Sunday, December 21, 2014

Brown Mountain, Bear Canyon

Hiked: 12/21/2014
Distance: 14.4 miles one way on trail
Summit Elevation: 4466'
Prominence: 386'
Elevation Gain: 2775' (3470' loss)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 2.22
Round trip time: 8 hours 30 minutes
Recommended water: 112 oz.
Parking/Fees: Adventure Pass
Difficulty: Strenuous

This hike had two goals. First was to get to Brown Mountain (#20 on the Lower Peaks List). Second was to explore Bear Canyon, following the old, mostly unused trail from Tom Sloane Saddle to Switzer Campground. There were four other people in the party today, Sean, Cecelia, Madison, and Henry. We dropped Sean's car off at Switzer Campground, our end point, then car pooled to Red Box Trailhead, our starting point. From there, we headed up the trail toward Mount Disappointment, then took the San Gabriel trail to Mt. Lowe Road, then the Tom Sloane Saddle trail. This was definitely not the easiest or fastest way to hit Brown Mountain, but we started from Red Box because we considered completing a loop back to the cars from Switzer. From Tom Sloane saddle, it is a little more than a mile over the rolling ridge and several false summits to Brown. We had not counted on a large hiking group (26 people!) also heading out to Brown Mountain today and we got mixed in their large group, sometimes passing a few and sometimes getting passed. We all ended up on the Brown summit together. Fortunately, it is a large open summit and there was plenty of room.


Chainsaw dude doing some trail maintenance

Heading toward Brown Mountain on the Tom Sloane Saddle trail

Brown Mountain at the end of this ridge

Tiny hikers on the ridge show the size of Brown Mountain

Crowded Brown Mountain summit

Our private group on Brown Mountain summit, taken by one of the 26 hikers in the USA hiking group,
(L to R) Cecelia, Sean, Madison, Keith, Henry

The very crowded Brown Mountain summit

While the large group headed off to pick up other nearby peaks, we returned to the Tom Sloane Saddle, then started descending the old trail into Bear Canyon. The first mile or so was in good shape and there was clear evidence of very recent brush clearing. That was encouraging and made our descent much easier. Water was flowing strongly at the bottom of the canyon. The trail started getting worse and navigation became more difficult as we followed pink ribbon placed every few 100 yards where the trail used to be. In place of the trail in many places was deadfall, overgrown sections, washed out sections, and large patches of poison oak and poodle dog bush. Our pace slowed as we tried to find our way and avoid the poisonous plants. I set a personal best for stream crossings, losing count after a while, but believe it was well over 20. The canyon was filled with strong and interesting waterfalls, pools, and the constant gurgling of water. The whole canyon was wet, making logs and rocks very slippery. Sean led for most of the hike, and it ended up costing him when he stepped on a loose rock in the stream and ended up face down in the water. It looked quite unpleasant, but he continued on without complaint, having saved his camera by virtue of having it strapped up near his shoulder. Eventually, we popped out at Switzer campground, and there was some discussion about completing the loop via Arroyo Seco. Sean seemed to be only one with more than a passing interest, so we packed it in and drove back to Red Box.

Descending into Bear Canyon

Getting tougher

Massive uprooted tree

Heart-shaped rock, reminded me of Leisa :)

Bear Canyon campground

One of many interesting waterfalls

Other reports:
Taming Bear Canyon (Wild Southland)


  1. Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog here! I've started to get back into hiking myself, and this is a great source of inspiration. Happy trails!

    1. Hey John,

      I'm glad to hear it. Happy trails!

  2. Hey teke, how come we only rated a 7 on the fun scale? I'm deeply hurt.


    1. Madison,

      The company was a 10, the terrain was a 7. Please don't take the silly fun rating as any kind of personal slight. From my sidebar: The calculus includes wildness/remoteness of the peak, challenge, views, climbing, flora, fauna, weather, and general appeal. Company for someone else will likely be different and so it isn't included.

    2. No worries teke. I'm just bustin' your hump. ;)