Distance: 9.2 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 3575'
Elevation Gain: 2375'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.90
Round trip time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Recommended water: 96 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
From the popular Chantry Flats trailhead, Rod, Katie, Edward and I set out on a loop to Mount Zion: Forest Route 2N40 to the Gabrieleno trail into Santa Anita Canyon, to the Sturtevant trail, left on the Mount Zion trail, then Lower Winter Creek trail, and back up Forest Route 2N40. The twist on this hike was the DJI Phantom quad copter Rod purchased earlier in the week, then fitted with a GoPro camcorder. He was still learning to fly it and the forest canopy was not ideal terrain but he planned to get it airborne on the Zion summit.
Even on a Friday, the parking lot was more than half full when we started at 9:45 AM. We descending into Santa Anita canyon and followed several groups of hikers to Sturtevant Falls. With the drought conditions, there was only a weak flow over the Falls and the pool at the bottom was smaller than usual. It was still surrounded by at least 30 people and their dogs. Rod got the drone out and wanted to fly it, but it had no GPS signals in the steep canyon and he opted to keep it on the ground. We back tracked and took the trail that goes past the top of the falls, through Spruce Grove Campground, continuing around to the north side of Mount Zion before hitting the summit trail.
Nearly the entire hike is shaded with large trees. We were almost out of the canyon before getting a good view of the surrounding mountains. The Mount Zion summit is a bare patch of dirt with no benchmark or register, but it does offer nice views of Mount Wilson and friends. After a snack break, Rod successfully launched the quad copter on the first of three separate flights, while I caught it each time it came in for a landing. The last flight took it at least 500' above the summit and over the canyon. A real helicopter came down the canyon and from our vantage point, appeared to be on a collision course with the drone. Rod dropped the drone a couple of hundred feet and the helicopter appeared to dip down to see what was in the air before continuing down the canyon. We hoped the drone would have video of the helicopter, but the camera may have been facing the wrong way.
During the descent down Lower Winter Creek trail, I spotted a garter snake with a freshly killed lizard in its mouth. I foolishly attempted to pick it up, which angered it and caused it to flee without its hard earned lunch. With any luck, it returned to dine soon after. Near the bottom of the trail, we spotted a small cave. I took out my flashlight and discovered it was only about 20' deep with nothing inside. The final 200' climb up Forest Route 2N40 at the end of the hike was generally unwelcome by the crew, but everyone made it back to the car without incident.