Vetter Mountain Lookout

Back in the San Gabriel Mountains off of the Angeles Crest Highway for the third hike in a row.  This repetition is really helping me better understand the layout of these mountains.  This week I visited the site of a fire lookout tower atop Vetter Mountain, lost in the 2009 blaze that swept through this area.  Instead of coming from the bottom of Charlton Campground I parked right off of the highway where Silver Moccasin Trail crosses over from Shortcut Canyon.  Cloudless blue skies and temperatures in the low 60’s made for ideal conditions.

1   I parked right across from Mount Wilson, although I was about a 12 mile drive away.

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This hike headed away from Mount Wilson.  The high point shown in photo 1 is the peak on Vetter Mountain, my turnaround point.  I immediately noticed a grove of trees along the ridgeline to the right of the peak.  I would come out of the canyon and up to the ridge right in front of this grove.  Although I couldn’t see it at the time, photo 2 shows the trail switchbacking up to the trees.

4     5   I began downhill to start.  The trail was a bit overgrown in places.  There are also a couple of sections where the trail gets a little narrow.  Not a big deal but the soft dirt, loose rocks and dead leaves made things feel a little slippery.

6     7     8   Bare Trees – Blue Skies

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As I descended I noticed a lovely layer of frost covering many of the plants.  Even the Poodle Dog Bush, shown in photo 4, felt the freeze.  Look out for this plant along the trail.  There are a couple of areas where you will get zapped if you aren’t focusing.

13     14   After about a mile I reached a low point at a creek crossing and short bit of flat hiking next to the creek bed.  Then it’s all uphill, another three miles to the top.

15   I always see faces in the rocks and plants.  This one looks just like someone I know.

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As I rose I began to pick out some familiar peaks – Mount Wilson, San Gabriel Peak and Mount Disappointment.  But also in view, in the middle of these peaks and hidden from view on my other recent hikes, is the cone-shaped peak I believe to be Mount Markham, and the little peak to the left which might be Occidental Peak.  They line up on the map, anyway.

17   I could also make out the observatory on Mount Wilson, shown here in an extreme close-up.

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23       22   After some tough climbing I reached the grove I had seen from the parking area across the canyon.  The trail ends at a paved road with a picnic table across from it, 1.2 miles from the peak.  I rested here for awhile.  There are a couple of restrooms along the route.

24     25    The Poodle Dog Bush is absolutely thriving alongside the road.  The plants are huge and healthy.  Here they have taken over a picnic area.

26   27   Looking back down at the trail.  The route has a unique horseshoe shape.  Once I gained a little elevation coming out of the canyon, I could see my car on the other side the whole way to the top.

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Putting together the puzzle pieces – the peak in the foreground of photos 2 and 3 is Mount Mooney, where I hiked last time.  The mountains in the back, I believe, are Mount Waterman and Twin Peaks (or one of the Twin Peaks).  Also in view from my last hike, on zoom here in photo 4, is Stony Ridge Observatory.  It was catch glimpses of two observatories on one hike.

32     33   As I neared the peak, I found this firehose by the the side of road.  As I spiraled my way to the top, I was surprised to find a truck parked to the side.  I then ran into two men (father and son?) sitting in a makeshift lookout station, volunteers checking for signs of fire.  We chatted for a few minutes and I was given a short history lesson about the lookout building that once stood here.  I was told it may be rebuilt soon and a new foundation has already been laid.

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36   I left the two men and headed up the stairs to the former lookout site.  Photo 2 shows a little birdhouse and a water dish below it.  I sat on the new foundation, ate lunch and marveled at the views.

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Here again is a view of Mount Mooney, Mount Waterman and Twin Peaks.

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40   Panning left to right – It was pretty clear looking toward the ocean and the city of Los Angeles.  I could just make out the two black towers that I associate with Downtown LA, or the “Belly of the Beast” as one of the fire watchers referred to it.

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Photo 1 – Mount Wilson, San Gabriel Peak, etc.  Photo 2 – Close-up on Mount Markham, San Gabriel Peak and Mount Disappointment.

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Continuing to pan west, Strawberry Peak and, the little nub on the last peak in the distance is Josephine Peak.

44     45   I backtracked to the original trail and eventually crossed over that low point again.

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Almost back to my car now, I am treated to a beautiful view of Vetter Mountain.

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