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Ross Mountain via Heaton Flat


Last week, a few of you guys gave me the idea that climbing Ross Mountain was possible via the East Fork. This week, I thought I'd try it.


I awoke at 5:10am and immediately texted Vince. "I just woke up, let me know if you prefer to sleep in or if I should just roll through". I didn't want start this early and assumed Vince would sleep in, so this was an easy way get out of taking the blame for a late start. Vince is an Ultra Runner who has completed several hundred mile ultra marathons including the Angeles Crest 100. He prefers steep climbs to running fire roads, and seems to be highly interested in moving away from running and toward mountaineering. So, hes a good fit for someone to make sure I don't kill myself on these excursions. I waited for a response for about thirty seconds before nodding off. I woke up again at 6:30 to a window filled with clear blue skies and the smell of coffee. This was bad because I was hoping for cloud cover, but it was also good because coffee is delicious. I had very mixed feelings about this summit bid.

The Trail

8:50am--Passed the fence....excellent start. We began to run and Vince took the lead. He seemed eager, holding a strong pace. This made me nervous. I didn't have any idea what to expect once we would ascend, so conserving energy was my main goal. We made it to the Bridge to Nowhere in 50 minutes. DAMN! That was the fastest I had ever run this trail and I had a full day pack this time.

After a short break, we started heading to Iron fork and had some good conversation that caused us to pass the Fork completely. Oops! Once we figured that out, we were almost at Fish Fork. So we back tracked a bit and made it to a Cairn that we had spotted earlier. This Cairn was oddly placed, so we followed it and it looked like we found our trail.  It wasn't the beginning of the Ridge, but we could see some easy scree fields we could ascend if we made it past a little brush. Of course, like any off-trail excursion the Angeles National Forest may have to offer, a little brush almost immediately turned into the sweet smell of Sage followed by dense titanium reinforced barbed wire like bush. Here we go again...

A quarter mile later, we made it out of the bush and began painting the rocky ascent with our bloody limbs. Within 30 minutes we were on the ridge. I was excited. It was just as I had planned. The west side of the ridge was covered in bush and the east side, although steep and exposed in sections, offered mostly easy class 2 and 3 moves. We stayed on the east side with the exception of the occasional westward stray which only reminded us why our legs looked like we had been dropped into a vat of angry kittens. Eventually however, the Eastern ridge started to become too steep. It was time to for more unavoidable bushwhacking and in fact, an entire mile of it. Thrashed.

I promised Vince that once we got over the next hump on the ridge, it would level out and the brush would disappear, and it did! At this point it went straight back to scree and heavy climbs which was like a heaven send. Big game trails were very clear and easy to follow. We had eyed a few large pines toward the peak and decided to take our break there to refill on snacks and restore our precious glycogen levels. These trees were the perfect location for such a break. Pine, Dawson, Baldy, the San Antonio traverse and Iron Mountain stood directly in front of us to salute our soon-to-come summit of Ross Mountain. Success was imminent...even if we only had 12 ounces of water left. D'oh.

1:22pm--We made it. After rationing water and using Jolly Ranchers to trick ourselves out of dehydration during the final push to the peak, we were able to take a 7 minute break to sign the Register and chug our remaining water like it was a summit beer. On our ascent, we had discussed our options for returning to the East Fork. From what we could see, the Ridge to the West of Ross Gulch looked like easy scree skiing down to the Canyon and there were several options. We decided to take the largest scree field. "This is gonna take us like 7 minutes to get to the bottom of the canyon" we laughed over....stupidly.

I gave Vince a 15 foot lead so I could warn him about any rocks I sent his way and started the descent. CHOOOOOOOOOOOOWWW!!! We were flying down the mountain in great time. Except in about 3 minutes, I noticed the scree becoming larger rocks. Some weren't moving and looked as though the rain fall had cemented the rocks into the dirt. Our smiles quickly became Stink Faces. Our knees weren't havin' it. ...7 minutes...

We continued to descend with tired legs and eventually found ourselves at a Cliff Face. This wasn't a bad thing because it was directly center gulch and we found a spring! We both had the endurance to keep going, but not having water was kind of a buzz kill. So we sat at the cliff face for a good five minutes to refill water and make a game plan. All we had to do was ascend 20 or so feet and shoot West for more False Scree Fields. It wasn't optimal terrain, but what the hell is optimal terrain on a back country hike? We were golden.

Relief washed over us as we finally touched down to the creek bed. Now we just had to make it to Iron Fork. We crawled under tree branches, jumped over rocks and the plant life was incredible. It looked like we were in a jungle. I half expected a monkey to swing across my face from one vine to the next. We passed the Pole of Inaccessibility but made no attempt to reach it. My legs were so tired, I just wanted to get back to familiar territory so we could have a nice jog back to the car.

4:40pm--Iron Fork is fucking AWESOME! After dropping down from Ross Gulch Falls, we found ourselves in some more unique territory. Iron Fork offers gorgeous water ways with steep canyon walls and beautiful flowing pools. This was heaven for our legs since they spent the day taking a beating.  We made no effort to stay out of the water, taking off our packs and holding them over our heads when it got deep. The mud was extremely difficult to walk through, but we were all smiles. We kept a steady pace the whole way, especially because we were following some fresh Bear tracks and seeing some wild life was the only thing that this outing hadn't included. Our next check point was Iron Fork Campground which is funny because I had never known that this campground existed and it is essentially on par with Fish Fork Campground including a large stone table, a fire pit , a large open space for several tents, trees for hammocking close to the water, and even a stone oven??

6:56pm--We arrived back at the car with an entirely new perspective on what the East Fork has to offer. We made it through six completely different types of terrain in under ten hours and although I wouldn't recommend this trip to the average day hiker, the fact that we didn't have access to water for only a small 6 mile portion of our ascent, makes this one of my absolute favorite climbs to date and opens the door for an infinite amount of Back Country excursions right here in the Angeles Nation Forest.

Any other ideas? Wink

Ross Mountain Via the East Fork

Trail Beta (all rough estimates, download the GPX if you feel like geeking out)
Heaton Flat to Ross Cairn.
Terrain: Mostly easy hiking up to the bridge and then you deal with the water wading...nothing compared to what was coming.
Total Distance: 6.5 miles
Total Ev. Gain: 1200 feet.

Ross Cairn to the Ridge
Terrain: Dense Bushwhacking for a quarter mile and then class 2 rock climbing to the ridgeline.
Total Distance: 7 miles
Total Ev. Gain: 2000 feet.

Ridge to Ross Mountain
Terrain: Scrambling across loose dirt on the East face to stay out of the bush (mostly class 2 and some basic class 3 move), followed by an entire mile of dense bush whacking, until you reach an obvious hump which brings you to easy class 2 ridge line climbing all the way to the peak.
Total Distance: 9.5 miles
Total Ev. Gain: 5500 feet.

Iron Fork via Ross Gulch from the peak
Terrain: I would recommend moving further down the South Ridge and descending to skip to the next scree field. This probably wasn't that safe. Stiff steep scree fields were tough on the knees and ankles, and the Ross Gulch although gorgeous, was tough to negotiate.
Total Distance: 12 miles
Ev. Loss: -4200 feet.

Iron Fork back to the East Fork
Terrain: Narrows. You will get wet.
Total Distance: 13 miles
Ev. Loss: -200 feet.

East Fork to the Parking Lot
Terrain:Described above.
Total Distance: 19 miles
Ev. Loss: -1200 feet.

GPS, Vinces Account

Ideas....hmm.....I think you are easily within range of Little Mermaid Peak 4654, on the west fork San Gabriel river....but not too one has done it.

You would run the West Fork road for 7 miles to Cogswell dam.....then head up the Twin Peaks ridge to peak 5014...descend its SE ridge(also transitioning to the ridge next to it) to WF Bear Creek and then up and around to Little Mermaid....just dont go down any canyons or strange ridges to return.  This route you wouldnt be taking on so much risk as both ascending and descending you should have good visibility. You could return via West Fork Bear Creek and Bear Creek too. Bailing on Little Mermaid is cool too...the Twin Peaks ridge continues to provide new views, maxing out at elevation 6300 before you need some other way to continue. I should add though that any kittens around those parts should be avoided.

As far as IF goes...since people said there was a cat prints I havent been back. Some flash flood a year ago got to Ross Gulch Falls and now theres that moat upstream too like you be washed away and that vegetation growing on.

Sweet pictures and trip! Thanks for the report. Everything past the bridge is new scenery to me and it's great to see what Ross looks like from the bottom up. The Pole of Inaccessibility is not far from where you were, but I can't tell if it is in a  nasty brush section. Another blazing time for that terrain.

AW, I have a hard time believing you won't go somewhere because of lion prints or sightings. The NPS has GPS collars on 30 lions just in the Santa Monica mountains. They must be legion in the Angeles and the Santa Anas. I see prints often, not that I wouldn't soil myself if I met one solo.

OK, if you don't want to do Iron again via southwest ridge, and you are looking for a big challenge, you could do the entire Silver Moccasin Trail as a day hike.
About 53 miles. I would pre-cache water along the way the day before. If I could do serious long distance running, I would try it.

Thanks for the report. You pick a lot of very cool scrambles.

I have yet to reach an understanding with the lions. I dont think they have a fatwa out on me, but maybe a draft proposal circulating just in case I get in the way of them and the sheep.

So cute though

Thanks everyone. I really enjoyed this trip. I wouldn't mind going back with the exception of changing the descent to head further down the return ridge to skip most of the Ross Gulch. I kept looking to the left in that Gulch because of my curiosity for the Pole of Inaccessibility, but yes it essentially just looked like thick bush up that entire side of the canyon, which is part of the reason I didn't bother. CLOSE ENOUGH!  

AW, I just mapped out the route for the West Fork on Google Earth. It looks like its about 20 miles but some of those ridge lines are making me nervous because of the plant life there. Either way, I've never been near West Fork. I've only descended to Bear Canyon from the North, so this is definitely the next trek. I will report back when I find out whats there. Thanks for that information!

Anyway, taking a few days off from using Cal Topo and Google Earth...I'm starting to see possible ridge line ascents in the folds of my blankets at night...[/quote]

_kick_rocks_ wrote:
It looks like its about 20 miles but some of those ridge lines are making me nervous because of the plant life there. Either way, I've never been near West Fork. I've only descended to Bear Canyon from the North, so this is definitely the next trek. I will report back when I find out whats there. Thanks for that information!

The Twin Peaks west ridge will have a narrow use trail even though it will look like trouble ahead here and there....its the Station Fire heading to a false summit of pk 4177.

If you do descend from pk 5014, once you get off its SE ridge, it'll be micro path and no more trade route. You have to bounce from the SE ridge on the right to the neighboring ridge on the left(with the bare rock summit) and in this picture you can see the ridge route to attack the peak(shown as directly above the hunk of rock on the SE ridge). Forum Index -> San Gabriels
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