Friday, July 31, 2009

Big Santa Anita Canyon + Scaling Mt. Wilson

Andrew got back this week from his trip to Kiwiland so you know what that means! You got it - a new hike. We picked out Sturtevant Falls, which is a part of the Big Santa Anita Canyon Loop, located in the San Gabriel Mountains above Sierra Madre, California. We didn't see any giant rattlesnakes like the Mt. Lowe hike, but I'll do ya one better.

We set out from basecamp at Chantry Flat at about 9:00 a.m. in anticipation of a full day of climbing mountains and such. The very first thing you do on the trail to Sturtevant Falls is descend a ton of feet over 0.6 miles on a paved road. This is significant because we realized that we would have to revisit this daunting path in the opposite direction [up] after having hiked nearly 20 miles, most of which included scaling one of the largest mountains in the San Gabriel Range.

Optimism prevailed and we headed onward. It really didn't take long to reach Sturtevant Falls from Chantry Flat. Along the way, we encountered some wonderful signage, the likes of which I had never seen on any hike before.

Because it's a bit difficult to see...

Well, we reached the falls after about 30 minutes of hiking. The water was just more than a trickle now in the late summer but I'm sure it's great when the snow-pack begins to melt in the late spring.

Very cool, secluded place. But the day was young! Mt. Wilson was next on the docket. We took the longer, roundabout way (which ended up being a much better choice than the straightforward way) because we would be hiking on the Rim Trail, which sounded cool. We had no idea.

Just before getting on the Rim Trail at Newcomb's Pass, Andrew and I heard something tumbling down the mountain in a flurry of snapping sticks and rustling leaves. Our first thought was that it was a boulder falling down, but it got too loud and didn't seem to have the characteristics of a falling rock. My next thought was that it was a Mountain Lion because it was moving very quickly and those cats are fleet of foot. All of the news stories about hikers getting attacked by Mountain Lions around the LA area flashed through my head and I was officially frightened.

The falling object was getting very close and then we saw it: a black bear cub, maybe 50 lbs., rolled out onto the trail about 15 or 20 feet ahead of us. My mind was racing at this point: baby bear wasn't a threat but baby bears don't typically travel alone. I was going to get the hell out of dodge before mom shows up to protect her kid. I did exactly what you're not supposed to do and bolted two steps back before stopping to look back. The cub looked confused; maybe it had wanted to walk on the trail we were on. It cocked its head then jumped off the trail and continued tumbling down the mountainside. Wow. Andrew and I didn't know what to do next. We didn't hear any larger animals coming down the mountain so after about a minute we started back on the trail. We dodged a massive bullet.

Needless to say, we took a breather at Newcomb's Pass - then on to the Rim Trail, which would lead us to Mt. Wilson. The word "trail" is used very loosely when describing the Rim Trail. Shoulder-width at its very widest, it is one of those trails where you hike one foot in front of the other and the ground is mostly loose sand with a steep, unforgiving fall of a few hundred feet. Intense! On top of that, it seemed an endless upward ascent. A couple of hours of relentless upward trekking. I guess that happens when there is a 3600' elevation gain from Sturtevant Falls.

We made it to Mt. Wilson...barely. I thought I was going to die. We spent about 45 minutes at the peak surveying the grounds and recovering from the ascent. The famous 100-inch telescope was a pretty awesome sight to see.

We took the Sturtevant Trail down from Mt. Wilson. Note: NEVER take Sturtevant Trail up to Mt. Wilson because it is nothing but very steep switchbacks up the mountain. I'm so glad we did the Rim Trail instead. Anyway, we labored back to that paved road up to Chantry Flat, which was a chore to get back up after all the hiking, and back to the car. This was the most intense hike we've done to date and I'm paying for it. I can hardly walk and I have a huge blister on my toe. But it was worth it!

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