Finding Shade And Magnificent Views On Copter Ridge

Earlier this month, I drove up Angeles Crest Highway planning to go on a hike I will probably end up doing later this week.  It was one of those days when I felt like hiking somewhere different than I planned the night before but I didn’t have any concrete ideas of what I wanted to do. After passing Clear Creek Junction, I noticed the open/closed information sign indicated that Angeles Crest Highway was now open to Wrightwood. This was the inspiration I was looking for. I love hiking from Dawson Saddle and I was definitely in the mood to take in the scenery between Dawson Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell.

View of the north face of Throop Peak from the Dawson Saddle Trail.

View of the north face of Throop Peak from the Dawson Saddle Trail.

That began my “change in plans” theme of the day. By the time I parked my car at Dawson Saddle I had seen enough snow on the north face of Throop Peak that I started thinking about what I would do if there was icy snow further up on the trail. In the past, I’ve found the short stretch of trail that crosses Throop Peak to be tough going and potentially dangerous depending on snow conditions. While the trail itself is gentle, the north face of Throop Peak is very steep. A slip could easily result in a long fall. I’ve turned back before, I’ve seen several groups of people turn back before, and I’ve crossed uncomfortably in microspikes only to return by going over Throop Peak instead. I left the parking lot already thinking there was about a fifty percent chance I would end up altering plans and hiking up the ridge to Throop Peak instead of following the main trial.

Following the ridge up to Throop Peak with its western and southern exposures meant I could avoid trying to hike through the icy snow along the north face.

Following the ridge up to Throop Peak with its western and southern exposures meant I could avoid trying to hike through the icy snow along Throop Peak’s north face.

Sure enough, I found the snow to be dangerously icy (especially without microspikes). Fortunately, doubling back to the junction that leads up the ridge was only about a hundred yards. The ridge was snow free to traverse and filled with nice views of snowy mountain faces. On the summit, having a snack and enjoying the view, I decided to head toward South Mt. Hawkins instead of Mt. Baden-Powell. I had only hiked to Middle and South Mt. Hawkins once before and I knew the north facing portions of the way up to Mt. Baden-Powell could also be icy since this was the case for Throop Peak. I decided I would also take the short spur trail up to Mt. Hawkins along the way.

View toward Copter Ridge from the Pacific Crest Trail.

View toward Copter Ridge from the Pacific Crest Trail.

While hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail, I became pre-occupied with a ridge running down east from Mt. Hawkins. It looked like something I’d really enjoy walking on and the potential for interesting views was calling me to traverse it. From several vantage points high above the ridge, I could see that it split off into two directions both leading to a flat area that could make a nice stopping point. I also saw that the top of the ridge looked pretty wide and something reasonable for me to attempt to hike. Although not named on the Harrison Map I use, it is named Copter Ridge on the 2013 US Forest Map.1 Upon reaching Mt. Hawkins, I decided to head down Copter Ridge prepared to turn back if it was more difficult than it appeared.

View looking down Copter Ridge near Mt. Hawkins.

View looking down Copter Ridge near Mt. Hawkins.

The way down this eastern running ridge begins with a mix of fallen trees that were clearly burned in a past fire (perhaps the Curve Fire of 2002) as the terrain following the ridge down from Mt. Hawkins initially resembles the burn areas of its western face. Fortunately, the way over and around these fallen trees isn’t too difficult and doesn’t last that long. Periodically the presence of a faint trail emerges and then disappears only to re-emerge further down the ridge.

One of several flat areas of Copter Ridge.

One of several flat areas of Copter Ridge.

After making it through the old burn area, the way becomes shaded and initially less steep. The ridge becomes densely wooded yielding a plethora of spots to stop in the shade and openings through the trees provide diverse magnificent views from each small bump or subtle change in direction.  At times, the ridge becomes relatively flat and wide before becoming steep.

View down one of the steepest parts of Copter Ridge before reaching the last significant bump.

View down one of the steepest parts of Copter Ridge before reaching the last significant bump.

At the bottom of the steep part , the ridge flattens again and then gently gains and loses altitude until it reaches a relative high point that forms the last significant bump on the ridge before it heads down toward the San Gabriel River. Along this stretch, the remnants of a past trail are in better shape. The trail appears to continue past the last bump, but I didn’t have time to continue on. The bump is a good stopping place and I enjoyed staying there while I ate my lunch. The views from this spot were refreshingly new for me.

View toward Mt. Baldy and the last significant bump on Copter Ridge.

View toward Mt. Baldy and the last significant bump on Copter Ridge.

On my way back up the ridge, I made a slight adjustment to my path so I could see the point where Copter Ridge splits into two. It turned out that I had taken the southern path because I followed what looked like a trail around the bump that formed the fork where I could have made it a choice. This other ridge also looks enjoyable and reasonable to traverse. I now intend to someday both hike past the last bump on Copter Ridge and to traverse this other ridge that leads to what looks like a very interesting spot just below Ross Mountain. The views back up the ridge provided me with many perspectives of peaks I’ve been on and peaks (like Ross Mountain) that I want to get to at some point in the future. This turned out to be a great ridge to hike and I look forward to hiking it again sometime soon.

View looking up toward Mt. Hawkins (L) and Throop Peak (R) from Copter Ridge just below the last significant bump.

View looking up toward Mt. Hawkins (L) and Throop Peak (R) from Copter Ridge just below the last significant bump.

Notes:


  1. I now use the Backcountry Navigator Application to track my hikes.The included 2013 US Forest Map is excellent and only one of several options.You can view the track for this hike on my 2015 Hikes Page. Just scroll down to hike #028. 

Mt. Lewis Is A Small Treasure Hidden In Plain Sight

I’ve hiked from Dawson Saddle over a dozen times, but I only made it up to Mt. Lewis for the first time last Saturday. I confess I was told to go a few years ago on a day I went snowshoeing up the Dawson Saddle Trail toward the PCT. As I was getting my snowshoes on another hiker arrived at the trailhead having just finishing snowshoeing to Throop Peak. He told me that he had a great trip to the peak and was now going to take his snowshoes off and hike to Mt. Lewis (a short distance across Angeles Crest Highway from where we stood). He said that he does this often and really enjoys the juxtaposition of snowshoeing and hiking on the same trip. As we parted ways, he assured me that a quick hike up to Mt. Lewis was worthwhile. Although I also had a great day snowshoeing (only my second time), I wasn’t up to doing the additional hike afterword.

View toward the Antelope Valley from the densely forested  Mt. Lewis

View toward the Antelope Valley from the densely forested Mt. Lewis

For me, a lot goes into determining where to hike that has little to do with the beauty of a particular place in the forest. Although it always looked to me that it might be interesting to summit, the trail is only a mile round trip and is over an hours drive to reach from the 210 freeway. That’s too much driving for such a short hike to be worth doing for me on its own. Frankly, the terrain behind it is so great that I’ve only allowed time and energy to hike those spectacular areas which left Mt. Lewis unexplored by me. Now that I’ve been there, I believe this peak would be almost as popular to climb as the others close by if there was a much longer trail to get to it. I combined it with Throop Peak creating a worthwhile short day on the mountain travelling 5.2 miles with 1,728′ of gain and loss. I think the key to hiking Mt. Lewis is to hike it first and then cross Angeles Crest Highway to combine it with something much longer. Over the past few years, I’ve always ended up just going home after hiking whatever I hiked first–reaching my car after an already satisfying and tiring hike always proved to inspire procrastination.

View from the steep Mt. Lewis use trail. Note the trail goes from bottom to top on the left side of this photo.

View from the steep Mt. Lewis use trail. Note the trail goes from bottom to top on the left side of this photo.

It is important to point out that this trail isn’t for everyone. It is an un-maintained use trail that has very steep parts to it, is thin in many places, and often has a steep drop to one side. The steepest part is over the first quarter mile.

View toward Throop Peak from the heavily wooded trail.

View toward Throop Peak from the heavily wooded trail.

The trail is heavily wooded which noticeably slowed down the gusting wind as compared to what it was like at Dawson Saddle and Throop Peak on Saturday.

Mt. Burnham (Left) and Throop Peak  provide a nice background to the long view down the trail.

Mt. Burnham (Left) and Throop Peak provide a nice background to the long view down the trail.

The views from the trail are often dramatic. In many ways this is due to the trees partially blocking the long view creating many interesting panoramas as major landmarks come in and out of view. The interplay of foreground and background is often engrossing. In fact, the trail and peak are so wooded that getting a completely unobstructed view out to a desired landmark requires a significantly higher degree of focused effort than is typically the case. I’m not saying it’s hard to do. It is just a different and more nuanced visual experience than being on terrain with completely unobstructed views. In a way, it’s similar to being inside looking out.

View toward Mt. Baden-Powell (left) and Mt. Burnham from the trail.

View toward Mt. Baden-Powell (left) and Mt. Burnham from the trail.

This quasi inside feeling makes the landmarks feel a little more special when they do come into clear view. That I love seeing the forest and its landmarks from different perspectives made this quality very appealing to me. The series of glimpses out combined with the more intimate interior spatial changes of the terrain along the trail made the short half mile to the peak interestingly varied. My sense of anticipation regarding what I would see after traversing another hundred feet or so was constant.

Typically enclosing space on Mt. Lewis

Typically enclosing space on Mt. Lewis

I was pleasantly surprised when I reached the peak and found it spatially enclosed by trees. I concede that on one level I was disappointed that the unobstructed 360 degree view out I had expected didn’t exist. However, there are views in all directions, just not from the same spot and the process of seeking them out is interesting and fun. Also, the peak itself is on the larger and more flat end of the spectrum compared to other peaks nearby. So, some walking around to find these good angles is required and the possible great views are unlikely to all be seen on a single trip.

View toward Twin Peaks from one of the southern breaks in the trees on Mt. Lewis

View toward Twin Peaks from one of the southern breaks in the trees on Mt. Lewis

Unlike the super windy conditions at Dawson Saddle, there was only a slight breeze on Mt. Lewis and it was significantly warmer due to the protection provided by the trees. This level of protection combined with numerous areas of flat enough ground to pitch a tent got me thinking about camping here sometime in the future. I noticed I’m not the only person whose thought of this. Unfortunately, I saw remains of a camp fire which is not allowed in this area for obvious reasons. I sincerely hope that anyone inspired to camp on Mt. Lewis due to this post will obey the fire restrictions in place for this area which only allow the use of a portable stove etc.

The protection from wind combined with fairly flat terrain on the peak makes Mt. Lewis an interesting option for camping.

The protection from wind combined with fairly flat terrain on the peak makes Mt. Lewis an interesting option for camping.

I’ve been thinking about hiking to Ross Mountain sometime next year (a destination following the ridge down the south side of Mt. Baden-Powell about 2,000′ lower in elevation). This would be a long day hike which would benefit from my being able to start early from Dawson Saddle. The option to spend the night on Mt. Lewis and then swap gear at my car before embarking on such a trek is very appealing to me and is now the most likely way I’ll attempt to reach Ross Mountain. I also look forward to returning to Mt. Lewis to spend the time to look around more which would be a perfect thing to do on a late afternoon before spending the night.

Mountain Mornings

I started and ended May with great backpacking trips. In between was mostly about dealing with more injuries. Thankfully, this time it wasn’t my IT bands or knees. It was my feet that were giving me lots of problems which I attribute mostly to my shoes. It seams every time I find shoes that work for me the manufacturer stops making them. This time, finding a replacement pair was extra difficult and I’m still not excited about what I’ve ended up with.

View from the Pacific Crest Trail close to the trailhead as Islip Saddle toward Mt. Williamson.

View from the Pacific Crest Trail close to the Islip Saddle trailhead looking toward Mt. Williamson.

Normally I’d use a backpacking trip as an opportunity to push myself. However, this time I wanted to take it easy on my feet and take things slow. I really can’t afford another setback if I’m going to be ready to hike the High Sierra Trail at the end of July. So, the two day experience was far less strenuous than one of my typical  day training hikes. I was joined by my friend Lorenzo who prefers to go a little slower and savor the experience anyway.

There's easy access to water at Little Jimmy Springs and the water is still flowing nicely.

There’s easy access to water at Little Jimmy Springs and the water is still flowing nicely.

Spending the night at Little Jimmy Trail Camp was perfect because there are so many options to hike from there that I could easily alter plan as needed. Water is also close by at Little Jimmy Springs which serves to significantly reduce pack weight. Arriving at Little Jimmy in a mood to go slow, I was easily inspired to spend about 45 minutes following a deer around in lieu of hiking further up the trail as originally planned.

Deer at Little Jimmy Trail Camp.

Deer at Little Jimmy Trail Camp.

Lorenzo meet me a few hours later and we hiked up to Mt. Islip to enjoy watching the day turn into night. Windy and getting chilly on the peak, we ended up making dinner back down at Little Jimmy.

Dusk on Mt. Islip.

Dusk on Mt. Islip.

Early mornings are probably my favorite time on the mountain. Perhaps this is because I’m not a morning person and arriving at a trailhead from home early enough to experience an early morning beginning would leave me too tired to really enjoy it. On the other hand, waking up in a tent already a good distance up the mountain is something I find refreshing. Perhaps it’s the comparative rareness of my experiences that inspires me. Unlike home where I’m not always ready to get out of my comfortable bed, waking up in my tent in the forest is an exercise in anticipation. Depending on a bunch of factors, I find sleeping on a pad on the sloping forest floor to range between endurable and adequate in terms of comfort. I’ll wake up a few times overnight and I often look at it as paying my dues to earn the morning light. However, I somehow always wake up rested and ready for another day of hiking.

Early morning at Little Jimmy Trail Camp

Early morning at Little Jimmy Trail Camp

As we made it up the Pacific Crest Trail between Windy Gap and Throop Peak Saturday morning, I became fixated on some similarities and differences between early morning and late afternoon light which reminded me of the figure ground studies I did back when I was in architectural school. Architectural figure-ground studies involve drawing two versions of the same thing. In one version, the solid objects (e.g. walls) are drawn in color (usually black ink) leaving the spaces white. The other version is the reverse. The idea is to study how the difference between the two drawings of the same thing affects how it is perceived and to assist in seeing the importance of both solid and void.

Shade and sun, a form of figure-ground relationship.

Shade and sun, a form of figure-ground relationship. The experiential difference for me is mostly impacted by temperature.

I’ve hiked this portion of trail numerous times in different conditions ranging from a fairly hot summer’s day with smog obstructed late afternoon views to hiking in snow on a on a chilly winter’s day with clear views to the ocean.

Pacific Crest Trail between Windy Gap and Mt. Hawkins in November 2011.

Pacific Crest Trail between Windy Gap and Mt. Hawkins in November 2011.

However, I’ve never been on this portion of trail anywhere near an early morning time. So, the figure-ground like perceptual shift of sun, wind, and shade between early morning and late afternoon jumped out at me. Although the angle of the sun is the same (though coming from different directions), the meaning of the temperature change between sun and shade and the impact of the wind is fundamentally different for me. This difference revolves around whether it’s more comfortable for me to be in the sun or the shade and if a little wind makes things better or worse.

Snags from the 2002 Curve Fire leave the landscape open and exposed and require a low angle from morning or afternoon light to provide shade. I find ascending the mountain in these conditions more enjoyable in the cool morning air.

Snags from the 2002 Curve Fire leave the landscape open and exposed and require a low angle from morning or afternoon light to provide shade. I find ascending the mountain in these conditions more enjoyable in the cool morning air.

Unlike the heat generated by the afternoon sun that I prefer getting out of, the warmth of the morning sun is typically such a welcome change in temperature for me that I want to be in it. A breeze serves to heighten these preferences. As a result, in the morning I find myself more focused on stopping and taking in views while in the sun hopefully with no wind whereas in the afternoon I prefer hanging out in the shade hopefully with a breeze. This makes the lighting significantly different and changes what I focus on.

In the morning I enjoy warming up in the sun and looking at how the morning light highlights the landscape. Long shadows being reminders of recent darkness and cold.

In the morning I enjoy warming up in the sun and looking at how the morning light highlights the landscape. Long shadows being reminders of recent darkness and cold.

In both cases the long shadows make the ground more interesting for me and delineate areas to move through or stay in depending on the time of day. This range of experience which changes my perception of the terrain and requires a very early start to experience is a key reason I love backpacking.

Being in the warmth of the early morning sun on an exposed portion of the trail makes viewing the long shadow of the mountain  and the contrast between light and shadow more pleasurable to take in for me.

Being in the warmth of the early morning sun on an exposed portion of the trail makes viewing the long shadow of the mountain and the contrast between light and shadow more pleasurable to take in for me.

We made it to Throop Peak before returning to Little Jimmy to gather our things and head home. The thought of morning light has me looking forward to my next overnight trip.

Weekly Gallery Update #2: Views From Peaks

My Weekly Gallery Updates are about sharing photos I’ve added to the gallery section of this site.  The galleries are my way of creating a visual approach to searching for hikes by having collections of photos that link to information about hiking to where each photo was taken.

This week I’ve added five photos to the Views from Peaks Gallery.  All photos in this gallery were taken from a peak.  For me, peaks are typically the main destination I reach on a hike where I take a break, have lunch, enjoy the view, and get ready to hike back down the mountain.

October 2012

October 2012

Above view toward Mt. Baden-Powell from Mt. Waterman

October 2011

October 2011

Above view toward Mt. Baldy from Mt. Baden-Powell

October 2011

October 2011

Above view toward Throop Peak from Mt. Islip

October 2011

October 2011

Above view toward Mt. Baden-Powell from Throop Peak

November 2012

November 2012

Above view from San Gabriel Peak