San Gabriel Peak was once thought the highest in the area close to Pasadena at 1878 m (6,161 ft) but is now considered the second highest after Strawberry Peak at 1879 m (6,164 ft). It was named for the Spanish mission that dominated the valley to the west and also lies at the head of Eaton Canyon, the site of many of our hikes. Eaton Canyon is the watershed for Mt Wilson, San Gabriel Peak and Mt Markham and has year-round water flow, regardless of rainfall.
To get to the trail, we took the Angeles Crest Highway (Rt 2) from La Canada to Red Box Road, the narrow, windy road to the buildings and antennas atop Mt Wilson. About halfway along the road, we parked at the trailhead.The lot was fairly full, not surprising for a beautiful March Saturday.
We were somewhat surprised (I guess we could have researched) that we were at the other end of the very familiar Mt Lowe Fire Road, once the site of the Mt Lowe Railway. It was such a well-developed road, in fact, that it even has a tunnel through a particularly vertical section of rock at the very head of Eaton Canyon. There aren’t many fire roads with tunnels in this area. We walked for a while with a Forest Service employee who was just taking down the signs from the 2010 Station Fire closure.
A few minutes from the other end of the tunnel, we came to a trail junction that offered three alternatives. To the left, a small trail that would take us to Mt Markham and Mt Lowe, continuing forward on the Mt Lowe Fire Road toward Pasadena, and to the right, which was our path to Mt Disappointment and San Gabriel Peak.
San Gabriel Peak Trail
This section of the trail was much narrower and threaded its way along the steep flanks of San Gabriel Peak itself. The Station Fire had done enormous damage here and there were few large plants that weren’t scorched. The renewed growth was remarkable, however and there was no shortage of vegetation starting over where a generation had been wiped out.
We reached another saddle where we could continue straight ahead toward Mt Disappointment and its communication towers (not interesting) or to the right, our choice, toward San Gabriel Peak.
The trail became steeper and began to switchback its way up the mountain. For the first time, we were very aware of the strangely-named poodle-dog bush, a plant similar to poison oak that doesn’t make its effects known for 24-36 hours after touching it. We were just as concerned about the dogs touching it and then spreading it to us as we were paranoid about our own movements. We haven’t experienced its effects and we didn’t want to find out.
Just before the peak, we found both snow and pine forest, which was a refreshing site after seeing so much fire damage, rock and little shade. The ground was actually muddy in places and it was pleasantly cool in the shade of the conifers. It was a very short time before we were standing on the peak.
The summit was one of more distinct we’ve climbed, with the highest spot being a US Geological Survey benchmark and an actual bench that was occupied by groups the whole time we spent at the top. We made our way down after talking with several people, including a gentleman who just starting blogging about his own hikes in the Angeles National Forest.
We moved quickly on the way down, as always, and were back at the Mt Lowe Fire Road in thirty minutes. We debated eating our lunch but didn’t find a spot to sit, so chose to press on to the car.
San Gabriel Peak requires a longer drive to the trailhead than most of our peaks, similar to Mt Baden-Powell, so it doesn’t have some of the appeal that local hikes have in the LA Basin. We realized after looking down on Mt Lowe that we were close enough to reach San Gabriel Peak in either a very long day hike or a rigorous two-day hike from the Sunset Ridge trailhead in Altadena. This may be a great hike for another time.