Wednesday, April 10

Iron Mountain #1 - San Gabriel Mts

If you have not heard of Iron Mountain, set amidst the peaks of the Angeles National Forest, local historian & hiking legend, John Robinson sums it up well,

"8,007 foot Iron Mountain is by far the least accessible peak in the San Gabriels.... No trail approaches its isolated summit , & to climb it you must start miles away & thousands of feet below." In this local hiking legend's view, "Big Iron" is the most strenuous one-summit hike in the entire San Gabriel range." 

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With those words in mind we arrived at East Fork (Bridge to Nowhere) trail head at 7:30am & set off amongst the 30 some odd people signing waivers to bungee jump San Gabriel hiking hot spot the Bridge to Nowhere. Taking the fire road north, we met the Heaton Flat trail junction quickly... & the uphill began. This hike is particularly infamous for climbing 2,000 feet to 8,007 ft, with a bit over 7,000 ft of elevation gain, b/c unfortunately this is a roller coaster of up & down disappointment.

 | Click to PLAY the video of our trip |

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| First good views of our goal, summit Iron Mt |

Ascending out of the East Fork under a great morning haze went smoothly, reaching the first saddle & making a hard left, beginning to get a good look at the ridge line we would be traversing. Keep in mind the whole first five miles (repeat on the way back) to Allison Saddle is just the set up for the real work. We spotted some others ahead, eventually meeting two people in their 70s attempting the summit!! The Korean husband said this would be his 23 of Big Iron.

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| Kevin hiking Heaton Flat Trail. Follow the ridge line |

At this point we were about to tackle the last portion to Allison Saddle (this was labeled Coldwater Saddle on the Forest service sign I believe). Carlos, Kevin & I had been constantly looking over our shoulders back at the ridge b/c another good friend was running late & promised to catch up... famous last words heard on all seven continents I'm sure. We all agreed that this trail was a ball buster already & going solo would be a truly different hike.

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| This isn't even the steep part yet. Carlos, thumbs up |

Our threesome dropped down to our first real break at Allison Saddle, 11am & with no chance now to use the binoculars to watch the ridge for Collin. Food & water is pulled out & not five minutes goes by & we hear a rustling from the trail behind us & a voice giving a hearty hello, Collin had made it!

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| Are we getting any closer? Ridge line in foreground is the route |

After many smiles & a good rest, some exploration of the faint Allison Mine trail, our troop of four was ready to begin the final two & a half miles to the summit. Here is the point of the story where all the words like steep, loose rock, arduous, miserable ascent, sheer beauty, & other curse words that we'll save for the mountain begin to emerge.

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The ridge begins with the loosest possible dirt & mixed rock that continues for some time, since everyone is still in good spirits & laughing about how fun this crazy trail is seems to pass some-what quick. 

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| Iron Mt, Mt Baldy, West Baldy, Big Horn Ridge, Rough idea of roue |

We eventually top out of the first steep climb to about ten feet of level trail & we begin to loose elevation that we just climbed. The whole time looking at the very next steep quarter mile of climbing we have to overcome. If I remember correctly at the top of this next portion there is a tuft of pines that beckons weary hikers.. only to have the trail skirt them at the upper section of this climb.

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| 1 of 3 in the "STEEP" Photo Series: Collin & Carlos gaining serious elevation  |

By this time, the 5 liters of water & 2 liter of Gatorade are welcomed love & a cursed weight. There is no fresh water in route on this trip & will most likely require one and half meals. Our group had slowly been finding different paces up this beast of burden & growing closer to lunch time we had to pick a spot on this devilious trail. 

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| Lunch time relax. Nice soft spot. |

It was 1pm & it had taken us a bit less than two hours to gain a bit more than a mile. Let that be a testament to this final ridge push. While eating lunch two different solo hikers passed us, one young woman was obliterating the a trail & had started at 10:30am. After picking our jaws up from the scree slope, we packed & moved on.

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Lunch did not seem to provide the usual energy that it seemed to in the past, I guess that's Iron Mountain for ya. Our group hit a long stretch of ridge line after lunch that was really exposed & at the warmest part of the day. The aches & pains all seemed to be amplified with heat & sweat pouring over our faces. Keep walking, keep going.

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| Final push towards the summit |

Finally reaching a point in the trail that began to have welcoming tree cover again & a breeze began to blow through the forest at this elevation. Iron Mt was truly living up to all its glory at this point, the surrounding views of the upper ridge were magnificent. Stopping often to catch my breath it was a marvel to look back down at the ridge we had first walk hours & hours ago, thousands & thousands of feet below in the East Fork.

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| Looking back towards our route |

During the final hour of this hike it had become more of a mental battle than anything else. Collin & Carlos had been able to continue through & were about 20 minutes ahead of Kevin & I. Thinking deeply (or resting some would say) at one point on a fallen tree, a gentle breeze touching the pines, looking east towards San Antonio Mt & Big Horn Ridge, a real calm came over the struggle I had been suffering from. 

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| Mt. Baldy with the shadow of our Iron Ridge cast upon it |

Climbing still higher, expansive views of several of the Angeles Forest highest peaks to the north west dotted the skyline, their steep craggy canyons converge into the East Fork thousands of feet below. The still quiet power of the San Gabriel back country is truly a magnificent escape from the thunderous cacophony that takes place in the city far below. 

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Tagging the summit at 4pm & drinking in the accomplishment. All around us rose the San Gabriels finest summits, hazed in the distance with a low cloud cover peaks poked through to only impress us more.

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| Summit, Iron Mt - 8,007 |

More amazing views towards Baden-Powell in the photo below. Talk of an East Fork thru hike were in the air & going in search of Fish Fork Camp & of the Desert Divide Trail sometime before it's too hot. It really was a sight for sore eyes on top of Big Iron.

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| Mt Baden-Powell in the distance 9,407ft  |

After a well deserved, shoes off, kick back in some meager shade time, 4:30pm was a definite hour to head back! After all we still had 7.5 miles of the same exact route we took to get here... & damned if it wasn't going to be a breakneck trip going down.

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| Notice the shadows are getting long? Getting later |

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| Signing in to the summit register |

I personally enjoyed a great portion of this initial descent. Finally working different muscles & I was able to really become involved in the views around me more. The rock massif that makes up the Ontario Peak & Big Horn Mt area is stunning from the upper portion of this ridge (photo below).

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| Bigh Horn, Ontario Peak & I think Lookout Mt in the background |

Moving as a well oiled machine now, anyone that wasn't leading, was eating dust from all the others loose trail dirt the whole way down. The short flat sections between the roller coaster style drops were speed zones that everyone hustled through to make up time as the sun began to get lower in the western sky.

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| 2 of 3 in the "STEEP" Photo Series: Collin below with a stunning view down the line |

Climbing further down we finally reached Allison Saddle just before the "magic hour" began to set in. The views along the Heaton Flat Trail during dusk were fantastic, the mountains turning a faint purple & casting a long silhouette against the deep blue sky.

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| 3 of 3 in the "STEEP" Photo Series: All three guys skidding down an open rock section. Lots of ridge line to still walk in the background |

 Reaching the last switchback leading to the saddle that drops into the East Fork the sun had said good bye & the remaining light held out for another 20 minutes of this down hill section. Making that sharp curve into the last portion of the East Fork was kind of a mystery. Our group had hiked it so quick at 8am that morning, in daylight, but it seemed to go on forever in the black of night.

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| Sun setting along the Heaton Flat Trail |

Dawning our headlamps we pushed through the last bit of trail, knowing well we had conquered the one of the hardest trails in the San Gabriel Mountains. Spilling out onto dirt fire road was an amazing feeling. Smiles slowly crept back to people's faces as we strolled down the flat road cursing the battle just fought.

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| San Gabriel Mountains |

We didn't see any Big Horn Sheep along our journey, which the area is one of the last homes, however there were loads of birds along this trip, at all different elevations as well. This frog below, found us right at the bottom of the Heaton Flat Trail at the East Fork, what a lazy bum.

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