09 November 2014

Slide and Dome Mountains

Angeles National Forest

Los Padres National Forest

What is it that makes a hike particularly enjoyable? Perhaps one element is a touch of the unknown. Something reminded me of my desire to finally see Slide Mountain, where I thought rather seriously about volunteering as a fire lookout. Partly because it is rather far away for a regular volunteering gig, I have never actually been up it. Slide Mountain does not offer much in the way of the unknown, though. The trail had become an overgrown mess, but since ANFFLA started using the lookout, they have also been maintaining the trail so a hike up it is . If I was going to do Slide Mountain, though, I also wanted to try to get to Dome Mountain. Dome sits on the county line and has a benchmark and getting there is quite uncertain. I suggested the trip, claiming it was dirt road, trail, and "easy" cross country based on my other cross country experiences in the area, but then walked it back a bit by pointing out we might not actually get there. Peter and Bernard said they were interested and so we went. We arrive at the trailhead, Bernard in jeans and some extra tough long sleeve shirt Garth gave him before hightailing it to Colorado, Peter in shorts and short sleeves, myself in long trousers with long gaiters and long sleeves packed away for later. Well, near the trailhead as we discover the first thing I am wrong about. The road is blocked at Frenchmans Flat leaving us with nearly two miles of paved old highway 99 to walk before even getting to the dirt. The place is full of cars, which is worrying.

crossing Piru Creek on the four lane highway
The footbridge across Piru Creek is a four lane highway with a two lane dam access road dropped on top of it.

first look at the lookout
Slide Mountain from the highway. The apparent large bush on the right of the two along the visible edge of the mountain is actually the square structure of Slide Mountain Lookout.

We get our first look at the lookout high on the mountain before turning a corner and finding the locked gate on the dirt road that climbs part of the way up to it. We can see very little detail from here, but it already looks to be a drab structure. We start up the dirt road and quickly gain views of the dam, then Pyramid Lake behind it. The road turns to trail along road bed and we curve around into a canyon that seems just a bit hotter than the surrounding area and climb around in it before finally coming out into a saddle and a gentle breeze. Peter is struck by the deep canyons to the south and west.

Pyramid Lake
Pyramid Lake and the dam that holds it in.

hot little canyon
Climbing up through a hot little canyon.

Piru Creek from above
Panorama of the canyons to the south that include Piru Creek. Whiteacre Peak is in the background.

From the saddle, the road bed vanishes and we are left on a narrow trail slowly climbing up a steep mountain side. The trail here dips into the Sespe Wilderness for a couple stretches. There is a large group of Castaic hikers coming down as we go up. They say they tried this hike a few weeks earlier, but stopped after the first bit of heat stroke in the 90°F heat. Today, the weather is great. The trail is so good, it is hard to believe that it had to be rediscovered and slightly rerouted. One switchback holds a clue of where the reroute is and we pass the junction with the trail down to Beartrap Canyon without noticing. In short order, we find ourselves at the top.

climbing trail on the ridge
The trail climbs along the ridge that is the boundary for Sespe Wilderness. Lake Piru glistens in the distance.

ridge panorama
Panorama of the ridge we will follow later.

Slide Mountain fire lookout
Bernard and Peter checking out the Sespe Wilderness from the top of Slide Mountain.

We poke around the lookout. The locked cabin at the top level is full of books, maps, a bed, and a stove and looks quite cozy although I know there is no gas for the stove and no water except that which people bring up. The bottom level is a bunker. There seem to be pipes sticking up from the ridge off to north and south and I have a poke around those too. The northern one is a wide pipe with a disk at the top divided into thirds by three precision grooves. The southern one looks to be a chimney from an ice can stove surrounded by burned wood and steaks.

Pyramid Lake
Pyramid Lake and Hungry Valley in panorama from the lookout tower deck.

Day Fire victim
Something was removed by the 2006 Day Fire.

Redrock Mountain across the interstate
Looking to Redrock Mountain across the interstate that is almost entirely muted with distance.

It takes a little bit of effort to get the boys out of reclining in the shade of the lookout and facing the brush challenge I have set out before us. Before going, I marked the peak on the GPS and it is reading 1.4 miles away. I estimated the route length as 2 miles. It is easy to pick out where we want to start down to cross the saddle between ourselves and the climb up to Dome Mountain. There is little contact and no route finding required to make our way down 500 feet to the saddle. So far it really is easy cross country.

view from a saddle
The view from the saddle down Piru Creek.

The somewhat north facing slope we start up is not quite the same. There are still routes through it, but they become narrow as we climb and eventually we are reaching before us to pull the branches apart to help us move through it. It is a little thing called the chaparral swim. Things thin again as we get to the top and we are again moving with relative ease although it has spots that are a step above easy.

open space at the top of the ridge
Easy cross country.

The brush gets generally thicker as we climb. In the area of peak 4692, I am hopeful we have already got to the peak, but the GPS says it is still 0.6 miles away. We keep moving along the easy slope of the ridge until the sudden last push up the peak. Hunters have been in the area and I follow the suggestion of footprints from before the last rain upward through the brush. Sometimes they seem to make odd choices in path, but it seems that this is because the maker was looking at the brush from the other side while coming down. I manage to outpace the boys up the slope, probably thanks to the footprints to follow, and am standing on the top of Dome Mountain first. Time to find some monuments because I am suspicious that besides the triangulation station on the map that there will be a county line marker.

Slide Mountain
Looking back at Slide Mountain. Peter is almost lost in the brush.

county surveyors monument
And there is a marker for the county line.

Bernard points out couple posts and wire and some large flat pieces of metal with large round holes cut out. The flat pieces are unfamiliar, but the posts look like surveyor trash. They are on top of a rock pile, and moving the rock in the middle shows off a survey marker. A second should still be somewhere, but I do not find it. We spend entirely too long lounging on the peak even though we arrived at our turn around time. Off in the distance, directly behind Whitaker Peak, through the gap the interstate comes through, we spot skyscrapers. It is entirely unexpected.

Cobblestone Mountain
Cobblestone Mountain in the afternoon sun.

Slide Mountain
Back the way we came. There are a couple trees out there.

Los Angeles through the mountain pass
The site of the Whitaker Peak fire lookout, removed in the 1970s, with Los Angeles City in the far distance. Or maybe Glendale.

Warm Springs Mountain
Warm Springs Mountain, the site of another fire lookout that is now only metal scaffolding, with about three taller peaks behind it.

Anelope Valley
Tehachapi Mountains.

My arms already feel the itch of welts brought up by the chaparral, which seems to be a mix of chamise and whitethorn ceanothus with some manzanita thrown in. Long sleeves were called for on the way up and I finally put them on for the return trip. Peter seems to be happy with the removal of a few pesky layers of skin from his legs and still does not want to try my gaiters. We head down with Bernard revealing why it had been hard to get them going from Slide Mountain. Neither one was all that excited to try the cross country, but now that we have taken on the brush and won (at least for getting there), they are very glad they tried. I could admit to a moment of apprehension as well, but now keep finding a smile sneaking onto my face. We zoom down the mountain very roughly in our own footsteps and, except for once having to reign in Bernard from heading down whatever ridge might be in front of him instead of the ridge headed toward the beacon of the lookout, make it back to the good trail in the still bright twilight.

sun set already
Colors in the sky after the sun has set.

It is smooth hiking down the trail and dirt road, and even smoother along the paved highway. Most the cars are gone now. The final tally of people on the trail includes two hunters separately and about 18 hikers in a single group, three of whom turned back early. Off trail was just us. We could see the switchbacks of the trail down to Beartrap Canyon on the side of the mountain. It joins Baily Trail there which drops down Beartrap Canyon to a picnic site by the lake (instead of the end of a road connecting to the underwater highway) and up past the Bailey homestead and another county line marker. Perhaps more adventure awaits there. Bernard wants to try pushing to the next peak, which is White Mountain. It has a number of peaks and the tallest is over 3.5 miles further.

©2014 Valerie Norton
Posted 11 November 2014


Unknown said...

Hey Valerie,

Any signs of mountain bikers going up to Slide Mountain?

Thanks, your blog is great!

Valerie Norton said...

There might have been some bike tracks in the dirt while the trail was still along road bed, but it looks like they are honoring the wilderness. Mountain bikes aren't allowed in the Sespe Wilderness, so once the trail starts dipping into that after the first saddle, bikes need to be stashed out of the way.

Unknown said...

I've not been up there. The maps are a little sloppy indicating where the wilderness boundary starts. Some show it along the ridge, others off the trail. Is there a Wilderness sign that you pass?

Valerie Norton said...

The wilderness was designated in 1992 and at that time this trail was an overgrown and forgotten thing. I would not expect anyone to have adjusted for it. Then again, someone could have seen a line on a map and decided to go around it. In looking for a legal description of the boundary in the Los Padres Condor Range and River Protection Act, I find this little gem:

Sec. 4. Filling of Maps and Descriptions
As soon as practicable after enactment of this Act, a map and
legal description of each wilderness area designated in secton 2
shall be filed with the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources
of the Senate and Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs of
the House of Representatives, and each such map and description
shall have the same force and effect as if included in this Act.
Correction of clerical and typographical errors in each such legal
description and map may be made. Each such map and legal
description shall be on file and available for public inspection in
the Office of the Chief of the Forest Service, Department of Agri-
culture, Washington, District of Columbia and in the Office of
the Forest Supervisor, Los Padres National Forest.

So, once the trail became used again, someone could have decided a ridge line boundary was a typographical error and adjusted it around the trail. Since Los Padres doesn't care about their lookouts, this the very edge of the Angeles administered section, and reportedly someone adjusted the (different) wilderness boundary to include the burned lookout on South Mt. Hawkins so it couldn't be rebuilt, that doesn't seem likely. Just as easily, the trail might have been excluded from the original map and included later. I happen to know a couple of geocaches along the trail were forced to be archived for being in the wilderness based on being on the wrong side of the ridge.

The 2012 USGS map doesn't have such useless things as trails or wilderness boundaries on it, but the 1995 USGS Black Mountain map shows the boundary along the ridge. The 1996 forest map only shows the road to the first saddle and no trail, so does not have the detail to determine anything. Tom Harrison's Sespe map places the wilderness boundary along the ridge. What maps show the boundary otherwise? It could be lazy map makers either way and is likely difficult to resolve without going out to Goleta and looking.

There is no sign, but the Santa Clara-Mojave Rivers Ranger district of Angeles NF which administers the area nearly up to the wilderness boundary (based on the 1996 forest map) may not be thinking about wildernesses that aren't in its forest and the Mt. Pinos ranger district (most likely the one responsible to place a sign) likes to forget this area entirely. The trail has only been clear for just over 10 years. I would not put much weight in the lack of a sign. Many places do not have them.

So, if you feel the wilderness likely goes around the trail, it is up to you to weigh the possible ire of your fellow trail users and whatever might follow from that against being able to ride what really isn't that long a section. I only see the boundary along the ridge line. A volunteer might tell Angeles dispatch about you but cannot issue citations. If you need a longer ride, there is always Whitaker Peak and the various trails up to the ridge. For something more adventurous, you can try to get down to Lake Piru from Townsend Peak at the other end of this brief stretch of old 99.

Mark Subbotin said...

Bailey Trail is on my bucket list. Let me know when you decide to take it on and I'll join you.

Valerie Norton said...

Mark: You think Craig Carey will let us borrow his titanium loppers? I'll try to sort out what the challenges are and send you an email.

Unknown said...

Hey Valerie - Happy New Year. I found a Sespe boundary map from when the Wilderness was created. Here is a snapshot of the Slide Mountain area, in case you were curious:


The boundary follows the ridge, as expected, and not the trail. Just the map geek in me trying to figure this out. Perhaps one day I'll be lucky enough to make a Sespe map. Keep me posted on the Bailey Trail if you want company, that is right up my alley. Good luck!

Valerie Norton said...

Is that you, Bryan? And if so, do I remember correctly to think you made it to Halfway Spring? (It's halfway to Cobblestone, I expect. Someone said they got there at a time I was thinking I wanted to go.) That is expertise the enterprise needs!

I am not seeing the photo. Check the permissions? This is from a copy of the official map in 1991? I am interested in both the original and ways it may have changed due to "clerical errors", I really ought to try getting out to Goleta and looking. The flooded office may make it more difficult at the moment.

Unknown said...

I've not made it to Halfway Spring. I can say I made it part way to Halfway Spring, sort of by coincidence - but its never been on my list. Perhaps one day. Try the link again.

Valerie Norton said...

It comes up "page not found" still. Try the "link to photo" stuff on the right side of the Picasa page.

Unknown said...

I hate Picasa! Try it now...... UGH
The map was from the original Forest Service wilderness outline. I found it randomly on the wall within the Ojai Ranger District. Pretty cool map.

Valerie Norton said...

Looks pretty definitive that the boundary follows the ridge line ignoring all things fire lookout-y on the way from Beartrap to Piru.

Sometimes it seems like Google isn't trying to make any friends. They managed to lose the last map I made with the old system before they forced me to the new one. This post was a royal headache because it is the first with the new map system which refuses to understand GPX files. Some of the old maps aren't displaying the same as before or at all, so having to fix a lot of things. There is an upshot: it is capable of displaying 5+ days of backpacking all on one map now.