Wed, Dec 23, 2009
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I had to be back in San Jose in the afternoon, about a five hour drive from Santa Clarita in SoCal where I had spent the night. Normally that wouldn't give me any time for any sort of hike, but I had a relatively short one in mind, an LPC peak just off Interstate 5 on the boundary between the Angeles and Los Padres National Forests. Access is off the Golden State Highway, the historical connector between LA and the Central Valley before Interstate 5 was constructed. It was designated US99 which is still a major freeway in the Central Valley, but only bits and pieces of it remain to the south through the mountains. The Golden State Hwy used to follow up Piru Creek, but the creation of Pyramid Lake in the 1970s flooded that part of the road upstream from the dam. Now a 7.5 mile stretch of the road from the Templin Hwy exit to the Pyramid Lake Dam has been isolated and gets very little traffic. At the five mile mark, where the road drops to Piru Creek, a gate blocks vehicular traffic. It was up this last 2.5 miles of road that I started around 6:15a, just as it was starting to grow light out.
It was odd walking up this wide road bed. It had been four lanes in the past, since reduced to two lanes with wide shoulders. The two lanes had been freshly paved, to what purpose I couldn't tell since only emergency and official vehicles can access it, and I didn't see a single vehicle on it all morning. It felt like a scene out of Mad Max with deserted roads in the post-oil era. On the left side of the highway rises Slide Mtn some 2,500ft above the road. It is crowned by a USFS lookout tower that could be seen as I hiked along. Between the peak and the road lay Piru Creek, but a bridge over the creek in the first half mile puts the creek on the right side of the road for most of the way along it. The creek is open for catch and release fishing only, though that restriction is only valid for that part of the creek above the gated roadway.
After two miles I came to an unsigned, gated dirt road on the left. My topo map showed this as a trail leading up to Slide Mtn, so I turned here and followed it into the hills. After some time the road turns into a nicely maintained trail. Though one is never free of the roadway sounds from Interstate 5 a few miles across Piru Creek, the hike was very enjoyable, unexpectedly so. The rugged mountains around Piru Creek are striking, and as one climbs higher a pictureque view of Pyramid Lake is obtained. The sun came up brightly over the eastern hills, the first really sunny day out of the last four. The lookout tower was hidden from view ever since I had left the pavement, and it wasn't until I was near the top where the road circles around to the north side of the summit that it came into view once more.
It took almost exactly two hours to reach the top. A benchmark and summit register were located a short distance south of the tower. Both tower and benchmark dated to 1970, the most recently placed survey marker I can recall seeing on any peak. The visitor center at Pyramid Lake says the tower was erected to help in the surveying of the lake during construction, but there was no evidence of that now. It must have subsequently been converted for use as a USFS lookout, because it was for that purpose that the tower has been lovingly restored. Though it was currently closed, I was able to walk around the deck outside and peer inside. It was restored to how it must have looked when first commissioned, with 1970s era appliances, electrical fixtures, bedding, maps, and such details as a coffee pot, pencil sharpener, and posters from the time.
The views from the tower were crisp and stunning, the rugged hills of the surrounding terrain rising up on three sides. Fresh snow on the Liebre Range could be seen across Pyramid Lake in the background. Piru Creek cut its convoluted way through the mountains to the south with Lake Piru glistening in the distance. I was thoroughly impressed with this little peak rising not quite to 5,000ft.
A fire had swept over much of these hills about three summers ago, though much was already regrown. I decided to follow the SE Ridge back rather than take the road since the cross-country travel was not too brushy. Game trails along the ridge made things even easier and I found the descent route both more scenic and more direct. It provides a swell view of Piru Creek to the south where the creek turns west for a few miles. This is reported to be a fine canyon descent to the lake many miles to the south and this view only served to further pique my interest in the venture.
I followed the ridgeline and use trail until they both petered out on the west side of Piru Creek. Getting across the creek was a bit trickier than I had expected, but manageable. On the east side of the creek there were picnic benches, trash cans, and grassy flats among some shady oaks about 20ft below the road level, all along the creek. I hadn't realized this was a popular recreation spot until then, as it isn't very apparent from the roadway. It was just after 9:30a when I returned to the van. Time to head home after my eight day tour in SoCal. Funny thing though, I would be heading back down the very next day with my family in tow for the Christmas holiday. Good thing I enjoy long distance driving...
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