Hike Chantry Flat to Mt. Wilson by way of the Rim Trail

Looking east from the Rim Trail just before reaching Mt. Wilson. On the horizon, far left, can be seen Twin Peaks. Mt. Baldy is in the center distance. Big Santa Anita Canyon is below and off to the right.

Hike Chantry Flat to Mt. Wilson by way of the Rim Trail during these bright, crisp winter months.  This last weekend, I made my way up Big Santa Anita Canyon’s Upper Falls Trail from Fern Lodge Junction.  Our rain gauge has recorded nearly 12″ of rain from the two previous storms of late November through December, so lots of bracken fern beds are at their height of deep and bright greens as they perch high on their cliffy ledges above the bubbling creek.  Although we’re off to a dry start to the new year, the plants are responding to the generous rains and even snow in the higher elevations.  This is also a good time to still catch the deep orangy red of the Toyon berries in their showy clumps that still feel reminiscent of Christmas time.

Trip Details:  

Total roundtrip distance:        16.9 miles

Elevation gain / loss:                 440′ initial loss to Roberts’ Camp.  3950′ gain to Mt. Wilson’s Echo Rock.

Take Gabrielino Trail up Big Santa Anita Canyon to junction below Sturtevant Camp.  Continue on toward Newcomb Pass.  From there, follow RimTrail west to Mt. Wilson’s Echo Rock.  Return toChantry down Sturtevant Trail and continue back on Gabrielino to the trailhead.

Mt. Wilson as seen from the Newcomb Pass Trail (Gabrielino) about a mile and a half up from Sturtevant Camp. Some healthy looking toyon is seen here in the foreground.

So, on I went past the songs of canyon wrens, their descending, laughing tones evoking that eternal longing for Winter becoming Spring.   As always, leaving behind Sturtevant Falls, the crowds dropped off, too.   Save for an occasional small group of hikers, I saw few people between the top of the Falls and Spruce Grove Campground.  Once on the section of the Gabrielino that heads off for Newcomb Pass, there’d be no one, with the exception of squirrels, birds and gnats until reaching the top of Mt. Wilson.  Solitude.

A curious tree squirrel peers down at Newcomb Pass.

At the trail junction just below Sturtevant Camp, I peel off for Newcomb Pass and the quietness envelopes me.   The trail was a bit overgrown and more noticeably there was a fair number of trees and shrubs over the trail.  No problem,  just took my time climbing down or up and around on the dark, loamy soil with winter’s dampness.  Once out in the chaparral, on came the sunglasses and the great joy of warm winter days that only Southern California can bestow upon the mountains.   The most prominent scene that kept repeating itself was the red display of Toyon against the background of varied greens.  Pretty soon the backcountry opened itself up, first Twin Peaks, then the Mt. Baldy massif.  Snow, blue sky and chaparral all seemed to merge as I neared Newcomb Pass.

Bracken ferns along the Gabrielino Trail. Photo just up canyon from Falling Sign Junction, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Once at Newcomb’s, I found a sunny picnic table and finished off my sandwich.  Ever since the Station Fire of 2009, the debris of cut down trees for re- establishing a firebreak has taken away the charm of the place.   Coupled with that, some hair brain scheme had taken place, erecting T-posts with orange web fencing at the bottom of the man-made swaths.  Sort of like what CalTrans might do along a highway construction site.  The old Newcomb Pass sign lay forlornly off to the side, a casualty of yet another oak that has fallen.  I got so depressed by the memory of what once was and what was now that only a few minutes elapsed before taking off on the Rim Trail.

A gentle stretch of the Rim Trail about a mile west of Newcomb Pass.

The first 1/2 mile along the Rim Trail was fraught with downed oaks, lots of them.  The tracks of those before were clearly etched in the soft, moist soil as they worked out ways to get over, under, up and around thickets of branches tangled up with thick cords of poison oak.  Aside from this, most of the going was pleasant, indeed beautiful as this area truly is.    If you love being under oaks and amongst ferns and spruce, this is a good place to be.  Also, you’re regaled with scenic views down into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River and out across to places as far west as Mt. Pacifico and eastward to Mt. Baldy and beyond.  Fire scars from the Station Fire are still seen at the base of many big cone spruce along the trail.  These are healthy scars only running a short distance up from the ground, leaving a really healthy evergreen forest.  It’s peaceful country.  Toward the top, you begin to encounter places where the trail is whittled out of rock.  Old dry stack walls, the good work of trail builders from another century, still hold the trail into the mountainside.  Eventually you make your way up and through a gentle twisting and turning through forested hillsides along the summit to the asphalt maintenance road near the Cosmic Cafe’s Pavilion.  Turn left here, following signs toward the Sturtevant Trail.  Pass by the Astronomical Museum, the Solar Camera and eventually the 100″ and 60″ telescope domes before dropping down to Echo Rock and the beginning of the Sturtevant Trail.

Here was one of the first trees that I encountered on the way up to Newcomb Pass. This spot is about a quarter mile up from Sturtevant Camp. Most of the downed trees along my hike were canyon live oaks.

Take the time to look off of Echo Rock before your descent back into the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  The view is superb and you really can get a good echo if you set your mind to it.  Yell toward the cliff straight across from you!

Get ready for a steep drop down from Echo Rock.  I’m big on trekking poles for preventing slips and saving your knees on descent.  Years ago when my wife and I ran Sturtevant Camp, we starting using the poles when we had a winter (2005) that had washed out the Chantry Road, necessitating getting to the camp by way of this very trail.    Pass by the “Halfway Rest” and on down further into the upper canyon.  This is timbered and wild country between the top and Sturtevant’s Camp.  Savor the views and more solitude.

Here’s the sign you’ll find halfway between Sturtevant Camp and Mt. Wilson’s Echo Rock. There’s 2,500′ of elevation difference between the places in only 2.8 miles!

When you pass by Sturtevant Camp and then walk across the check dam to the side of the camp, you’ll drop down to the junction where you were earlier in the day, having just completed your loop.  Head back to Chantry the way you came.



Mt. Wilson – A great place to hike the Front Country in Winter

A friend of ours gave us this vintage postcard a number of years ago. The artwork depicts a scene that may have been intended as having taken place on the east end of the summit, perhaps near Echo Rock. The image somehow seems timeless, evoking that magical pull that the San Gabriels have had on generations past and those to come.

Whichever canyon you choose, getting out on our local trails is a great way to get a good start on the new year.  I’m especially fond of the trails that make their way up to Mt. Wilson.  One route that I’ll be doing in the next couple of weeks will be to  head on up the Gabrielino Trail from Chantry Flat to Newcomb Pass.    From there, take the Rim Trail to Wilson’s summit.  Return by way of the Sturtevant Trail.

Here’s a trail scene taken just below the “Halfway Rest” The forest is healthy and vibrant here in the upper Big Santa Anita Canyon.

This is a great trip to get some good winter sun while climbing up and through the warm chaparral before getting under the oaks and pines on the north side of the Rim Trail’s watershed divide.  The stream’s flowing really nicely right now, especially with the good start to winter storms that we’ve had from Thanksgiving through Christmas.  Wrightwood, alone, has received nearly an average year’s worth of snow accumulation within about a month at the end of 2019.   So, get out and enjoy the flowing streams, the bright green fern beds and the scent of damp soils and leaves.  A word of caution, though…

The bubbling Big Santa Anita Creek near Bear Trap Canyon on the Gabrielino Trail.

Make sure to be cautious of ice in the some of the higher elevations as you approach Mt. Wilson from Newcomb Pass.  Also, while traveling back down the Sturtevant Trail, watch for an ice chute within a half mile of the summit.  This time of year, it’s a good idea to at least carry a pair of MicroSpikes or a similar traction device that you can add to your shoes.  Take your time and savor the front country of the San Gabriels in the winter.

A lady bug rests here in the sun on a white sage leaf. This photo was taken on the Upper Falls Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon.