Saturday, March 31, 2012

Van Tassel Ridge Hike - March 31, 2012

View southwest from Van Tassel Ridge See Van Tassel Ridge via Fish Canyon Trailhead Hike Description on Dan's Hiking Pages

March is one of my favor months of the year to hike. But for some reason, I was only on the trail once this month. Compelled by a calendar showing it to be the last day of the month, I had to get another hike in. With my wife’s need for the car and a forecast of gloom and drizzle, I figured I’d do a scrappy hike nearby. Van Tassel Ridge seemed ideal, just a few minutes from my house.

Fish Canyon access trail trailhead The trail was dedicated in 1999 as an attempt to provide an alternative route to Fish Canyon Falls since access is restricted by the quarry operation in the month of the canyon. I’ve never used this route to access the falls (a ridiculous 8.5-mile round trip with 3,200 in elevation gain), but it makes a good hike up Van Tassel Ridge when I need something short and close.

6:55 - Begin Hike. It’s 55 degrees and there are three cars in the parking lot. The thick gloom shrouds my designation on the ridge top. Within a couple minutes I pass the trailhead signboard. I’m intrigued by the sign: “Fish Canyon Trail is maintained and operated by the City of Duarte.” I would suggest more accurate language, such as, “ poorly maintained by the City of Duarte...” or “ occasionally maintained...”! By the way, the trail is entirely within the city limits of Azusa!

On the trail to Van Tassel Ridge As I wander along the path I enjoy the rich aroma of damp chaparral. For a moment it brings back childhood memories of horseback riding along the Santa Ana River. Soon the trail begins winding and zigzagging up the steep mountainside. The trail condition is not bad. There are a few places where the trial has slid away, but it is still quite passable. Occasionally I have to climb rocks. It’s a little brushy in places, particularly with mustard. My pant legs are getting wet. Ticks like to perch on the tips of twigs and transfer themselves unto passing creatures. One of the reasons I wear light-colored pants is that it makes it easy to spot ticks. In the course of today’s outing I flick off a couple dozen or so.

Brittlebush Views are obscured by a thick marine layer. It’s cool, but with the steep climb and high humidity, I’m sweating pretty well. In spite of the muffled drone of the 210 freeway a mile and a half away, it’s really quite peaceful here. It’s disappointed to see all the graffiti along the trail. Come on, Duarte, live up to your maintenance claim!!

Spring wildflowers add a splash of color. In bloom this morning are mule fat (white), sunflower (yellow), mustard (yellow), elderberry (white), everlasting (pearly white), deerweed (yellow/orange), brittlebush (yellow), wishbone bush (purple), showy penstemon (purple), blue dicks (blue), wild Canterbury bells (purple), thistle (purple), chia (blue), buckwheat (cream), morning glory (white), poison oak (white), black sage (lavender), mountain lilac (purple/lavender), bush monkeyflower (orange), Douglas nightshade (white), virgin bower/clematis (white), golden yarrow (yellow), chemise (white), and tree tobacco (yellow). See Plants of the San Gabriels at Dan's Hiking Pages.

View north from the jungle 7:43 - Diamond Head ridge. According to the map and trail description that I picked up at the trailhead signboard, I have climbed 890 feet in 1.3 miles to this point. A trail cuts to the right (east) toward Diamond Head summit, but in the past I have found that it dead ends before getting there. I continue straight (north) as the trail begins to gently descend into what I call “the jungle” on the north-facing slope. I immediately encounter the shinny green leaves of poison oak, coming back to life after its winter dormancy. There is a lot of it along this stretch of trail, some of which is blocking the route. In the car on the way over I realized I forgot my gloves and I’m regretting it. Using a stick, I carefully weave my way threw the poison oak. I’m tempted to turn back but keep pressing through. I’m unsuccessful in keeping the poison oak from touching my paints and shirt sleeves, so I will need to carefully avoiding touching or spreading the toxic oil.

Past the jungle, I now walk along the fence that separates the trail from the quarry operation. In a few minutes the fence ends and the route veers left (northwest) and begins its climb up the dozer cut. At about 100 yards a trails cuts left and looks passable, but I continue up the road. It gets crazy steep...butt steep! I just take my time and slowly climb. The fog is thicker up here.

Van Tassel Ridge forest boundary 8:28 - National Forest boundary (2080’). This is my destination, high up on Van Tassel Ridge, two miles from the start and 1,400 feet in elevation gain. The trail passes through an opening in the chain link fence that separates the quarry property from Angeles National Forest. I linger for a few minutes on the forest side. No cell reception, so can’t upload a pic to FB.

8:41 - Start back down. I arrive at a flat spot just before a really steep descent and decide to bear right to see if the old trail is passable. It is and makes a nice route to circumvent the crazy steep dozer cut. Back at the fence I take an alternate route to climb up and over the summit of Diamond Head to avoid the poison oak.

View south from Diamond Head 9:05 - Diamond Head (1603’) - This is my first time on top of this summit, which from the east, looks similar to the iconic Diamond Head crater at Waikiki, Oahu. The view from here would be great on a clear day. I upload a pic to FB. When Vulcan begins to mine Van Tassel Ridge, the trail beyond here will be closed. So this summit would make a nice destination. Overhaul the trail and stick a bench up here, and it could be an alternative hike to Garcia Trial for locals.

As I continue west from the Diamond Head summit I can’t find a passable route. I thrash through thick brush. Thick brush blocks the route west of Diamond Head Finally, after about 15 minutes of arduous bushwhacking, I find a path and walk the final minute to join the main trail. The roughness of this trail is more apparent going down as I climb over rocks in steep sections. It’s still foggy and cool and I’m still flicking ticks. Tick on pants The solitude of this hike is a striking contrast to the hoards of people on Garcia Trail last week. I really should consider coming over here more often...just need long pants and sturdy boots.

Fish Canyon As I near the bottom of the mountain I finally encounter another older gentleman heading up. A minute later a group of about six young adults pass me. They’re heading all the way to Fish Canyon Falls. They don’t really look dressed for hiking and I wonder if they’re up to the whole enchilada. I mention the poison oak to them and they don’t seem phased. But with bear legs, unless they have a secret weapon, they’re going to get poisoned oaked for sure, not to mention the ticks.

10:07 - End hike.

Epilog - This has been a fun outing. Peaceful. Solitude. Some adventure. Cool is certainly better than hot. I’ll know in a couple days if the poison oak got me. icon

See Van Tassel Ridge via Fish Canyon Trailhead Hike Description on Dan's Hiking Pages (Archive Page)

The trail up Van Tassel Ridge was closed upon the opening of the new Fish Canyon access trail on June 21, 2014.

Read about it here: Fish Canyon Falls - A New Era - June 21, 2014

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Garcia Trail to Azusa Peak Hike – March 24, 2012

Azusa PeakSee Garcia Trail Description on Dan's Hiking Pages

The first weekend of spring calls for a hike! And in conjunction with our event on Tuesday night at the Azusa City Library, “Hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains,” we planned a community hike up Garcia Trail. Winter was not content in letting spring arrive unscathed, but cloudy skies and cool temperatures did not deter us.

Group at Garcia Trail trailheadThere are nine of us, including Nancy Johnson, the library director at the Azusa City Library, and my friend Ray Moench and some of his hiking guys. We take a group picture and off we go.

8:23 - Start hike. Marine haze casts gloom but the sun is trying to shine through. The rain last weekend no doubt contributed to the willingness of spring flowers to begin their blooming. There are lots of people on the trail today, as typical for a Saturday morning on Garcia Trail. Most are wearing outfits you normally find in a gym. Soon the sun is gracing our path and it’s time to take off the long sleeves. The haze still lingers over the valley obscuring our views.

View south from Garcia TrailI enjoy introducing our motley group to flowers along the way. Blooming plants today include wild radish, common sunflower, moth mullein, morning glory, mustard, phacelia, Douglas nightshade, wishbone bush, lupine, deerweed, dodder, tree tobacco, everlasting, California buckwheat, fountain grass, cliff aster, bush monkeyflower, brittlebush (barely), red steam filaree, and lemonade berry.

9:25 - Glendora Ridge Motorway. We stand looking north into San Gabriel Canyon and the mountains beyond. Last week’s snow is nearly gone from Mt. Islip. The mighty San Gabriel River is only a mild stream today with the flow being controlled at Morris Dam a half mile up the canyon. After a few minutes we turn east and start the short climb to the summit.

Azusa Peak9:37 - Azusa Peak (2081’). Several other people are here and more arrive. The vast human sprawl to the south is muted with marine layer. The iconic white cross stands shorter than it used to. Dozens of people have expressed themselves with scrawling on the 4x10 timbers. Ray serenades us on the ocarina. We linger and chat and enjoy the beauty of this special peak.

We leave the summit at 10:04. Still lots of people coming and going. This is such a popular trail! Enjoyed more plants on the way down. The rich chaparral is coming alive. Ran into my friend Liz Ramirez and her friend, Iso. Met some other folks.

Wild morning glory on Garcia Trail10:38 - Finish hike. We say our goodbyes and head our ways.

Epilog - What a pleasant outing! Spring is blooming. Good group. It’s nice to meet new people and get know others better. I’m always so thankful for such a superb trail and peak so close to my home right here in Azusa. icon

See Garcia Trail Description on Dan's Hiking Pages

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

You Are Invited - Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Azusa City Library

Please join us for...
Hiking the San Gabriel Mountains / Angeles National Forest

Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 6:30 PM in the Library Auditorium

Speaker Dan Simpson lives in Azusa and will speak on the basic skills of hiking safely and comfortably.

View east from Azusa PeakTopics include:
1. Safety and Navigation
2. Clothing and Gear
3. Hiking in the San Gabriel
    - General Overview of the Range
    - Factors in Evaluating a Trail
    - Specific Trails
    - Books and Resources

Azusa City Library • 729 N. Dalton Ave • Azusa, CA 91702
(626) 812-5268 •
Beverages will be provided by the library.

Azusa PeakA community hike is scheduled for Saturday March 24, 2012 at 8:00 A.M.
Garcia Trail to Azusa Peak
3.0 miles round trip; 1,240 feet elevation gain
Trailhead: L.A County Fire Station #97
18453 Sierra Madre Ave., Azusa
Rain cancels
Hike description:

Visit Dan's Hiking Pages