Account of Events
Prelude: As the higher elevations of the San Gabriel Mountains were covered in snow we were looking for a challenging hike in the Front Range. After some brainstorming we eventually decided to hike up Brown Mountain via the Ken Burton Trail and potentially to continue further to Mount Lowe. There were several options of returning, either taking the same way back or completing a loop via Millard Canyon. However, we wanted to make our final decision about the return route depending on the conditions we encountered on the trail. The weather forecast was great with clear skies. The west ridge of Brown Mountain seemed to be free of snow, so we were all good to go.
Part 1: We chose to gain access to the Ken Burton trail from the Angeles Crest Highway near Twin Canyon. We drove up the Crest Highway and parked our cars in a little turn out near Twin Canyon (approximate elvation: 2,570 feet; 34,14.729’ N, -118,11.424’ W). From there a clear use trail started between the bushes and led steeply more than 800 feet in less than a mile down to Oakwilde Campground. We quickly picked up the Ken Burton trail leading up the west slopes of Brown Mountain. The air was fresh and crisp and we made fast progress. The views north to the CCC Ridge and Dark Canyon were beautiful. In about 1,200 feet of elevation gain and 2.1 miles (from Oakwilde) we reached a saddle (~2,900 feet) at the base of the true west ridge of Brown Mountain. To our surprise we ran into a large group of mountain bikers at the saddle who rode up Brown Mountain Upper Mountainway and enjoyed an early and seemingly free-flowing liquid breakfast. After a little chat we decided to head up directly the west ridge through sometimes dense and thorny bushes and yuccas and over some fun rocks. We very soon all agreed to not return the same way if anyhow possibly to avoid sliding into these yuccas on the way down. The mostly cross-country ascent on the west ridge was steep and we gained about 1,350 feet in almost one mile. At about 4,360 feet the steepness flattened and we reached a small bump with amazing 360 degrees views over the Front Range Peaks; Bear Canyon to the west was stunning. At that elevation we also encountered the first patches of snow. We continued over a couple of false summits and increasing snow cover to the true summit of Brown Mountain (4,456’), where we enjoyed our quick lunch snacks. Since we did not want to return the same way basically two options opened up. First we could go down to Tom Sloane Saddle and further down the Dawn Mine trail to Millard Canyon. This option would have required a several mile long hike back up the Arroyo Seco to Oakwilde. Since it was already past noon and we would have had to hike more than 10 more miles for that route we quickly decided on option 2. We planned to go down to Tom Sloane Saddle and hike down to Bear Canyon back to its connection with the Gabrieleno Trail, which would lead us back to Oakwilde. Although about 3 miles shorter than option 1, we still had ways to go.
Part 2: The traverse and descent from the Brown Mountain summit to Tom Sloane Saddle certainly took longer than we expected. Considerable snow cover, sometimes knee-deep, slowed us down quite a bit. Moreover, the use-trail often vanished below the snow so we often had to break new ground to find our way over the several bumps on the East Ridge. Although we had to be careful considering traversing some steep slopes in snow it was a lot of fun. Finally we reached Tom Sloane Saddle (~4,050’) shortly after 1 pm. A quick calculation and we realized that we likely will reach our cars not too long before sunset. We had to pick up our pace. The trail down Bear Canyon given its northern location was often covered in deep snow but it did not pose any problems. The little less than 4 miles to the connection with the Gabrieleno Trail in Bear Canyon were absolutely marvelous; dozens of stream crossings, snow-laden trees, glistening pools, and steep rock walls on both sides. Despite the fact that we needed to go relatively fast, we often stopped and marveled at our surroundings. We also realized that we lucky in the sense that we were able to safely cross Bear Canyon every time. It could have easily been different. Eventually we reached the location where Bear Canyon Creek flows into the Arroyo Seco which continues to meander west. From there (~2,580 feet) the trail now led upstream and we gained elevation again. In a little bit less than a mile and past the turn off to the Switzer Falls we connected with the Gabrieleno Trail (~3,000’). We now had about 3 miles left to get back to Oakwilde Campground. The trail leads high over the Arroyo Seco west and then drops down into Long Canyon before it eventually connects again with the Arroyo Seco shortly before reaching Oakwilde Campground. After hiking already more than 13 miles we still had to ascend the last steep 800 feet to our cars on the Crest Highway. Although certainly strenuous that last climb was a great finish to our day. We were back at the cars at around 4:30pm and the sun started to set behind the western peaks. Overall, the loop totaled to about 14 miles and ~5,200 feet of elevation gain.
Disclaimer: The track was recorded on a Garmin GPSmap 60CSx with coordinate savings every 30 seconds. Mileage- and elevation readings were calculated after importing the gpx file into National Geographic’s Topo 4.0 software.