For years Cooper Canyon Falls has been on my must-hike list. Finally all the factors came together to make the long drive up Angeles Crest Highway for a splendid day of hiking in the San Gabriels high country. My friend, Ray, and his group visited the falls last weekend, and he reported that the falls were flowing well. And he gave me some tips for the hike. The forecast was for perfect weather.
As I drive up Angeles Crest Highway, I am again saddened by the horrific damage from the 2009 Station Fire. What used to be thousands of acres of majestic pine, fir, and cedar are now blackened sticks. Soon my spirit is lifted as I enter mature forest that was not burned.
My plan is to hike via Buckhorn Campground down Burkhart Trail and return via Cooper Canyon Trail to Cloudburst Summit. Since the campground is still closed for its winter hiatus, I have to park along the highway and hike through the campground to the trailhead. The Forest Service has done a great job in making the campground beautiful and ready for the camping season. Signs point the way toward Burkhart Trail. Some patches of snow linger. The sound of the creek provides a pleasant soundtrack. After a walk of about 0.8 mile I reach the trailhead to Burkhart Trail. A brand new sign announces the entrance to Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness. This will be my first time in this new wilderness, which was newly designated by Congress in 2009 and encompasses 26,752 acres.
For me, this trail is nearly quintessential, with the only thing keeping it from perfection is the Sutter walls (wooden retaining barriers). To me they look ugly and mar the landscape. I much prefer stone retaining walls, which blend into the natural surroundings.
After nearly an hour, a group of four arrives. Their descending the rope route reminds me of a scene from the Keystone Cops. I decide it’s time to go. I leave by boulder hopping downstream about 30 yards then climb up the steep rocky slope to the trail. A normal person would head back at this point, but I must explore further.
2:06 - Leave Cooper Canyon Falls heading west. At the junction I veer right, departing from Burkhart Trail (which I descended this morning) to take Cooper Canyon Trail as my return route. As I cross the creek a couple arrives with a dog off the leash, a clear violation of county, national forest, and federal wilderness leash laws. How come people behave lawlessly?
The trail now follows the north bank of the stream and heads west. It’s warm now and I’m in the open sun more than shade. The trail is quite wide and obviously was some type of dirt road in the past. For the most part the trail stays close to the creek. I am so enjoying the mature forest of oak, alder, pine, fir, and cedar. I encounter my second flower for the day, another lone wallflower standing proudly in the warm sun.
After I pass the outcropping the trail bends southwest and traverses along the southeast flank of summit 6903’. It would be fun to climb it on another trip. The trail is wide again. Shortly I reach a saddle with views to the west and the sun dipping low in the sky. The trail now bends southeast. It’s a little disconcerting that I’m now descending...I’d rather keep climbing to my destination.
5:41 - Cloudburst Summit (7018’) at Hwy 2. I sit on the curb and remove a rock from my boot. Up the road comes Tom and Todd, two gentlemen I met earlier hiking the loop in the opposite direction. They graciously offer me a ride back to my car, and I eagerly accept.
Epilogue - What a rewarding day! Fantastic weather, fresh air, magnificent high country, splendid trails, mature forest, solitude, interesting people, and a roaring waterfall. I’m always so thankful for the health and wherewithal to enjoy these wonderful mountains.