Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mount Wilson, 6 January 2013

Mount Wilson
Chantry Flat Trailhead to Sturtevant Falls Trail, Lower Falls Trail, Gabrielino Trail, Mount Wilson Observatory, Old Toll Road, Upper Winter Creek Trail
13 miles
5,710 feet with 4,000 feet of elevation gain
5 1/2 Hours
Corrina Peipon and Chris Young

In anticipation of longer backpacking outings, I want to learn more about walking with a full pack. I intended to take this walk alone with my whole kit, but Chris sent an email saying he wanted to walk. I invited him along and decided to leave my backpacking gear at home. The night before, I checked the weather: 80% chance of rain and thunderstorms in Los Angeles, 90% chance of snow on Mount Wilson. Chris's response: "I'm always up for weather." Left to my own devices with a weather report like that, I would have skipped it, but Chris is a life-long mountaineer who hails from the Seattle area. I guess a little rain in the forecast is no deterrent for the likes of him. So, I told him I would pick him up at 6:30 A.M.

By the time we wound up the Big Santa Anita Canyon road, the clouds were breaking up, and the sun was shining, but the portent of foul weather had apparently kept other folks at home. The parking lot was nearly empty. It was cold, but once we started walking, I warmed up quickly, and by the time we were up above Sturtevant Falls, I felt a million miles away, too. I was so grateful that Chris had been undeterred by the prospect of bad weather. It wasn't until we were really in the woods that I realized how much I needed to be out there.

Not long after passing through Spruce Grove Campground, Chris pointed out snow in the distance. It wasn't much, but it was snow. The trees and path along those last three miles to the summit were dotted with patches of half an inch of snow that had fallen the night before. The footprints of the trail runners who'd passed us way down before Sturtevant Falls (the only other people we saw until reaching the summit) were the only other tracks through the snow. Passing the half-mile rest, we stopped at a break in the trees to watch the clouds crash into a little canyon and up the side of the mountain.

A few switchbacks later, we were there, at the top, and inside the cloud. I was instantly shivering. I put on more layers. The Cosmic Cafe was boarded up for the winter, but we ate some lunch at the pavilion, and then hurried down the hill. Even though I was wearing liner gloves with mittens over them, my fingers were freezing, and it took a few miles before I was warm again.

This was the fourth time I've done this walk. The way up through the cabins below Sturtevant Falls and then up above the falls, winding through alternating forest and desert terrain is always charming. The route down requires the use of a fire road for about two miles, the only merit of which is a great view of the southwest face of the mountain, a treeless expanse of granite talus, obscured on this day by the thick cloud cover. The Winter Creek Trail this time of year was unsurprisingly less replete with greenery than at other times. Its spindly, leafless Sycamores were steely black against the white-grey sky. The brown-black blanket of dead, wet leaves below our feet was redolent of next season's humus. A few brilliant green ferns sprung out of the rocks like fireworks in the grey monotone. Chris had never walked in this area before, and once we emerged back into the picnic area at Chantry Flats, I wished I'd taken him past Hoegee's camp instead; the stream crossings there are lovely and would have been a little more scenic this time of year. 

We rolled down the mountain to find dramatic weather over the city. To the east, the huge grey cloud we'd been inside of only a little while before was pouring rain. To the west, bright afternoon sun shot across the freeway, and a double rainbow arced over the northeastern side of the city behind us as we headed south and west for home.

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