This Actually Happened! A Ride across the Western San Gabriel Ridge.Last October I had this hair brained scheme, I’d ride from my house at the base of the Big Tujunga Canyon and ride to the top of Mount Pacifico, across the range over and down to chilao, Red Box, Eaton Saddle and down the Mount Lowe Rail Trail. If you’ve known me long enough I’ve had a few of these ideas and that one was a doozy just ask Curtis.
You can read about that ride here.
Fast forward to the turn of the new year and a few months ticked off and in mid April our buddy Mike posted an all points round-up to see who was game to ride across the Western San Gabriel range, and yeah our old nemesis Pacifico was on the platter. This didn’t take much arm twisting for yours truly to jump on board. I really wanted to get to the top of Pacifico and I knew Curtis did too!
This time around we’d take the Antelope Valley Metrolink line to the Vincent Grade Acton Station and cut out 3000′ and 17 miles riding up the Angeles Forest Hwy to Mill Creek Summit and then to Pacifico for the night.
A day before this ride was going to happen we got an email from our pal Mike that he was having some right knee pain and he was unsure he’d be able to make it. If you’ve ever had knee pain a long day in the saddle climbing isn’t a good idea. It was a huge bummer Mike couldn’t make it, he’s a great trail partner and a wealth of knowledge.
The plan for Saturday was to ride down to Chilao, breakfast at Newcomb’s Ranch to Red Box up the Wilson Toll Rd to Eaton Saddle and down the Historic Mount Lowe Rail Trail back to civilization.
I boarded at the Sun Valley Metrolink Station train # 205 and met Mario and Curtis who’d been traveling since 4:20am. The ride up was pleasant and a good time to chat before getting on the saddle. I gotta say I was amped to get in the saddle and reach Pacifico.
We reached Mill Creek Summit in good time and at this point we were ready for lunch. On the way up to the Fire Station we met a PCT hiker, since Curtis is an avid hiker he always has a series of questions for these folks. When did you start? How many miles are you hiking a day? And when do you plan to finish by? This fella started on April 20th and was hiking about 20 miles a day give or take. He figured he’d be done in Mid September.
These folks were taking advantage of the shade, we asked them some of the same questions and they were roughly the same, though the girl in the fuchsia sleeping bag admitted they’d already taken 9 non moving days since starting. A trail angel brought popsicles, water and green apples and all of them jumped up and disappeared.
With lunch in our bellies and most importantly water bottles refilled we continued onward and upward on the Mount Pacifico Rd. This road has been closed to motor vehicles since the 2009 Station Fire which makes for a wonderful segment. Another note about the Mill Creek Fire Station, this first climb is basically a desert climb and you’re totally exposed and as these thru hikers illustrate is a welcome oasis to beat the unrelenting sun. I can tell you personally getting off the bike and sitting in the shade drinking water a while really helps on the final push. I was carrying two 2 litre platypuses but decided not fill them the whole way. I can tell you next time they will be filled to the max! It’s amazing how much water oatmeal and a cup of coffee consumes not to mention how much water you drink on the constant climb.
It’s interesting that seven years after the fire few evergreen trees are growing back and the ones that didn’t completely burn struggle to survive in the wake of years of drought, on the brighter side the wildflowers are in full bloom and add so much beauty. The beauty of this climb is the look back to see the elevation you’ve covered, big sky vistas, wildflowers sweet aromas and the sun beached decay of pine needles wafting from the ground.
WordPress has these engineers, and they call them happiness engineers. Yep you read that right. I can’t help imagining a bright white room full of these IT engineers with huge grins spread across their faces only to receive an email and and the smile fade, that email was probably from me and well more on those guy’s in a moment…
I took a few Panoramas but decided not to embed them in the write up. WordPress wants another $99 for the premium suite, so right now you can’t enlarge the images, you can’t really navigate the site. You can go to my Flickr page and check out the Pano’s and blow them up. They give a feel for the vastness of the area.
On being a wordpress deadbeat, now the truth is I’d like to pay wordpress. I like the features of clicking on an image and it enlarges or the ability for a visitor to navigate my blog posts but you see I have another problem! I have this bookie named Rocky and well I’m into him for a little bit, I really shouldn’t have made that bet that the Sacramento RiverBirds would beat the Memphis RedBirds just goes to show what I get for betting on birds anyways. Like I said I’d like to pay wordpress and keep the happiness engineers happy but I don’t think Rocky is the sort of fella who’d appreciate me paying them first over him, he’s just that sort of guy, besides I need my legs to pedal on more adventures. So those happiness engineers will need to be a little patient with me. But I digress…
We made the campground by about 3:30pm so we had plenty of time to lounge around. I noticed Curtis taking a nap and concluded that wasn’t a bad idea.
A while later after our nap and relaxing in camp we reflected on the fact we had the campground entirely to ourselves, no sooner than we said that we were joined by another cyclist Wesley of Santa Clarita.We invited him to join us and of course the bike talk commenced. Wesley described himself as a Bikepacker, and the question arose what were the principal differences between a Bikepacker & Cyclotourist? I personally believe a Bikepacker utilizes a MTB type bike with plump tires & soft frameless luggage as opposed to a Cyclotourist who uses racks and panniers and typically but not exclusively narrower tires. As I see it a Bikepacking rig allows for a more off the beaten path route. I do though see overlap in that a bikepacker who needs more room for extended forays into the wilds will attach a rack and panniers to increase capacity. So for me the terms are kinda interchangeable and makes little difference to me. What do you think?
A top Pacifico there was a steady wind and despite the weather forecast declaring a low of 50º the wind made it feel closer to 40º. Curtis & Mario hit the hay early, can you blame them they were up before the sun. So Wesley and I decided to start a fire in a cave of piled on rocks, sorry no picture, the climb, a full meal, two beers and some sipping rum left me unmotivated to take pictures. Despite my lethargy we had some good conversation and discussed our future adventure plans. See what I did there I could have said Bikepacking plans or Tour plans but I chose to use the old “Adventure”card. Wesley mentioned heading to Oregon and the Steen Mountains and I tossed around a few choice ideas. Nothing concrete yet but plans are in the works. With the fire settling down to embers we both decide to retire for the night.
Back down off the Mountain.
The morning brought about quiet contemplation as we each broke our respective camps and readied our rigs for the day of riding to come. But first some coffee was brewed and oatmeal warmed up. I must confess that I didn’t haul up my full coffee making kit. I elected to bring up a Trader Joe’s pour over in a bag! Since I knew there was a bunch of climbing I was going as light as possible. Breakfast finished, down we rolled to Mount Pacifico Rd (3N17) and to Chilao.
Wesley & Mario
The Mount Pacifico Rd treated us to wonderful big sky back country views and rolling on the tubeless 2.1 Thunderburts made the descent a real pleasure. As we rolled away from the gate and towards Santa Clara Divide Rd we met two guy’s in a pickup who asked if we’d confirm that the gated road we’d just come down led to Pacifico. They were riding up and then doing some rock climbing around the peak.
A short climb up Santa Clara Divide Rd and we were rolling down 3N14 a jeep road that connects with the Chilao Picnic area and Hwy 2.
The original plan was to backtrack a bit to Newcomb’s Ranch for a second breakfast however Wesley gave us the low down on Newcomb’s, the service was slow and there’d be a ton of people by the time we arrived. The guy’s were concerned about catching their Metrolink train back home so we ditched the second breakfast idea. Wesley hadn’t had breakfast and was headed in a different direction towards Wrightwood to meet friends at the Little Jimmy Campground. We said our goodbyes and Wesley took the left fork and we took the right fork. Strategically we refilled our water bottles and proceeded out onto the highway.
Out on Hwy 2 we made some quick time, there was some climbing involved but we made it to Red Box by 10:45am pretty darn quick if you ask me. We discussed the train situation and I assured the guy’s that I’d get them to the Del Mar Station to catch the Gold Line into Downtown Union Station, I assured them it would be all down hill plus I reminded them of the tunnel. So now that I suckered them I mean convinced them we rode the 2 miles up the Wilson Toll Rd to Eaton Saddle and the start of the Mount Lowe Rail Trail.
I waited at this gate for a while but eventually Curtis and Mario made it down, Curtis had the second of his two rear flats. The first one was higher up I think on the 3N17 segment, that one was a valve stem separation at the tube. This last one was a pinch flat.
One of the interesting contrasts dropping down in elevation so quickly was the temperature. Looking from above I thought we’d be entering into cool mist but rather it was warm and muggy.
We wended our way through AltaDena neighborhoods passing through the the center of Old Town Pasadena a stark contrast to the wilds of the San Gabriel’s. Crossing through Central Park to the Del Mar Station there were various parties in progress, a little boy made an indecisive maneuver darting out in front of me. I was able to break but not to a complete stop and my tire collided with this little guy and down he went! Mario later commented that after all the terrain we covered the greatest hazard we encountered was running over a little boy in a park. I’m glad to report he was a durable guy and weathered the encounter just fine.At the station no sooner had Curtis & Mario purchased their tickets than the train arrived and whisked them Downtown and ultimately to an early Metrolink train back to San Diego.
Yours truly had beans, rice and tortillas on his mind or stomach, so I high tailed it out of Pasadena and rode through Eagle Rock, up through Glendale and into the Town of Montrose with a stop at La Cabanita for the best corn tortillas around. when I walked into the restaurant I was slick with sweat and the cool interior and ice cold water was the right prescription. During my lunch a lovely family chatted me up about my ride and they were impressed with the route we’d ridden. I wish I could remember their names the father made a point of me knowing all their names but alas I have a terrible memory for names. Re-fueled and hydrated I had it in me to ride the last 7.5 miles and 1100′.back home and a great adventure under my belt.
My greatest takeaways from this adventure were, what great riding partners I have, how really vast, beautiful and formidable the San Gabriel’s are and right next to a huge metropolis. And lastly how bad I want to get back up and explore more of it.
A note on the route, I mapped it out with the first segment my ride to the Metrolink station last. Not that it makes much difference but I thought it worthy of note.
Here’s the full route.
And here are Curtis’s images.
As Always thanks for taking the time to read and keep the rubber side down.
Next up a Late June revisit of the birthplace of Klunkers and MTB racing. I head back up to Marin’s Mount Tamalpais and the West Point Inn.
And don’t be shy I’d love to hear from you.