We love to find new hikes in Los Angeles, and this time we made a late decision to hike Mount Lowe, a 1,708 m (5,603) peak just north of the more-famous Mount Wilson and stepped onto the Sunset Ridge Trail at 2pm. The sky was ominous but the forecast called for clouds and not rain, so off we went…without our waterproof jackets and only Jeanne with gloves and a hat. For people who try to be prepared for anything, we were prepared for little this time.
We knew the first part of the trail very well, as we’ve hiked as far as Mount Lowe Trail Camp several times. It is an excellent picnic destination in the Summer. Each time we’ve had a reason not to press on to the Summit, but this time we were determined to make it. We very quickly made our way through the paved section, past the areas left black by the Station Fire, the trees denuded of their bark by the ferocious windstorm two months ago. We passed the Cape of Good Hope, a curious name for the flat saddle just before the pavement ends. We continued past Circle Bridge, the turnoff for Dawn Mine, and the photogenic Granite Gate. We were moving very quickly and the dogs were in fine form.
As we completed switchback after switchback, the temperatures grew colder and we soon found ourselves at the cloud level, with mist blowing past as we hiked. Just as we reached the rocky sections where the trial turns away from Millard Canyon, it began to rain.
For only a few minutes, we were pelted with enormous drops before it changed to ice that was large enough to hurt as it struck our arms and heads. We found shelter under a rocky ledge for a few minutes while we polled the team about turning around or continuing. The dogs were both ready to go, and Gwenn even made a noise that could have been a doggie ‘yes’. We set off again quickly, aware that daylight was in limited supply.
We reached unexplored territory at Trail Camp and followed the signs for the East Mount Lowe Trail.
After completing nearly a 360 degree spiraling single track around the mountain, we finally reached the top of Mt. Lowe. To the south was Mount Wilson with its enormous white observatory and absurd number of antennas of all types. To the east we could see sunny skies and snowy mountains toward the High Desert. There was even a bench at the top with ruins of hitching posts and a shelter.
Our hands were so cold that we could barely open the bag and use the camera. It was a record short amount of time enjoying the view before we headed quickly back down the slippery trail. Without our waterproof layer, we were wet, very cold and losing sunlight very quickly. Finding the single track trail and navigating the snow-covered rocks needed to be done with as much light as possible.
Other than a brief stop to take a photo with Inspiration Point in the background, we walked non-stop and very fast to the car, arriving well after dark (we did remember our headlamps) but with a great view of the lights of Pasadena and Los Angeles along the way. While the air is always warmer as you go lower, it was also dark by that point and much colder than when we started.
We loaded up the dogs and drove home in a hurry for a hot bath and dinner. It was exhausting but great to have another summit under our belts. It was also a great reminder of the importance of going through a quick checklist and taking more than you actually expect to use for the conditions. We made it and felt great about the summit, but also feel a bit sheepish for the unnecessary suffering and risk.
Reaching the trailhead
To get to the Sunset Ridge Trail access to Mt Lowe, go north on Lake Avenue until it makes a 90 degree left turn and becomes Alta Loma Drive in Altadena. Stay on Alta Loma until you reach a flashing red signal and make that right on Cheney Trail. Follow Cheney Trail until you see the eight or so parking spots on the right side of the road, about halfway to Millard Canyon Campground from the first switchbacks. Photo of the trailhead here.
- Local Hikes Mt Lowe Railway Loop
- Mt Lowe Railway Historical Committee
- Mt Lowe Preservation Society
- Mt Lowe Trail Camp Forest Service page