Wed, Jun 29, 2011
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I was back in the San Gabriels for a second day to hike some of the LPC peaks in the area north of Azusa and Monrovia. Silver and Pine Mtn were two that seemed reasonable to do together, about 12 miles and 4,000ft of gain. My plan had been to do these two, then drive to Monrovia for the climb of Mt. Bliss. Somewhere along the way I got the idea of doing all three in a big loop, some 24-25 miles. It probably would have helped to have more water along for the trip, but I managed to stretch my resources and make it work. This is hardly the most efficient way to do these three peaks, but it made for an enjoyable day and less driving than I would have had to do otherwise.
The route to Silver Mtn from near Morris Dam is described in the LPC guide, but damned if I could understand it all that well or really tried to. The primary route requires calling the ranger station for the lock combination for an OHV road that isn't open all the time and probably wouldn't work with my low clearance vehicle anyway. The secondary route starts at another locked gate near Morris Dam but is somewhat convoluted in the description. I found the gate easily enough when I started out just after 5:30a, but I was immediately distracted by the observation of a use trail that forks off within about 20ft of passing the gate. Thinking this might be a "new and improved" route to Silver Mtn I decided to find out where it goes and started up it. Fifteen minutes later I found myself at the base of a water tank that seemed to be the primary terminus of the trail. Great. Looking around I found a fainter but still usable continuation of the trail behind the tank heading up the ridgeline. Heavily overgrown but manageable, I pushed my way up and through almost 600 vertical feet along the ridgeline, coming upon an old, equally overgrown road that appeared to match the description of the Silver Fish Rd described in the guide. I followed this road a short distance, somehow losing it where it contours across the east side a of hillside, and ended up atop a grassy, unnamed summit southwest of Silver Mtn, Pt. 2,843ft. It didn't occur to me immediately, but I soon became aware that I wasn't on my way to Silver Mtn. This great moment of discovery overcame me as I realized that I'd already burned an hour and was still several miles from the supposedly easiest peak of the morning, Silver Mtn, well to the north.
Luckily this bit of misadventure could be corrected without having to retrace my steps. Old fire breaks had run over this peak and up adjacent Silver Peak, much of which was still navigable via the connecting ridgelines that met at a saddle below (where the Silver Fish Rd crosses over, and where I should have been instead of on Pt. 2,843ft). It took about fifteen minutes to descend the ridge to the saddle, then another 20 minutes to climb Silver's SW Ridge to the summit. Reaching the top around 7:20a, there was no register that I could find at the ill-defined summit, one lump of brush looking pretty much the same as the next at the flattish top. The area was surprisingly green and lush for late June, thanks either to copious spring rains or a persistent early summer fog. The fog in fact was just holding off about 500ft lower along the southern edge of the range.
Continuing north along the ridgeline to Pine Mtn, I passed over the slightly higher point further north (which the LPC guide explains is not Silver Mtn) and spent about an hour along the ridgeline to reach the dirt Rincon Rd (the primary route in the LPC guide). Though the road looked to be in good shape, a small landslide effectively blocked the road only a few minutes further up. Seems I would have been denied access to the road even if I had called. I followed the road for several miles as it winds around the summit in a clockwise fashion, eventually landing me at the summit shortly after 9a. The summit appears to be named for the handful of pines that grow alongside the road near the top on the north and northeast sides. A communications tower graces the bulldozed summit with a small cairn holding a register on one side that serves as the highpoint. Only a few pages had been used in the four years since the register was left.
Somewhere during my ascent to Pine Mtn I got the idea of trapsing over to Mt. Bliss afterwards, and by the time I was done on the summit of Pine Mtn I had decided on this updated plan. The map I carried showed the six mile route to reach Bliss from Pine Mtn, but didn't contain the portion for the descent south of the summit or the return to my van. That part I would have to make up as I went along and figured it shouldn't be too hard to get myself off the mountain and find my way through Monrovia to Highway 39. I had actually been very close to Bliss a few years earlier when I climbed Monrovia (HPS peak) and Clamshell in another large looping route. Part of my route to Bliss would be over the descent route I had used off Monrovia.
For the most part it was an enjoyable hike west along Rincon Rd towards Monrovia Peak. An hour after leaving the summit I reached a junction with the Sawpit Truck Trail coming up from Sawpit Canyon below. I turned left down this gated road, following it mostly downhill for much of the next hour to White Saddle. This was the portion that I had hiked before, noting both times the presence of many power and telephone lines running over the hills in this area. White Saddle seems aptly named for the face of chalk-white rock that is exposed at the saddle where the road was cut into the hillside. Here I took the fork south over new ground (the Van Tassel Fire Rd), heading towards Mt. Bliss. The summit is a bit more than a mile southeast of White Saddle, the road bypassing the highpoint as it traverses around the west side of the peak. I found a break in the wall of brush between the road and the summit, following an animal track up the steep hillside to intersect a use trail coming up from the south. Had I looked at the peak guide for Mt. Bliss I could have saved some bushwhacking and simply picked up the start of the use trail further south.
It was 11:30a before I found my way to the end of the use trail atop Mt. Bliss. There was a rusted steel stake, a pile of rocks and a register can tucked inside the rocks. Fog still hung over much of the LA Basin, nearly to the height of Mt. Bliss, so the views were poor towards the south. To the north Monrovia Peak and its high east-west ridgeline dominated the view. A few wisps of fog wafted up from below into the intervening Sawpit Canyon. It was now time to find my way back.
I followed the use trail south to its start on a side road that services one of the transmission towers. This led back to the Van Tassel Fire Rd which I followed south as it wound its way around the subsidiary ridges dropping down to the city of Monrovia below. Signs on either side of the road proclaimed an ESA zone (Environmentally Sensitive Area). The signs were placed about a tenth to a quarter mile apart on both side of the road for several miles starting before White Saddle. Only now did I start to realize how many there were. The signs appear to have been here for some time as many of them were fallen over like so much litter. Their value seemed dubious - the hillsides are not only incredibly steep and incredibly dense with brush, but they are rife with poison oak making it highly unlikely that anyone would bother to leave the road anywhere along the marked route. So why the signs? Who knows.
Not long after rejoining the fire road I came to a junction. Looking ahead, it seemed both routes continued down for some distance, one down the ridge under the powerlines, the other down the ridge immediately to the west. Not knowing which to take but thinking they both probably led downhill where I wanted to go, I took the left fork under the powerlines. This was a big mistake. It took me down 1,000ft over the course of a mile, still following the power lines. Though little used, the road and its side branches provided access to the handful of towers that stretched down the ridge. I grew suspicious as the road became more and more overgrown, but cleverly managed to put it out of mind without having any good reason for doing so. I was rewarded with a frustrating drop at the end of the road that reached only to the last tower. The transmission lines continued from this last tower in a sweeping arc to the south across a canyon some 800ft lower, then up to another ridge - the same one that contained the other road, only here the ridgeline curved to the southeast to pick up the next tower in the series. I looked down the gap at the heavy brush and decided it would be a futile and potentially epic-creating effort to try and bushwhack my way down and across the canyon. The only real choice was to retreat back up the way I came.
I was down to less than a quart of Gatorade and had so far been managing it nicely for the return. The return back up another unplanned 1,000ft meant I would have to begin rationing my remaining fluids more meagerly. Rats. Back up I went to the last junction, taking about 20 minutes at a fairly elevated heart rate, then down the correct route. The ESA signs littered on the ground seemed just a tad more annoying after this mishap. Another half hour went by and I began to reach the lower regions of the hills, a short distance from civilization. Aside from two park employees I had seen at White Saddle, I'd come across no other visitors to the area on my route. Jogging down the fire road I came across a female equestrian heading in the same direction. I slowed my pace and took up a position behind her, trying to figure out the best way to let her know I was there without startling her. My hesitation panned out for the worst as the horse was the first to guess my whereabouts and suddenly reacted with a jolt that nearly tossed its rider. I apologized and kept my distance behind the two of them until they had returned to the trailhead at the Encanto horse ranch about five minutes later. The woman never spoke to me, but I got the distinct impression she was not happy with my performance.
It was 1:20p when I reached the paved road along the west side of the San Gabriel River. There was little water in the river at this time of year, but the flood plain was quite wide, perhaps half a mile, and it was not obvious how I might get across it. There is a high fence topped with barbed-wire immediately adjacent to the road and flood plain, but I was lucky to spot a breach in the fence across from the horse ranch - it seems the equestrians may use this hole to access the myriad of use trails that I found running through the flood plain on the other side of the fence. A series of concrete catch basins have been built on this stretch of the San Gabriel for flood control purposes, no doubt, and I used one of them as an easy way to get across the brushy and swampy areas closest to the river. So little water was flowing over the embankment that only the bottoms of my boots got wet. Much of the water seen flowing higher up in the drainage must be flowing underground at this point. On the east side of the flood plain I discovered the San Gabriel River Bikeway that looks to span some 40 or so miles of the river. Too bad I didn't have a bike. Still, the bike path made an easy trail to hike back up towards Morris Dam, at least for the mile and a half before the bikeway ended near the mouth of the canyon where I reconnected with SR39. I tried hitching a ride while I walked along the highway, but had no luck during the 40 minutes it took me to hike back to the van.
It was now 2:30p and I'd been out for about 9hrs, which was probably enough for one day. Fortunately there was another nearby LPC peak to keep me from falling into complacency, Glendora Mountain. The peak was just off the semi-famous Glendora Mtn Rd which had been closed for a while, I believe as a result of the Station Fire. The road is popular with cyclists and motorsports enthusiasts - lots of curves and great views as it winds its way up from the city of Glendora to a junction at Horse Canyon Saddle at about 3,300ft of elevation. Glendora Mtn is a short side trip from the paved road which wraps around the west side of the peak between it and Morris Dam. It took me about an hour to drive from one trailhead to the next, with some of this wasted in driving back and forth near Glendora Mtn looking for a suitable starting point.
I finally settled on a turnout northeast of the summit that looked to have a short and relatively brush-free access to the summit ridge. There was a use trail of sorts along the modestly brushy ridgeline that was most helpful in getting to the summit in about 15 minutes. The summit provides a fine view of Mt. Baldy to the northeast, Cucamonga to the east and Morris Dam and the surrounding hills to the west. I was a bit surprised to find a register at this easily accessed summit, and more surprised that it dated back to 1998. By 4p I was back at the van once more, and this time done for the day, with hiking anyway.
After a hot water rinse at a scenic turnout overlooking Morris Dam, I drove back down to Glendora in search of food. My fancy hit upon Carls Jr, not one of my usual favorites, but something in one of their posters must have struck me as particularly desirable at the moment. What I ate I can't recall, so I'm guessing the food wasn't as good in real life as it had appeared in the picture. What struck me was the unusual configuration of the drive-thru. In complete contradiction to every other drive-thru I've ever visited, this one went around the small building in a clock-wise fashion. The menu and audio interface were located on the outside of the driveway to put it in front of the driver's window as expected, but what would they do for pickup? As I drove around the corner I found out. A young lady with a headset came out a door in front of a pickup window located on the passenger's side of the car, then around to my side to pick up my credit card. "Why the heck did they make the drive-thru like this?" I asked. "Crazy, huh?" was all she said as she collected my payment and went back inside. A minute later she reappeared with my food, made the car-hop delivery, and went back inside. I'm still trying to understand the thinking that went into that design...
I got back on the road and braved some rush-hour freeway traffic, heading southeast down the east side of the Santa Ana Mountains. My destination was the Santa Margarita Mtns at the south end of the Santa Anas. The highpoint was another LPC peak. Following the LPC guide, I approached the range from the east via a series of country roads out of the community of Murrieta near the junction of Interstates 15 and 215, followed by several miles on dirt road. I drove about as far as I was willing to take my poor van, stopping about 3 miles from the summit when the road grew too steep and too loose. It was well after 9p by this time, and finding a flattish spot along the road to spend the night, I crawled into the back for some much needed sleep.
For more information see these SummitPost pages: Pine Mountain - Glendora Mountain
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