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Hikin_Jim

Crystal Lake - Mt Islip - Big Cienega Loop

Since Hwy 39 has re-opened to Crystal Lake, I've taken three trips up into the area just to get back up into this beautiful and rich area of the San Gabriels.

My latest trip is a loop from the Crystal Lake visitor center area to Windy Gap to Mt Islip down the Islip Ridge Trail and then returning to the Crystal Lake VC area via the Big Cienega Trail. Starting from the old Windy Gap trailhead is not currently possible; the USFS has the road past the VC gated.

One starts one's walk near the VC. One quickly goes into the massive array of camping areas. Though no camping is currently permitted, it does look as though they are planning on it. Here are stacks of new fire pits.


The Windy Gap trailhead is clearly marked with a nice new sign. Anyone care to hazard a guess as to how long it'll be before someone steals the PCT emblem?


Our first real objective, Windy Gap, soon looms into view. Note the new bathroom, part of $6,000,000.00 worth of investment.



Evidence of the 2002 Curve Fire abounds.


But I am happy to report that the forest though scarred is not dead.
Mama:

Baby:


The lower section of the trail (up to the the upper road crossing) is in good shape and shows signs of recent maintenance. Thank you SGMTB!!


The fire didn't show much mercy.


It's cloudy below but sunny here. Smith Mountain pokes its head through the clouds.


I believe that's Monrovia Peak off to the right.


The trail sign at the upper road crossing is blackened but it survived the fire.


A bit further on, we come to the junction with the Big Cienega trail which will be our return route. Contrary to what some maps show, the Big Cienega Trail junction is not at the upper road crossing.


Just past the junction, we come to the first of many downed trees. My friend Will said that he counted more than 45 downed trees that we had to clamber over or around.


The last vestiges of snow on South Hawkins Ridge.


Mount Islip from the Windy Gap Trail. Very little snow.



As we approach the gap, Crystal Lake starts becoming visible.


Some of the Sutter Walls on the trail are pretty beat up, but overall the trail is in pretty good shape considering.




And considering what lies above, it's no wonder.


With were one deadfall is, it's actually easier to just ascend the last little bit to the gap directly.


At the gap, we see our first snow.



View from the gap.


The signs in the gap are a bit confused. They really need an arrow on the Vincent Gap destination on the sign in the foreground.


From the gap, we start up the regular trail to Mount Islip. There's only a bit of snow at first.


But as we get on to more north facing slopes, the snow gets a little bit more significant. so we just cut up to the ridge top and followed the ridge.


The ridge top is a good route and provides some nice views. The Mojave Desert:


Crystal Lake.



On the far horizon, Throop Peak (left) and Mount Hawkins (right).


Beyond Islip Ridge, Mount Harvard (left), Mount Wilson (middle, with observatory domes and many antennae), and Occidental Peak (right, very apical).


On the far horizon, Middle Hawkins (left), "Sadie" Hawkins (middle), and South Mount Hawkins (right).


Coming along, we encounter this old bit of sheet metal which I assume was the roof or something of the old fire lookout.


Almost to the summit, we come to the junction with the spur trail to the peak. The topo map (see above link) shows the spur trail going west and then ascending before it reaches the spine of the major SW trending ridge of Mount Islip. Not correct. The trail does reach the spur of the SW trending ridge, and whether summer or winter, ascending the spine makes a lot more sense than following the trail which is a roundabout waste of time. Right now, with heavy snow still on the north face, the SW ridge makes even more sense.

From the junction, the Islip Ridge trail generally follows the SW trending ridge. This will be our return route to get back to Crystal Lake. Clearly, this trail has gotten a lot less use than the trail from Windy Gap.


From the spine of the SW ridge, just before ascending the final leg to the summit, I snapped this photo. I think it turned out really well. The San Gabriels at their scenic finest. L to R: Mount Harvard, Mount Wilson, Occidental Peak, Mount Lowe (just visible to the left of Mount Markham), Mount Markham (gray rock, flat topped), Markham Saddle (the prominent gap in the ridgeline on the horizon), San Gabriel Peak (the highest on the the far horizon), Mount Disappointment. Then the far horizon is blocked by Twin Peaks. To the right of Twin Peaks is Strawberry Peak and Mount Lukens. Partially blocked by the Sugar Pine (Pinus lambertiana) is Mount Waterman.



If you look closely, you can see Josephine Peak against the back drop of Mount Lukens.



Mount Waterman


I'm less sure about the two on the left, but here's my best guess, left to right: Pleasant View Ridge/Thrall Peak, Pallet Mountain, and Mount Williamson. I say I'm less sure since I would have thought the high point on Pleasant View Ridge would stand out more as a separate summit as compared to Thrall Peak. Any feedback appreciated.


Finally, we arrive on the summit. From the summit we can see Mount Baldy quite clearly.



The old cabin is still quite full of snow.


It's no wonder they built a fire lookout here. Just look at the view.


Left to Right: Mount Gleason, Winston Ridge, and Mount Pacifico.


It looks like a lot of the trees on the summit of Mount Pacifico survived the Station Fire of 2009.


Mount Lewis (left), Dawson Saddle (middle), Throop Peak (right).


The summit register.


Some guy named "Illusive".


Some guy named "Matt Cav".


Some guy named "Hikin Jim".


We can see all the way to Saddleback Mountain -- in the next county.


Time to melt a little snow and cook up a little lunch.


Johnny, a stove video just for you:


Melted snow.


After lunch, we descend. From the SW Ridge (Islip Ridge), we can see the still closed section of Hwy 39 far below. It's a really steep drop down to the highway.


A very photogenic Twin Peaks and Mount Waterman from Islip Ridge.


Triplet Rocks? Not sure. Looks gnarly whatever it is.


The trail gets pretty rough to follow on Islip Ridge. I'm on the trail as I take this photo. The trail goes between the two rocks seen in the middle ground.


Fortunately, the trail signs are still in place.

This sign unfortunately needs to be rotated 90 degrees to the right in order to be accurate.
Rolling Eyes

Looking down the Big Cienega Trail.


Looking down the Islip Ridge Trail.


Nearing the end of our hike, we look back up at Islip Ridge.


Thanks for joining me on a little jaunt in the Crystal Lake area.


HJ
Z

oooh, nice photo of Triplets Smile
lilbitmo

Nice TR Hiking Jim, the pictures tell the other half of the story.

I might just go there on Friday  Very Happy

Thanks for posting.
HikeUp

Looks familiar! What time were you on the Big Cienega Trail?
Hikin_Jim

HikeUp wrote:
Looks familiar! What time were you on the Big Cienega Trail?
Probably around noon until around 1400.

We saw very few people.  One person on the summit.  No one on Islip Ridge.  One person coming up Big Cienega, and one last person at the upper road crossing.

HJ
Hikin_Jim

Z wrote:
oooh, nice photo of Triplets Smile
Do you think that those are the actually the triplets? I just took my best guess.

HJ
Hikin_Jim

lilbitmo wrote:
Nice TR Hiking Jim, the pictures tell the other half of the story.

I might just go there on Friday Very Happy

Thanks for posting.
It's good stuff.  You can do the "grand tour" by starting at the lake, ascending to the ridge, taking the ridge all the way to Mt. Islip, then follow the ridges around to Middle, Sadie, and South Hawkins, and then take the fire road down back into Crystal Lake basin.

HJ
Elwood

Most excellent report, pictures and commentary. Much appreciated!
HikeUp

Cool beans, Jim. I bet the guy you saw on the summit was the 1 hiker I passed on the Big Cienega Trail on my way down. Great TR.
Illusive

Great TR Jim, looks like you had just as perfect a view as we did when we did the hike last month.
Mike P

Thanks, HJ! I'll be doing this trip soon.
norma r

Great TR and photos HJ!  I enjoyed taking the trip with you through your narrative and those clouds added a beautiful dimension to the view.  Very Happy
Burchey

Looks great HJ - felt like I was hiking along with.
MattCav

Great pics and tr, Jim!   I love your TR's.
Hikin_Jim

HikeUp wrote:
Cool beans, Jim. I bet the guy you saw on the summit was the 1 hiker I passed on the Big Cienega Trail on my way down. Great TR.
The guy we saw on the summit was a middle aged Caucasian.  The guy we saw coming up the Big C Trail was a very fit Asian guy.

HJ
Hikin_Jim

Illusive wrote:
Great TR Jim, looks like you had just as perfect a view as we did when we did the hike last month.
 Really good air quality that day.  We could see forever.

HJ
Hikin_Jim

norma r wrote:
Great TR and photos HJ! I enjoyed taking the trip with you through your narrative and those clouds added a beautiful dimension to the view. Very Happy
 The clouds were pretty cool visually.  Even more cool that we had amazing weather up there when everyone down below was having a gray day.

HJ
Hikin_Jim

Mike P wrote:
Thanks, HJ! I'll be doing this trip soon.
Definitely worth while.  Lots of good camping up there along the ridge too.  One could schlep in water from Little Jimmy and camp up there pretty easily -- or melt snow in spring conditions.

HJ
VermillionPearlGirl

Hey Jim, we tried hike this trail on the same weekend, but there was one part with a rock fall that made me incredibly nervous and ended up turning around. I think your pictures -- the sutter wall section -- you show the first two bad crossings, and the third after that was the one I really felt uncomfortable with.

We were going to go back this weekend and try the Big Cienega route instead. I was wondering if you could tell me if there was anything as nerve wracking in that direction?

Thanks so much!
bsmith

hj, thank you for making the effort to tell us the story of your trip.  great photos and a narrative to explain it all.  thanks!
Dave G

My son and I did this hike yesterday (Liam says "hi", HJ), along with a short recon diversion to Little Jimmy. What a great area! As Jim says, the Big Cienega trail is less defined and the over/under/around the dead trees thing got tedious after awhile, but it is well worth the effort. I need to go back and see the rest of the Islip Ridge Trail, and a Hawkins' loop would be fun, too.
My pics are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21042415@N02/sets/72157626675237460/
Hikin_Jim

VermillionPearlGirl wrote:
Hey Jim, we tried hike this trail on the same weekend, but there was one part with a rock fall that made me incredibly nervous and ended up turning around. I think your pictures -- the sutter wall section -- you show the first two bad crossings, and the third after that was the one I really felt uncomfortable with.

We were going to go back this weekend and try the Big Cienega route instead. I was wondering if you could tell me if there was anything as nerve wracking in that direction?

Thanks so much!
VPG, sorry not to reply sooner.  Went out Thursday evening so I could hit the San Gorgonio Wilderness the next morning.  



If you went this past weekend, you already know that on the Big Cienega Trail there's nothing like the rock slides that are en route to Windy Gap.  What you saw in my photos and experienced for yourself on the Windy Gap Trail is as bad as it gets.

HJ
Hikin_Jim

Dave G wrote:
My son and I did this hike yesterday (Liam says "hi", HJ), along with a short recon diversion to Little Jimmy. What a great area! As Jim says, the Big Cienega trail is less defined and the over/under/around the dead trees thing got tedious after awhile, but it is well worth the effort. I need to go back and see the rest of the Islip Ridge Trail, and a Hawkins' loop would be fun, too.
My pics are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21042415@N02/sets/72157626675237460/
Nice pics, Dave.

I especially like this one:


Wow, there's a sign for the springs now?

Sheesh, the SG's are getting cushy now.  Wink

HJ
VermillionPearlGirl

Thanks HJ! Didn't go last weekend because I was working Sad But got my eye on this upcoming one! Big Cienega it is Smile
Hikin_Jim

VermillionPearlGirl wrote:
Thanks HJ! Didn't go last weekend because I was working Sad But got my eye on this upcoming one! Big Cienega it is Smile
I think you'll like it.  The trail is very faint in spots, but keep your eyes open and watch for trail signs.  I'm sure you'll do all right.

HJ
VermillionPearlGirl

It went great, thanks so much! Smile
Hikin_Jim

Cool!

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