Saturday, April 4, 2015

Mt. McKinley and Iron Mountain #2

Hiked: 4/3/2015
Distance: 19.8 miles round trip on dirt road and trail
Summit Elevation: 4926' (McKinley), 5636' (Iron #2)
Prominence: 246' (McKinley), 578' (Iron #2)
Elevation Gain: 4330'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 3.46
Round trip time: 9 hours
Recommended water: 164 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

A long drive to the western Angeles National Forest was required to meet up with Madison for a run at Mount McKinley and Iron Mountain #2. Here is Madison's trip report. We met at the Paxton Park and Ride, then carpooled to a parking spot off Big Tujunga Road. Madison had his window smashed and car robbed at the trailhead on the last visit and I was a little nervous parking in the same area, but could not think of a better parking location. Car smash and grabs are one of the hazards of parking in remote areas that are still close enough to the bad people in the big city. The car was certainly not safe, but probably as safe as it could be.

There is no short route to McKinley. The Gold Creek route is about 12 miles round trip. The other main option was to leave from Dillon Divide, but that would not be any closer, and both were dirt roads. It was around 6:20 AM when we started, officially before sunrise, but there was plenty of early morning light. The gain was mild and steady, adding up as the miles rolled by. In what seemed a short time, we arrived at the water tank about 4.4 miles from the start where the Yerba Buena Trail junction knifes back toward McKinley. The trail was somewhat overgrown and we pushed through the light brush without problems. We took our first break to adjust equipment at the western saddle of McKinley. I checked out the ridge and was ready to plow ahead, but Madison convinced me it was better to follow the trail around to the north side and tackle the peak from the higher north saddle. That was good advice because the climb from the northern saddle was unobstructed. We had made reasonable time to McKinley and were feeling pretty strong. At 4926', it ranks second on the Sierra Club Lower Peaks List. We signed the register and refueled. Without much debate, we agreed to continue on toward Iron #2. I was happy to log the extra miles since most of my hikes this year had been on the short side.

Predawn at Gold Creek Road

First view of Mt. McKinley

Water Tank at Yerba Buena Trail junction

Western ridge of McKinley, trail goes left

A lot of flora was still blooming

The north ridge of McKinley

Madison slap-tagging the McKinley summit register with an Eispiraten sticker

Condor Peak from McKinley summit

Iron Mountain #2 from McKinley summit

Yerba Buena Ridge from McKinley summit

The Yerba Buena Trail between McKinley and Iron Mountain Saddle was starting to decay. It was somewhat overgrown like the earlier section, but there were also half a dozen wash outs where a slip might send you on an unpleasant ride into the canyon. The wash outs weren't too difficult, and a little care got us by them without incident. While traversing toward the Iron Saddle, we saw a distant tractor leveling the road. Sure enough, when we reached Mendenhall Ridge Road, we had a nice smooth path for the next few miles to Iron Mountain #2. The tractor had moved along to other duties. From our angle of approach, it was not clear where the long western ridge of Iron intersected the road. We marched right by the use trail and started looking for a way up as we got below the high point. We looked at two possible ways up, one a grassy slope heading up the north ridge and the other a scree field. We decided the grassy slope would be better and as we scrambled up the slope, discovered a reasonable use trail heading straight to the summit. That makes three use trails on Iron #2, one on the east, north, and west ridges. The summit of Iron #2 had a benchmark stamped "NAT S". I'm not sure what that means.

We relaxed and celebrated our second peak of the morning. When we started planning this hike, we wanted to make it a loop, coming down Trail Canyon from Iron. The research I had done on a recent trip report suggested the canyon was not maintained and clogged after Tom Lucas Camp. I was wary of descending into a nasty pit, with flashbacks of Hot Spring Canyon and Tanriverdi Falls. Still, we debated the merits and the shorter distance of returning through the canyon. Madison wanted to complete the loop and it certainly sounded more appealing. We agreed to give it a shot. Before leaving the summit, we opened the register to sign it. Reading an entry from 2014 by Amin Faraday, (a veteran hiker with over 200 HPS summits), he described his ascent up Trail Canyon as "horrendous bushwhacking...never again!". That persuaded us to return along the road. We descended Iron along the western ridge, a better way to go up. The sun warmed everything significantly on the way back bringing out the reptiles. I counted four snakes on the way back, but none were pit vipers. I was only able to capture one on camera. We also stumbled over the scattered remains of a deer. Madison removed a tick from his leg at our final break coming off the Yerba Buena Trail. It was a long slog on the way back, and the final road switchbacks seemed neverending. Arriving at the car, I was glad to find it undisturbed. It had been a great day in the front range with the bonus of bagging another Iron Mountain.

Charred tree hanging over the trail

Typical washed out section

Leaving the road on the north ridge of Iron Mountain #2

Looking up the north ridge

Iron Mountain #2 benchmark

McKinley from Iron Mountain summit

On Iron Mountain #2 summit

Deer parts along the road

Western patch-nosed snake


Other Trip Reports:
Mt. McKinley and Iron #2 Loop (EisPiraten, confirmed our decision to avoid Trail Canyon)


  1. Okay, some good info. I should have read this before entering Trail Canyon. I think Cecelia took a picture of that same burnt tree on the McKinley trail.

    1. Sean,

      It could have gone either way for us. We were on the fence about returning through Trail Canyon but the register entry tipped the scales back to not going. At least there is no doubt now that Trail Canyon needs serious work before it is safe to pass through it. You guys created valuable beta.