Messenger Peak
Peak 5,705ft
Peak 5,682ft P300
Biner Peak P300
Cruzan Mesa

Mar 13, 2017

With: Patrick O'Neill

Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 GPXs: 1 2 Profiles: 1 2


I've often joked that the HPS is so bloated that it contains all but two of the named summits over 5,000ft in the San Gabriels, many of them being small bumps that require almost no effort to reach, not unlike the stuff I'd been "climbing" on this current roadtrip. The two that didn't make the list (yet) include Table Mtn near Wrightwood, whose summit is the top of a ski area with buildings, a frisbee golf course and other decidedly non-wildernessy things, and Messenger Peak. The latter is a fairly remote summit west of Mt. Gleason with the PCT running across its upper slopes on the north side. This one seems like it would be a fine candidate for the HPS and I have no idea why it might have been neglected. Patrick and I had initially planned to do a bike ride to Peak 3,700ft, north of Magic Mtn, starting from Bear Divide at the top of Little Tujunga Canyon and Sand Canyon Roads. The night before I drove up there to find that the road was closed to allow crews to fix recent storm damage. I called Patrick and we began to hatch an alternate plan over the phone. Patrick noticed the Moody Truck Road on the map that would be much more direct to Messenger than the Indian Canyon Rd I had originally considered. Some quick Internet work found that the road is closed to through traffic a few miles south of Acton where it goes through private property, but there is an alternate way to reach it via Aliso Canyon Rd and other roads that leads southwest to an active quarry. It would save a ton of miles and a few thousand feet of elevation gain, so it seemed worthwhile to give it a try.

Messenger/Peak 5,705ft/Peak 5,682ft/Sold BM

We met at the junction of Sand Canyon Rd and SR14, near where I had spent the night. Patrick had to drive through LA traffic from Dana Point and it wasn't until nearly 8a that he arrived. We left my van at the AM/PM minimart there, driving in Patrick's Grand Cherokee. We found the roads in excellent shape (even the van could have driven them) all the way to the quarry. Forest Road 4N32, which leads to the Moody Truck Trail, forks off just before the quarry entrance. Gravel and rock have been piled at the start to reinforce the Road Closed sign. It's almost too bad, really, since only the initial part of the road is rough, most of the remainder all the way to the crest of the San Gabriels was in pretty decent shape and could have been driven. Instead we would use our bikes, but there were more important things to do first. After finding a place to park off the road, Patrick's first order of business was a signature espresso. Pressuring to nine atmospheres, it reportedly makes a pretty good espresso on the go. Once caffeinated, we got on with our other tasks and by 9:15a we were heading off on the bikes.

As mentioned, we found the roads in decent shape. In half a mile we reached the four-way junction where 4N32 intersects the Moody Truck Trail (4N33). There is a locked gate on the Moody Truck Trail here, but ATVs and motorcycles have found a way around it. Moody Rd was built back in 1934 by the CCC during the Great Depression with a reasonable gradient that would allow us to ride our bikes most of the way up to the crest as it climbs about 2,000ft over the course of six miles. Just short of the first hour saw us to Perspiration Point, a curve in the road marked on the 7.5' topo map where the USFS erected a monument to mark the completion of the road. It would take us well over two hours to make our way to the saddle at the crest, probably about as much time had we been walking. The difference of course would be on the return for the downhill.

Once at the saddle we continued east along the crest to Messenger Peak, another mile or so in that direction. A long-unused spur road forks off to go to the summit, too rough to ride bikes on. I left my bike here and walked the remaining section of road to the top. A little ways behind, Patrick took the steeper shortcut up the firebreak that had been recently widened during the 2016 fire back in July. We took a long break at the summit, overlooking the Soledad Canyon area to the north. At nearly 6,000ft, we had surprisingly long-ranging views. We could see Catalina to the south, Santa Cruz Island to the west, snowy Telescope Peak in Death Valley 140mi to the northeast. Portions of the Tehachapis, the Sierra Nevada and the Mojave Desert were all on display. Mt. Gleason rose another 500ft higher to the east about a mile away.

After our break we rode back down to the saddle and then continued west to tag a trio of bonus summits. The first of these was Peak 5,705ft, immediately west of the saddle with Messenger Peak. With the road bypassing the summit around the south side, we pushed our bikes up the steep firebreak on the east side, a tedious undertaking with the sort dirt and branches scattered about to limit vehicle access. We continued along the firebreak another 1/3mi past this first bonus before Patrick decided he'd had enough. He would go back to wait for me at the first saddle while I continued on to the last two summits before joining him. Neither was particularly noteworthy. I dropped back down to the road and followed it to a spur that led to another saddle between Peak 5,682ft and Sold BM. Parking the bike there, I paid a visit to each on foot. On my way up to Peak 5,682ft I walked over the PCT which crosses the slope about halfway up from the saddle. The bulldozers had obliterated the trail here during the work on the fire, but it has since been lined with rocks to show the path cutting across the bare slope. The last summit, Sold BM, appears on PB but has insufficient prominence to qualify on LoJ. Nevertheless, I paid it a visit before returning to the bike. I sent Patrick a text to let him know I was heading back, finding him 30min later lying down on the side of the roadway in the shade, having enjoyed a short nap. The ride back down Moody would take about 45min, not as nice a ride as we might have hoped due to its rocky nature that required close attention for much of the route. Riding in front for most of the way, Patrick stopped near the end and shouted something to me as I approached. I couldn't understand a word of it and pulled up to a stop in front of him. "Didn't you hear me yell 'Rattlesnake!'?" Apparently not. A fairly large, two-foot rattler was coiled up in the middle of the road. It had rattled upon Patrick's approach but fell silent as I came by it. We took a few photos before continuing back to our vehicle.

Biner Peak/Cruzan Mesa

Despite having brought significant resources to bear on our ride to Messenger, Patrick was quite hungry. As it wasn't yet 4p and we'd just had the clocks changed for Daylight Savings, I felt we had plenty of time for some more fun. Reflecting on our options on the drive back to Sand Canyon, it occurred to me that we could probably eat a full meal and still have time for some late afternoon hiking. It was quite warm out now but should cool off some as the sun starts to set and the colors of the hillsides should be more vibrant, too. Patrick would make no promises about hiking after a big meal - he wasn't certain his hiking muscles would be able to wrestle the required blood supply from his digestive system. We drove into Santa Clarita to eat at the same mexican restaurant where we'd dined the previous week. We consumed tacos, rellenos, rice, beans and a very delicious mango margarita at the Casa Vieja near the corner of Soledad Canyon Rd and Sierra Hwy. Patrick not only consented to the sunset hiking plan afterwards, but seemed to enjoy it a good deal, especially after meeting Tim.

Leaving the van at the restaurant, we drove the Grand Cherokee north on Sierra Hwy up Mint Canyon about three miles to Arline St. We drove this to the pavement's end, then turned left on Plum Canyon Fire Rd up to a saddle. It wasn't clear who owns the surrounding property, but it doesn't appear to be either USFS or BLM land. Still, it seems this road is open to the public with no signs or fences to warn folks away. We followed a good use trail from the saddle up to a couple of highpoints overlooking Santa Clarita, including Peak 2,420ft with 400ft of prominence. The hills here are quite green and open to views in all direction. Poppies were out in such abundance that Patrick made a side trip down a slope to get a close-up of a particularly dense patch of them. At the top of Peak 2,420ft were the remains of a fallen airway beacon, a visual navigation system used almost 90yrs ago to aid aircraft. After returning from the first of two short hikes, we were sitting in the Grand Cherokee for a minute when a big guy right out of Duck Dynasty, huge unkempt beard and all, came driving up over the saddle in a beat-up ATV. We waved, hoping he was just out for a ride and not really interested in us. He pulled up in a small cloud of dust, cut the engine and asked, "Seen any fucking beaners around here?" To say the least, we were caught off guard. We instantly recognized that he wasn't here to admonish us, at least not right away. Neither of us could even remember the last time we'd heard the term "beaner", but this guy had it roll off his tongue quite naturally, with a bit of a grin to finish off the question. Clearly he wasn't joking and it was not hard to figure out who he voted for in the last election. Even as we were telling him we'd seen nobody until his arrival, Tim began to describe how the mexicans come up here to cut some sort of wild oats which they then sell to the movie studios. It was quite tidy how he linked illegals and Hollywood elites in one or two sentences. He further described how they would harvest the chokecherries in season, depriving the coyotes of a major food source. We had serious doubts as to whether any of this was true, but there was no doubt that Tim believed it. His job, as he described it, was to come up here an run them off, no matter what they're doing. He told us his neighbors have sanctioned him as the local vigilante, a role he seems to assume with gusto. I could just imagine being one of his neighbors, coming home after a hard day's work, wanting to relax in the yard on a warm spring evening with a cold beer. Seeing Tim drive up in his ATV, I might look for ways to point him in another direction - "Hey Tim, I hear Bill saw some beaners drive up the road into Plum Canyon again." And off he goes... In any event, it was such a bizarre encounter that I felt it only right to name the peak we'd just visited after him, sort of - I didn't want to be quite as offensive.

After Tim left we drove a short ways down into Plum Canyon before turning right to follow another road north towards Cruzan Mesa. We parked at one of the turnouts along the road before heading up cross-country to the ridge where the last summit of the day would be found. It was only about 25min before sunset and the colors were as soft and vibrant as we'd seen all day. Cruzan Mesa is really a flat area below the summit to the north and it would be a stretch to include the summit here as part of it, but that's how LoJ designates it. PB calls it Plum BM, a designation shown on the topo map. We didn't find the benchmark ourselves, but others have (it's found north of the highpoint, apparently). We headed back down via an all-road route that we had missed on the way up, getting back right at sunset. After returning to the restaurant, Patrick took off for home, fighting through the LA traffic once more. I found a place nearby to shower in semi-privacy along Sierra Hwy, then holed up in a Starbucks for a few hours before finally finding my way back to Soledad Canyon to set up camp off the roadway there.


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