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Escaping to the High Country of Mount Waterman

This week's hike in the San Gabriel Mountains takes us along a relatively easy trail up 8,000 foot Mount Waterman.

Because of increasing temperatures, irritating flies, and crowds, July can be a difficult time to hike in our local San Gabriel Mountains. But fear not, fellow hikers; opportunities abound for more pleasant hiking in the high country of the San Gabriels. I recently enjoyed one such hike on Mt. Waterman, a rarely hiked mountain that is best known for its skiing opportunities.  

Last week, I drove up the Crest Highway for about 40 minutes to the Mt. Waterman trailhead. The trailhead is marked by a beaten up San Gabriel Wilderness sign and is located across the street from Buckhorn Campground. When I stepped out of my car, the first thing I noticed was the insatiable scent of pine trees. There is something about that smell that is always refreshing.

I strolled across the street to the trail - which is located adjacent to the left of the aforementioned sign - and began my journey up the pine needle-lined route. The well-packed dirt under my feet was a welcome change from the decomposed granite of much of the Front Country. I followed the trail for a gentle mile, up and down, as it wrapped around the eastern ridge of Mt. Waterman.  

Before I knew it, I was hiking westward on the south face of this large mountain, along a consistent but easy incline. I noticed many vibrant and healthy snowplants – plants that typically have wilted by this time in the year.

After 2.5 miles, I passed the cut off trail for Twin Peaks, a much more strenuous day hike, and I continued to the right, up towards the summit of Waterman. After an hour, I came upon a splinter trail, which cuts left from the main trail, and I pushed up the short but steepest portion of this journey to the summit.

I reached the top of Mt. Waterman and was surrounded by several boulder outcroppings and burned pines. The summit of Waterman is wide and flat so I jogged around the 8,000 foot pinnacle, in search of the USGS summit marker. I eventually found that upon a tall boulder, marked by some rock and tree branch cairns. While the views atop Mt. Waterman aren’t particularly amazing, its uniqueness cannot be understated.

After consuming some trail mix, I headed northeast towards the ski areas and followed a service road back down to the trailhead, capping off a casual and pleasant day of hiking the High Country of the San Gabriels.

Hike At A Glance:

Difficulty (1-10):  3
Distance 6.5 miles roundtrip Scenery This trail wraps around Mount Waterman and is laden with pine trees, snowplants, and an array of small wildflowers. The summit is mostly flat and features multiple 10-20’ boulder outcroppings. Best time to go:

Spring through fall. In winter, when there is snow, this area can become crowded with skiers.

Trail condition: This trail is very easy to follow and very gentle on the knees. Other considerations: There were two small spots where a few flies were out, but otherwise they were a non-factor. As always, in the San Gabriels, watch out for bees, rattlesnakes, bears, and other wildlife. Getting there:

Take SR 2/Angeles Crest Highway north from La Canada. Pass Mount Wilson Road, Newcomb’s Ranch, and Chilao.   Trailhead is at mile marker 58 and you can park on the north side of the street, just before Buckhorn. Display the required Adventure Pass in your car (an Adventure Pass may be purchased from REI, most ranger stations, or many local sporting goods stores for $5/day or $30/year).

Shelly July 09, 2011 at 02:44 PM
I love these articles on hiking. I am sending them to my hiking friends. Most of us have never explored our own backyard - thanks for the great work!
Gene Glasco July 09, 2011 at 04:50 PM
I believe it's Angeles Crest Highway vs "Crest Highway". I could be wrong. Henniger Flats, visible from Pasadena and Arcadia, with great views and stands of tall pine trees in the San Gabriel Mountains, is also a nice hiking destination.
Ron Cooper July 09, 2011 at 05:58 PM
My olfactory nerves are dancing in delight with the pungent scent of pine tickling them deliciously! Cheers, Matt!
Matthew Cavanaugh July 10, 2011 at 07:35 AM
Thanks for the encouragement, guys! I'm thankful for your faithful readership and am eager to publish next week's column (it'll be a doozy!) :-)

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