Verdugo Mountains HP
|Story||Photos / Slideshow||Maps: 1 2||Profiles: 1 2|
I awoke sometime before midnight to the pattering of precipitation on the outside of my van. I was mildly concerned because I was parked at 5,000ft in the eastern San Gabriels, nearly eight miles up a crummy dirt road. I opened the side door to note there was merely a light dusting of snow on the ground and went back to sleep, relieved. I was parked about a mile from San Sevine and knew the hike in the morning would be a relatively easy one - a little bit of snow wouldn't make it any worse. But the pattering continued on and off during the night and I didn't sleep all that well, wondering how much snow might be accumulating. My low clearance, 2WD van with balding tires was ill-equipped for muddy or slushy conditions.
When I finally got up at 6a it was windier and snowing much harder now. I checked outside again and found an inch of snow had accumulated during the night. At the rate it was coming down it would take only a few hours to have four inches of snow on the ground - this from a weak storm they had given only a 20% chance of precipitation to. It was still quite dark outside as I considered what to do. Being so close to the two peaks I was after, it seemed shameful to turn tail and run. The next time I might find the gate closed (as I had on my first visit to the area) and have to make a 23mi hike out it. On the other hand, if I spent the next three hours climbing the peaks I might find myself stranded by the time I got back to the van. I wouldn't have minded having to wait it out for a day (even though I had little food), but my family would have been terribly unappreciative of my disregard for there concern as I had no way to contact anyone (and I was due at my sister's later that day). If only I had known the storm was blowing itself out in that last half hour... But alas I didn't, and in the interest of safety I decided to drive out while I still could. It was a very nervous hour I spent plying my way slowly down the road, and sometime around 7:30a I finally emerged upon the pavement of Sierra Rd. Having run out of HPS peaks in the San Gabriels, I decided to spend the day chasing a few LPC peaks which I was finding were often better than the HPS ones.
It was 8a by the time I had driven around the south side of the range and a short distance up the Mt. Baldy Rd. I parked on the west side of a locked gate just below the sign indicating Adventure Passes are required above the sign. There were numerous signs attached to the gate including one stating the road was closed to the public due to fire damage, but it didn't seem to stop several parties that went in ahead, nor myself. I followed this road around the east and north sides of Potato Mtn, first dropping slightly along a creek with oaks bridging overhead, then gently climbing steadily to a saddle north of the peak. The road branches here, one fork doubling back to traverse the north slopes of potato as it circles around to the summit. I left the road to take a more direct route up a firebreak on the Northwest Ridge, reaching the summit by 9a. Though it has a prominent location overlooking the LA Basin to the south, clouds swirled about the summit preventing more than a glimpse off in that direction. Sunset Peak was similarly blanketed with clouds to the north. A small window provided a view to Stoddard and Ontario Peaks to the northeast where the newfallen snows of the previous night were evident down to about 3,000ft. Potato's summit is topped by a concrete water tower and I found a register amidst a pile of rocks on the southeast side of this. I waited some ten minutes hoping the clouds might clear, but eventually started down without any better pictures.
After returning to the van, I drove west to the southwest side of the range. The Angeles Crest Hwy and Big Tujunga Canyon roads had just been opened in the last week, having been closed since the summer fires that hit this area most heavily. My hopes to climb Mt. McKinley and Mendenhall Peak were soon dashed when I came across a sign indicating the forest was still closed. Traffic was limited to the roads and private property only. The hills were denuded more than they have been in perhaps a hundred years and the cross-country travel would have been relatively easy, although steep. It looks like I may have to wait another year or longer before they open it, judging from the past fire closure experiences.
I drove back to Interstate 210 and headed for Verdugo Mtn. I got off at La Tuna Canyon Rd on the northwest side of the peak and parked at the locked gate. Judging by the high number of vehicles already there on a Monday morning, this is a popular peak. Detached from the main San Gabriel Range, no fire had touched this modest mountain. The remnants of La Tuna Canyon Rd are closed to all but emergency and official vehicles, as well as foot traffic. I hiked up this road, flat for the first fifteen minutes, then turning right as it winds its way up the north side of the mountain, in, out, and around a number of small side canyons. Mt. Lukens can be seen picturesquely off to the left along most of the route. I used a steep firebreak to cut off some mileage from the road, passing another party on their way down.
After rejoining the road above the steep part, I used other firebreaks to reach the ridgetop road east of the summit, though this was probably not the shortest way to the summit. It was noon by the time I reached the communication towers found at the top, taking just under an hour. Benches on the sunny west side of the fence provide a nice place for a rest. I spent 25 years growing up in the San Fernando Valley, but this was the first time I had seen such a view of the broad urban swath from this perspective. Downtown Los Angeles could be seen to the south, though not without the usual haze. I returned to the van by way of the road, with the exception of the steep firebreak section I used again lower on the mountain.
That was it for the day. I drove out to Santa Clarita and my sister's home in Valencia to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening. Two of my brothers were in town for the Christmas holiday and it was good to see them as well. Try as I might, I was unsuccessful in talking them into a short hike the next morning before I had to head back to San Jose. Somehow, that didn't seem like a holiday to them...
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Potato Mountain - Verdugo Mountains HP
This page last updated: Mon Dec 16 08:27:11 2019
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