Distance: 9 miles on trail and use trail
Summit Elevation: 4631'
Elevation Gain: 2800'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.24
Round trip time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 72 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Some of the mountains on the Lower Peaks list are far north of Los Angeles. Living in south Orange County, that means there is an ocean of cars between me and those mountains. The tides of that ocean play havoc with the logistics of day hiking those peaks. Low tide on the L.A. freeways is generally between 8:30 PM and 5:30 AM, meaning I need to get north of the city before 5:30 AM or spend 2-3 additional hours sitting in traffic. That long introduction was to explain why I started the Slide Mountain hike in the dark, and why many hikes of distant peaks start in the dark. Logistics.
The trailhead starts near Frenchman's Flat Campground, where old highway 99 is blocked. Parts of highway 99 were replaced by I-5. The southern terminus of highway 99 is now at Wheeler Ridge. This is a rare hike that starts in the Angeles National Forest and ends in the Los Padres National Forest. The main route heads about 1.5 miles up the abandoned highway, then turns left onto the Slide Peak trail. There was one other vehicle parked at the trailhead when I arrived, but it appeared lifeless. I took off around 6:00 AM, about an hour before sunrise. I could hear, but not see, Piru creek flowing below me on the right side. When I got to the Slide Mountain trail, it was still dark. The trail started out wide, but eventually narrowed to a single track. As the sun rose, I could finally see the stratified geology of the area and Pyramid Lake below. The sun played some interesting tricks on the rocks.
At the saddle, the trail turned right and there were a few switchbacks on the right side before the trail curled around left of the summit. I didn't see the lookout tower until I was very near the top. The tower is not very high, but it doesn't have to be at that vantage point. The stairs were not locked so I could walk around the top of the tower and take in the excellent views of Los Padres. I was impressed with this angle on Cobblestone. The benchmark is intact, and the register sits just below a more formal sign in sheet for hikers. I put my signature to both. Under the tower I found a chest labelled WATER and indeed there were half a dozen bottles of water inside. A sign on the tower indicated they were looking for hikers to volunteer as lookouts. There is also a portable restroom at the top. Everything looked well maintained.
Instead of returning along the trail, I headed over to Peak 4618, then cross country down to the trail. The vegetation was a little thicker than expected so I may not have saved much time. Back on the trail, I jogged down to the saddle. From there, I struck out along the firebreak, planning to take the ridge back. This was far more interesting than returning on the trail. The firebreaks and use trail were usually easy to follow, but there were a few places where they faded out. 1400' of descent came in the last mile and was sharply steep in places. I had to hunt around to find a way to descend from the final bump without going a half mile out of my way down a more gentle slope. The last obstacle was getting over Piru Creek, which left my feet wet for the drive to Saddleback Butte. I hardly thought about my feet, though, having enjoyed Slide Mountain from start to finish.
Slide Mountain Photosphere
Would you like to know more...?