Wed, Dec 28, 2011
I had spied Magic Mtn on a hike to Mendenhall Peak earlier in the year. It lies near the midpoint of a long ridgeline running from Bear Divide to Mt. Gleason, forming the western crest of the San Gabriel Mtns. It seemed like a worthwhile objective, though not appearing on any of the peak lists. Further east, and about 100ft higher is the unnamed Snow BM which has a prominence of almost 800ft. It wasn't the most impressive of days and I was a bit surprised that Tom agreed to join me for it. Though as he put it, any day out hiking is better than sitting in the office.
We met at 6:30a, just north of Bear Divide at the junction with the paved road heading to Magic Mtn. At one time Magic Mtn served as a NIKE missle base, one of a dozen that surrounded the LA area to protect it from bomber strikes during the Cold War. The site has long been abandoned but microwave relay and cell towers have taken its place. The road had been open in the past to OHV travel to Mt. Gleason, but has been closed since the Station Fire in 2009. Only recently has the road been open to non-motorized traffic, though areas south of the road are still within the closure zone. This route is most easily done with a bike, but since Tom didn't have one, mine stayed in the van and we hiked it instead.
It is not a difficult hike. The biggest danger is that of falling off a small cliff where the road has eroded away in several places. This seems unlikely however, unless one is paying no attention to where they are going. After an hour and twenty minutes hiking we left the paved road to start up a fire break as a shortcut to reach the summit of Magic Mtn. The chaparral has not appreciably grown back on the fire break making for relatively easy travel, though steep in places. Twenty minutes later we reached the crest where an old gravel road near Pt. 4,785ft led to the top of Magic Mountain where we arrived just after 9a.
There were two old, massive water tanks at the highpoint, rusting relics of the NIKE missle base. Nearby was a microwave relay tower enclosed by a high fence, located on a slightly lower flat of land. The water tanks were perhaps 30ft high and drew my attention. On the backside we found a ladder with the lower nine feet missing, but this could be climbed by jumping to reach the lowest rung, hauling myself up, then climbing to the top. I had given Tom the camera to take a few pictures, so I didn't have it to snap a few from atop the tanks which provided a nice viewing platform. Back down, we looked around for a benchmark or register but found neither. Lower on the north side we visited a few of the launch platforms for the NIKE missles. Little was left besides the concrete floor housing the blast tunnels, built to redirect the exhaust away from the launch pad. All the openings had iron plates welded shut to keep the curious out.
We next turned our attention east, hiking down the paved road off the summit to a junction with the dirt road continuing east along the crest. It is an easy hike with some up and down along the way, enjoyable views off both sides. The land if fairly dry here, in the rain shadow of the front ranges, and mostly a collection of chaparral and grass-covered mountains with trees found sparingly about the summit ridges. Some of these had been burned in the Station Fire while others survived without being harmed at all.
We stopped off at an intermediate highpoint just to find the CUB benchmark that was indicated on the map. There's not enough prominence to count it as a summit, but it provided some modest diversion from the hike along the road. It took another 45 minutes of hiking to reach the highpoint of the ridgeline, at the place marked "Snow BM" on the 7.5' topo map. We found an LA County surveyor's reference mark, but no benchmark marked "Snow" or otherwise. The top is rather flat and grass-covered, plowed over several times in the past to form the fire break, likely losing the benchmark in the process. There is a fine view looking east to Mt. Gleason and the intervening saddle, both some miles away. There's also a good view north into Soledad Canyon with the Sierra Pelona Mtns across the way, the Mojave Desert barely visible behind them.
We had originally considered setting up a car shuttle to hike one-way to Mt. Gleason, portions of which were along the PCT. But besides from this involving many hours of extra driving, Tom had heard from rangers that there is a good deal of poodle dog bush along the route, a toxic plant similar to poison oak that neither of us wanted to investigate.
It had been a fairly long hike, more than 10 miles from Bear Divide. It would take us more than three hours for the return, getting us back to our cars just before 2:30p. There would have been extra hours to explore some of the other nearby summits if I hadn't exhausted them all the day before. Tom decided to stop off and visit his mom in the Sylmar area before driving back home to Palos Verde. I would spend the next few hours driving west across SR126 to Santa Barbara where I met up with my two older brothers, one of whom lives there. I had several options for a hike with my oldest brother on our way back to San Jose the next day which we would discuss over dinner...
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