Date: March 18, 2021
Distance: 14.05 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 9h 26m
Total Moving Time: 7h 49m
Summit Elevation: 5,650 feet
Elevation Gain: 4,814 feet
Trailhead: Sierra Madre Mt. Wilson TH
Previous Ascents: N/A
Peakbagger Peaks - 2, Survey Marks - 1
Building the Trip
Selecting hikes to complete last year was easy, with the exception of the two Fourteeners that I completed, virtually all of my hikes were on one challenge list or another. Pick a challenge, do the hikes. Easy-peasy (well, the selection process at least, not necessarily the hikes 🤣) This year, I'll still work on a few challenges, but more of my hikes will be built around my newest hobby, recovering Survey Marks.
I built today's trip around finding a particular triangulation station disc on Hastings Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. Hastings is just above the community of Sierra Madre and below Mount Wilson. Looking over the maps of the area, there are a few different routes that lead to the peak, one from the northwest and three from the southeast. Since I was driving almost three hours to reach the trail, I decided to make a full day of it with a loop-trail, multiple peaks, and some decent hiking mileage.
My 'Plan A' consisted of setting off from Lizzies Trail Inn located near the Sierra Madre trailhead for Mt. Wilson Trail. My plan targeted four peaks: Jones, Hastings, Yale, and Harvard (in that order) which would net me close to 15-miles and at least two survey marks (one each on Hastings and Yale). Growing up in Connecticut, it was also cool to have Yale and Harvard Peaks on my list.
I had the option of starting out on the Mt. Wilson Trail or the Bailey Canyon Trail, the latter would likely have made for a little shorter trip but would involve crossing over Jones Peak twice, once on the way out and again as I returned.
The Mt. Wilson Trail offered a better loop option where I only repeated the first mile of the trail, but the REAL deciding factor for choosing this route was that I could ascend Jones and Hastings Peaks via Bastard Ridge. Seriously. How could I NOT choose this route?! 😂
The first mile on the Mt. Wilson trail was relatively easy-going, the trail was well-worn and in good condition, but it was consistently up, even so, the 866 feet of gain didn't feel that bad. I knew I was close to the turnoff for Bastard Ridge so when I saw a ragged use trail on my left I took it. As it turns out, it was a 'social shortcut' that quickly connected to the proper trail (the 'real' beginning of the trail was just around the corner of the Mt. Wilson Trail.) The first two-tenths of a mile of the Bastard Ridge trail has 20 or so discernable switchbacks before turning into a glorified run-off ditch that seemed to go straight up. I was beginning to understand how this trail earned its name.
As I approached the peak, I could see a young couple sitting on a bench at the top, they had come up from Bailey Canyon, I checked my stats and was at 1.91 miles with 2,380 feet of vertical gain and right at 2-hours of time on the trail. I knew I still had a full day with three more peaks, a lot of mileage, and VG to go, so I grabbed a few quick pictures and followed the trail down to the Jones Peak Saddle, I passed the connector to the Bailey Canyon Trail and a little further on, the connector back to the Mt. Wilson Trail, either route likely providing an easier ascent than the way I had come. Fortunately, according to the topo map, my route over to Hastings Peak looked pretty mellow in comparison to what I just did.
It was just under a mile from Jones to Hastings Peak, the use trail was easy to follow and I picked up a modest 650-feet of vertical gain. After the climb up to Jones, this was like a cake-walk! The views back towards Jones were amazing and looking north I could see the towers on Harvard Peak with Yale Peak sitting just below it. Beyond Harvard were the tower arrays and observatories on Mount Wilson.
As I reached the summit the last few feet of the trail were lined on either side with rocks leading to a nice bench, a rock cairn, and the witness stake was about 30 feet beyond it. I headed over to the witness stake to photograph the marker, then went back to the bench to sit for a minute and enjoy the view.
I had about two-thirds of a mile to reach Mt. Wilson Toll Road (my next milestone) and as I looked across towards the road, I took a minute...actually about 10 minutes, to evaluate my plan.
According to my maps, I had about 300 feet to climb up to the road, but from where I stood, it looked damn near vertical. To complicate matters, Yale and Harvard looked much more foreboding than their topographical depiction on the map, with a high probability of significant bushwhacking required. I could see a clear trail up to the road, but from my perspective, it just seemed ugly.
Ultimately I continued on, I took a slope reading from the low point on the trail and calculated the overall incline at about 28 percent but I hit sections of the grade that were between 45-55% grade as I neared the top. There was an old cable in the trail, I tested it for stability then used it as a climbing aid to get up to the road. The final stretch was sandy and slippery, so the cable definitely helped.
Once on the road, I wandered south to a hairpin turn to look for a benchmark that was identified on the topo map. It was pretty obvious that it was destroyed during the firefighting activities for the Bobcat Fire. A bulldozer had widened the corner so trucks could get through by just pushing boulders and rock out of the way - the benchmark would have been right in the middle of that bulldozed area. However, there was a cool old concrete water tank just above the road that I checked out before heading back up the road to assess my route options for Yale Peak.
Honestly, I think I had unconsciously settled on Plan B when I stood atop Hastings Peak looking at the Toll Road considering my options. Now, standing on the road looking at the point where I planned to scramble up towards the ridgeline that would lead me to Yale, I took about 10 seconds and said 'nope' it wasn't happening today. Supposedly there's a fire break that runs along the ridge, but I couldn't see it and the prospect of bushwhacking to get there and have the possibility that the fire break was overgrown, just wasn't worth it.
My new plan was to follow Mt. Wilson Toll Road as far as I could, which according to my maps, would take me to the radio and television tower arrays slightly NW of the Observatory grounds on Mount Wilson. One of the towers is actually a survey marker and reference object for the Mount Wilson Station, so I could potentially still recover two survey marks on this trip (having ditched Yale).
As I worked my way up the road, I went by the turn-off for the Mt Wilson Trail (the way I would descend), passed the access road to Mount Harvard, and ultimately came out on Mt. Wilson Circle by the towers and the entrance gate to the Observatory Grounds. According to the Observatory website, the roads leading to the observatory from the Angeles Crest Highway were closed due to the previous week's snow, and the grounds remained closed as a result of the Bobcat Fire.
Mount Wilson Summit and the Bobcat Fire Closure Area
The USFS, Angeles National Forest (ANF), Forest Order No. 05-01-21-03 describes the boundaries of the Bobcat Fire Closure Area, this closure is in effect until April 1, 2022. (note: the link is to the current version of the order as of today, March 18, 2021). The first image is the PDF map that accompanies the Order, this map and the full Order, are posted at the Sierra Madre Trailhead for the Mt. Wilson Trail.
It would appear as if the Wilson Observatory grounds are outside of the closure area (to the left of the 90º boundary line in red, near the center of the second image.) Exhibit C (not shown here) identifies Mt. Wilson Toll Road as one of the many roads closed under this order.
However, the descriptive information in Exhibit A (excerpt below) describes a less angular boundary line than what is shown in the USFS Map. The described route follows the eastern edge of the Mt. Wilson Trail to the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, and on towards the Mt. Wilson Road.
Based on this description, I re-created the boundary line as it followed the eastern edges of the Mt. Wilson Trail and Toll Road and it clearly identifies the Observatory grounds as off-limits. I made an overlay of this "corrected" boundary and superimposed it on my GAIA routes from last year and today's trip.
Last year I hiked Mt. Wilson from Chantry Flats on the Sturtevant Trail and returned on the Wilson Trail to Winter Creek Trail, it's a great route and I had a lot of fun despite the rain, cold, and heavy fog I encounter last March when I did it. This year, the Sturtevant and Winter Creek Trails are in the impacted area. Today as I mentioned above, after bagging Jones and Hastings Peaks, I crossed over from Hastings to Mt Wilson Toll Road and followed it as far as I could go. There is a trail that leaves the Wilson Toll Road to the east, just past the fork where the road goes up to Harvard Peak. This short trail takes you to a large parking area below the Observatory (and is the location of one of the survey markers on the summit). The light blue track from my 2020 hike to Mount Wilson shows this trail. This trail is in the closure area and should not be taken! All trails that access the Observatory grounds are closed.
Just to be on the safe side, I confirmed this with the Los Angeles Gateway Ranger District office. Roads and trails outside of the closure area are accessible, those that fall inside the closure area are not and violators are subject to the standard punishments according to the U.S. Code (a fine not more than $5,000 for an individual or imprisonment for not more than six months, or both.)
The Return Trip
At the top of the road, I was at 6.6 miles and was 5 hours 43 minutes into my trip, there were crews working on some of the towers so I skipped walking over there to find and photograph the one identified in the datasheet as the survey mark and opted instead to just head back down.
I think once everything returns to normal at the Observatory, I'll drive up, look for the survey markers that I didn't find on my trip last year, and then hike from the Observatory down to Mount Harvard and Yale to bag those peaks.
As I headed back down the road I passed a few vehicles (presumably, people working at the facilities on Mount Harvard that were headed home). It was a mile and a half back to the turn for the Mt. Wilson Trail, I stopped there for a late lunch (it was already 1500), changed into a dry shirt since the 'sweaty' work of the day was done, then started down the 6 miles back to the truck.
There were places along the trail where you could see evidence of last year's fires, but overall this section of trail fared pretty well. This was the first time I've taken this trail and it was absolutely gorgeous, everything was so lush and green, and peaceful (well, at least until I started running into late afternoon trail runners and hiking groups!)
Earlier in the day, I had met two women hiking up the Toll Road about the time I was looking for the bulldozed benchmark, I had hiked with them for about a mile before they reached their turnaround point. However, for the next several hours I wouldn't see a soul on the trail (except the few vehicles I saw leaving Mount Harvard). I had really gotten used to the solitude!
Well, of course, with the exception of one fast little fox I saw while eating lunch and these deer that I spied at the fire break near Manzanita Ridge 😉