20 March 2017

Redrock Mountain

Angeles National Forest

Link to map.

Redrock Mountain really catches the eye when viewed from the west side where its deep red heart is on display. Since I have plodded along on a few trails that do this, the mountain has eaten into my consciousness. The area around it was once quite popular among hikers and each excursion I have done around its base has shown me new reasons why. Today, any entry into the area requires first a mile along paved roadway before getting to a trail that can get one to the good stuff. It tends to weed out anyone who is not looking for a long hike. Today, I am looking for a long hike. I will head up Fish Canyon and climb that mountain, then return via Redrock Canyon and (Old) Telephone Road. A previous excursion that returned via Telephone Road lead to a bit of disappointment in being only able to see some of the beauty around me because it was already getting dark. Timing for off trail travel is uncertain, so I could end up in the same situation today. An early start would guard against that and that is why I am starting down the paved road as the sky thinks about brightening.

glowing Fish Canyon
Not much of a color show as the dawn breaks.

There is light. There is a glow from the power plant and from the many cars of people arriving to work at it. Very low clouds do not promise much of a dawn show. As I walk, there seems to be another glow developing deep within Fish Canyon that slowly swamps all else. Light reflects from the creek. I can hear Castaic Creek below me but cannot see water in it until the bridge. What is running through the gauge does not seem very substantial, but it is much more than I have seen before. It must be about sunrise by the time I start up Fish Canyon, but there is little clue of it from the sky. Things just sort of get brighter more and more slowly.

Fish Canyon flow
Fish Canyon seems to have a nice flow through it, but not nearly so much as the willows appear to have withstood recently. Some of the hillsides are golden with poppies. The color will be even brighter once the flowers actually open up for the day.

truck trail in good repair for now
Entering the canyon. The sycamores have only started to leaf out.

Fish Canyon is a novelty of road building. There are a couple fords and I waste a little energy trying to get to some rocks to hop across even though I know what is coming. As it narrows, the road and the canyon bottom become one. It must have been a bit wild to drive it when it was roaring a little. The remains of an old gate presumably closed it off when it was roaring a lot. Today it is a quick couple steps to cross and probably low enough for most waterproof shoes to keep the feet dry. I have my light trail runners, so every step lets in a little more water. I make them quick steps to let in the least amount.

holey road
A very zen road for it has become one with the creek and canyon and that is everything it knows.

The canyon opens up again and quickly there are hints at the old campground that is returning to nature. Posts mark out parking for a site or two. Visible more by the change of color than anything else is an old loop road of tar and gravel. After another turn and the campground cannot be missed as the old pits come into view. More interesting is the next corner when my target comes into view.

Cienaga Camp
The low clouds are finally starting to burn off as I come into Cienaga Camp.

Redrock Mountain
Redrock Mountain from the south. There are some spots to see into its rocky red heart here, too.

Trail (although this too was once a road) breaks off north directly after one more creek crossing. It is pretty easy to follow with the caveat that some illegal motorcycle riding has carved out a bit of a race track toward the creek. I stay to the higher trail and it takes me efficiently toward the Pianobox Prospect. There are a few downed trees along the way, but the trail mostly looks in good shape.

canyon side waterfall
A distant waterfall tumbles into the canyon.

The old prospect is mostly a campsite under an oak tree just before the trail launches into the narrows and, by necessity, into the creek bottom. There is a hole next to the site that might have been the prospect. Bits of iron can be found near the creek and an old dam has clearly seen some great force of water a few times. I wander up the narrows a little way to see them with more than a few puddles. Quite a few footprints seem to indicate that this was the weekend pursuit of a few people.

Fish Canyon Narrows
The narrows of Fish Canyon. The water is not much now. I can keep my feet dry easily for the first 200 feet.

I return to the prospect to locate the trail. I have been here before, too, and had not seen anything that looked like a trail heading upward. I had seen only one place where it looked like a trail could be. Now I cross over the creek just above the dislodged dam to investigate. It certainly does look to be the trail. I suspect I am being overly cautious, but I grab another liter of water from the creek before leaving it behind. I have not drunk much water so far, but as the sun starts to hit me, I am happy to have the extra. The climb up out of the canyon and into the sun is spectacular although sometimes worrisome. The trail bed is beginning to slip and cant, sometimes by some quite steep slopes.

little purple flowers
Some little purple flowers in the shale to celebrate the first day of spring.

narrows from above
The narrows of Fish Canyon from above.

The trail climbs into safer areas and twists and turns up to a saddle above. It has been kept up by the users and hugs in a little tight at times. One spot looks like there is trail climbing along a ridge, but a rock arrow points the way into a low cave of brush for the real trail. Otherwise it is simple to follow and the only effort is the climb to the new view.

new view at the saddle
New view time at the saddle. New view time is always a little exciting.

From the saddle, it is time to head off trail. Or it would be except that there is a pretty distinct trail heading up the side of the mountain. It gets very steep in spots and requires some minor route finding when it flattens out. Although there is no brush to fight, it takes a very long time to get up what is just under a half a mile. The dirt is hard and can be difficult to get a good grip on with my shoes, but I manage without slipping. Up at the top, it is not too difficult to locate the benchmark, especially with coordinates in my GPS.

Redrock Mountain from near the benchmark
Not quite to the benchmark and already scoping out the route up from here.

red rocks embedded in others
The major red scar of this mountain is below.

The peak with the benchmark is a rocky thing that the bulldozers have left alone. The benchmark itself seems to be a reset from 1930. I expect at least one reference mark for a USGS marker from the time, but not for an LA County marker. This one claims both agencies, but my search fails to turn up anything other than bits of wire that once held aloft a "light". There is no entry in the NGS database to hint at what silliness might be uncovered if one dug in the right place.

The benchmark for "RED ROCK MT". It does actually have a space in it here, but most of the references to this one seem to go without, which is consistent with the map.

Taking in the sights around me is somewhat difficult. Those low clouds have not quite burned off but are just very, very thin. Over the distance to the nearby peaks, it starts to look thick again. To the west, the big peak is Alamo Mountain, but Cobblestone looks more imposing. Lower peaks like Townsend are difficult to pic out in the mist. Some of the installation on Burnt Peak to the northeast is easy to pick out and when the sun hits it right, I can even see the central piece of the FAA site. If I focus carefully, I can just pick out the scaffold of the old lookout on Warm Springs to the southeast.

Alamo Mountain and friends
Alamo Mountain is the tallest in the west, but may not quite look it from here. Cobblestone stands apart from it to the left. Somewhere in the low stuff is Slide and Dome, the first recognized for certain by the functioning lookout tower on top.

Anyway, maybe the sights will be better from the taller peak. My estimate for the distance is 2 miles, but it looks like there is a brush free path the whole way. The initial route is not as obvious since that bit of ridge actually is brushy, but cairns mark a way. The log book notes that a helicopter aided surveyor came around just 25 years ago, so there has to be a way at least to the far more helicopter friendly peak next along the ridge. Well, had to be then. Once found, the route is not so hard to follow. Once down on the saddle, going up to the high point follows old fuel break. Bulldozers make wide and easy paths to follow. The rather regal manzanita in the middle of some of it does suggest it has been many decades since they were last here. Somehow it requires very little pushing through brush and at least half of the yucca stabs I am getting are self inflicted wounds if I am being fair. There is evidence that there was once another benchmark down the hill from peak 4253. Two bright yellow posts often used as protection against the machines now lie loose on the ground and an old wired post is down in the bushes.

rugged area
A rugged and generally inaccessible area on the way to Warm Springs.

Libre Mountain and fuel break
I expect the bulldozer made its way down off Liebre Mountain. The northern part looks like it might have been cleared during the Powerhouse Fire.

It takes just over 1.5 miles to get to the high point, which is a flattened triangle after the visits of machinery. All the hard work was done just to get up to the benchmark. The misty distance is a little bit improved as now I can confidently pick out the lookout on Warm Springs.

canyons on the mountain
The view down the canyon is a lot different now with much less red rock visible.

grassy mountain sides
Grassy hillsides to the northwest, at the feet of Liebre Mountain, seem to have a bit of color in them.

I take a while before returning through the light brush and wounding yucca. In the warm sun up there on that dry ridge, the extra water I grabbed comes in very handy.

squeezed yucca
Yucca can create art, too.

huge puff ball
The huge puff balls are coming up and excavating the dirt around them while they do.

red rocks again
Back around to seeing the heart of red rocks.

Back at the benchmark, I am not relishing the thought of going down the last piece of ridge line travel. It is simply so very steep. Still, it does not count unless I get back. It just takes a little care to get back to the saddle.

saddle below
Oh, bother, it is the straight down bit.

Once back to the saddle, I turn excitedly for Redrock Canyon to make my way down. I figure that although the other way is the more popular route to the peaks above, this trail should be fine. I noticed it joining Telephone Road in the gathering dark a few years back, so it must get a few feet. This trail is even tighter as it passes through the brush, but still distinctly clear in the middle. There is really no option to get off trail. There are some clues that even this was once a road. One big bend in particular is only reasonable for those who cannot turn in arbitrary directions. Oddly, there are a couple fence posts with old sign boards lying beside them along the side. There is no clue now what they said. My speculation runs toward prospecting claims. More interesting are the white rock structures I am dropping toward and the new angle on the red cliffs that are now above.

white rocks
Coming down into a valley of smoothed white rock layers.

red rocks above
While the same red rocks, now much closer, sit above.

pool of water
Water below in the very green hills.

The trail drops down to a little creek and it is well timed. I need a little more water. It is cooling now, so I just grab another liter. Staying here a bit longer than usual is fascinating because I just keep noticing one beautiful detail after another. Those who just come and go by Fish Canyon are really missing out.

leaves in a pool
Two soggy leaves in a pool along the creek. Nature has made some exquisite color choices here.

erosion patterns
Interesting patterns in the erosion and weathering of the rocks above the creek.

I also notice that there are an awful lot of trail signs marking this little piece of trail. As I try to use the bit of obvious trail beside the creek, there just is no path through the bushes. It is a good thing I like the creek so much because I get to see it up close for about a quarter mile. Someone did hike it recently and their footsteps, sometimes quite deep in the pebbles, are comforting while I desperately look for more trail. What I find is usually of no use. Finally a piece breaks out of the creek for real. It is not so enthusiastically marked as the other side, but it seems to be going somewhere.

yellow flowers
More celebration of the first day of spring while passing through a meadow where the trail is not all that visible.

very covered in plants
The valley below. Things get rough below that and it is probably a good thing to catch the trail rather than try to follow the creek the whole way.

Redrock Mountain
Leaving behind that red heart. The benchmark peak is on the right.

A meadow tries to make it hard to find my way, but I can see the shorter, thinner section of plants that is the trail. There is a moment of uncertainty as there seem to be three routes out of a low spot. I pick one that is looking a little bit too much like a creek, but it turns into obvious trail again soon enough. A little further, and I am dumped out onto Telephone Road. It looks like most stay on the road at this junction, if they even get up to here. Anyway, it should be easy enough from here. There do seem to be a lot more ticks along it.

Telephone Road
Telephone Road as it continues toward various points to the north.

Telephone Road
The road ahead would be hard to miss. There are a few land slides to contend with on the way.

Redrock Canyon
The creek below in Redrock Canyon gets a bit rougher.

As I come down the road and turn a corner, the trees below spark a memory. It was difficult to find a way through those before. Indeed, the current trail abandons the old road bed a fair distance up from where it used to come down to the creek. It probably cliffs out now due to erosion. I remember needing to double back through the trees to get through them and some ribbons seem to support that idea. While I am heading upstream anyway, I might as well have a look along the narrows of Cienaga Canyon as well.

Castaic Creek in Cienaga Canyon
Castaic Creek as it flows through a narrow bit of Cienaga Canyon.

Finding the trail is a bit difficult. I want to avoid the poison oak forests, so turn away from a few spots where I see footsteps. I make my way downstream and toward the east side. As I walk in the creek, I can see the old road bed above. There is an opportunity to climb up to it and I take it to find a good trail along it. Now I can travel easily. That is, until it stops. Apparently I had forgotten all the ways in which this old road is no longer a simple route to walk. There are some rocks set down to suggest that I should get off, but I go to the end to see what all the fuss is about. The rocks lead to an 80° slope to get down. The road ends in an even higher cliff. I decide to follow the hint from the rocks after all. It is only nearly a cliff there.

ghost spider
The second honey bee capturing spider found on this trip. The spider is very aware of me as I watch it.

Continuing down the creek, I look for a way up to the road again. This time, there is not much trail along it, but the trail comes up a little later before dumping me down again. The road is harder to obtain on the next section and it looks like few have bothered. In short order, I am trying to get down again. I wait a little, looking for more established trail, and get a little way before getting down again, this time on a big bend. I remember the bend, it has a shortcut trail. Looking along the side, I can see it starting upstream of me. That drops down again after the bend, but there is another trail, again a little upstream, up to road bed on the other side. There is a concrete ford, which helps in finding the trail on the other side quite a lot until it drops to the creek again. I can see nothing on the other side, and have worked my way down in the rocks a while before realizing that is because the road did not cross. I climb up to a little more easy trail before another concrete ford. The road drops out shortly a few more times, but it is relatively easy to continue until the remnant of a gate. A little further is the gauge, and then just that last mile on paved and blocked highway.

Somehow, at the end of it, I still do not quite have the craziness of the trail in mind. What I am thinking is this is definitely one of those trails that needs to be reclaimed before it is lost forever.

©2017 Valerie Norton
Posted 22 March 2017

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