ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
The genesis of adventure hikes
Southern California is a spectacular wonderland that I have been exploring for decades and that I hope to continue to enjoy for many years to come. It started in the 1960s when I moved into the shadow of the magnificent San Gabriel Mountains and began exploring their nooks and crannies. Throughout, I was guided and enthralled by the descriptions of their history and their byways in the books of John W. Robinson. In writing these accounts, I recognized from the beginning that I could and should not compete with Robinson's classic guides. Rather, I should try and complement them.
In the early years, I followed almost all of the 100 hikes in Robinson's ``Trails of the Angeles''. Later, seeking to explore beyond the established trails, I and a group of students at the California Institute of Technology began a series of explorations that we termed ``adventure hikes''. These revealed such marvellous hidden treasures off the beaten paths of the San Gabriels (and southern California) that it seemed appropriate to record these adventures for those who may be inclined to follow in our footsteps. This is the genesis of the present webpages.
The adventure hikes
Each of the webpages in this collection describes a different adventure hike. In each case, I have tried to give as much useful information as possible without spoiling the sense of adventure. When I explored each of these for the first time I had little or no knowledge of what to expect. In the early days, this led to some unexpected adventures such as spending an unplanned night in the canyon of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. Later, I became more circumspect and often conducted preliminary exploratory hikes before attempting the complete version described here. Thus, for example, I ventured into some of the canyons from both above and below before attempting to travel all the way through.
In each case, I have provided a map on which I have marked prominent features, obstacles or navigational aids. In addition, I have included some photographs so that the reader can gauge his or her own willingness to tackle some of the challenges described herein. Estimates of the times required for the hikes are also provided though the actual time required will vary considerably depending on the weather, stream conditions and personal agility and fitness. Some readers may be able to go significantly faster than indicated here. Groups larger than three or four will most likely be slower especially when rappelling.
An estimate of the distance covered is also provided though this is much less useful than the elapsed time when discussing adventure hikes since average speeds vary greatly with the terrain. Another guide to the difficulty is the listed elevation gain that, unless otherwise specified, is the sum of all the major ascents experienced on the hike. Specific difficulties (and the equipment needed to overcome them) are also listed for reference at the beginning of each description.
The changing landscape
Geologically the southern California mountains, and the San Gabriel range in particular, are among the youngest in North America. The kink in the San Andreas fault as it runs through the Los Angeles area has caused our mountains to be thrust up as the tectonic plate of the Pacific basin moves north relative to the North American plate. The erosion and growth that smooth out other ranges have not yet had time to counter this growth and so the San Gabriel mountain range is also one of the most precipitous and dramatic anywhere in North America. Indeed, there may be canyons, perhaps in the Devil's Canyon Wilderness Area, where man has rarely, if ever, set foot.
One consequence of this newness and wildness, is that the mountains are constantly changing and any guide like this runs the risk that it is out of date before it is written. The canyons, in particular, can sometimes be unrecognizable after a large winter storm. The reader should remember this when using the directions and descriptions herein. Logs that once allowed an easy descent may vanish during the winter. Landslides can obliterate significant obstacles or create new ones.
- Harrison, Tom. 1990. Trail Map of the Angeles High Country.
- Harrison, Tom. 1995. Trail Map of the Angeles Front Country.
- Leadabrand, Russ. 1970. Guidebook to the San Gabriel Mountains of California (2nd revised edition). Ward Ritchie Press, Los Angeles.
- Liskow, George. 1990. Wildflowers of the Mount Wilson trails and San Gabriel Mountains.
- McKinney, John W. 1987. Day Hiker's Guide to Southern California. Olympus Press, Santa Barbara, California.
- McKinney, John W. 1992. Walking Southern California. A Day Hiker's Guide. Harper Collins West.
- Robinson, John W. 1986. Mines of the San Gabriels. La Siesta Press.
- Robinson, John W. 1989. Mines of the East Fork. La Siesta Press.
- Robinson, John W. 1990. Trails of the Angeles: 100 hikes in the San Gabriels (6th edition). Wilderness Press, Berkeley.
- Robinson, John W. 1991. The San Gabriels. Big Santa Anita Historical Society.
- Schad, Jerry. 1991. Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County. Wilderness Press.
- US Army Survival Manual, FM21-76. Reprint of Department of the Army Field Manual, Dorset Press, New York.
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Last updated 7/30/99.
Christopher E. Brennen