Thursday, July 23, 2009

Dawson Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell, Angeles National Forest

With my decreased income, and the ever rising price of gas, the ratio of hiking to cycling has shifted dramatically in favor of the bike. Still, when I'm able to put a bit of gas, and some time together, I love to get off into the mountains.

When I tell people from other parts of the country, that I live in Los Angeles, I often get sympathy. Most people outside of southern California, think of L.A. as a thin strand of beach, surrounded by never ending concrete, with so much smog, that it's not possible to see across the street. The facts are, Los Angeles county is bisected by several mountain chains, there are lots of maintained trails, and plenty of cross country routes that are easy to follow. Throw in the desert on the other side of the San Gabriel Mountains, and the L.A. area is one of the best cities to live in for hikers.

I drove north on route 2, the Angeles Crest Highway, and at Dawson Saddle (elevation 7901 ft.), parked the car. On the southern side of the road, 20 or so yards past the saddle, is an obvious trail head. After double checking the parking brake, I started a long, but fairly easy climb towards the ridge line that would lead me to Mt. Baden-Powell. At first, having just been near sea level an hour earlier, I was short of breath, and despite the ease of this section of trail, I found myself gasping for breath. It only took me about 15 to 20 minutes to adjust to the elevation, and if I had started the drive up an hour earlier, I could have avoided the huffing and puffing by sitting at my car and admiring the view down into the Antelope valley for half an hour before starting my walk up.

The San Gabriel Mountains are a rarity in North America, a major mountain chain that runs east/west, rather than north/south. This first section of the route is on a descending ridge line running down from the main crest, with nice views back towards the Antelope Valley, and back to the road as well. As I gained elevation, extensive views towards Baden-Powell opened up, allowing me to get a nice look at where I would end up, before turning around, and returning.

I came to a trail junction. There is a sign post there, but the sign is missing. It's been awhile since I've been able to get to this trail, and going on memory, there should have been mileage listed, 2.5 to Baden-Powell and 2.5 back to the road. I didn't need to strain my memory to know that this new trail is both the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Silver Moccasin Trail. The PCT, of course, connects Mexico and Canada. The Silver Moccasin connects Red Box Ranger Station, and Baden-Powell, and is used by the Boy Scouts for back-packing merit badges. I've never been a Boy Scout, but I have back-packed from Red Box to Baden-Powell, and it's a very nice trip. Camping this close to the city, it never gets completely dark at night. In 1985, I soloed the PCT, a much longer route, and when I got to this area, I was able to hitch down to the city for a shower and nice meal before returning to the trail. Anyway, enough of past hikes, I turned left at the junction and continued on to Baden-Powell.

The main trail heads east, following along the ridge line. To the left, the Antelope valley can be seen. There are places where the San Andreas fault, near the surface, can be seen. To the right, the views are of the canyons that drain into the San Gabriel Valley. There was also a nice wind that kept things cool. In the city, temps had been approaching triple digits, but high in the mountains, with the breeze, it was comfortable enough that I was able to walk without working up a sweat. The ridge line, gained and lost elevation, but over all continued to climb.

Walking along the crest had advantages besides the spectacular vistas and wind. The crest line, by it's nature, is more open than the forest I had gone through on the first section of the route. Being able to see so far ahead, allowed me to set a pace that would get me to the summit in a reasonable time. It also let me anticipate the places where I would want to take a break and just sit down and enjoy my time away from the city. A switch back up one side of the ridge line, and I was able to look off without a trail in the foreground. Another straight section, and I could see that some fairly tall trees where ahead, and I knew I could get some shade.

As I neared Baden-Powell, (elevation 9399 ft.) a faint, but easily seen trail branched off to the right. I don't think it was planned, and constructed trail, but it has served as an alternate route to the top for so long, a de facto path has been worn into the dirt. As I passed the last of the brush, and walked out into the open, treeless area near the summit, I could see the concrete marker, built by the boy scouts to honer Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the boy scouts. (Baden-Powell started the scouts because he was worried that young Englishmen weren't sufficiently prepared for a life in the army. It wasn't the get back to nature, service organization that it pretends to be today.) I spent about half an hour, just sitting on the summit, looking down into Vincent Gulch, which is one of the water sources for the San Gabriel River. Rather than returning to the trail for the return trip on the same, faint trail that I used to get to the summit, I walked down the official trail, past the 1500 year old limber pines, picked up the PCT, and walked west, along the northern flank of the peak,. It didn't take long to get back on the same route that I had used to get to the peak.

Round trip is about 10 miles even. Some steep, though mostly moderate to easy climbs. I'll put up some pictures that I took in the next post.

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