Wright Mountain P300 HPS / PD
Pine Mountain P750 HPS
Dawson Peak P300 HPS

Fri, Jan 12, 2007
Wright Mountain
Pine Mountain
Dawson Peak
Story Photos / Slideshow Map Profile

With a serious cold snap sweeping across the state I had grave doubts about the wisdom of pursuing this weekend's agenda to hike and climb in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California. Forcasted temperatures were for below freezing at the lower elevations, threatening citrus crops across a dozen counties. Of course my main concern wasn't citrus but my fingers - could they keep warm in such conditions where temperatures at elevation would be below 20F? Since it isn't so easy for me to reschedule outings, a cancelled one amounts to a lost one, so I pursued it nonetheless. Perhaps it would be a good lesson in suffering.

Ryan Spaulding was supposed to meet me in Wrightwood somewhere between 7-8a. The uncertainty was due to my long drive from San Jose, as I wasn't sure how long it would take me to get there. Six hours, as it turns out. I was in Wrightwood by a quarter to eight and started off on the side roads towards the trailhead along one of the residential streets (Acorn Drive as per the HPS guide). A few inches of fresh snow had fallen the night before which didn't give me trouble until the road grew a bit steeper. Less than half a mile from the trailhead I had to stop and put on chains. Luckily I had packed them for just such a need. Taking only ten minutes, I just managed to get to the TH before the end of the alloted time. No sign of Ryan. Seems he had troubles of his own. He didn't arrive in Wrightwood until just after 8a and then didn't have chains. Unable to make it to the trailhead, he parked along the main road, waiting for me to come by. He sat there for several hours, not knowing I had already passed by. This is the sort of reason why others wish I owned a cell phone.

Meanwhile, I figured he had decided against the cold temperatures and I headed out alone not long after my arrival. It was 24F when I started out, bundled in three layers with hat, balaclava, and down mittens. Most of it would stay on the whole day. After hiking past the last of the homes, I found the trail easily enough under the new snow but decided to head up a steep ravine as a more direct way to reach the ridge a few thousand feet above. There was old snow and some ice under the new stuff, and it didn't take long before I was donning crampons to arrest my sliding where the gully steepened. The extra effort helped keep me warm in the very cool shade of the ridge's north side. I was happy when I finally reached the ridge and the accompanying sun, but it didn't seem to warm me up much. Mostly, I think it just compensated for the colder temps as I climbed in elevation.

There were no other hikers out in the area for the entire day, not altogether surprising. Though the weather forcast had given a 50% chance of precipitation, it was mostly fair skies. The only clouds were ominous ones clinging to the south side of the range from Mt. Baldy southward. The picture must have looked dismal indeed viewed from Los Angeles, but it was far sunnier here on the north side of the range.

I had taken off my crampons shortly before reaching the ridge, then headed east to the rounded summit of Wright Mtn. It was not hard to find the summit cairn on the broad top where I arrived after an hour and a half at 9:40a. The views to the south and east are blocked by trees, but the north side drops off quite steeply and affords a fine view to Wrightwood and the Tehachapi Mtns beyond.

Retracing part of my route, I started down the south side of the mountain to the saddle with Pine Mtn. Though the lamest of the named peaks in the area, Pine Mtn is quite high, matched only by the higher Mt. Baldy to the south. The north ridge of Pine Mtn is steep as well, and it took me a good deal longer to reach the second peak than I had guessed beforehand, almost two hours from Wright Mtn. I found old snow, not fully consolidated at the upper elevations and switched to snowshoes to avoid wallowing. My toes were already a bit numb from the cold and the confining snowshoes would constrict the bloodflow further. I didn't want to wear them any more than needed. It was probably around 15F near the summit, the sun being the only thing saving me from a hasty retreat. Among the names in the summit register, Tom Becht had climbed it a few months earlier - he would join our party for the climb the next day.

As it was after 11:30a at the summit of Pine, a quick calculation suggested it would be impossible to get to Baldy and back before dark. Dropping temperatures could be a serious problem, so I decided to head only to Dawson before turning back. The traverse from Pine to Dawson was a good deal easier than Wright to Pine, and it was another 45 minutes before I found myself atop the last summit shortly after noon. The ground near the summit was cleared in two thin tracks - what looked like fresh helicopter landing prints. I hadn't heard or seen a chopper all day, so perhaps the tracks were older than they appeared. It was quite possible that wind had blown any fresh snow from the tracks during the night.

I was quite impressed with the views from both Pine and Dawson. Wintry white descended down to the lowest reaches of the mountains and it looked more like the Sierra than Southern California. The North Ridge on Baldy looked impressive, but I would have to save that effort for another day. Beating a retreat, I followed my tracks back via the same route. Keeping an eye out for Ryan (who I thought might have followed my tracks sometime later), I spotted across the way what looked like a second set of tracks next to mine. I shouted for Ryan, but there was no reply. Upon closer inspection, the alternate tracks looked to belong to a rabbit that had passed by sometime after I had done so earlier. The sun was behind the mountains to the west as I descended the north side of Wright, temperatures growing colder as expected. By the time I returned to my van around 3:30p it was back to 24F at the lower elevation. My toes and fingers were chilled, but I had survived the day - in fact it had been rather enjoyable. It was nice to find my acceptable temperature window was larger than I had expected.


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This page last updated: Sat Apr 7 17:05:07 2007
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