Islip Saddle to South Mount Hawkins
On a beautiful Southern California spring morning Tom, Scott and I started our 4 peaks hike after the long drive to Islip Saddle deep in the Angeles National Forests at the gated end of the Angeles Crest Highway (SR2). We had planned to hike Middle Hawkins, Sadie Hawkins, South Mount Hawkins, Hawkins and possibly Throop Peak and Islip Peak. Immediately after leaving Islip saddle we ran into snow on the trail, making us realize that there was a lot more snow that we anticipated (we incorrectly thought we would only find a few patches). In fact, near Little Jimmy Campground we lost all previous tracks and most of the trail under a hard cover of snow. The snow covered the trail in many spots so deeply that there was no break in the steep slope ending far below near the closed section of the 2 highway. We had to kick steps to cross these areas and really should have had crampons or at least an ice axe for safety. In spots the frozen crust on the snow was too hard to break and we had to detour as we were not prepared to cross such a steep ice slope where one slip would have serious consequences (on our return the snow was much softer and safer, but also wetter).
We continued along the trail, past Little Jimmy Camp and on to Windy Gap. Surprise, it was really windy here! The damage from the 2002 Curve fire was still very evident in this area. Still very dead and burnt looking. After a few photos, we quickly continued to stay warm. As we traversed along the ridge east towards Hawkins, we often left the trail to follow the ridge or to travel along the sunny, southern side on the ridge to avoid the snow, which in areas had drifted several feet thick. We stayed on the PCT until the turnoff for Hawkins Ridge. We could have ascended Mount Hawkins at this point, but planned to save this peak for our return and instead turned south to follow Hawkins ridge. At this point there was little snow and wind, making for enjoyable hiking.
Our first ascent of the day was Middle Hawkins, which is a fun little scramble up the peak’s north ridge, which required us to leave the Hawkins Ridge Trail. I guess Middle Hawkins is not an official peak and you won’t see it on any Topo Maps, but it is recognized by The Hundred Peaks Section of the Sierra club, so it counts in my book. We had planned to ascend this peak again on the return and did not bother to look for the summit register (not sure if there is one). After Middle Hawkins we descended the south slope towards Sadie Hawkins Peak. Near the saddle between peaks I was thrilled (literally) to see a big horn sheep! The first I had ever seen, I saw the massive creature move out of the corner of my eye and turned to watch him run and leap over the edge of a steep gorge. He had a huge rack of curly horns and such grace (I reported the signting like a good hiker). I hoped to catch a photo of him and ran over to the area that I last saw him but he was nowhere to be seen. All I managed to get a photo was of his footprints. After our search for the Big Horn ended we followed the trail the best we could around the east side of Sadie Hawkins Peak and on to Saddle to South Mount Hawkins. There is a basic helicopter landing area at this saddle and here you can hook up with the fire road to the summit of South Mount Hawkins. The fire road actually descends all the way to Crystal Lake Recreational Area, but this area is currently closed. We did hear sounds of mobile equipment below so the area might be opening again soon. The fire road to the summit was not very interesting, there was some fairly long sections of snow that we had to tromp through.
I always feel like I cheated when using a fire road to summit a peak, oh well, the north ridge had quite a bit of snow and this was the safest option. Summiting South Mount Hawkins was a little bit of a letdown. The peak is a little dilapidated. There are pieces of burnt wood and debris everywhere from the old lookout tower. The picnic tables are half burned, there is some sort of monitoring station with its Solar Panel array crashed on the ground and old foundations scattered about. I read that there are efforts to rebuild this lookout tower, which would be OK. My preference would be to clean up the peak and restore it to its natural beauty (including reforesting).
There is a summit log inside two old soup cans, but there is no pencil and the log has seen better days (first entry 1998). The cover of the logbook has a sticker reading “Cherish each other, raise loving families, and just say NO to the Sierra Club notion that an unborn child is an eco-friendly child”. My wife sometimes says I am a little dense and maybe that is why I don’t fully understanding the message this sticker is portraying. I am all for population control but does that mean I can’t raise a small, loving family (which I am currently am)? Anyway, enough of that, we had a snack and headed back the way we came.
South Mount Hawkins and Back
On our way back north along Hawkins Ridge we summited Sadie Hawkins proper this time, having skipped it on the way to South Mount Hawkins. Sadie Hawkins, like Middle Hawkins, is also not listed on any Topo map and is not official. This peak is also not on the HPS list so unfortunately having summited this peak does not count for much, but who is counting anyway? I can’t help to be little concerned that I seem to be becoming a peakbagger. Does this mean that I can no longer climb a peak just for the joy of climbing a peak? Does it have to “count” for me to want to make the effort to climb it? I hope not, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that even though the ascent of Sadie Hawkins was beautiful, that it may have not been worth the effort.
The areas around Sadie and Middle Hawkins were mostly spared from the fire in 2002 and it was a beautiful hike through the pine forest to the summit. From a small bump just north of Sadie Hawkins there was a great view of Mount Islip, Windy Gap, Hawkins Ridge, Mount Hawkins and Throop Peak. From this bump we descended and re-joined the Hawkins Ridge trail, skipped around the east side of Middle Hawkins (saving a lot of additional elevation gain) and rejoined the PCT towards Mount Hawkins. We left the PCT once again to climb the ridge to Mount Hawkins. It was a good climb, fairly steep with great views. We started to see some Limber Pines near the top. These stunted trees can grow to be very old, the one near Baden-Powell (the Wally Waldron Tree) is said to be over 2000 years old. The oldest trees always seem to live in the harshest conditions. The summit of Mount Hawkins has great views, especially of the Hawkins Ridge (see panoramic photo).
We ate lunch at the summit and hung out a little. I was feeling a little winded by this point, and when Tom suggested hiking to Throop peak I balked at the idea. In fact, it was during the ascent of Hawkins that I decided I couldn’t be bothered climbing Mount Islip on the return (yes, I am a wimp Tom). I knew Tom would go on to summit, Scott and I could chill out at Windy gap. It would be fairly close to 4:20 pm by then (in actuality it was around 2:00 pm). So having made up my mind, we descended Hawkins, sticking to the ridge to avoid the snow where we rejoined the PCT and hiked the trail back to Windy Gap. The snow was much softer, and we progressed quickly along the trail. Punching through the softer snow crust and getting our feet fairly soaked.
As I assumed, Tom wanted to summit Islip so Scott and I hung out at windy gap until he returned, taking some photos and basking in the hot sun (it was too hot in the sun, too cold in the wind). Since our feet were all wet and punching through the snow took a lot of extra effort (and because it was safer), we decided to take the use trail from Windy Gap to the closed section of the Angeles Crest Highway and hike back via the highway. The descent was fun, I ran down the steep slope taking monster steps, some up to my knees deep in snow. Once on the highway, we strolled back to my car for the last couple of miles, talking of future plans and mountains (what else do I talk about?). We were in our own world walking down the double yellow solid lines of a section of highway that nature is slowly reclaiming for herself. Nature’s reclamation of this section of road will likely continue because from what I have heard the road will not be reopening anytime soon in order to protect the yellow-legged frogs. For Real :)
Trip StatisticsThis hike of Middle Hawkins, Sadie Hawkins, South Mount Hawkins Peaks and Mount Hawkins was a total of 13.5 miles and 4,150 ft elevation gain. It took just under 8 hours.
Click here to download the full resolution USGS 7.5 Minute Topo Map for Crystal Lake (20 mb)