A little over two years ago, Derek (@100Peaks), Peter (@ADKinLA) and I journeyed out into the Anza Borrego desert and hiked up Whale Peak. Thus was born the first Hiking Blogger Summit. Last year we had an expanded gathering with a hike in the local Schabarum Regional Park. And this weekend, Derek, Peter and I were joined by Josh (@CaliFromMyLens) and Zac (@ZacApplegate) for another summit adventure.
Here are the five peaks, in order of ascent:
- San Gabriel Peak – 6,161 ft.
- Mt. Disappointment – 5,963 ft.
- Mt. Deception – 5,796 ft.
- Mt. Markham – 5,728 ft.
- Mt. Lowe – 5,574 ft.
The Tale of the Trail
At 8am, we met at the Eaton Saddle trailhead, at an elevation of 5,120 feet. Our trail began on a fire road littered with rocks, reminding us that this area is prone to rock slides.
As you round the first bend, the Mueller Tunnel comes into view. This tunnel was originally built in 1942. About 100 yards long, it suffered a major collapse in 2007, but has since been repaired. While this tunnel used to be technically passable by vehicles, the road is now blocked by several large boulders near the entrance–still plenty of room for hikers and mountain bikers to weave through.
At the 1/2 mile mark, we reached the junction at a water tank. To the left, the trail heads to Mt. Lowe. We headed to the right, toward our first summit of the day, San Gabriel Peak.
The mountain still bears scars from the Station Fire in 2009. You hike through eerie stands of dead, charred manzanita that once shaded the trail.
There are some trees that have survived, but one of the most common plants you’ll encounter on these trails is the dreaded Poodle Dog Bush. This invasive species thrives in areas scarred by wildfires. It has a pungent odor and purple flowers when blossoming. The Poodle is said to be more dangerous than poison oak. Contact can cause a rash, blistering or even severe respiratory distress.
You can see the Poodle Dog Bush here, very green and lush. On most of the trail we were able to avoid contact, with the exception of Mt. Markham. I was thankful I had long sleeves and long pants on that segment, as incidental contact became unavoidable. It is said that the symptoms can take a few days to show up, so exercise caution with this plant.
At Mile 1, we reached a second junction. To the left is Mt Disappointment. We followed the trail to the right for the final .36 miles to the summit of San Gabriel Peak.
The summit of San Gabriel Peak is marked with a cairn. There’s also a makeshift steel bench and the remnants of the foundation from a structure long since gone.
We signed the summit register, soaked in the views, and headed back down to the junction, this time heading toward the communications towers atop Mt. Disappointment. This “trail” is a paved, private access road for the communications equipment. The summit itself is aptly named. There’s not really a notable peak anymore. It was leveled and used as Nike missile site from 1955-1965.
How did Mt. Disappointment get its name? The name dates back to 1894, when USGS surveyors were mapping the area. They initially thought it to be the highest peak in the immediate area, but were “disappointed” to find that nearby San Gabriel Peak was 167 feet higher. They had to move all their gear over there for their next triangulation point.
Two peaks down, we turned back down the paved access road, this time turning left (west) and heading to Mt. Deception. At 3.1 miles, there is a dirt trail off the left (south) side of the road. Follow that up a steep slope with loose rock. Trekking poles would be handy here. The trail continues west for another 0.4 miles to the summit of Mt. Deception. This summit is not very prominent, and thick with brush. We signed our third trail register, and retraced our steps back to the original junction at the water tank.
It was 11:40am. We had hiked nearly 5.25 miles, and it was time for a decision. Do we take the easy half mile back to the cars? Or do we bag a couple more peaks? Inspired by the vision of a well-earned meal afterwards, we opted to hike yet another, and headed up the trail to Mt. Lowe.
At the 5.8 mile mark, we reached the junction to Mt. Markham. Mt. Markham is taller than Mt. Lowe, and the trail is steep and tough. There were steep sections where it was helpful to use your hands to scramble up the rocks. And the dreaded Poodle Dog Bush was unavoidable. But the reward at the summit is a remarkable stone cairn.
Four peaks down. One to go.
We retraced our steps to the junction with the Mt. Lowe trail, and headed out for one more peak. At mile 6.8, we reached the junction with a trail that heads towards Mt. Wilson. We turned right, heading upward and winding around to the summit of Mt. Lowe.
At mile 7, the last junction before the summit. If in doubt, head uphill, since you’re only 1/10th of a mile from the summit of Mt. Lowe.
After five hours and seven miles of hiking, we reached our fifth summit: Mt. Lowe. There is very little shade, but there is a nice bench. You’ve got great views in all directions, and a series of “peak spotters” posted to help you identify neighboring summits.
Mt. Lowe is named for Professor Thaddeus S. C. Lowe, who in the late 1800’s built a scenic mountain railway from Alta Dena to the base of Mt. Lowe. The railway as well as the hotel and chalet at Echo Mountain have been gone for years — victim to a series of disasters.
From here, we headed back down the trail–an easy, gradual two mile downhill trek to our cars.
Five Peaks Trail Map
Click on any photo to view a larger version. You can also leave comments on any photo.
Advice for Hiking San Gabriel Peak
- The trailhead parking requires a National Forest Adventure Pass. You can pick this up at many SoCal sporting goods stores.
- This trail is hot and dry, and there are no water sources. Bring plenty of water and food for energy. It can be uncomfortably hot in the summer.
- There is very little shade on the trail. Wear sun protection.
- The poisonous Poodle Dog Bush is prevalent. Avoid contact. Wear long sleeves and long pants.
- Trekking poles are recommended on Mt Deception and Mt Markham.
- There can be snow up here in the winter months. Plan and dress accordingly, and check for road closures.
- Dogs are allowed on these trails, but keep them on leash.
- We encountered one rattlesnake, but there are many more. Stay alert.
Other San Gabriel Peak Resources
- GPS user? Download the GPX file.
- View the trail in Google Earth.
- Trailhead directions via Google Maps
- San Gabriel Peak – Dan’s Hiking Pages (note that the tunnel has in fact reopened)
- Mt Lowe Fire Road to San Gabriel Peak – Hikespeak
Get a Second Opinion
This being a group of five hiking bloggers, we all have opinions. I’ll post links to the posts from the other hikers as they go live.
- 5 Peaks, 5-ish Hours – Hiking San Gabriel Mountain – Peter
- Five Peaks in the San Gabriels: An Epic One Day Adventure – Josh & Zac
It was great seeing you again. Like we said. Let’s not make this a bi-annual event!
Jeff Hester says
Maybe we can do one up close to Santa Barbara next time! There are many more peaks to climb. Pick one.
What a great recap of your hike. 5 peaks. Wow! Very cool.
Nice work on the write up and the history research! Def a good read and a good adventure!
Oscar Gonzalez says
Thanks for the write up we used it today to try this trail. It was definitely “strenuous” as you stated! lol. today was 97 degrees at some parts and we had to call it short after Mt. Markam and left out most of Lowe because we were running out of water at around noon (we took off late). But your guide made it easy and exciting to follow thanks again.
Mariana James says
Hi Jeff, do you know why the tunnel was named Mueller, actually the name of the grand-father of a friend of mine – August Emil MUELLER. He has tried to get this information through the US Forest Service, but had no reply. My friend Juan Luis Tavella lives in Argentina and asked me to find out. If you don’t know, could you give me some idea of how to find out. My email firstname.lastname@example.org Many thanks for your kind assistance. I live in Banning, CA and would love to go hiking with your group if I was 40 years younger. Many thanks in advance. Kind regards, Mariana
Nancy R says
Appreciated reading this. It’s now on my radar.
I did this hike with 6 others on Saturday 4/15/17. They are training for Whitney. It kicked my butt. We started at 6:40am, but it was a 80degree day. Next time, we will start earlier.
I was looking forward to seeing that huge cairn when we got to Markham, but it’s been dismantled. Someone has laid the rocks in a circle to form benches/sitting area. A bit like a huge stone firepit.
Website is link to my Flickr album of the hike.
Jeff H says
Great photos on Flickr! And yeah, the giant cairn was dismantled a couple years ago. I get it (it’s not “natural”) but it was kinda cool.
Teresa Spohr says
I did these 5 peaks on Mother’s Day, 5/14/17 (yesterday) with a friend. It was definitely a workout, but we had a nice, cooler day. I wasn’t sure of how much total elevation gain we did, but then my friend sent me your write up showing it as 3,920′ (her GAIA app only showed it as 2500′) and showed it as about 9 1/2 miles. I must say, if we really did 3,920′ elevation gain, it explains why I was I so tired afterwards. We did them in the same order you did. We took a little longer, close to 7 hours, as we took good breaks on top of each one and took a lot of photos. Couldn’t find the registers on all of them, but we have pictures as proof. My friend said you could do Brown Mountain from that starting point as well – will have to check that out in the future.
A P says
Did these five peaks today (1/6/2018). Weather was cloudy and cool– perfect. We got to the trail head around 7:30 am and had a tough time finding parking– get here early. Took 2 liters of water and had some left over by the end of the hike. There are no restrooms at the trail head so if you have issues going outdoors, make sure to use the restroom beforehand. Also, wear long pants! There were many thorny bushes overgrown into the trails which gave little option, but to go through them. All in all, this was a nice strenuous hike with great views. We finished in 4 hrs 47 min.
Wil B says
Decided to get to the outdoor office yesterday (Feb 4), and the San Gabriel 5 peaks were the target. Set off from the car at 7:15 am with camera in hand, and over the space of 7 1/2 hours snagged some great shots on all of the peaks. San Gabriel first, followed by Disappointment, Deception, and Lowe. Descending from Lowe, and at the junction to head towards Markham, I had the thought of plenty of daylight left so let’s add in Inspiration Point. Note to those not so experienced – bad idea. About a 1/2 mile into that trail I came to my senses. That side trip was not in my original plan, I hadn’t prepared of it AT ALL, so I turned my butt around and headed to Markham. A couple of points of note for all – the Poodle Bloom on Decpetion is as unavoidable now as on Markham, so have long sleeves and long pants for both of those. And – the cairn on Markham is no longer there. Instead there is an overnighted circular shelter (mini version of those on Gorgonio), and I suspect that is the new cairn stones’ configuration. With temperatures in the mid 70’s for most of the hike, I was happy for 3 liters of water – still had some remaining when I returned to the car at 2:45 pm. Great day for a great workout and an 11.8 mile photoshoot.
Buddy and I did this route yesterday (St.Paddy’s day!). We logged about 10 miles, found no sign-in logs, no high cairn on Markham, but plenty of challenging hiking and lots of friendly people doing one or more of these peaks. Of the 5, Markham was definitely the toughest. Took us 5:45 to get to the last peak – Mt. Lowe. A fun and challenging day. Thanks for the original post, and the inspiration for us to do it.
I loved this hike.
I did trail head to East Mt. Lowe trail, shot some incredible haze and caps of Catalina, DTLA, and Santa Monica from the top. Then headed back out, down the West trail of Mt. Lowe… this takes you about half way down the back side of Mt.Lowe towards Inspiration Point. When I got to the bottom of the West Trail, I hiked back up the Mt. Wilson Road trail another +- 4 miles. In total 6.9 miles, 13,800+ steps and 52 stories of elevation according to my Apple Health tracker. A great hike to clear the lungs and feel the land. The views are amazing, the high desert is challenging, and the lizards like the company. Bring lots of water, I guarantee you will need it. I had 5 Liters, and easily drank 3 liters while completing the 6.9 mile trek at 83 degrees.
I’ve done something similar, though I try my best to keep away from the Poodle Dog bush. I start at the entry to Echo Mountain and head up (to Echo Mountain). I take a break there, then head up to Inspiration Point – the last mile or so is pretty steep. I take a nice break at Inspiration Point, then head down the fire road to the Mt Wilson Rd fire road. Up another few miles to the saddle, then up to Mt Disappointment and then to San Gabriel Peak – the end is super steep and loose! Back down to the saddle, then up to Mt Lowe. Take a break at the top, then head down the West Trail back to Mt Wilson Road fire road – follow all the way down to the short connector that takes you back to Mt Lowe, then down to the car.
I’ve wanted to add Mt Markham and Deception to the route, but the Poodle Dog Bush worries me and I typically go when it’s warm/hot – I don’t like the cold and up there it’s too cool during the winter. I wear shorts and a short sleeve shirt, so Poodle Dog Bush could be a problem.
I have seen it on the Mt Wilson Trail on the last section of single track (at least I think it’s Poodle Dog Bush. I didn’t know what it was when I first saw it and I did brush into it – it’s unavoidable. No outbreak, but I don’t want to push my luck. Or maybe the one I ran into isn’t Poodle Dog Bush – I heard there’s a similar plant that isn’t an irritant. Oh yeah, it kinds smells like pot – I noticed the smell when I was hiking and I thought it was interesting that someone would be smoking up there – then I realized it was the plant!
Keep up the great hiking trips and information.