Sunday, December 10, 2017

Split Mountain East

Hiked: 12/8/2017
Distance: 4.1 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1690'
Elevation Gain: 1700'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.36
Round trip time: 3 hours 15 minutes
Recommended water: 48 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Fish Creek Wash Jeep Trail
Difficulty: Moderate

The remote trailhead for Split Mountain East (SDC #89) is the same as for the wind caves. From Ocotillo Wells, take Split Mountain Road south about 8 miles near the end of the paved road. Turn right on the Fish Creek Wash dirt road after the sign "Fish Creek Wash Area, Split Mountain". From there, it is 4 miles of dirt road winding between Split Mountain East and West. The first couple of miles can be driven with a sedan, but the road gets rougher and the sand gets deep. High clearance and 4x4 is required to safely navigate all the way to the trailhead. I drove to the parking area and headed toward the wind caves on the way to Split Mountain East. The sign says the wind caves are 1 mile away, but they were only half a mile. After checking out the cave geology, I followed the use trail that continued up past the caves. There were a few different trails and I guessed at which one wound through the jagged, other worldly terrain to connect with Split Mountain East. The trail generally followed a deep wash of dried mud, but faded in and out. Whenever I lost it, I went higher until I spotted the continuation. This added unnecessary gain. From the top of a ridge, I realized there was no connecting ridge to Split Mountain East and that I needed to cross one of the washes.

Wind caves trailhead

The wind caves

Elephant Knees formation and the badlands

I had to back track a little to find the crossing. All the terrain was crumbly and I prepared for anything I stepped on to break loose or slip. On the way to the crossing I found what looked like dried, salty mineral deposits. A class 2 dirt descent got me into the wash and I climbed out the other side to start the final assault on Split Mountain East. Only now did I get my first glimpse of the summit. It was a straightforward ridge climb the rest of the way. The register went back to 1994 with the first entry signed by Paul Freeman. This peak doesn't get many visitors. Greg Gerlach was the last one to sign in more than nine months before me. I took a break on the summit, then descended more directly back to the truck dropping in and climbing out of the major gully as needed. I was going to stay in the gully all the way out, but ran into a 25' dry fall I could not down climb. I left the gully and climbed over a high bump to bypass it before angling back down. Despite extra rambling, the round trip only took 3 hours and 15 minutes. When I got back, I loaded up more water and made an attempt on Split Mountain West. The trailhead was only a half mile away so I just walked to it instead of driving. I had a perfectly good GPS track, but my Garmin topo (and the USGS topo) had peak 1477' marked as Split Mountain. The San Diego Peaks listed Split Mountain West is actually a mile further and about 200' higher. Instead of trusting the track I downloaded, I veered off to the Garmin marked point picking up the wrong peak. There was a fresh register there placed in November, 2017 by Robert and Beth Ramsey. I didn't document the debacle since I plan to return this month to properly bag Split Mountain West.

Mineral deposits

Dried mud wash

Harder rocks embedded in the soft mudstone walls

Dropping in

Looking back after climbing out

First view of summit (far center)

Looking across at Split Mountain West

Register placed in 1994, signed by Paul Freeman

Descending the gully

Friday, December 8, 2017

Tin Mine Canyon

Hiked: 12/1/2017
Distance: 7.6 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 2541' (high point on ridge)
Elevation Gain: 2100'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.68
Round trip time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 80 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Foothill Parkway
Difficulty: Moderate

Tin Mine Canyon is a popular hike on the eastern side of the Santa Anas. The trailhead on Foothill Parkway is the starting point for many hikes including Hagador Canyon, Hagador Peak, Sierra Peak,and Pleasants Peak. To get to the Tin Mine trail, follow the paved path to the Skyline trail. At the first switchback where the road starts going up, continue straight. There is a sign for the Tin Mine Canyon and a single track begins just beyond. The trail is well shaded from tall oaks and maples. It might even be pleasant on a summer morning. A small creek ran next to the trail and there was a trickle of water. In about a mile, I reached the first adit of Tin Mine. It had been sealed with a metal grate. I took a picture inside the grate and it looked a lot safer than the Horseshoe Annex Mine that Dima and I explored in the San Gabriels. Not far up the trail was the second adit sitting about 20' above the trail. A loose and exposed class 2 ledge got me to the entrance which was also sealed with a grate. It looks like the whole mine is still in good shape, though it was a commercial bust. I passed two rest areas with benches on the way to the official end of the trail. It took about 45 minutes to hike the 2.3 miles to the Trail End sign. Most people turn around here for an easy 4.6 mile round trip. I continued exploring up the canyon on a shockingly good use trail. Elevation started to pile up from small, but easy boulder scrambles. The upper canyon was quite nice at first.

First adit is on the trail

Inside the first tunnel

Second adit

Inside the second tunnel

End of the official trail

I met a few wood rats in the upper part of the canyon, always scurrying for cover. About half a mile past the end of the trail, there is a major fork. The main canyon continues southeast, while the southwest fork branches right. I stayed on the use trail that went up the main canyon, then veered east along another fork and ended at a crumbly, 30' dry fall. I was thinking I might get some bearings in the view above the fall so I risked a loose class 3 bypass up the right side with an assist from the brush clinging precariously to the wall. Instead of a view, more brushy scrambles greeted me. I kept thinking I would get a view after the next loose scramble. Nope, more of the same. This pattern repeated until I decided to return and check out the southwest fork. At the main fork, I found an interesting and relatively clear animal trail going up the main ridge that separated the two forks. It was also steep with loose dirt. Eventually, it got a little bushwhacky and required some crawling. However, it was clear enough that I could see a path up and so I continued for a while. This was all unplanned exploration. As the thrashing grew moderate, it became tedious. The ridge, being a deer hang out, dropped a couple of ticks on me. I brushed them off before any blood loss. On the way down, I lost the animal trail and instead of going back up to look for it, continued straight down into the northwest fork. I followed it back to the main canyon, then out. Checking the topo map later, it looks like I was 0.6 miles and about 500' below the doppler radar tower on Main Divide Road. A return trip might be warranted some day with a loop up the Skyline Trail to the doppler tower, then down the ridge and canyon. It might be rough sledding on the ridge below the tower. In any case, I found Tin Mine Canyon an enchanting diversion.

Upper canyon

Iffy bypass

Loosey goosey. Dude, where's my view?

Intriguing animal trail up the ridge that splits the main forks

View down canyon from the ridge

Friday, November 24, 2017

Mount Lukens

Hiked: 11/24/2017
Distance: 10.1 miles round trip on trail and dirt road
Summit Elevation: 5074'
Prominence: 1794'
Elevation Gain: 3100'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.48
Round trip time: 4 hours 40 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free at Deukmejian Wilderness Park
Difficulty: Moderate

Leisa and I drove to Deukmejian Wilderness Park in Glendale on Black Friday to take on Mt. Lukens. It had been on my to do list a long time but never bubbled to the top until now. Mt. Lukens is #273 on the HPS list and is actually within the Los Angeles city limits making it the highest point in the city. It was named after Theodore Lukens, former supervisor of the Angeles National Forest and former mayor of Pasadena. The Deukmejian park has nice restroom facilities and water. The plan was to do a well known loop up the Crescenta View Trail and down the Rim of the Valley Trail. We started up the trail looking for the Crescenta View junction. The arrow sticker on the sign at the junction was torn off leading us to continue up Dunsmore Canyon. We got about half a mile before I realized we were on the wrong trail. Leisa was not impressed. We had to descend about 300' back to the junction before the hike really got started. The trail is heavily switchbacked and the steepness of the ascent kept us in shadow most of the way up. The higher we got, the better view we had of the greater LA area, including downtown. When we reached the rock windbreak, we were well above the Verdugo Mountains and could have seen the ocean if not for the haze. There was a "Trail Log" box there with a single piece of paper in it. I signed us in knowing the paper would probably last about two more days.

Mt. Lukens from Highway 2

Mt. Lukens from the parking lot

Crescenta View Trail junction, trail goes right

Looking up the steep east ridge

Downtown LA just above the Verdugo Mountains

Leisa at the windbreak

The Crescenta View Trail ends at Mt. Lukens Road and so does most of the elevation gain. We took a left and drifted up the road to the Lukens summit. At the first tower, I decided to leave the road and explore the towers on the east side of the summit. Leisa continued up the road. I met another couple resting under one of the towers and exchanged some small talk. I looked around for reference marks but didn't find any on this part of the summit. I had a vague idea that the HPS register was on this side of the long summit but had no luck finding it. I continued west and met up with Leisa again. She told me about a close encounter she had with three deer along the road. I was glad to see she got some nice photos. We walked to the west end of the summit where the official benchmark was on the map, but only found reference mark number 5, stamped "La Crescenta". The topo map also names it "Sister Elsie" so there appears to be some confusion and controversy over the name. I did more mark hunting and came up empty, finally giving up and sitting down for some fuel. While we enjoyed the summit, two more hiking groups arrived. The proximity to four million people makes this a pretty popular destination. Because I had led us astray, I suggested that we return on the Crescenta View Trail to save time instead of completing the loop. Leisa supported this idea and we started down the way we came up. We went back along the road, and were surprised to find the deer still hanging around. They were lying down until my clumsy presence alarmed them. One bounded away while the others put some distance between us but were curious and stopped to stare. We continued down and lost elevation quickly, getting back to the car in less than two hours. A hilarious "Infinite Clearance" sign in the park caught our attention. An internet search turned up an LA Times article on fake signs a local artist installed around town, including this one. It was a nice touch.

Nearing the top of the trail

Leisa's encounter with the deer

Summit towers, more behind me

County reference mark #5 stamped "La Crescenta", the only mark I found

Downtown LA from the summit, Catalina on the horizon

Front range mountains from the summit

Leisa and I on the summit

Infinite Clearance sign at the park

Other Trip Reports:
Mt. Lukens: Crescenta View - Rim of the Valley Loop (Wild Southland)