Snow Hiking In Los Angeles: The Mt. Waterman Trail

After several days of rain, there are several options for snow hiking in Angeles National Forest right now. Last Sunday I enjoyed one of them. There was deep enough snow at the Mt. Waterman trailhead that I was able to snowshoe 1 the entire way from Angeles Crest Highway to the summit. I read on the Mt. Baldy Facebook Page that the ski lift area received another 8″-10″ of snow Tuesday night and that they will open up Thunder Mountain with the understanding that the snow is extremely thin in some areas. So, there’s enough snow on our mountains right now to support a good range of winter fun.

Mt. Waterman

View from Mt. Waterman

Mt. Waterman is a great place to snow hike for most all skill levels because it’s not as steep as most snow covered options in Angeles National Forest 2 and it doesn’t have the kind of sketchy areas many of the other trails have. Even where the trail is a little thin with a significant drop to one side; the trail is still wider, the drop is less steep, and the drop isn’t as far as most other trails high enough in elevation to be covered in snow.

One of the more "sketchy" parts of the Mt. Waterman Trail. Comparatively tame when compared to other trails nearby.

One of the more “sketchy” parts of the Mt. Waterman Trail. Comparatively tame when compared to other trails nearby.

For the most part, the trail is comfortably wide with an easy grade which makes it a perfect place to snowshoe as there aren’t many awkward areas where the size of the snowshoes makes moving forward tricky. In fact, there are lots of more flat and open areas which I find very appealing in the snow.

View toward Mt. Waterman from the last saddle area before the summit.

View toward Mt. Waterman from the last saddle area before the summit.

Among the many winter treats experienced hiking this trail at this time of year is to see the stream flowing down the mountain which is dry most of the year. Traversing this trail soon after the storm meant the ice was still falling from the trees. The sound of that along with the interesting patterns on the ground below the trees was an added bonus.

Seasonal stream along the Mt. Waterman Trail.

Seasonal stream along the Mt. Waterman Trail.

I find the snowy version of the summit even more dramatic than it is the rest of the year. The color of the trees–especially their bark–stands out more against the contrasting white snow. The partially snow covered portions of the plethora of granite outcrops helps to emphasize the varying formations being created due to the weathering process. I also find the warmth from the sun as I move out of the shade in the winter to be of larger impact than the coolness of the shade on a summer’s day.

Mt. Waterman

View from Mt. Waterman

The area of the summit of Mt. Waterman is larger than most peaks in Angeles National Forest . As a result, it yields many different perspectives and can be reached by several different routes that lead to the peak.

The steeper approach to Mt. Waterman from the east.

The steeper approach to Mt. Waterman from the east.

The one described here is one of the two options coming from the east. There is a split in the trail just past the last saddle before the summit that allows a steeper more direct approach and leads to the more spatially constrained eastern area of the peak. Here, views are long but always partially blocked by trees and large granite outcrops which often give the feeling of being walls.

View looking out toward Mt. Baldy from the more constrained eastern end of the peak.

View looking out toward Mt. Baldy from the more constrained eastern end of the peak.

Continuing west along the trail that runs the length of the summit (the summit is long enough to call the path a trail), the landscape opens up dramatically providing an expansive view of the more open and flat middle section of the peak which is also directly accessed from the longer gentler approach from the east 3.

View looking west on Mt. Waterman.

View looking west on Mt. Waterman.

Since I wasn’t going to make this a loop hike by taking the road back, I turned around and headed back the way I came enjoying the constantly changing views of almost the entire high country of Angeles National Forest.

On of my favorite views of the high country of Angeles National Forest as seen from the Mt. Waterman Trail.

On of my favorite views of the high country of Angeles National Forest as seen from the Mt. Waterman Trail.

The following other snow hikes I’ve posted in this series should be covered in some amount on snow for a while now (baring an unforeseen heat wave).

The Pacific Crest Trail from Angeles Crest to Mt. Islip

The Pacific Crest Trail from Vincent Gap to Mt. Baden-Powell (presently only accessible from Wrightwood because Angeles Crest Highway is closed between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap for the winter).

The Baldy Bowl Trail

Notes:


  1. I didn’t actually need snowshoes to hike this trail on this day. Sure, near the summit even the snowshoes sunk about 4″ into the snow. So, it was nice and extra fun for me to have them. However, one could just “post hole” it–preferably with tall gaiters. That’s what I did when I started snow hiking. However, I had an experience at Mt. Hawkins where the trail got icy and very slippery forcing me to turn back earlier than I wanted because I started slipping on the snow instead of sinking into it. I knew I needed to get some equipment to counteract that issue. At the time, I bought snowshoes because they helped with both icy conditions and make travelling in deep snow more enjoyable. Later I learned about microspikes which are great to help with icy conditions and work better than snowshoes when the snow isn’t deep. I now carry both microspikes and snowshoes when I snow hike. There were others wearing snowshoes, some with micro-spikes, and a lot more just wearing hiking boots. My friend Etienne was even trying out hiking with his skis to prepare for an upcoming snow touring trip. 
  2. Only 1,250′ of gain over three miles to the summit for an average of  just over 415′ per mile. Compare with Islip Saddle to Mt. Islip at over 570′ per mile, Vincent Gap to Mt. Baden-Powell at over 740′ per mile, or the Baldy Bowl Trail to Mt. Baldy at over 930′ per mile. 
  3. The more gentle approach is taken by continuing straight at the fork after the last saddle before the peak (instead of going up the steeper trail on the left). This lower path eventually reaches another obvious junction where a left turn leads to the middle portion of the peak. This lower path eventually widens to road width and leads to the road at the west end of the peak. The road at the west end of the peak is also accessible from the higher trail and leads back down to Angeles Crest Highway. The lower path also leads to a lesser known middle path with a seasonal stream that meanders down the mountain eventually terminating in a ski run that needs to be crossed to reach the road that leads down to the highway. It’s probably best to avoid that middle route when skiers are present. 

Campgrounds Closed Due To Bubonic Plague

A squirrel with bubonic plague was found in Angeles Forest. Three Campgrounds have been closed as a result while officials attempt to control flees. Closed campgrounds are: Broken Blade, Twisted Arrow, and Pima Loops. Call the health department’s “Vector Management Program” at (626) 430-5450 if you see dead ground squirrels.

Favorite Places: Rock Platform Along The Mt. Hillyer Trail

One of my favorite things about hiking is that the terrain varies as the miles pile up.  There are always interesting places along the trail to spend some extra time in.  When I’m training and trying to reach a certain spot and be back at my car before dark, I often don’t take the time to stop and enjoy these wonderful places along the way.  However, when I am exploring, I like to invest the time to enjoy some of the places a trail passes by.  This is the first in an ongoing series to share these places.

On a recent family and friends hike to Mt. Hillyer from Chilao, a mountain biker suggested we climb around and up an interesting rock formation and check out the view–which we did.  The view is terrific and the greenery is made more poignant as nearby the forest is dominated by burn areas.  It’s also fun to take a small break from hiking and do a micro rock scramble–challenging enough to require that one pay attention but easy enough for most to easily accomplish safely.  The rock formation is oriented so that a rock wall blocks the view from the trail.  So, rock scrambling up a short and somewhat narrow path of boulders to then reach the top of a rock that forms a small platform significantly enhances the drama of the expansive view that emerges. The rock platform is high enough off the ground that It feels a little precarious to be there, but not so much so as to be distracting. With the rock wall blocking the view of the trail behind, the place has an intimacy to go along with its remarkable view.

This rock formation is located on the Mt. Hillyer Trail between Horse Flats Campground and Mt. Hillyer.  Since it forms one edge of the trail, it’s easy to spot.

View of rock formation heading down from Mt. Hillyer toward Horse Flats.

View of rock formation heading down from Mt. Hillyer toward Horse Flats.

To get to the rock platform, climb up between the tree among the boulders and the rock wall.

View of boulders to climb on the way to the rock platform.

View of boulders to climb on the way to the rock platform.

There is a nice spot to sit on along the way–especially if the last boulder to cross to get to the rock platform is more challenging than you want to attempt.

View of nice spot to sit as seen from the rock platform.

View of nice spot to sit as seen from the rock platform.

From November 15 through April 1, the Chilao trailhead isn’t accessible by car.  However, another way to get to the Mt. HIllyer trail is to hike the Silver Moccasin Trail to Horse Flats from Three Points.

View from rock platform.

View from rock platform.

Between Two Layers Of Clouds

Last Wednesday I woke up to dark cloudy skies with no sunshine in sight.  Rain looked imminent.  The clouds were low and I couldn’t see the peak of Mt. Lukens behind my house.  The forecasted storm appeared to be arriving on schedule.  I checked the weather channel application on my phone and noticed an interesting change from the forecast of the night before.  The new weather prediction at my house (indicated with a cloudy icon with rain) was for a 50% chance of rain.  On the other hand, Mt. Wilson (a half hour away) showed a 10% chance of rain (indicated by a sunny icon with some clouds).  I contacted my friend Lorenzo who lives on the Mojave Desert side of the San Gabriel Mountains and learned that he was seeing sunny skies from his house.  Being on the front end of the incoming storm, it looked like a prime opportunity to do some cloud chasing.  Even if I didn’t find myself touching clouds, I imagined that the sky would be magnificent.

View from Eaton Saddle looking down Eaton Canyon.

View from Eaton Saddle looking down Eaton Canyon.

I decided to drive up to Eaton Saddle and hike up to San Gabriel Peak (next to Mt. Wilson).  San Gabriel Peak is only a little more that a mile from Eaton Saddle. Therefore, if the weather changed on me I wouldn’t be that far from my car.  The view from Eaton Saddle was promising.  Clouds were making their way up through Eaton Canyon below me and clouds were forming over a thousand feet above me.  It appeared the clouds from below would make it high enough up the mountains to cover some of the peaks.  I quickly hiked the short way up to San Gabriel Peak hoping to get there before it was covered in clouds. Once on the peak however, the clouds below started to look like they would burn off and they were closer to looking like a layer of smog as they formed a fairly uniform surface.  I couldn’t see the city below, but I could see the ocean off in the distance.  Initially I was disappointed.  While it was a great view, the promise of having an exciting day of clouds overtaking the peaks below like I experienced before was unlikely to be replicated.

View South from San Gabriel Peak at 10:22 am.

View South from San Gabriel Peak at 10:22 am.

San Gabriel Peak at 6,161 feet is the tallest peak in its immediate vicinity and it’s also small in area at the peak (about the size of a large living room).  I find the ability to stand in one spot and look down on the terrain far off into the distance in all directions makes it one of the forests best places to be.  So, I didn’t remain disappointed long.  I was unsure what to do however.  I didn’t have enough time to go on a much longer hike.  I couldn’t possibly get beyond where I had been a couple days earlier with family and friends and my preference for variety made me resistant to simply doing that again.

View north from San Gabriel Peak

View north from San Gabriel Peak at 10:21 am.

Normally I don’t stay in one spot longer than a half an hour, and staying that long usually involves eating lunch.  I’m usually trying to get my hike completed before I run out of daylight, or exploring new areas and want to see more, or I have somewhere else I need to be requiring me to get down the mountain.  As I was starting to get a little antsy walking around the summit, taking in the views, and trying to come up with a plan of what to do next; the phrase don’t just do something, sit there popped into my head.  So, I sat on the bench made from a steel c-section beam and enjoyed being on the summit.  By that time the clouds were starting to get a little more puffy below me and more clouds were starting to form above me.  I decided to stay a while and see if something interesting developed.

Steel C-section bench with journal and pen.

Steel C-section bench with journal and pen.

Fortunately, I remembered I had a small journal and pen in my backpack.  I realized I could invest some time jotting down ideas and working on clearing up my thinking on a number of things I’m trying to figure out.  Among the many things I worked on  was fine tuning my ideas to create two new weekly series of blog posts which I began a couple days later (Weekly Gallery Update and Weekly Nature Question). While jotting ideas down, the clouds slowly began getting more dominant in the sky.  The progression moving from mostly sunny skies to two layers of storm clouds was something I found exciting to behold.

View West from San Gabriel Peak at 12:26 pm with some clouds beginning to make it over Brown Mountain.

View west from San Gabriel Peak at 12:26 pm with some clouds beginning to make it over Brown Mountain.

View west from San Gabriel Peak at 1:33 pm with clouds starting to make it over Brown Mountain and Mt. Lukens from below as the clouds become more ominous from above.

View west from San Gabriel Peak at 1:33 pm with clouds starting to make it over Brown Mountain and Mt. Lukens from below as the clouds become more ominous from above.

View west from San Gabriel Peak at 2:00 pm with  the clouds having overtaken Brown Mountain and Mt. Lukens from below as the clouds from above make it over me on San Gabriel Peak and it begins to sprinkle shortly thereafter.

View west from San Gabriel Peak at 2:00 pm with the clouds having overtaken Brown Mountain and Mt. Lukens from below as the clouds from above make it over me on San Gabriel Peak and it begins to sprinkle shortly thereafter.

The timing of this progression was perfect.  It didn’t start to sprinkle on me until it was time for me to leave anyway.  It had turned out to be a gorgeous and unexpectedly productive day on the mountain.  As I turned to leave the peak, I admired the view of Mt. Wilson and the sunny skies beyond to the east.  A few minutes later I saw a rainbow looking north.  The rest of the way back to my car I thought about the fact that I was actually fairly productive while having this wonderful day on the mountain.  I could easily bring some reading and plan to write and think through ideas on future outings where the hike isn’t the central component–this one being just over two miles round trip.  While I will continue to mostly go on longer hikes where the focus is on either training or exploring new areas, I plan to try a couple days a month that are more like this experience and see if I’m as productive.

View east from San Gabriel Peak toward Mt. Wilson.

View east from San Gabriel Peak toward Mt. Wilson.

Looking North at Rainbow from the San Gabriel Peak trail.

Looking North at Rainbow from the Upper San Gabriel Peak trail.

 

Inaugural Weekly Nature Question: What Species Of Bird Is This?

A key blogging discovery I’ve made during my “freshman” ten months of having a blog is that blogging is as much about learning from others as it is about sharing my own thoughts, photos, and information.  I’m sure others have learned that long ago and may have even started blogging for that reason.  When someone comments on or likes one of my posts, I always check to see what they are doing.  Granted, that’s presently easy to do as my blog doesn’t generate much traffic.  As a result, I’ve found myself reading some interesting blogs that I wouldn’t have searched for.  I’ve also found myself following bloggers who post on topics that are outside my typical areas of interest because they found me and write well or do something on their blog better than I do.  For the most part, this learning for me has been serendipitous.

On a recent hike, I started thinking about this interesting community aspect of blogging.  Closing in on two years and over 1,500 miles of hiking in Angeles Forest, I’ve come to know a fair amount about its many peaks, trails, water sources, burn areas, and how weather impacts hiking experiences.  However, looking at a bird that I knew nothing about caused me to reflect on the fact that I knew very little about the life living in the forest.  Sure, I can tell a lizard from a snake.  In fall, I can tell a deciduous tree from an evergreen.  I’ve seen enough warning signs and talked to enough people about the poodle dog bush to know to avoid it.  I read a book on bears (and have seen two), to learn about them and what to do when I see one.  For similar reasons, I read part of a book on rattlesnakes.  I want to know more about life in the forest, but it’s hard to look something up if you don’t know its name.  I don’t trust myself with field guides.  I want verification from someone who knows what they are looking at.  As I was struggling to take pictures of the bird, I recalled many of the great bird pictures I’ve seen from bloggers.  I always admire those photos from serious photographers using expensive camera equipment.  My point and shoot snapshots rarely (if ever) do the bird justice.  Thinking about how great it would be to see a picture of this bird taken by one of those bloggers caused me to also think about how there are people who know what species of bird it is, and possibly others who have written a post providing information about the bird, and even the outside chance that someone might write a post about the bird if encouraged to do so.

For the rest of my hike and periodically over the past couple weeks I’ve wondered if the serendipitous learning I’ve acquired through reading blogs could also become more focused and teach me about life in Angeles Forest.  Could I use my blog to ask the blogosphere questions and reasonably expect to get answers?  Would non-bloggers who find their way to this blog participate?  I don’t have much I can offer others in return for investing the time to educate me.  What I can do is take the information people share with me and make it a permanent resource on this blog and acknowledge those who help in some way.

So, what I’ve decided to try is to ask a weekly nature question asking what species something is and post photos of the thing in question.  I will also provide a link to a page with other photos of the area I took the pictures to provide context for those interested.  If I get answers (that are plausible), I will create a page on this blog for that species under a new section called Forest Life–which will be first created with results generated from this post.  This will create a resource for anyone interested to examine.  For bloggers who send me links to posts of the species (through my contact page as linked comments tend to go to spam) that are from their blog, I will create a link to their work (provided I think its accurate)  on the species page and add a page for their blog in the reference section area that will work similar to how the newly created author pages are working.  I’m hoping some people will also provide links (again through my contact page) to articles and references that I can add to the species page.  I’m really hoping that this turns out to be a viable and meaningful way to share knowledge.

So, if you know anything about the bird pictured below (the one who inspired this project), please share.

November 2012

November 2012

Photo taken at Valley Forge Campground

November 2012

November 2012

Photo taken at Valley Forge Campground