Distance: 9.2 miles round trip on trail, use trail, cross country
Summit Elevation: 5710' (Wilson), 4763' (Yale), 4003' (Hastings)
Elevation Gain: 2575' (total loss and gain)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.06
Round trip time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Recommended water: 80 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
note: the mileage and gain were inflated due to backtracking and searching for my hiking partner.
Mt. Wilson is an iconic peak in the San Gabriel mountains and a communications hub for local TV and radio stations. It also houses a famous observatory with multiple high powered telescopes. It is surrounded by a number of lower peaks on the Sierra Club LPC list and the goal was to summit three of these starting on top of Mt. Wilson. The trip was planned canyon style, descending first, then climbing back up to Wilson. One reason I wanted to do it this way is because I have a bias against peaks with paved roads to the top. There is just no sense of accomplishment for me if anyone can drive up to the benchmark, so it seemed more satisfying to bag the easy HPS peak by car and pick up the others via trail and firebreak.
The first obstacle started when we arrived on top of Mt. Wilson and the gate to the parking areas were closed. A sign indicated that the park would open at 10 am. Not what you want to see at 6:30 am. I pulled off into a dirt area and looked for ways around the fence. There appeared to be a way through on the left side of the gate, but Noel convinced me to walk around the outside of the barbed fences to reach Mt. Wilson Trail. We could have just taken the Mt. Wilson Toll Road down, but I wanted to find the Wilson benchmark and that meant getting around the fences. A short time later, I had my photo and we proceeded down Mt. Wilson Trail. It passed by Mt. Harvard, which has been private property for some time, and sports its own communication towers. Since it is private property, the Sierra Club removed it from the HPS peak list in 2000. The Mt. Wilson Trail intersects the Mt. Wilson Toll Road shortly before Mt. Harvard road splits from the Toll Road. We stuck to the Toll Road and circumnavigated Harvard toward Yale. It seems like a Gilligan's Island joke that Yale is lower than Harvard. Thurston Howell III would approve.
I expected the tricky part of the hike to be the scramble from the Toll Road up to the Yale ridge line and that turned out to be true. As we approached Yale, I searched the embankment for signs of a use trail or reasonable way up. Nothing looked inviting. After passing up some possibilities, I decided to scramble up a section of loose dirt that had some exposed tree roots. The ridge line was about 85' up at that point. I had to really dig into the dirt with my hands and feet to make progress, but after I was half way up, it got easier, and the last 20' or so were over some dead fall and branch piles. Noel decided to continue along the Toll Road looking for a better way up, while I continued up the ridge. I expected to meet him coming up the other side as I descended.
I scrambled up and over Mt. Yale, which had an abused benchmark and no register that I found. It was a class 2 affair with nice granite, except for the bushes that had overgrown the use trail. It was brushy all the way down. I didn't find any shortcuts back to the road and had to descend the ridge all the way until it met the Toll Road again. As I got off Mt. Yale, I received a few texts from Noel that he thought we had passed the ridge to the next peak and he had returned to my scramble point. I headed back up the road looking for him. No sign, I continued up the road past two cairns that marked the Hastings ridge, around a few corners to where my scramble started and no sign. Then, I thought he had followed my path and would be coming down the other side of Yale. So I returned to the bottom of Yale and ascended a little ways back up. No sign. Then, I went back to Toll Road, sent him a text that I had found the Hastings ridge, got out my whistle and went back up the road. This continued for about 45 minutes until I received another text that he had headed back up to Harvard. I'm not sure how we missed each other, but I decided to tag Hastings Peak. We had planned to also hit Jones Peak, but both of us had afternoon obligations and there was not enough time left for Jones.
The initial descent on the ridge to Hastings was steep, but soon I was down and over a big bump, arriving at Hastings Peak quickly. I was surrounded by clouds so the views were a zero. The Hastings benchmark reads "Sierra Madre" and there is a pole on the summit. No register that I found. I immediately started back toward the Mt. Wilson Toll Road eating a snack on the way. By the time I got the to bottom of the steep ridge, I had gone about 2.5 hours without a rest and the ridge was pretty unpleasant. It requires hands in parts so I took my time. I avoided the rusted metal cable that looked like it was there to assist climbers, having read a recent warning about frayed cable wires sticking up in parts. When I got to the road, I decided to stick to the Toll Road all the way back to the car.
The return trip did have some excitement in the form of a baby rattlesnake sunning itself on the road just below Mt. Harvard. I was able to snap a few pictures before I got too close and it turned around to take a defensive posture. I let it be and continued on my way.