|View south from Hawkins Ridge toward So. Mount |
Hawkins with the Williams Fire gaining in intensity
I had an extraordinary hiking experience this weekend as I climbed Hawkins Ridge to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the Curve Fire which destroyed the historic South Mount Hawkins Fire Lookout. And yesterday, Labor Day Sunday, as I stood on the ruins of the fire lookout, I could hardly believe my eyes. At 2:32 I spotted a column of spoke due south rising from East Fork San Gabriel River. This was nearly the exact same time 10 years ago to the day when a fire lookout looking south would have spotted the start of the Curve Fire. The timing was extraordinary. The hike was surreal.
Ten years ago on Labor Day Weekend 2002, I had planned an overnighter on Hawkins Ridge above Crystal Lake from Sunday to Monday. Those plans were preempted when the Curve Fire erupted at about 12:35 on Sunday afternoon, September 1. By the time the fire was out weeks later, it had consumed 20,857 acres of our Angeles National Forest, including most of the Crystal Lake Basin, much of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, and the historic South Hawkins Fire Lookout.
So on this Labor Day weekend 2012, I planned a Hawkins Ridge hike to visit the ruins of the historic fire lookout, hike up Hawkins Ridge, spend the night on Mt. Hawkins, and return via PCT and Windy Gap Trail.
Gate across from the
I walk past the locked vehicle gate and up the paved road through the closed section of the campground. I’m surprised that even this area is filled with holiday campers. A half-mile walk brings me to Windy Gap Trial trailhead. Now I’m ready to hike.
View north toward Windy Gap from near the beginningof Windy Gap Trail
View southwest fromwith damage from the 2002 Curve Fire in the foreground
|View south on |
11:08 - Soldier Creek. There’s no water visible but lush vegetation. I sit on a comfortable rock in the shade and enjoy a 15-minute break. It’s quite and peaceful. Sugar pine, Jeffery pine, and white fir grace the mountainsides. All along the way I’ve been scanning the landscape to scout out potential off-trail routes up to this road. I indentify a couple ridges but they are awfully steep.
View southeast ontoward South Mount Hawkins
12:01 - Camera battery pack dies. It should have been good for the entire day, so I think this battery is ready to be retired. I put in the backup. I have some angst that for the rest of the trip I have to be conservative in my shooting.
It’s starting to get warm now in the full sun. A breeze feels good. Three hikers come down the trail. I take a short energy break. Encounter a couple more hikers coming down.
View south ontoward South Mount saddle
|Ruins of South |
|2:32 p.m. - View south toward the Williams Fire
from the ruins of South Mount Hawkins Fire Lookout
|Williams Fire 2012|
As I watch the fire grow, I eagerly wait to see a jumbo jet swoop down and drop its load of orange foscheck. Or at least let’s see a super scooper or even some helicopters. I figure there is a herculean effort on the ground to scramble resources and evacuate those in danger, but why aren’t they fighting this thing from the air!?
|3:16 p.m. - View south toward the Williams Fire 2012 |
from South Mount Hawkins one hour after it begin
3:16 - Leave the South Mount Hawkins. I take the ridge route north. The location where ridge meets the road gets rocky and steep and a little tricky to negotiate. I cross the road and continue down the ridge. It’s somewhat steep but not bad. There’s no path but there are indications that others have taken this route. After about 10 minute I arrive at a trail. I didn’t realize a formal trail climbed this ridge. I followed it down.
|View east toward Mt. Baldy|
View northwest toward Windy Gap andfrom Sadie Hawkins
I leave the summit heading north on the semblance of a path. Middle Hawkins stands as an imposing mass on the ridge to the north. I had not anticipated on it being so big. Within a few minutes the slope begins to drop steeply. It’s strange to see what appear to be bike tracks in the loose dirt. As I near the saddle I meet the actual trail coming in from the east flank Sadie Hawkins.
|View north on Hawkins Ridge en route to |
|View south from Middle Hawkins|
6:50 - Junction Pacific Crest Trail (8390’). The sign is gone and only a post lies on the ground. A left turn (west) would take me to Windy Gap (1.4 miles) and if I kept going, to Canada. I turn right (east). The trail soon veers northeast to skirt a large knob on the ridge. The setting sun casts an orange hue on the scenery. A toothpick forest is a stark reminder of the destructive Curve Fire.
|View of sunset from |
|View south from |
[As I’m writing this portion of the blog post days later, I debate whether I should admit what happens next. Part of me is embarrassed and would rather gloss over it. But part of me feels that perhaps being transparent may help others learn from my mistakes. Ok, here it goes, true confessions...]
As I stand on Mt. Hawkins surrounded by smoke, I find myself feeling some fear. My logic says the fire is many miles away and has no possibility of reaching here tonight. But my senses are impacted by the smoke and lack of visibility. I decide not to spend the night here on the summit. It seems like a good plan to follow the path east 0.2 mile to PTC then consider my options. Plan A is to head west to Windy Gap (2.0 miles) where I could spend the night or head down the ravine 0.2 mile to the highway if needed. Plan B is to head east past Throop Peak and down to the highway at Dawson Saddle (2.7 miles). This of course would put me many miles from my car at Crystal Lake.
|Descending from |
Down and down I go, climbing through brush, over logs, and around rocks. Sometimes there is a faint use path. This is crazy. Something’s not right. I’m starting to feel a little fear and bewilderment. In the back of my mind I began to entertain the thought that maybe I went the wrong way from the summit. Surely I didn’t go south down Copter Ridge? No, that’s impossible! Only ignorant people make those kinds of navigation errors. These are my mountains; I don’t get lost. As the visibility gets better, it’s disconcerting to me that Throop Peak is not looming in front of me. This ridge seems like it drops forever into an abyss, like Copter Ridge does. Oh my. It’s time to face reality. And this large, flat area is an ideal place to spend the night.
|View southeast toward |
Monday, September 3
|Pre-sunrise view southeast toward |
|View southeast from Copter Ridge|
|View south from Copter Ridge toward|
South Mount Hawkins
|View west from PCT amidst smoke from the Williams |
Fire 2012 and damage from the Curve Fire 2002
|View southeast from Windy Gap down Windy Gap Trail|
I’ve been on Windy Gap trial lots of times and normally enjoy it. But today it is unpleasant hiking into a smoke bowl. The thousands of trees left dead by the Curve Fire are accentuated by the smoke and smell of this current inferno. As I approach the campground it seems deserted.
The standard loop route comes out as follows with 3,333 feet in elevation gain:
|Windy Gap trailhead (5830') to So. Mt. Hawkins (7783')||4.7|
|South Mount Hawkins (7783') to PCT junction (8390')||2.8|
|PCT junction (8390') to Mt. Hawkins (8850')||0.8|
|Mount Hawkins (8850') to Windy Gap (7588')||2.2|
|Windy Gap (7588') to Windy Gap trailhead (5830')||2.5|
|The full distance of my hike was 15.4 miles with 4,180 in elevation gain. That includes side jaunts to Sadie Hawkins (200’ gain) and Middle Hawkins (150’gain) of about 0.5 mile each, a detour down Copter Ridge (500’ feet lose/gain) of about a mile, and a mile of waking through the campground to and from the trailhead.
Mileages based on the Tom Harrison map. See my Windy Gap Trail hike description for driving directions, season, and other notes.
View Photo Album of Hike - 130 photos
Links on Dan’s Hiking Pages and Blog:
- Blog Post: Williams Fire 2012
- Wildfires on Dan's Hiking Pages - Reports and photos of the Curve and Williams fires 2002.
- Blog Post: Hawkins Ridge Trail Work with the Trailbuilders - Oct. 6, 2012
- Big Cienenga Trail hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages - With a hike report from August 30, 2003
- Windy Gap Trail hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages
- Mt. Islip hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages
- Blog: Mt. Islip Hike - July 23, 2011
- Blog: Mt. Islip from Crystal Lake Hike - July 15, 2012
- San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders
- Mt. Wilson 150-Foot Solar Tower Best of the Towercam - September 2002 Curve Fire Gallery