Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen Hike 2: Mt Lukens

Mt Lukens, aka Sister Elsie Peak is the highest point within Los Angeles city limits at 5,075 feet (1,547 m). It's not a particularly tall mountain, nor is it a pretty climb. The city flattened the summit area to make more room for antennas and haze often obscures the view. So why are we climbing it?

There are two reasons. First would be bagging the highest point in LA. However, we're climbing it because it rises 800 feet per mile for four miles without much altitude effect. It's a great early step for those training with higher aspirations. If this hike leaves your legs quivering, you have a lot of work to do before you're Whitney-ready.

There are two principal routes. A fire road climbs out of Deukmejian Wilderness Park in Glendale. This route is boring, dusty, and incendiary as it climbs the south-facing slope. Our route is mostly single-track ascending the peak's north side. People lose the thread after crossing Big Tujunga Creek so follow along with our photo-gravure as we decipher the clues to a day filled with sun, sweat, and satisfaction for your hard work.

The trailhead lies at the western terminus of Stonyvale Road just off Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Actually, parking at Wildwood Picnic Grounds off Doske Road is closer but the Forest Service closes the gate at sunset. Or not. Rather than deal with the nebulous gate closing schedule, let's take the sure bet and turn off Big Tujunga Canyon Road here at Stonyvale in the picture. It's a right turn clearly seen coming from the west but it comes up quickly driving from the east

The road descends and lands at a T-intersection facing the sign. Turn right toward Vogel Flat. 

The day we shot the pics, this roadblock barred our way. Erected by an in-holding homeowner, she emerged from the house and asked our business when we stopped and parked. When assured we did not mean to drink, carouse, and/or debauch, she cheerfully took the roadblock down but followed us as we made our way on foot to the trailhead.

The road is a public right-of-way and the homeowner does not have the right to block it. However, let's all play nice and avoid entering into a heated debate about who has the God-given right to do what. After all, you're leaving your car behind for a few hours. It's another 330 yards (300 m) to the trailhead from here.
If the block isn't up, park your car at the end of the road. Note the trailhead on the berm to the left of the "END" sign.

Once over the berm, continue along what used to be Stonyvale Road before a bygone flood washed it out. Big Tujunga Creek runs to your left.

The view to the south from the trail. Note the dirt tracks. This land may or may not be private down to the streambed running left to right through the middle of the photo. Treat everything off the road or trail up to this point as private and respect it.
Once past these girders, everything is public.

 just past the girders you'll find a small rockfall. Look south-southwest from the rockfall and find this dead tree.  Note the trail to the left of it partially obscured by the chaparral and the foliage from the creek.
That dead tree is on the left side of this stony drainage from which Stone Canyon gets it's name. Keep going to the northwest away from the dead tree.
A closer view of the river rock. The trail runs up the left side following the rift. You're still walking northwest while the canyon rises to the south.
When aligned with the center-right of the canyon from your perspective, start looking for the path to the creekbed as seen below. Follow to the creek.
This year (early April 2015), Big Tujunga Creek is a simple rock hop. As recently as 2010, it has been a raging torrent at certain times of the year.  Do not cross unless it's safe. You may have to choose an alternate place to cross. If you have any doubts, call it a day or climb nearby Condor Peak instead.
Once across, clamber up this bank and watch for the trail bending left.
Now on the other side of Big Tujunga Creek, keep walking southeastward
The dead tree from the trail east of it. you can see the trail now.
If you see the stanchion from the old trail registry, you're on the right track.
The trail hangs a 90-degree right and starts climbing.
Up the trail a bit, looking back the way you came. Find the little rock fall on the left-right trail beneath the rock cut where you first spied the dead tree.
To the northwest is the Wildwood Picnic Area parking lot. Looks temptingly close. It won't seem so close if the NFS decides to lock the gate.
Keep heading straight up-canyon while keeping your eyes peeled to the left. The trail will leave the canyon, sweep left, and start switchbacking up a rib. The grade does not relent until you reach a small plain below the summit mound. At that point, follow the fire road heading towards the antennas.

Start this one early. A hat, sunscreen, and at least three liters of water are a must. The entire area except the summit plain burned in the 2009 Station Fire. The trail was closed for two years. Maybe a foot of shade exists on the whole trail now. Poison oak abounds all along the route so identify it and do your best to avoid it. An immediate hot soapy shower and clothes wash will prevent a breakout. Load the washer first, then shower in case your clothes have the oily residue on them. 

There are many areas overgrown with new scrub oak and chaparral on the trail's upper third. Climbers must contend with a few washouts as well. Use your very best judgement on this climb. However, if anything I've written thus far dissuades you from from attempting it, then your Mt Whitney aspirations may be wobbly as well.  This is an early test of your mental commitment and your physical conditioning. Just remember you're entering a national forest, not an amusement park. Be aware at all times. Take pride in this early victory. Build from it.

Learn about the origin of the peak's original name, Sister Elsie. Judge for yourself whether she existed or not. If you believe she did, tell her we said hi

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