Friday, October 23, 2015

Slide Mountain Lookout

Hiked: 10/23/2015
Distance: 9 miles on trail and use trail
Summit Elevation: 4631'
Prominence: 631'
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
Difficulty: Moderate

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.

Starting in blackness

First look at Slide Mountain near dawn

Here comes the sun

Slide Mountain from the saddle

Lighting trick on these cobbled boulders

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.

Slide Mountain Lookout Tower

Pyramid Lake

Register. Since this is Los Padres, I was not surprised to find David Stillman.

Inside the lookout


Mountains around Cobblestone

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.

Returning along the ridge

Heading up to Peak 3900

Almost down

Crossing Piru Creek

Slide Mountain Photosphere

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  1. I miss Dan's adventures. I hope he returns someday. Thanks for sharing yours!

    1. Hey Derek,

      Dan Simpson or David Stillman? Either way, we can keep doing our thing and sharing the adventure. I saw your latest on the Canadian Rockies, that was a wild trip! Hike on!

  2. Thanks for this write-up. It was very helpful when I hiked up to the lookout and back with my dad earlier this week. Didn't do the alternate descent since we started late and were running low on light. Looks awesome though.

    1. Evan,

      Glad you and your dad made it to the lookout. Great view of the lake.

  3. Great write up. I've always wanted to go to Cobblestone Mountain. It looms enticingly over the Santa Clarita Valley. What do you think? Would this would be a good way to go you think?

    1. Man0verMach1ne,

      I haven't tried to measure the distance accurately, but starting from highway 99, it looks like roughly 15-20 miles one way to Cobblestone. Half of that would be over rough cross country. It would be quite an accomplishment, even as a week long backpacking trip. I think it would be a lot easier going from Buck Creek.

    2. Yeah, I read that too. Trying to avoid that long drive through Hungry Valley. Google Earth makes it look close but I've never seen it up close. Looks rough :(