3rd Class for Beginner: West Ridge/Colby Canyon Ascent of Strawberry PeakI had no experience with 3rd class routes prior to this trip, and found the West Ridge/Colby Canyon ascent to be well-suited for my maiden voyage. The trailhead is easily accessible from Highway 2 per the directions listed on the main page, and I had no problem finding it. The dirt parking lots were packed with visitors on this gorgeous sunny day.
There is a rocky path immediately to the left of the trailhead sign, which is not part of the trail, stay right and follow the creek. While following the creek, there was a very cool, sweet-smelling breeze that was really refreshing; I imagine that on the hottest of summer days it stays cool in this lower-end of the trail. This shaded section is less than half a mile long, and gives way to more exposed switchbacks, which likely get very hot and were on this winter day. The walk-up section of the trail is extremely easy to follow all the way to the Josephine Saddle trail. Summiting Josephine Peak from this junction and back tacks on 8 miles.
Finding the class 2 section that segues into class 3 is a little tricky. Follow the Colby Canyon trail and look for the entrance a very short distance, about 15 yards, on the right hand side. The class 2 section has some loose gravelly patches that I found more challenging than the class 3 sections. Trekking poles would be a nice addition, but are not necessary.
A vandal has taken the time to spray paint the rocks of the trail with purple arrows and dots. Although illegal, I have to admit I found them helpful at times. The actual climbing sections were not very difficult, nor were they particularly intimidating. The summit was pretty, with trees and a summit register in a rectangular army green case chained to the ground. Mount San Antonio can be seen to the east and to the south, views of the L.A. cityscape. The summit took me just under two hours to reach, moving along at a pretty quick clip.
The descent down the 3rd class section was easier than the climb up it, which surprised me. However, going down the scree in the class 2 section was more troublesome, and may be irritating to the uninitiated. Even with the purple arrows, I managed to get off trail once and continued for a while until I had to back track. The detour cost me 45 minutes, and was unpleasant due to the scree and fracturing rocks I attempted to grab hold of. I ended up going from shrub to shrub as there were few rocks to use--I don't recommend getting off trail to those with my current skill level.
While my detour was completely unintentional, it stemmed from concentrating on making good time to brag about on summitpost over focusing on the trail: lesson learned. Despite this, the hike was enjoyable, and I'll certainly be doing it again with an ascent of nearby Josephine. After my hike, I iced down my sore legs in the creek at the base of the trail--it felt spectacular!