ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SAN GABRIELS
Hike G4. Rattlesnake Peak
- Hiking time: 8 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 7 miles
- Elevation gain: 3500 feet
- USGS Topo Maps: Glendora, Crystal Lake
- Difficulties: Much bushwhacking and some trail finding
- Special equipment: Plenty of water
- ACA Rating: 1A III
The only real excuse for including this hike in the book is that Rattlesnake Peak has been called the second most difficult summit (after Iron Mountain) to bag in the San Gabriels. Other than the challenge, this hike has little to recommend it. There is no water and virtually no shade and so, in summer, the heat can be overwhelming. Consequently, choose a cool fall, winter or spring day. There is only an overgrown use-trail for most of the way and therefore careful route and trail finding are needed in order to minimize the bushwhacking. Wear long pants and a long sleeved shirt.
The trailhead of the hike is the parking area at the end of Shoemaker Canyon Road in the canyon of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. Drive up Highway 39 from Azusa to the junction north of Morris and San Gabriel dams. Turn right across the bridge following the sign to the East Fork. About 5mi up the East Fork Road, turn left onto Shoemaker Canyon Road. Parenthetically, we note that this dead-end road has a curious history. In the early days of the Cold War it was begun with the idea of creating an escape route from the Los Angeles basin in the event of a nuclear war. Construction was halted when the authorities realized the foolishness of this plan. For present purposes, drive to the end of the road and park by the locked gate (34o14.12'N 117o46.23'W, elevation 2210ft). Remember that you need a parking permit here.
From the locked gate (34o14.12'N 117o46.23'W, elevation 2210ft) follow the dirt road for 1.1mi (about 35min) to the point where the route to Rattlesnake Peak climbs through the brush slope on your left (34o14.96'N 117o45.88'W, elevation 2670ft). This is the critical navigational point on the hike and can be recognized as follows. Begin to take note when the dirt road makes a broad detour to the left into a substantial lateral gully. As you emerge from this detour, the road rounds a headland and, immediately in front of you, you should see a pyramid-like pinnacle just to the left of the road. Just before this pyramid the road crosses a small but deep gully. You should be able to find the remains of an old road that travels up the left-hand side of this gully. (You will also see some road remains on the steep slope on the right of the gully but ignore this.) To reach the old road there is an initial steep climb of about 15ft; several ducks have also be placed here to mark this critical junction.
Having made the initial climb, proceed up the old road and veer right after about 100yds following the old road bed as it crosses to the other side of the gully. After another 100yds, the road reaches a saddle in a small cutting just to the west of the pyramid. Here you will recognize a prominent ridge that climbs steeply to the west from the saddle. The route follows a rough use-trail on the apex of this ridge. The use-trail is generally clear but overgrown in some places. At such points my advice is to stick to the apex of the ridge in order to relocate the trail a short distance further on.
The first part of the climb is steep and proceeds in a NW direction. However, at 34o15.19'N 117o46.10'W and an elevation of 3380ft (and about 1hr 30min from the start), the trail reaches a broader ridge and turns westward (left), climbing more gently. Here there are several fields of dense brush and it becomes harder to follow the trail; head for the rocky outcroppings above you on the apex of the ridge. Then, at 34o15.12'N 117o46.55'W and an elevation of 3940ft (and about 2hr 20min from the start) the ridge you have followed merges with a north/south ridge and the trail turns north to follow the latter. It is then a matter of following this ridge all the way to the summit. There are some ups and downs and places where the overgrown brush has obliterated the trail but, 4.5hrs and 3.4mi from the start you will reach the 5826ft summit of Rattlesnake Peak (34o16.31'N 117o46.61'W).
The descent should take about 3.5hrs.
Last updated 9/9/99.
Christopher E. Brennen