Monday, July 19, 2010

Smith Saddle Hike - July 18, 2010

Smith MountainSee Smith Mountain Via Upper Bear Creek Trail Description on Dan's Hiking Pages

Planning is good, but serendipity can bring pleasant surprises. Such was my hike on Upper Bear Creek Trail to Smith Saddle. Throughout the summer I try to hike once a week, even if it's just a "scrappy" hike (close to home on scraps of time craved out of a full schedule). With daytime temps hitting triple digits this weekend, a hike would need to be butt early. I went to bed on Saturday night with no specific hike picked out but with the plan that if I wake up in the 4:00 AM range, I'll go hiking. Well, I awoke at that hour but had a hard time dragging my butt out of bed. But I did and decided on Rincon-Red Box Road, just up Hwy 39 from my home in Azusa.

I arrive at the Rincon at 5:38 only to find it closed: "Fire Damaged Area." Oh, where now?! Sort though the inventory of trails in my mind. Well, maybe I'll wander up the West Fork. Drove by the trailhead but I just don't feel like walking along a paved road. Keep going up Hwy 39 and am pleasantly surprised that the locked gate that for years restricted access to the North Fork (and Crystal Lake) was open! Wow! I keep driving with the thoughts of Smith Saddle—a nice 6-mile round trip hike that would be ideal. Sure enough, the road was open all the way to the trailhead (but restricted beyond). I was a surprised to see eight cars parked there. Either their owners arose before 4 AM or perhaps they are backpacking in Bear Canyon.

Upper Bear Creek Trail 6:00 AM - Start the hike ascending Upper Bear Creak Trail. It's 70 degrees and I plan to be done by 9:00, so I should be able to safely avoid the triple digit temps that are sizzling us this weekend. I love being on a narrow trail in contrast to the wide fire roads of Griffith Park, or even the one I had planned to hike this morning. This area was incinerated in the 2002 Curve Fire, but it has rebounded well. The storms the following year significantly damaged the trail, completely washing out some sections. In late 2005 the Forest Service hired a trail contractor to repair the trail. I hiked it in February 2006 with John Seals of the FS to survey the work. That was my first time on the trail and we hiked all the way to Bear Creek (11.2 miles r.t. with 2900 in elev. gain.). Today, the trail is in good condition except for the dead weeds intruding into the path in places. The San Gabriel Mountain Trailbuilders has worked a lot on this trail over the years.

I'm hiking along at a good pace. Not a lot in bloom. The California Buckwheat dominates the floral scene. After a few switchbacks, the trail crosses over a little ridge and enters the first of two primary canyons en route. At 6:22 I see the first traces of the sun landing on the outcrop just east of Smith Mountain.

On Upper Bear Creek Trail6:26 - One-mile maker. Eleven minutes later I cross over into Lost Canyon. Not sure where it got its name. How do you loose a canyon?! A breeze feels good. The burned branches of scrub oak and manzanita accent the landscape. Lots of yucca in bloom. I hear water down below.

6:52 - Two-mile maker. Still at a pace of better than two miles an hour. The grade of the trail is quite gentle (climbs only 333 feet per mile). At 6:55 I step into the sunlight—I feel like Dorothy stepping into full color in the Land of Oz. The brilliance of direct sunlight changes everything, particularly the photography. The trail crosses several places tucked into the wrinkles of the canyons hosting thriving oases of lush green plants and sycamores. At 6:57 I encounter a running spring. Weave in and out of the sun as I navigate the creases in topography. I'm startled by a snake racing across the trail directly in front of me.

Burned Manzanita7:20 - Smith Saddle (4260' - est.). Wow! To the west lies the rugged San Gabriel Wilderness, the pointed summit of Twin Peaks East Peak, and in the distance, Mt. Wilson and its neighboring peaks. Smith Mountain summit (5511) towers 800 feet above me to the south. It calls me to climb it, but I muster up self-discipline to resist. Must have the car home for the wife by 9:30. The trail continues past the "San Gabriel Wilderness" sign heading west into Bear Canyon. I linger for a few minutes and soak in the beauty and solitude of this place. Pull hat and sunglasses out of pack.

7:35 - Begin my return. I take a brisk pace to make up for my occasional stops to take pictures. Pass the 2-mile marker at 8:10 and the 1-mile maker at 8:38. Sun is getting warmer.

9:03 - Finish. The car thermometer reads 85 degrees. What an enjoyable hike this turned out to be. Certainly better than slogging up Rincon Red-Box Road. I'm glad I dragged myself out of bed this morning! icon

See Smith Mountain Via Upper Bear Creek Trail Description on Dan's Hiking Pages

No comments:

Post a Comment