Mount Islip – South Approach
My third trip to the top of Mount Islip, this time starting from Crystal Lake Recreation Area instead of off CA-2/Angeles Crest Highway. I wanted to acquaint myself with the road to Crystal Lake as well as the area itself. Crystal Lake is about 25 miles north of Azusa and I had driven the first ten or so of the road to get to my Bridge to Nowhere and Shoemaker Canyon hikes. Although I had hiked to the peak before, it was valuable to get a new visual perspective, not only of Islip but also the other peaks in the area – Hawkins and the peaks on Hawkins Ridge, Mount Waterman and Twin Peaks, all the way out to Front Country peaks like Mount Wilson and Strawberry Peak. I learn more every time I go hiking.
Driving Directions: From the 210 Freeway in Azusa, exit on Azusa Ave./Hwy 39. Drive through the city of Azusa, and continue on for a total of approx. 25 miles. Somewhere along the way the road becomes San Gabriel Canyon Rd., but I didn’t notice. Hwy 39 is blocked off just beyond the exit for the lake and campgrounds, so you won’t mistakenly go too far. The exit is on the right. It will take you to the Visitor’s Center and a cafe in about a mile. Along the way, stay straight as you pass an exit for Crystal Lake on the left. When you come to the visitor’s center, the road veers left and ends in a half a mile. Park in the large lot at the end of the road.
As soon as I stepped out of my car I noticed several deer wandering just yards away. As I got my gear together, more deer came in from the opposite side.
I start on Windy Gap Trail.
Crystal Lake Recreation Area sits inside a horseshoe, with Hawkins Ridge to the east and Islip Ridge to the west, with Mount Islip straight ahead to the north. Twice Windy Gap Trail crosses over Mount Hawkins Truck Trail. The trails I took are well signed and easy to navigate, and they’re in great shape as well.
The trail became more narrow as I rose but I had no feeling of danger. The drop-offs are not extreme. In the past I’ve found it difficult to pick out Mount Islip from other peaks. I’m now more clear as to what it looks like from a distance. Basically it’s the last, most western high point along the ridge, shown here in the middle of photo 3. Photo 4 – Just about to Windy Gap, that low point in the center.
Windy Gap is a multi-trail junction and was a bit confusing at first mainly because of an unmarked footpath (photo 2) which starts to the left of the trail I actually wanted. On my map I wanted the trail on the far left, but that was the footpath. I didn’t take it. Instead I took the beautiful trail just to the right of the footpath. The trail to the right of that leads to Little Jimmy Camp. And the trail to the right of that leads to Hawkins Ridge. From Windy Gap I spotted CA-2 running down below. Photo 3 – Mount Williamson, which sits directly across from Mount Islip on the opposite side of CA-2. Photo 4 – These little grasshoppers were all over the trail. They made a “Rat-a-tat-tat!” sound as they hopped out of my way.
I was treated to a really nice view, from Throop Peak on the left, to Mount Hawkins, Middle Hawkins, Sadie Hawkins and South Mount Hawkins.
Photo 1 – Close up of Mount Hawkins Truck Trail, one of the routes that leads to South Mount Hawkins. It looks to be in good shape but I read there’s a major washout somewhere along the way. Photo 2 – At the foot of the Mount Islip. After taking the trail from Windy Gap, I linked up with one of the trails coming from Little Jimmy Camp. I was familiar with this section so making it to the peak was a breeze from there.
When I first hiked to Mount Islip the wind was howling and this final section really freaked me out. Now it doesn’t seem like much at all. 0.8 miles from Windy Gap I reached the turn-off for the peak, up to the right. The main trail continues on down the ridge and I would take it on my way back.
I spotted Crystal Lake below. This rare, naturally formed lake didn’t appear to have much water in it on this day.
A short hike on the spur led me to the top. There stands the ruins of a tiny stone cabin.
Photo 1 – Just above the cabin is a concrete foundation where a fire lookout once stood. Photos 2 through 4 – The top was buzzing with swallowtail butterflies and black dragonflies.
To the west is Mount Waterman, on the right, and Twin Peaks on the left (zoom).
After resting and eating it was time to head back down. Instead of hiking back to Windy Gap Trail, I continued down Islip Ridge Trail. This section of trail is kind of rocky. A huge fire swept through here in 2002. Now, 14 years later, it felt like walking through a forgotten graveyard.
A mile or so from the peak, I made a sharp left on to Big Cienega Trail. Big Cienega runs parallel but beneath Islip Ridge Trail and connects with Windy Gap Trail in two miles, making this hike a lollipop shape.
I had a great day. I look forward to hiking from Crystal Lake in the future.