Silver Peak P1K LPC
Peak 1,776ft P300
Mt. Torquemada
Azusa Peak LPC

Dec 28, 2012

With: Tom Becht

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

I had last been to Catalina only a year earlier, hiking the island from Avalon to Two Harbors, primarily to tag the island's highpoint, Mt. Orizaba. I had hoped to tag Silver Peak on that outing, but the Two Harbor ferry left around 3:30p and I ran out of time. Silver Peak was one of three LPC peaks I had left, so I'd been trying to figure out a way to fit a return visit to the island into my schedule. I planned to be in LA after Christmas for Tom Becht's HPS list finish and I half-jokingly asked if he'd like to go to Catalina the day before. Not wanting to risk missing the ferry or injury or something that would mess up his list finish, he declined. But the idea never got out of my head. I watched the weather reports in the week leading up to it and it seemed that Friday would have a small, but pleasant weather window between two Pacific storm systems. I decided to give it a go. I sent Tom an email the night before of my intentions, but didn't connect with him before I left San Diego in the early morning hour before daybreak to head to San Pedro. Having no traffic issues as I had expected on the busy SoCal freeways, I arrived more than an hour early to the ferry station. I drove around San Pedro for fifteen minutes looking for a Starbucks where I could get free wifi, eventually finding one. It was probably 7:30a by the time I got online and sent another note to Tom. A bit to my surprise, he answered in a few minutes that he was on his way. Having gotten my message the night before, he had already decided to show up at the ferry terminal whether I contacted him again or not. I parked my car on the city streets outside the ferry terminal to save $10 and ran across Tom's wife driving out of the terminal as I was walking in - she had already dropped Tom off and I found him just outside the new facility there at San Pedro - all ready to go.

We bought our $76 ferry tickets, then waited around for the 9a departure. The ferry runs pretty much on schedule, in fact it pulled up the gangway a few minutes before the hour. The skies were clear and the waters calm (unusually calm sailing, in fact) as we motored past the USS Iowa on our way out of the Port of Los Angeles. The huge battleship was a recent acquisition by San Pedro to bring tourists to this old port town. I noticed that the only items not painted gray or black were the rescue buoys and the large soda machines that could be seen on the starboard side of the ship as we went by. Our ferry sailed (figuratively only - there were big diesel engines powering this baby) across the channel, arriving in Avalon around 10:30a. We waited on board for ten minutes or so before the ferry continued on its second leg to Two Harbors. Some clouds hung around the island and we worried that they might develop to mar our views later, but thankfully we needn't worry much. Black Jack Mtn featured prominently from our boat a short ways out of Avalon. It is the second highest summit on the island which I had visited in conjunction with Orizaba on that previous visit.

It was 11:15a by the time we disembarked at Two Harbors. We paused at the visitor center in the harbor to get our free (but required) hiking permits from the Island Conservancy, then made our way across the isthmus to the west harbor and from there onto the Trans Catalina Trail heading to Silver Peak, really just a dirt road left from the days when cattle grazed over most of the island. Silver Peak is the highpoint of the northwest end of the island with more than 1,750ft of prominence. Its elevation is only 50ft higher which gives a measure of how high the isthmus is (50ft) and how close Catalina is to being two islands instead of one. The hike over to the junkyard located at the west harbor is pretty tame, but once past the yard the road grows steep in a hurry. The road is gated a few minutes further up where a conservancy sign announces the start of the Silver Peak Trail. It took another half an hour of steady climbing before we finally topped out on the main crest. To the left was Torquemada, a lower peak just out of view that we'd tag on the way back if we had time, ahead was the undulating ridgeline leading to Silver Peak, still more than an hour away. We passed several signed junctions, spur roads leading to points further east and another access trail that come up from Parsons Landing on the NE shore. The views were mixed now, with some haze from several billowing clouds that seemed to hang around the island, threatening to block our views from the summit.

With half an hour still to go, the oddest sight appeared - a unicyclist coming down the road from the direction of Silver peak. He stopped to chat briefly with us. He had come up from the trail at Emerald Bay and was on a trans-Catalina tour, complete with a compact backback. My first question was, "How did you get up the trail?" He laughed and explained he had walked that whole miserable trail, as he described it. His accent struck me as German, but it turns out his name is Viacheslav, a russian-trained veterinary doctor now practicing in Marin County. The unicycle adventures are what he does for fun. We found much of this out because he wanted us to send him pictures - seems he has few photos of himself unicycling on his holidays. We got his email, shook hands, and bid him luck on the rest of the journey.

It wasn't until after 1:15p that we finally managed the last steep haul to get us to the top of Silver Peak. The road actually bypasses the summit to the east, but the final slope is only lightly vegetated and aside from the steepness, easy to negotiate. It was a bit windy and cold at the summit and the views were about 50% blocked, mostly to the north and east. A geocache served as a register, to which we added our names to the little booklet. The cold kept us from enjoying the top and we turned around to start down only fifteen minutes later.

Returning along the same route, it was 2:40p by the time we reached the end of the ridge where the road heads down steeply to Two Harbors. We turned right on a use trail of sorts (part of it looks like an old Jeep road) to follow the ridge to Torquemada Peak since we figured we had at least three extra hours. We came across a few small cairns and acres of cacti. Luckily, the use trail led neatly through the cactus patches. We couldn't tell if the trail was made by man or cow, but we were happy to follow it. The ridge here drops off dramatically on the right side down to the coast, but is easy enough on the ridge itself. We dropped to a saddle just north of Torquemada before climbing the last several hundred feet to the summit. There was an unmarked wooden cross set in some white rocks near the top, but no register or other markings at the summit. There is a fine view to the southeast looking at the isthmus and Two Harbors, as well as to the southwest looking down on Catalina Head, a possible second bonus peak. We took a short break here while I talked Tom into exploring further down the ridgeline to Catalina Head. He wasn't really up for it, but in his usual fashion, it wasn't hard to get him to come along for the ride.

The initial part of Torquemada's SW Ridge was very promising as it looked like the use trail continued in that direction. But only five minutes into it we had lost all signs of a trail and found ourselves wallowing in a sea of cacti. Heavy boots and leather chaps might allow one to whack through the cacti and continue down the ridge, but we had no such protection and gave up the effort. Tom was actually down below me searching out a route, being much more diligent about it than I, when I suggested we head back. And so we did.

Back at the summit of Torquemada we went off the east side at Tom's suggestion as it looked like we might find a short cut back to the road without too much cacti to contend with. Cattle had grazed the slopes on this side and there were long stretches of grassy hillside that we linked together with a minimum of bushwhacking. It worked nicely, getting back to the road in less than 15 minutes. Back at the west harbor we came across a small herd of bison near the shore. One was on the edge of the road we traveled, allowing us to get close for some photographs. They didn't appear to be very excitable creatures and spooked less than your average cow.

We were back at Two Harbors by 4:15p, figured out the coin-operated showers (it takes two quarters to get the water to start), and were enjoying a beer at the pub only twenty minutes later. We still had more than an hour to wait for our ferry so we enjoyed dinner as much to fill our bellies as an excuse to stay out of the chill that was developing outside now that the sun had gone down. A nearly full moon rose over the waters of the harbor as we were getting ready to board for the ride back to San Pedro. We got back to the mainland around 8:30p and I had Tom home in San Pedro shortly thereafter. In normal circumstances, this would have been the end of the day's adventure and I'd have taken the guest room at Tom's house that he so graciously offered.

But these were not normal circumstances. I wanted to tag Azusa Peak, one of now only two remaining LPC peaks so that I could do the LPC list finish on McAuley Peak on Sunday. Tom's HPS list finish on Saturday had been moved back an hour to a more managable 7a start time at the end of Lake Av in Altadena, but this still didn't give me time to get up and tag Azusa Peak with any degree of certainty. I didn't really want to do it in the early morning darkness when the temperatures were expected to be around freezing, so instead I decided to drive there tonight after dropping Tom off and do it before going to bed. I drove across LA in good time, reaching the start of the Glendora Ridge Motorway in Azusa around 10p. I found myself stopped at the edge of the suburban neighborhood by a gate that looks to have been locked for many years. This was a most unexpected surprise. Turns out I had done a hasty job of researching access to this peak and had mistaken this road for the Glendora Mountain Rd about four miles to the east. I had been on Glendora Mtn Rd only a few years ago and had thought it was the same road that I could see going past Azusa Peak when I was looking at the maps. Not so, and the surrounding area is private property beyond the fence. What to do? I had a backup plan. I had recalled seeing online a trail going up to Azusa from the south side. I didn't know where this trail was, but I did have the summit location in my GPS and it seemed I should just be able to drive around the base of the mountains until I was nearly south of the summit and start looking for a trail.

It seemed like a good plan, but it further assumed there'd be a park and signs directing me to the start. There were no such things. I drove all the backroads in the area, found myself in a new development called Rosedale on the border between Azusa and Glendora, still not finding the trail and thinking maybe it had been bulldozed to park a few extra homes on the hillside. Eventually, not long before I was ready to give up, I spotted an unmarked trail next to a fire station at the city boundary - this was the Garcia Trail I was looking for.

I can't exactly say the trail was unsigned because there was a yellow Fire Hazard Area sign at the street. A better sign was found shortly along the trail where a picnic area is found next to the fire station, but it couldn't be seen from the road at night. By now it was past 10:30p, about the time I thought I'd be getting to bed. The GPS showed the summit less than a mile away, so I figured it shouldn't take more than an hour roundtrip. The trail was well maintained and with a full moon high overhead it was easy to navigate without a headlamp. Ten minutes up the trail I heard voices and spotted some headlamps above me. I soon came upon a group of five asian college kids hiking down, one carrying a telescope which I assumed had been the focus of their evening hike. The lead hiker was surprised to see me in the dark and asked why I didn't have a flashlight. "No need, it's a beautiful moon," I replied.

It took about 35 minutes to reach the summit, the last part along the road I had hoped to drive up. There are a weathered bench and cross found at the summit, both covered in grafitti. The view of the LA city lights was wonderful. This is so much better than the daytime view, I'm fairly certain. Jogging much of the route back down, I returned to the van around 11:45p and got ready for bed, changing into more comfortable clothes (but sadly no shower tonight). I drove a short distance west to San Gabriel Canyon Rd and found a large dirt turnout about a mile up the road where I spent the night. It would be a short drive to Altadena in the morning...


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