Distance: 8.8 miles round trip on dirt road and cross country
Summit Elevation: 5843'
Elevation Gain: 3844'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.07
Round trip time: 6 hours
Recommended water: 136 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Rattlesnake Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains is the baby brother of Big Iron Mountain which remains in view the entire trip. It is considered the second toughest single peak in the range with plenty of elevation gain, yucca hazards, and loose dirt. To get to the trailhead, follow highway 39 north out of Azusa as if heading toward Iron Mountain, except follow Shoemaker Road to the left instead of continuing on E Fork Road. Stop at the closed gate.
There are two main approaches to Rattlesnake Peak, the south ridge route (most popular), and the east ridge after going through two tunnels. It can also be done as a loop in either direction. Rod and I started up the south ridge which starts in a gully on the left side of the road at GPS coordinates N34.24946 W117.76476. There was a cairn marking the start of the use trail that I improved slightly.
Soon after leaving the road, the use trail faded away and I had to consult the GPS to determine which way to go. The GPS showed the way to a steep wash on the left where the dirt was so loose that it frequently meant taking a step and sliding back a few inches. Eventually, the use trail returned and after reaching the south ridge, it was clear where to ascend. There were plenty of intimidating bumps, some rock scrambling, and a few interesting places where the path led along the edge of a cliff. About half way up, we cached some water to pick up on the return. We were the only humans on the mountain all day, though we did see a few large horned lizards and a red velvet ant along with the usual squirrels and birds.
Most of the vegetation was burned, but it was hard to tell how recently. There was no bushwhacking, and very little brush or tall grass. It was pretty barren most of the way, except for a healthy yucca "garden" we encountered. Big Iron Mountain dominated the northeast the entire hike, with snow-capped Mt. Baldy behind it.
After passing several false summits, Rod and I planted a "rattlesnake flag" at the peak, signed the summit log and took some photos. The most recent log entry was from the prior Sunday. After a short rest and snack break, we returned on the south ridge. The east ridge would have to wait for another day.
Start of the use trail that leaves on the left side of the road near a deep road cut
A horned lizard wonders why we are trespassing on his mountain
On the summit
Rod on the summit, Iron Mountain and Mt. Baldy in the background
USGS benchmark labelled "Fang" instead of "Rattlesnake", placed in 1930.