Sunny Strawberry Peak
Updated: Jan 19
Date: January 18, 2021
Distance: 6.93 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 6h 0m
Total Moving Time: 3h 50m
Summit Elevation: 6,165 feet
Elevation Gain: 1,483 feet
Trailhead: Red Box Picnic Area
Previous Ascents: March 6, 2020
Today I completed my second peak in the Southern California Six-Pack of Peaks (SoCal 6POP) Challenge, Strawberry Peak. Located in the Angeles National Forest, in the San Gabriel Mountains, I opted for the traditional route departing from a parking lot near the Red Box Picnic Area.
This is a great little out-and-back hike that I like to tell people is easy...until it's not. 🤣 Right at 3.5-miles to the summit, I like to break this route into 3 distinct sections:
First Section. At the trailhead (on the north side of the Angeles Crest Highway, across the road from the parking area) and you'll be greeted with an easily followed trail with a consistent, and moderate, elevation gain of a few hundred feet, as you approach the one-mile mark, you'll look through the trees and see a steep trail winding up the side of the mountain, DON'T PANIC! That's not your trail, it's a fire break that goes up to Mount Lawlor, your trail is slightly left of that road.
Note: I checked my Peakbagger App and saw that it was only 0.3 miles to summit Mt Lawlor, so I headed up this road. I didn't get too far up before I was stuck, unable to make forward progress, I was slipping backward with every step I took. The trail picks up 900 feet of elevation in the short distance to the summit and the road is filled with loose rock and sand. I could have moved off the road into the scrub, but this wasn't my primary goal for the day so I turned around and carefully picked my way back to the Strawberry Trail.
Second Section. For the next mile and a half, you'll follow a narrow trail around the side of Mount Lawlor with simply spectacular views of Lady Bug Canyon and the winding path of the Angeles Crest Highway below. This is part is essentially flat, picking up only about 200 feet of elevation as you proceed along to a small saddle between Mount Lawlor and Strawberry Peak.
It's important to note that this section of trail is narrow and the western side is exposed with an immediate dropoff. Pulling off the trail to allow others to pass can be a bit challenging as I found out when I met a mountain biker approaching me at a pretty good clip. Fortunately, he had a passive bell on his bike so I heard him before I saw him coming around the corner. (another good reason NOT to wear earbuds while hiking!)
At the saddle, you'll see a fork in the trail where you can either go right (down) towards Strawberry Meadow or left and continue up to Strawberry Peak. There is a directional sign here and the clearing at the saddle provides a convenient place to stop and have a snack and take in the views.
Section Three. The final mile to the summit is when the rollercoaster trail begins. 😉 This is a cool section of trail filled with ups-and-downs, narrow class 2 'scrambly' bits of trail, awesome views, and just under 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The alignment of the trail provides some false summit hopes along the way, but you'll know the final summit when it comes into sight. There were more places along this section to step off the trail and let others pass if necessary, too since it was a challenging section, I was more likely to find people taking mini rest breaks along the way. I stopped along the way several times to visit with other hikers and it was a joy to meet one of my fellow challengers and social media friends in person 😀 The closer you get to the top there are some real narrow sections and you can tell there has been some obvious trail maintenance along the way to keep the trail clear, even so, you do need to be mindful of the thorny chaparral and agave that line the path. (gallery photos best viewed full screen, these are large images and it may take time for them to load, I'm working on tweaking the file size so they load faster)
The summit area with the signs and register is a relatively small rocky spot however, there is some great space on the west side of the summit where you can spread out a bit. After I took care of my summit business (getting my pictures, taking pics for others, and my 'housekeeping' duties of picking up trash) I found a comfy spot in the sand on that west side to have my lunch.
Still on my list for this peak is an approach via the mountaineer's route that starts in Colby Canyon across from the Switzer Picnic Area and includes a good Class 3 Scramble to the summit. Given my original plans for the day (a fast ascent with a quick turnaround at the summit) I was hesitant to tackle the mountaineer's route. However, with last-minute changes to my master plan, I clearly would have been fine opting for Plan B. No worries, there will always be another day to do it.
Here's an overview of my route today, the screenshot is from the GAIA GPS APP with the USGS Topo map overlay (I use Photoshop Elements for Mac to edit the graphic and annotate the sections to correspond with my narrative above).
I generally average about an hour of non-moving time at any given hike, mainly for pictures and lunch, today I had 2h 10m of stopped time giving me plenty of time to visit with others and soak in another gorgeous day in Southern California.