27 November 2012

Whitaker Peak

Angeles National Forest

Locate the trail head.

Failing to get a group to come out for the moon on Sunday, I decided to take a hike up Whitaker Peak on Tuesday when the moon would be fullest. The mountain is tucked away in the Los Padres administered section of Angeles National Forest. I found rumors of a lookout at the end of the road, for instance it is labeled on the 1988 revision of the Whitaker Peak quad, but that has been completely removed now. The peak itself is off the road and does not have a good use trail. There was rain planned for Wednesday, so it would already be clouding up. I found a prediction that it would be 38% cloudy and deeply suspected it would be the wrong 38%, so was a bit slow to start off. The dithering cost an hour of hoped for hiking time, but there turned out to be plenty of time. I found a faded sign along the old Golden State Highway pointing to Whitaker Peak and turned up it to park by the gate. Starting up it, I found it to be paved and smooth, which would be easy for coming back by moonlight, but a little hard on the feet.

the old and new road
Climbing to the ridge gives a view of the old road and new road while the mountains also come into view.

For the first part, the hike is an easy climb up to the ridge. This gives great views of the string of trucks climbing the grade and another set coming down the other way. Also visibile is the break check area for those coming down. It isn't much of a view, but gradually the mountains beyond start to pop up behind the hills by the road. Redrock Mountain is particularly prominant showing off how unimaginative the namers were. The area over there, full of disappearing trails, doesn't look so inaccessible from the ridge and the closer hills have prominant roads crossing them.

well folded land
The view from the top of the ridge shows a well folded land to the southwest.

Coming to the top, the road curves around behind a small peak giving the first moment of relief from the sound of the interstate. At this curve, a pair of tracks show where a road continues south along the top of the ridge. There is a huge turnout for the long blocked drivers to pull out and enjoy the view and off the side of this turnout, I found a bit of good trail heading down the side into the valley below. Just ahead, another trail heads up along the ridge top while the road tucks around to the east side of the ridge again below a few oaks. Eventually, the trail along the top comes down again along two evenly spaced tracks just before a junction.

the road ahead
An unpaved alternative is visible along the ridge as the paved road curves around to the east.

redrock mountain
Redrock Mountain with its bright red heart showing. The roads on the nearer hills include the Old Ridge Route that now looks to simply serve the utilities.

the northern view
A little bit of the old road and new road in the Pyramid Lake direction. Far out are the bluffs of Hungry Valley.

At the itersection, I headed down the left fork. The right continues along the ridge some more to a loop and a trail down, but offers no relief from the paving. The left fork drops down before climbing again to another loop of road where the lookout once stood. As I passed the peak, I checked it for trails going up to the top. It looked like there could be one a bit past the low spot following a northern ridge line. A few scramble spots, only one at the far end that looked safe, led up to a western ridge. The forest map shows a few trails along here, but it looks like they are actually old buried telephone lines or fences which can be found marked on the 1958 Whitaker Peak quad. None of the routes up looked very suitable for navigation by moonlight.

a bit of the spur road and the gap of land between
From along the road to the peak, the view north is now of another ridge with the road from the right hand fork along it.

chared bushy oaks with their roots regrowing
Some bushes, many of them oaks, showing old fire injuries, but growing back from their roots.

white mountain
Distant mountains, probably White Mountain and Black Mountain and the extremely rugged land that holds Fish Creek's north fork between.

lookout on top of Slide Mountain
A distant spot of geometry in the organic expanse turns out to be the lookout on top of Slide Mountain.

Passing a couple communications sites that took up the power lines I'd been following, I got to the end of the road. At the local maximum is just a big, flat spot of dirt. No remains of the lookout are left, so it must have been removed. I glanced around for a benchmark, there should be five in the area, and maybe a geocache, apparently there are 18 along this route including one here, but found neither. I spotted a bit of concrete that turned out to be a piece of road barrier. The site itself is quite uninteresting, but the view is grand. It seemed rugged to north and south while getting here, and there is even more fold in the land to the west.

slide mountain and environs
The mountains to the north, set off beautifully in the late afternoon sunlight. The small bump on the back right mountain is the same lookout.

south mountains, not so high
Looking in a more southerly direction, the mountains aren't quite so high.

a flat spot and communications sites
The view back to the east is immediately of two communications sites and the clear spot that once had a fire lookout. Behind that is the peak, only rising another 28 feet above this point.

Coming to the end of the loop, I thought I'd found yet another Mylar balloon but turned out to be a stack of water, Gatorade, water that someone had cached in preparation for a bid adventure. The ridge down that side looks accessible enough, but no idea where they might go from there.

Castaic Lake
Castaic Lake is just visible from the mountain top.

Lake Piru
Lake Piru and a few spots of water along Piru Creek can also be seen.

western view
The folded land out to the west, but the sun is getting low.

I headed back along the lower side of the loop, then up the long road that services the easternmost communication site. At the far end of this road, I found what I was expecting, a route down along the ridge line. The first section of this looked as though I wasn't the first person down that way in the last year, but I might have been the third. Once down to the low point near the road where the various scrambles could be seen, the trail started to look less like an animal trail. My pants were getting marked with burned branches from some old fire the whole way. Climbing again, the route still hadn't risen all the way to the designation "use trail" and I had to pull back a few branches here and there. Over a couple false peaks, I finally climbed one last up and found myself on the top. Beside a burned post on the ground, I found a greenish benchmark and a peak register protected only by a crumbling piece of plastic. The last pencil entry had mostly washed off. I donated a plastic bag to its protection, but since it was originally full of dried pineapple some ants will probably hole it soon.

benchmark and rock stack containing the register
The benchmark, sunken a little too far into its concrete base, and peak register in a rock pile at the top of Whitaker Peak.

The register was brought up early January 2011 and the first few entries seemed to imply plenty of traffic to support a better use trail. One person wrote they came up from the notch, presumably the lowest point along the road and using the north slope path, and would be following their own footsteps back. The second part is good advise. The routes split on the downhill and don't always meet back up, so it is easy to get going in a bad direction. I sat down to enjoy the sunset and moonrise.

full moon rising
I turned around to find the moon sneaking up even though the information I found had it coming up shortly after sunset.

sun setting in the west, as it does
The sun setting just below a thick cloud bank.

colors in the sky
Of course, the rest of the sky and land was getting painted with the sunset, too.

I left before the whole show was over. The moon was behind some clouds and I wanted to get back down with a bit of natural light. I made my way toward the clear path along the north flank, but found it to not be so clear nearer the bottom. At some point, I veered right when I should have stayed a bit left to come down to the road, so found my route to the road blocked by vegetation. I had to drop down below it and climb the steep ravine with great difficulty to get back. I got back to the road as it got about as it would without any help from clouds. The moon was mostly unobscured again, so giving plenty of light for smooth road travel.

red of sunset reflecting in the rippled clouds
Light reflecting off the high and far clouds after the sun has set.

Somewhere up to the north, I could hear a yipping coyote. Very few stars could be seen in the sky, as is typical when the great streetlamp in the sky is shining its hardest. Quite a few airplanes with glowing headlights when far enough away and flickering wingtip lights when overhead could be seen.

moon behind some thin clouds
The dappled clouds reduced the moonlight a little, but not too badly.

I decided to take the ridge line route on the way back. I came to it as the moon emerged free of the clouds. To my left, the interstate with its stream of noisy lights in shadow and to my right, the features of a deep canyon were picked out in the moonlight. The trail tended to the canyon side as it went, and when it ducked down enough, I could hear the nearby crickets. A sign told me that Ma Bell had a telephone line buried up here, which explains one of the lines on the old quad map that aren't trails but that this trail follows. Once back to the road, the moon was about ready to hide in the dappled clouds again. I rolled my way the rest of the distance back down the road. At the top, the air was quite comfortable with just the fleece I regularly carry, but coming down I hit pockets of air that inspired sweating and others that chilled greatly. I skirted around the gate at the end happy to have taken the chance of too many clouds since it turned out to simply improve the show.

more moon picure
Thickening clouds as I make my way down the last bit of road.

©2012 Valerie Norton
Posted 29 Nov 2012

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