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mpuchtel

Looking for trip ADVICE in and around the LA area

Hi All -

I'm looking to tap your collective knowledge for some trip advice.  I'm coming to LA in Feb 2014 to do a 3day/2night trip with three other people.  Two of us are experienced backpackers and the other two are not, however the latter are in excellent shape and I don't have any concerns with them keeping up. We like wildlife, remoteness, and adventure!  I can also say that off-trail opportunities are a plus.

At this point I'm simply trying to gather some general advice, rather than specific route suggestions.  For example, what are the pros/cons of the several different mountain ranges in the area: Gabriels, Bernadinos, Monicas, Jacintos?  Is it realistic to reach higher altitudes in Feb with only crampons, or do I need to whip out my snowshoes?  That said, what are the snow predictions for this winter?  Is water more scarce in Feb?

Right now I'm leaning toward the gabriels because I'm a fan of the national geographic illustrated maps, and for the LA area there only seems to be one for the angeles ntnl forest area.  Where else would I look for a good trail map of the other ranges?

Thanks in advance!
Hikin_Jim

Tom Harrison Maps are the best for planning in and around Los Angeles.  The Angeles Front Country and Angeles High Country maps will give you the entire San Gabriel Range.  The San Gorgonio Wilderness and San Jacinto Wilderness maps will give you good overviews of those two wildernesses.  He has some maps for the Santa Monica Range, but I'm less familiar with those maps and that area.

HJ
JeffH

Santa Monica mountains are highly unlikely to have snow, of course they don't have the higher elevations you mentioned.
If it's like the last couple of Februarys, you might be fine anywhere with trail runners. We don't seem to have good snowshoe snow, it tends to be wet and get icy overnight. Crampons are a much better choice for most of the area.
Lots of cool places to explore in 2-3 days and in winter you will probably get the solitude you seek.
I entertain myself on slow days at work by reading the old trip reports, good sources of information for where/when planning.
cougarmagic

The Santa Monicas are not great for backpacking as there are few legal camping spots.  (and they're very far away from each other).

San Gabriels are the favorite here of course, but be aware of the Station Fire burn area.  Some trails you will see on maps are fine, but some are in complete disrepair, and in general the burned area still looks pretty bleak.  Higher elevations (above 6500') are still very nice, and winter is unpredictable.  

San Bernardinos have some spectacular, pristine wilderness and wonderful trails.  There will be more snow there than in the San Gabriels.

Water sources in February should be plentiful.  

We have a few different habitats - low elevations (3,500' and under) are chaparral, which is very beautiful in winter.  Above that is oak woodland (and in the canyons that's what you'll find too).  Pine forest is 7k' and up.  (Generally)
Hikin_Jim

In February, you're likely to have significant snow above 7,000'.  If there's been a recent storm, you could have snow considerably lower than that.

My favorite backpacking area is the San Gorgonio Wilderness, but most of that is above 7,000'.

The San Jacinto Wilderness is a close second, but snow will be a major factor there too.

Below 5,000' is probably where I'd backpack in February unless I wanted snow.  The San Gabriels are good for that.  I can suggest several trips, mostly on trail.  The problem with going off trail in S. Calif. below 5000' is that the brush is just nasty.

HJ
Hikin_Jim

As I think about it, here's a route I'd recommend for a 3 day 2 night trip.

You could do it as a "through" hike if you had someone willing to drop you off at the upper end and pick you up at the lower end.  You'd camp as you saw fit, exploring the side canyons on your way.  Some people will do this as a single very long day (no overnight), but it's far more enjoyable to overnight and there's plenty to do if you branch out and explore.  

Note:  There's a lot of trail in that canyon, particularly above "The Narrows" and below the confluence with Mine Gulch that is gone.  The trail up Prairie Fork is pretty much gone too.

There's one good camp site at the Narrows, more sites at the mouth of Fish Fork, and a very large site between Mine Gulch and Vincent Gulch on the north bank of the "river," river being a relative term for Southern California.  Don't expect the Mississippi.

If you can't get a lift to the top end of the route, no worries.  Hike up from Heaton Flat, go a ways, set up camp, and explore from your base camp.  Starting from Heaton pretty much guarantees that you'll stay below the snow line unless there has been a very recent, very cold storm.  Snow levels do sometimes get down as low as 2,000' but most of the snow stays above 4,000'.   A couple of weeks after a storm, it's usually clear below 5,000'.   The really heavy snow is above 7,000'.  Something like that.  Elevations approximate, and it varies greatly by year.  Last couple of years, snow has been pretty much a bust.

HJ
HikeUp

Why do I keep hearing Dueling Banjos in the background?
Hikin_Jim

Here's another idea, this time a loop route.

Start at Chantry Flats.  Night one spend at either Devore, West Fork, or Valley Forge camps.  All have reliable water.

Night two spend at Idlehour.

Hike out day 3.

HJ
Hikin_Jim

And here's idea #3, another loop.

I'm not sure which roads there are open, but I've marked point "A" to the best of my knowledge.  Perhaps others will comment.

That's pretty wild territory over there.  Some of those trails may be abandoned.  I'd want good maps and a willingness to do some exploring.  Don't necessarily expect things like trail signs, clear paths, or obvious camp sites.  Might be some brush.  Don't know.  Haven't been over there in years.

If that loop didn't feel like enough mileage, you could extend it like so.

HJ
Phil B

Yeah I like HJ's first suggestion hiking along the East fork through the Narrows, this is an awesome hike that will give you a real flavour of so cal canyon hiking and offers a sense of adventure.
I have only done it as a day hike, but have always wanted to do it as a backpack trip.  My preference would be to start at Vincent Gap, which of course as Jim said will need a car pool or someone to drop you off.
One word of caution, this being a canyon you should always keep an eye open for rain.
Phil

Pics : http://philbrown.smugmug.com/Othe...-The-Narrows-East/1774210_JjctLP#!i=88119694&k=zzFRdgw
turtle

Hikin_Jim wrote:
Here's another idea, this time a loop route.

Start at Chantry Flats.  Night one spend at either Devore, West Fork, or Valley Forge camps.  All have reliable water.

Night two spend at Idlehour.

Hike out day 3.

HJ

Three days?  That's but a wee Elwood day hike. Very Happy
turtle

Re: Looking for trip ADVICE in and around the LA area

mpuchtel wrote:
We like wildlife, remoteness, and adventure!  I can also say that off-trail opportunities are a plus.


Especially if you are experienced with ropework and could bring the required gear, Chris Brennen's Adventure Hikes and Canyoneering in the San Gabriels provides an excellent list of adventurous, off-trail outings.  

Even if you won't have the required gear or don't feel you have enough experience, there are some other interesting routes described therein.
Hikin_Jim

35+ miles and 16,000+ feet of gain.  Yeah, pretty much a day hike.  

What?  Did Elwood have pneumonia that day?  Slacker.

I apologize profusely for underestimating your abilities.  Allow me, by way of amends, to recommend the following for your 3 day hike pleasure:  The Pacific Crest Trail.  I do hope that this will be sufficient mileage to keep you entertained for three full days.  If you finish early, I hear Canada is really nice this time of year.

HJ
mpuchtel

Whoa, thanks for all the advice! You guys rock.

So let me back up for a moment here. All these trip suggestions sound great, but I'm the kind of person that needs to hold a map in my hands in order to evaluate a trip, so what I want to do next is buy a map. In order to buy a map I need to select the general area, and what I'm hearing is that I need to decide between the SGM and the SBM.

So how do I decide that? Which is more remote? Which has a better chance to see wildlife? Which would you prefer in February?
Sean

mpuchtel wrote:
Which is more remote? Which has a better chance to see wildlife? Which would you prefer in February?


Both SGM and SBM are vast ranges with highways, fire roads, and towns interspersed within them. They both have plenty of remote areas, if you're willing to hike several miles away from the nearest road or town.

Remoteness won't necessarily translate into seeing more wildlife. My best wildlife encounters have been in/around popular recreational areas such as Crystal Lake, Mt. Baldy, and Chantry Flat. You have a decent opportunity to see big horn sheep if you hike around Baldy. For some reason I haven't seen much wildlife in the SBM, though I don't get over that way too often.
Hikin_Jim

mpuchtel wrote:
...what I want to do next is buy a map. In order to buy a map I need to select the general area, and what I'm hearing is that I need to decide between the SGM and the SBM.

So how do I decide that? Which is more remote? Which has a better chance to see wildlife? Which would you prefer in February?

Well, in February, I'm more inclined toward the San Gabriels which have some nice low altitude options.  If however you want snow, then the San Bernardinos are higher and will have a lot of options.  

Tom Harrison Maps has the best maps of these areas for planning purposes.  I prefer more detailed maps for off trail on-the-ground work, but for planning the Harrison maps are the best.

For the first hike I recommended, you'd want the Angeles High Country map.  For the second hike I recommended, you'd want the Angeles Front Country map.  Unfortunately for the third hike I recommended, Harrison does not offer a map.

If as I say you want snow, the San Gorgonio Wilderness in the San Bernardinos is high and is an excellent place for backpacking.  You'd want the San Gorgonio Wilderness map from Tom Harrison maps for this area.

HJ
mpuchtel

Hi All,

Sorry for the long delay - our group is now 3, we have maps in hand, and our plans are better made.

We're currently thinking of doing the first trip suggested by HJ (on Wed Nov 20, 2013 7:53 pm) and have a few questions:

1. Is it true that car ride from bottom to top (after the car drop) is a big counter-clockwise route taking about 2hrs?  That is what I can gather from the maps, but perhaps I'm missing something.

2. What is the current snow status/forecast?

3. Can we get permits at Heaton Flat?

4. Can you rely on water from the San Gabriel River in February?

Thanks, Max
cougarmagic

That's a great choice.  I've done this trip, and it's beautiful.

The car shuttle will take 1.5 to 2 hours, yes.

Weather  - you might get some drizzle, nighttime temps in the low 40s  to mid 30s at the very worst.  Most likely sunshine and mild temps though.  You will get wet feet from multiple stream crossings.

Permits - not sure those are necessary for this route.  (others will correct me if I'm wrong)

Yes you should have good water flow along the river, even in this time of drought.  Some of the side canyons have sediment that makes the water a bit cloudy/blue.  This isn't dangerous, just not as palatable.  You'll see the effect at Fish Fork camp, where there will be light grey clay on the banks.

Don't leave anything valuable in your car at Heaton.  The upper parking - Islip - is much safer.  Watch for animal tracks - this is a great trip for wildlife, and you may see our bighorn sheep as you hike.
mpuchtel

Oh great.  Thanks for the info.  Could you also elaborate on the permit situation?  When is/isn't it required?
mpuchtel

Hi All-

In addition to elaborating on the permit situation above, can someone give me a snow status?  

I understand things are pretty dry out there.  My questions is whether it would be feasible to go high into the San Bernardinos rather than into the SGs if the snow is indeed really low.

Are there any online resources which show current snow levels?

Thanks!
VermillionPearlGirl

I really enjoyed the beginning of this thread where there is talk of snow in the high elevations in February and water everywhere Smile

I haven't been up super high recently and it did rain like one day last week right? But just in my personal experience this winter, there hasn't been any real problem snow to speak of at least into the mid-elevations. Ice patches here in there on shady trails, but that's the worst I've seen. I'm sure someone else who has been higher more recently will chime in.

One cheat I do to check snow levels is to look at the web cams. Mount Wilson, Mount Baldy, Wrightwood, etc... It's not an exact science but gives you a look Smile Your best bet though is just to call the Ranger. They're usually super nice and informative and they can generally tell you where the snow is, where the water is, what kind of gear you'll need, etc... And they can definitely clear up the permit situation!

They were going to change the parking permit rules (the 'Adventure Pass') so that you only needed one when you were at a 'developed' area, with picnic tables or bathrooms or something, but did that ever actually go into effect? As for hiking/camping permits in Angeles National Forest, they're rare. There's only a few areas that call for them. Here is a list: http://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull...elprdb5404142&width=full#aanf

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