A Peak with a Reputation
Before I had ever read anything about this mountain, I had seen it on the Crystal Lake USGS 7.5 topo map. I noted the long ridge sweeping up from the south hovering above the ominous sounding Graveyard Canyon to the west. To go to a peak named Rattlesnake along a ridge overlooking a canyon called Graveyard sounded adventuresome. Then I read somewhere that this hike was considered second only to Big Iron in difficulty in the San Gabriels. I decided to see for myself.
February seemed like a good month to shoot for to avoid unduly warm temperatures on the mainly exposed ridge. As chance would have it, I noticed a scheduled outing to this mountain by the Sierra Club’s Hundred Peaks Section. Although I figured the number of participants would be much higher than on a private outing, I knew the leader and decided to add my name to the list.
And what a list! Twenty-three people showed up. I could only assume the summit would be large enough to hold everyone. The day was perfect for our route: about 60° F. with warm sunshine. And cool breezes awaited us high on the ridge.
Up the Ridge
We began the hike at the trailhead at the end of Shoemaker Road off of the East Fork Road.
View from Shoemaker Rd. trailhead of Heaton Flats trailhead (c) and Iron Mtn.#1 (back left)
The route begins on a fire road. Although not a big fan of fire roads, the 1.25 miles to our cutoff along level road was the perfect warm-up for the leg muscles. At that point, you get to the only navigational “don’t miss” on the entire route. Right before getting to a 75-foot pyramid shaped-pinnacle along the road, a small trail on the left starts a very steep ascent along a gully. This is the key turn on the route. The 25-yard section starting up the gully is perhaps the steepest climbing on the entire route.
We climbed out of the gully and got to a small saddle just west of the pinnacle mentioned above. From this saddle, you could see part of the route, at this point a prominent ridge heading in a westerly direction. We first traveled northwest and then west. Later, the ridge we were following connected with the main south ridge coming down from Rattlesnake. I was surprised at the excellent condition of the use trail because I had heard the route described as a “brush monster.” But at least as of this day, the brush was tame except in a few places where the yucca and buckthorn were leaning over into the trail.
South ridge route to Rattlesnake Peak
As I moved along, I kept looking over my left shoulder into Graveyard Canyon to see if I could see any indications of how it got its name. But nothing was apparent.
Big Iron seen from ridge to Rattlesnake Peak
Baby Rattlesnake and Ridge Views
The most dramatic spot along the main ridge comes at a point where you go over a bump referred to as “Baby Rattlesnake” and drop precipitously into a small saddle. Looking back as you ascend from the saddle, Baby Rattlesnake is a very striking feature.
"Baby Rattlesnake." The use trail is seen on the left
The views along the way were fabulous; this is no exaggeration. To the east, Iron Mountain #1 (8,007’) is your constant companion, outdone in stature only by Mt. Baldy (10,064’ ) to the right of Iron. Because of a storm earlier in the week, Iron had a light snow dusting visible and Baldy had a firm white coat to add to the visual pleasure.
Iron Mtn. #1 (L) and Mt. Baldy (R)
To the northwest, toward Mt. Baden-Powell and Ross Mountain, the views were also of snow-dusted peaks. Someone in the group remarked: “See what you get to see if you get yourself in a little bit of shape.” How true.
View NW from just below Rattlesnake's summit
As our group ascended, we encountered 3 separate hikers returning from the summit. One of them was SP member Kathy Wing (Wingding), although I only found this out after I saw a picture of Rattlesnake she had posted the next day. Wingding later told me that we looked like a “cheerful” group.
We finally reached the summit and everybody fit on it! No rattlesnakes to be seen.
Summit of Rattlesnake Peak
After a lunch break, we started back down. The main ridge looks even more dramatic sweeping down than going up.
Ridge sweeping down from Rattlesnake Peak Beautiful anglular sweep off left side of the ridge
Before we knew it, the beautiful south and east ridges had ended and we found ourselves back on the fire road and then at the trailhead. The consensus was “great hike.” We had done 8-9 miles round trip with about 3,700 feet of gain. Leaders Tom Hill, Pat Arredondo and Pamela Rowe did a nice job of handling the mob they had on their hands.
Comparison to Big Iron
There is no comparison. If this is the second most difficult hike in the San Gabriels next to Big Iron, it is a very distant
second. The south ridge route to Iron from Heaton Flats is much, much tougher. However, the exertion needed to get to Rattlesnake is respectable when you consider that Rattlesnake is under 6,000 feet. Furthermore, the views are comparable to those on the standard route to Iron. I highly recommend this peak.