Sunday, April 19, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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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