Pine Mountain Ridge HPS
Wild View Peak HPS
Table Mountain P500 ex-HPS
Mt. McKinley LPC

Tue, Jun 28, 2011
Table Mountain
Story Photos / Slideshow Maps: 1 2 3 Profiles: 1 2

For some unfathomable reason, the powers that be in the Sierra Club felt that there weren't yet enough HPS summits in the San Gabriel Mtns and could not resist the urge to add more. Never mind that every named summit in the San Gabriels over 5,000ft save two is already on the list. There's always room for more, it would appear. I would reveal the two named summits not on the list, but I fear that this information might find its way back to these same powers and I would soon find myself compelled to climb these as well in order to complete the HPS list (actually I'll reveal one of these shortly). Wysup Peak I could understand as a memorial to a distinguished club member, but Pine Moutain Ridge and Wild View Peak hardly even qualify as peaks. Neither has even 200ft of prominence and both are really just points along the West Ridge of Pine Mtn. Nevertheless, my equally disturbing compulsion to finish the HPS list had me driving to the trailhead late at night including five highway hours, an hour of mountain roads, and a last hour on eight miles of dirt road to a dusty, neglected Forest Service campground. It was not the sort of place I should be driving my low-clearance van to, but these are the sacrifices one must be willing to make for this crazy game.

The Lupine CG is described in the HPS online guide as the Fish Fork TH, but be assured they are one in the same. It was around midnight when I arrived at the campground where I noted another car parked nearby. I was surprised, actually, to see another vehicle in this forsaken area. Starting around 6a, I had some trouble finding the start of the trail, though admittedly I didn't really look very hard for it. I sort of wandered south through the campsite towards the drainage I expected the trail to cross at some point judging from the map, and sure enough it presented itself within a few minutes. The trail (really an old logging road) wound its way up the north side of Pine Mountain Ridge, reaching the ridgeline in about a mile and a half. There is a fine view of the Baldy-Iron ridge to the south, almost good enough to get me over my objections for adding this peak to the list. I have to further admit that it was a fine morning with clear skies and delightfully cool weather, no insect, and ok I'm over my objections - any excuse for a hike seems good enough for me. Another mile and a half west along the ridge brought me to the modest summit of Pine Mtn Ridge. I had the coordinates in my GPS, otherwise I might not have been sure about its location.

Nearby was a relatively new register in a plastic jar for powdered carbo fuel of some sort. Peter Doggett's name popped up six times on the first two pages over a span of two months. It was not hard to guess who the primary supporter of this peak was. Two months after Peter's sixth entry in October, the HPS membership approved the peak at their December meeting. Normally prolific Mars Bonfire's signature was notably absent up until this time. It was not until five days before my visit that Mars' name shows up. One can't help but feel it was grudgingly applied. And once again I've missed meeting Mars by only a few days. As before, the best views were to the south from Baldy to Iron Mtn. The view west to Baden-Powell is partially blocked by trees, but probably better if one takes the time to walk further west along the ridge. The view north to Blue Ridge is fully blocked by trees, while Pine Mtn and Dawson can be seen on the high divide to the east.

I walked back to the east along the road adjacent to the ridge, not far past where I'd come up from Lupine Camp. I found the Fish Fork Trail junction marked by a sign that had rotted at its base and had been laid gently on the ground in a manner to allow it to continue rendering service to hikers. Wildview Peak was visible to the south along a subsidiary ridge of Pine Mtn, marked by the just-discernable bit of prominence that defines it. The Fish Fork Trail traverses across the intervening slopes, coming within a few hundred yards of the peak. Fifteen minutes after leaving the junction I was looking across the trail at Wild View. I left the trail here, following the ridgeline and a number of unnecessary ducks (really, where else are people going to hike to get to Wild View?) to the summit a few minutes later. The register was nearly a carbon copy of the one on Pine Mtn Ridge with six entries by Doggett, one by Mars, and the various other small parties sprinkled between them. The views south from Baldy to Iron were even better. One could almost imagine this might be the ideal viewspot from which to watch the race over the Baldy-Iron traverse, that is, if such a race existed (it doesn't). And finally, it offers a superb view of ... wait for it ... wait for it ... that's right - Pine Mtn Ridge.

Returning to the trail, I noted that it continues around the corner before starting up to the Pine/Dawson Saddle which probably makes for a decent hike. Having been to them previously and intent on cleaning out some unfinished business with the HPS and LPC lists, I returned to the Lupine CG and my van in about 45 minutes. See the note at the end of this TR for a better way to hike this area.

It was not yet 9a when I started driving back up the road to Blue Ridge and back to the Angeles Crest Hwy. I was curious to pay a visit to nearby Table Mtn, one of the two named summits not on the HPS list that I mentioned earlier. It is not hard to get to, simply follow the road uphill from the Big Pines junction, past a number of cabins and the Table Mountain CG. Near the top a sign indicates that the summit is a U.S. government test facility and public vehicles are strictly prohibited. Thinking there must be some special clause by which my Nissan van might have an exclusion, I drove past the sign and just short of the summit. The test facilities all seem to be located at the east end, while the highpoint appears off by itself on the west end, nearer to where the road comes up. This allowed me to jump out, walk around the summit a bit and get back down without being detected, or at least without being bothered by any sentries or special agents. The highpoint is actuall part of the Mountain High ski area as evidenced by a chairlift and the usual collection of rusting equipment strewn about the summit. A disk golf course ran across the summit as well for summertime amusement (the par 3, 24th tee is located there). Clearly the ease of access and degree of development on the summit was even too much for the HPS list. But in the non-zero chance that it manages to make the list someday, I'm now covered.

I spent most of the next two hours on a leisurely drive of much of the length of the Angeles Crest Hwy. It had not been long opened since its extensive closing following the 2009 Station Fire. As I noted the previous week, there is an abundance of wildflowers, far more than one would normally find before the fire. The mix of burned trees and chaparral with the fresh flowers gave one a vibrant sense of renewal displayed by this landscape. I pulled over at several places to take pictures of the purple hillsides that presented themselves. I turned off the ACH at the junction with the Angeles Forest Highway, eventually finding my way down Big Tujunga Canyon Rd to the vicinity of Gold Creek Rd. Signs in the area clearly indicated the surrounding region was still closed to recreation due to fire damage. There were a number of destroyed homesites along the creek that were clear evidence of the human side of such fires. Others were either spared the worst of the fire or had already been rebuilt.

I parked at a turnout a short distance east of the TH for Gold Creek. Despite the closure notices, I was determined to reach Mt. McKinley via the Gold Creek Rd/Trail that starts up from Big Tujunga Canyon. I'm not sure what the fine would have been, but evidently I was willing to pay it since I made no effort to hide my van from view. It was 11:30a when I started off, leaving the pavement and following the old track of Gold Creek Rd. It was overgrown and had been many years since the last vehicle had used it. The hiking tread was decent, but had not seen much use in two years. The disuse made for some difficulties in plowing through tall grass thickets along the way in a number of places. I would spend much time pulling thorns and thistles from my shoes and socks throughout the day. The route rises more than 3,000ft in about six miles towards the summit of McKinley. It was quite warm out now, in the high 80s, but I would have to make the best of it.

One of the oddest sights was the nesting of honey bees along the road about twenty minutes up from the canyon. They were not nesting in a tree (there were none) or in a bush, but directly in the ground, right on the road. There were thousands of holes in the dirt road with bees entering and exiting, the whole area trembling with their buzzing. I wandered onto their ground before I realized what I had stumbled upon, having never seen such ground-nesting behavior before. Whether it was an adaption they had made to cope with the fires or just normal for this environment, I wasn't sure. But I was direly afraid that they might start attacking me as I appeared to have stepped on a number of them without realizing it. I quickly scampered off the road and into the grass, then beat it uphill with great speed until the buzzing had faded. They did not seem to have been overly alarmed at my presence and I breathed more easily as a result.

On the way up there is a fine view of Condor Peak peak to the east, part of the HPS trio Fox/Condor/Iron on the adjacent ridgeline leading to Mt. Gleason. McKinley could be see ahead to the north after gaining some height and would be visible for most of the way up. I passed by two odd-looking water towers, just two of many that were built in the San Gabriels. The second of these was at Gold Creek Saddle where it was necessary to switch to a secondary trail even less-used than the one I had been hiking along. The overgrowth made it very difficult to discern any sort of trail at all. I waded into the mess, collecting another 1,000 burrs and thistles and wishing I had brought a pair of gaiters to make this easier. Not far along this trail my eye happened to catch sight of an old rusty coffee can on the side of the trail, partly under a bush. Curious, I paused to examine the contents and found what appeared to be an old geocache that somehow survived the fire. The contents went back some years. Among the trinkets was a $5 gift certificate to Cold Stone Ice Cream that had expired more than five years ago. The fine print indicated that CA was among a handful of states to which this expiration didn't apply, so I tucked the paper into my pocket for potential use later in the day.

The final half mile of the route leaves the overgrown trail at a second saddle and follows the SW Ridge up to the summit of McKinley. It was nearly 2p before I arrived at the unobstructed viewpoint, nearly 5,000ft in elevation. The Station Fire had cleared most the brush off the mountain on all sides except, it would seem, along the trails. The Mendenhall Ridge dominates the view to the north and one could see that the connecting ridge and saddle would not be hard to negotiate if one were to do Mendenhall Peak with McKinley either by this route or from Dillon Divide (this had been my plan the previous week). To the northeast rises Iron Mtn (not to be confused with the higher Iron Mtn west of Mt. Baldy), to the east Condor Peak, and Mt. Lukens to the south. Only to the southwest does one get a view to the LA Basin, though it was mostly obscured in haze at this time of day. I found a red register can at the summit amid a small pile of rocks.

My return was nearly the same as the ascent, with the exception of a shortcut bypassing Gold Creek Saddle that I took. The fire had cleared much of the brush making it fairly easy with much fewer thistles and such that I encountered on the trail between the two saddles. On the shortcut I came across a pitchfork that had been left, probably the lost tool of a trail or fire-fighting crew. It had been badly burned in the fire as well, the wooden handle scorched and the rubber grip at the end melted and charred. By jogging most of the downhill route I was back at the van before 3:30p. No ticket had been issued and I wasted little time getting back on the road and out of there. I found a discreet place to rinse off near the mouth of Big Tujunga Canyon, then rejoined my fellow humans in the nearby jungle of civilization. I whiled away the remaining hours of the afternoon in a Starbucks, mostly looking over online maps and satellite views for the next day's hike. Eventually I ended up on Hwy 39 just north of Azusa to sleep the night at a large turnout near Morris Reservoir. Silver and Pine Mtns were two LPC peaks on the agenda for the morning...

If one is not in a hurry to finish Pine Mtn Ridge and Wild View Peak, a better day can be had by parking at the Guffy CG at five miles along the dirt road, then hiking Pine Mtn Ridge, Wild View Peak, Pine Mtn, and Wright Mtn in a big loop. This avoids driving the worst of the dirt road where it drops down to Prarie Fork and Camp Lupine and is considerably more scenic.

And in case you were wondering about the gift certificate: Back in town I discovered the location of the nearest Stone Cold stores with an online search and drove to the closest one not ten minutes away. They accepted the certificate without question and I left with a rather enjoyable shake for my efforts.


Matt Yaussi comments on 08/29/11:
Just a warning to those reading this story.
Those purple flowers in abundance are poodle-dog bush. Those of us in the LA area have been warned about them. They come out after a big fire, and can irritate your skin very much like Poison Oak. Enjoy them from a safe distance!
Terry Morse (via email) comments on 08/29/11:
The bees on the ground sound like mining bees. We have a lot of these in So Cal. They aren't aggressive at all and you can stand in the middle of all of them buzzing around and they won't even land on you. I was freaked out the first time I saw them, but after some research, found out that they weren't to be feared.

The beautiful purple flowers covering the hillsides in the San Gabes is Poodle Dog Bush. Many people are allergic to it and it is compared to Poison Oak, as far as the severity of the rash. It is a fire follower and always comes on strong after a fire has scorched the ground.

Brian Browning (via email) comments on 08/29/11:
For those folks who may want to loop Pine Mtn Ridge & Wild View Peak with Dawson, Pine Mtn #1 and Wright I wanted to issue a warning regarding the Dawson Peak Trail that is visible on Google Earth and topo maps. It is hideously overgrown and very difficult to follow from the bottom of the canyon to ~8000' and has areas that have been buried by slides in spots. There is a pretty decent, ducked use trail that descends the east side of Wild View Peak to connect with Dawson Peak Trail at the bottom of the canyon and continues past the 2 spring-fed streams flowing down from Pine Mtn #1's western ridge. Once you cross the second stream at about 6600' the ducks disappear and the navigation and hiking difficulties begin. It took me nearly 2.5 hours to push my way to about 8000' where I just left the trail and climbed up the SW ridge of Pine Mtn rather than continue what had become an exercise in futility. The only redeeming part of this exhausting venture were the two crystal clear (& drinkable!) streams and fantastic views.

Hoping my pain is someone else's gain!
Dave Benson comments on 04/06/16:
I think you're being a bit harsh ... the first two peaks are in a pretty cool and remote part of the forest, although probably not worth the drive from San Jose. BTW, you can no longer drive much past Guffy Camp, so that's practically the only option for now. (Although you can also hike in via Acorn Tr).

The only missing named summit over 5k that i am aware of is Messenger Peak, which is a bit of a neglected summit, now that you cannot drive the Santa Clara Divide Rd. I guess I'll have to lobby to have it added, for completeness :)

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