Participant: Jane Strong
Date: 28 September 1999
Overview: The topography of this area is rather unusual for these mountains. It is called "flat". Flat in the San Gabriels is a relative term. Most of the mountains are razorback ridges or deeply incised canyons. The so-called flats are gently rounded summits with small grassy basins. There is a string of flats from Barley to Charlton, through Chilao and Horse (this area along the Santa Clara Divide Road), on to Buckhorn, which is the smallest. Flats don't appear again in the high country until you reach Jackson on the Blue Ridge.
This hike follows many ridgelines giving superb views of green carpets of forest and far-off peaks. It also provides an amazing variety of trail surfaces.
Maps: Best map to use is in Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County by Jerry Schad on page 196, the Area A-7 Charlton-Chilao Recreation Area. Almost all of the trails listed in the options are shown here; the exceptions are the horse-bypass and the cross-county one. Topo! and the USGS Chilao Flat (1994) and Waterman Mountain (1995) Quadrangles either don't show the features or have some of them misplaced. On the ground, the trails are easy to find and follow.
Directions: From SR2, the Angeles Crest Highway, turn left at Three Points, 28 miles from I-210. The signs say Santa Clara Divide Road / Sulphur Springs and organizational camps. Park in the PCT lot. Trail begins across the street near the white gatepost.
Distance: Round trip is ~9 miles.
Return Options: Begin the hike at the Three Points PCT parking lot. The trail goes north, then west, then north again. Just before Sulphur Springs you go down slope to a spring, then upslope to a brown fiberglass trail marker. Here you go to the right. Around the ridge almost immediately thereafter, you come to two brown fiberglass trail markers. The only difference between them is that the one on the right has a horse decal on it. This is the horse-bypass. The right hand trail, suitable for horses and hikers, goes downslope to Sulphur Springs. This horse-bypass section regains the hikers-only section up the canyon just before the PCT crosses 5N04, the Littlerock ORV Route. This option is not shown on any maps.
The hikers-only trail goes upslope and crosses an unstable area not suitable for horses. This section does not actually go to Sulphur Springs. Note that the trail stays south of the stream, the horse-bypass and the campground access road and intersects 5N04 before the turnoff to Sulphur Springs. This is correctly shown on the USGS Waterman Mountain (1995) Quadrangle, but not in Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles, page 203, Area A-8 Little Rock.
# En route Location Option Comments 1 Jct. horse-bypass near Sulphur Springs Descend to Sulphur Springs, reconnect to westward leading PCT up canyon or retrace your way back to jct. Avoids the very slippery slope. Restrooms at campground. Water is sometimes available in big plastic tub on trailer, but it tastes AWFUL! Fun to watch the birds and other animals at the springs. 2 Sulphur Springs Campground Return to Three Points on PCT Shortest return route. 3 Sulphur Springs Campground Do a car shuttle Leave one car at Three Points and one at Sulphur Springs. 4 Jct. 5N04 Return to Three Points on roads 5N04 and 3N17. Has best views. Shaded by pines.
The following options are all accessible from the Santa Clara Divide Road 3N17, option #4 above. This road, incidentally, has virtually no traffic.
5 Jct. trail to Mt. Hillyer on right (west) Climb Mt. Hillyer. Descend to Horse Flats. Pick up Silver Moccasin Trail to Three Points. Longest route. Adds ~1.5 miles. Least amount of paved road. 6 Jct. trail to Mt. Hillyer on left (east) Follow the trail of the Spartan Cross Country Run. Return via 3N17B to 3N17 to Three Points Try this if, and only if, the yellow caution tapes are still in place marking the route. Great views. Least bikes and cars. 7 Jct. Horse Flats Campground Follow campground road to Silver Moccasin Trail to Three Points Least amount of paved road without climbing Mt Hillyer. 8 Jct. Hidden Valley Campground, 3N17F Pick up the cross-country trail. Go to campground water tank and follow yellow caution tape to 3N17B. See option #6 Chance to try the cross-country route again if you changed your mind. 9 Jct. Bandido Campground, 3N17E Follow campground road to Silver Moccasin Trail to Three Points Most direct on hiking trail. Shaded by oaks.
Elevation Change: Three Points (5,920') to Sulphur Springs (5,200') to the high point on 3N17 (6,040') to Three Points again. 720' for the all PCT route; +-840' for the PCT / 3N17 route.
Season: All, when road is not closed by snow.
Weather: Hot, 85° F, and dry, relative humidity less than 10%, cooling to 75° F. Very pleasant. PCT segment is shaded by canyon oaks except for one small section. 3N17 shaded by pines.
Trail conditions: The PCT segment is badly rutted. There are more waffle tracks left by bikes and road apples left by horses, than prints left by hiking boots here. But the brush is adequately cut away; in actuality, there is very little to cut, the ground is rather barren. Good views to the north toward Sulphur Springs, which lies at the base of the first treeless ridge. Pleasant View Ridge, also treeless, but higher, is to the east (or right). Well shaded by pines and oaks until you get to the sunny, open part before Sulphur Springs where it becomes overgrown and hot.
All the metal emblems are missing from the old wooden posts that marked the Pacific Crest Trail. Only a few rusted metal posts with the unremoveable decals guide you along the trail now.
My route for this trip was PCT to horse-bypass junction, hikers-only section of PCT to 5N04, 5N04 to 3N17 to Mt. Hillyer / cross-country trail, cross-country trail to Camp Hidden Valley, from there back to 3N17 to Three Points. I did the Mt. Hillyer section in June 1999 and the horse-bypass section 3 times in the past 5 years.
The hikers-only trail between the horse-bypass section at Sulphur Springs is very unstable. It crosses a steep (70°) slope made of sand but stays level. It's really a lot of fun, like hiking in very steep sand dunes; not as much fear of falling as if it were scree. If you start to slip, you can dig your feet in. Sometimes the trail is not visible, just bike tracks.
The road 5N04 had been recently graveled; the scenery is much nicer here than on the parallel section of the PCT, more trees and bushes, more wide draws and dry streambeds. The desert species of pine, the pinyon, can be seen along the road side mixing in with the more common Jeffreys and incense cedars. 5N04, which is part of the Little Rock ORV Route, is closed immediately past the Sulphur Springs Road with two(!) gates. One is for the toads, and the other for OHV's.
The dirt road from Mt. Pacifico, 3N17, comes in at Alder Saddle. This is the Santa Clara Divide Road; the divide the name refers to is the division between the watershed of the Los Angeles River, of which Alder Creek is a tributary, and the Santa Clara River to the west. At Alder Saddle, however, the division is between the LA River and the South Fork of Little Rock Creek which flows into the Mojave Desert. Views southward to the Lawlor - Strawberry - Josephine ridge.
The section of the road coming in from the west which is closed November 15 to May 15 is labeled "Back Country Discovery Trail #1". It is part of the statewide motorized trail system. It was designed to be suitable for the standard sports utility vehicle, but is also to be used by horses, hikers and bikers as well.
This steep section of the road, which climbs until you get to the junction with 3N14 coming in from Chilao Station, has the best views. To the east you can see Waterman, Baden-Powell, and Williamson among others.
The junction with the Mt. Hillyer Trail is recognizable by large turnouts on either side of the road with rocks in wire baskets and stumps of trees pounded in the ground preventing easy access by OHV's. There is also a large beautiful patch of poison oak here - very high for it - at least it looks like poison oak, it has leaflets three, so I let it be, eyecatching, though it is, in scarlet red fall colors.
Ascent of Mt. Hillyer is steep on firebreak-type of trail. Descent is through big boulders. Lots of fun to try to find your way here because it is so different from the plodding level PCT or the paved road. Tricky to keep to the trail, but follow the bike ruts if you can. If not, back track until you find them or someone else's foot prints.
I've always wanted to try the trail on the other side of the road. It's always been faintly visible with horse and human tracks. But I never knew where it led. Today it was marked with yellow caution tape. So I took it. Like Gretel in the forest, I followed the ribbons, the trail of crumbs.
The trail first climbed the ridge. Stupendous views in all directions. Wow! This is pure joy, up and over ridges, following only human footsteps most of the way. (The horse trail breaks off early and the bikers don't pick it up till later at Camp Hidden Valley.) Soft and squishy part of the way; hard as rocks part of the way. Did I say this was a trail? Not really, it goes up and over fallen logs and down and under ones that haven't quite hit the ground. It goes straight up to a ridge and then abruptly turns right and goes down again when it could have followed a draw, a hypoteneuse with less distance and no elevation change. Why go to the top? To see the views of course!
The route is well marked with the bright yellow tape which isn't a distraction because you don't have to watch the map and the compass, but get the experience of hiking overland. I hope they don't remove the tape, but if they do, only a really good tracker could follow this trail. In some places you can see evidence of an older trail which is filled with leaves and overgrown with chaparral. And there are contours cut around the mountain like there are at Mt. Mooney and Devil Peak, possibly very old logging roads or fire breaks. At one place where there were no trees or shrubs to tie the tape onto, someone had placed upright Coulter pine cones to mark the trail. Quite amusing.
I didn't follow the tape all the way to the access road, only to the water tanks above Hidden Valley Camp, and assume that the cross-country route comes out somewhere near the entrance marked by a yellow sign with a pointing finger at Camp Singing Pines access road, 3N17B. I ran low on water here. I took two liters on the hike, but needed three. The camp appears unused and the water faucet is turned off.
Nor did I take the Silver Moccasin Trail section which is lower than the road. I assume that it is mostly shaded; at least the part I looked down upon from 3N17B to Three Points was.
I took the high road.
Time: 5 and 1/2 hours
Plants: Canyon oak, Coulter pine, Jeffrey pine, bigcone spruce, chaparral whitethorn, bigberry manzanita, mountain mahogany, fremontia, yucca, Great Basin sagebrush, southern mule's ears, rabbitbrush, goldenrod, sulphur flower, Wright's buckwheat, California buckwheat, wild rose, California fuchsia, lavender-blue and reddish-purple aster-daisy type flowers, grasses and pinyon pine
Bugs: Gnats in the oak-covered areas
Wildlife: Mule deer, numerous tracks on trails; mountain birds like juncos, bluebirds, white-headed woodpeckers, ravens, flickers, various sparrows, white-breasted nuthatches, chickadees; bumblebees and butterflies on rabbitbrush
# Miles Arrived Left Elevation Comments 1 0.0 12:10 5,920' Three Points PCT Parking Lot; 85° 2 12:40 6,000' Stop to look at view north toward desert 3 4.0 1:50 5,320' Jct. Sulphur Springs horse-bypass 4 2:00 2:10 Snack and rest stop, 80° 5 2:20 Jct. Sulphur Springs horse-bypass 6 4.5 5,320' Jct. 5N04 7 5.1 3:00 3:10 5,560' Jct. 3N17, Alder Saddle, 90° rest and water stop 8 5.8 3:30 5,760' Jct. 3N14, views of high peaks to east 9 6.1 3:45 5,880' Jct. trail to Mt. Hillyer on right; cross-country trail on left; Horse Flats is 0.5 miles further on 10 4:30 5,920' Jct. Hidden Valley Camp, 3N17F 11 7.3 4:45 5,800' Jct. 3N17 12 7.4 5,760' Jct. Bandido Campground Road, 3N17E 13 8.1 6,000' Jct. Camp Singing Pines Road, 3N17B, view south to Devil's Canyon 14 9.6 5:35 5,920' Three Points PCT Parking Lot. Car. 75°
Copyright © 1999-2003 by Jane Strong.
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Last update: 30 September 1999 (two urls updated 16 August 2003)