were. I assured her they were a short ways up and weren't planning to reach the summit. I'm not sure she understood me though - she just sort of smiled and said something in German or Danish or Swahili for all I could decipher.

I got back to the van at 2:45p, finding a Welcome to Your National Forest ticket on the vehicle for not displaying a Forest Adventure Pass. It was the only one I got in three days, so I figured I was doing pretty good. The rest of the afternoon and evening was an exercise in driving long distances for mediocre peaks, what some might point to as all that is wrong with list-chasing. Maybe it is, but it was still fun.

I drove back out to Azusa, then took the 210 freeway to Glendale where I got on the Angeles Crest Highway. I should have paused here to get gas as I was nearing the end of my tank. With three bars left on the digital gas gauge I figured I could do another 30-40 miles or so, but that was really pushing it. The 10 mile drive up the Angeles Crest involved a good deal of elevation gain, burning up almost all my remaining gas. My only hope was that the return was mostly downhill, requiring a minimum of fumes to get by. I was on the last bar when I got to the Red Box station, and still had 3-4 miles uphill to the TH for Occidental. I made it, parked, and decided to worry about the gas problem later.

The TH for Occidental Peak as described by the HPS website is east of the peak where there is a gated road to a nearby radio tower. The trail follows along the north side of the fence, skirting the private property and reemerging on the ridgeline west of the tower where there is a concrete helicopter landing pad complete with a windsock. The trail continues west along the ridge, then drops down on the north side again before winding its way to the summit of Occidental. There is a small maze of use trails and the wrong ones generally lead back to the ridge too early. Only thick brush is encountered that way, as I found it best to stay low on the trail, not far above the road. I reached the summit just before 5p. There are no views to be had from the summit as it is enclosed in heavy brush. I beat a retreat back to the open helicopter pad (the only open area along the route) in time to watch the sunset over the ocean far to the west. On the way back I discovered that there is a lower use trail below the fenceline, but this has been partially washed out in one spot by a landslide. The ground was so steep at the slide that I had to abandon it and climb back up to the newer trail along the fenceline. I was back at the van by 5:20p, and ten minutes later had driven back down the road to the TH for Mt. Deception.

Mt. Deception is the only unnamed peak in the Mt. Wilson area on the HPS list which accounts for how Matthew and I had missed it on a previous visit (at the time we had no list and were just guessing by perusing the map which might be HPS peaks). The unofficial naming of the peak is uncertain, but I suspect the version that claims Weldon Heald made up the name so he could add one to his fledgling list back in the day is not far from the truth. By headlamp I hiked the two miles up the old paved road that leads to an abandoned military site on nearby Mt. Disappointment. I left the road where indicated and followed a steep use trail up the ridgeline to the west. By 6:20p I had reached the summit, found the register, and enjoyed a brief view out onto the spectacular light show that is the LA Basin. I couldn't stay long as it was very cold now that the sun had gone down. Already below freezing, I was afraid I had come up with too little clothes to keep warm. I beat a hasty retreat, jogging much of the distance on the paved road as a way to stay warm. It was 7p when I finished, and for the entire drive back to Glendale I watched the gas gauge obsessively. The last bar on the gauge went out while halfway back, the lowest I had ever drained the tank before refueling. I was happy to make it to a filling station without involving AAA in a lame rescue effort.

As a special bonus for the day, I found a small Thai restaurant on Foothill Blvd called Min's Kitchen that was excellent, if a bit pricey. It was worth every penny.

Only several years later when I was perusing the LPC Peak List did I notice I had already summited Bonita Peak (really just a benchmark along the ridge) on my way to Iron. Yeah - free summit.


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For more information see these SummitPost pages: Iron Mountain - Bonita Peak - Occidental Peak - Mt. Deception

This page last updated: Wed Dec 30 16:52:22 2009
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