I always have a running list of adventure goals. Some are distant fantasies like Mount Kilimanjaro and visiting Patagonia, some are determined objectives like the Palisade Traverse and climbing the Monkey Face at Smith Rock, and others are locally under my thumb. Strawberry Peak is of the latter, I was just procrastinating, but on Saturday November 14th I ticked it off my list.
"Strawberry Peak (6,164 ft or 1,879 m) is a prominent peak in the San Gabriel Mountains of Los Angeles County, California. It is located 28 miles (45 km) from Los Angeles. Strawberry Peak is the tallest of the front range peaks and was named by mountaineers over a century ago, who felt the peak resembled an enormous upside-down strawberry.
The peak can be ascended on the east side as a trail walk beginning near the Red Box Picnic Area, or from the west as a class 3 scramble from a trailhead near the entrance to the Switzer Picnic Site.
The area was closed to the public as a result of the Station Fire. However, the last closure order expired on May 24, 2014.
It is especially common to see Rattlesnakes in the area."
With the trail now open and the option of a 3rd class "mountaineer route" the excitement of adventure for this hike was high. I was obviously heading up the steepest route. I got together a great group for the deed; my wife, her friend Colleen, one of my besties Heather, my old college roommate Geoff and his buddy Matt. We met for a casual breakfast at 6:30am in La Canada at the park 'n ride. This is a great meeting place if you hike in the Angeles Forest, it's easy to find and has cell reception, two things that disappear when you start driving up the mountain road of Angeles Crest. The parking lot for the Strawberry Peak trailhead is nondescript and can be tricky to find, it's just a dirt lot with no signs. The last landmark is Switzer Recreation area, it's the next large pull off on the left. Here is a map with directions from the Verdugo Park n Ride:
We parked, strapped our boots to our feet and hit the trailhead around 7:45am. It was brisk for Southern California, we had also gained a couple thousand feet driving up the mountain to get to the trailhead. Seemed like Summer never ends in L.A. and by the time fall comes around everyone is thrilled to take their jackets out of storage.
You drop down to the bottom of the canyon for the beginning of the hike, I imagine there's usually some creek crossings when the water is more present. There aren't any significant trail signs, while the use trail is obvious it helps to have a great description and a map/compass if this is your first go around to the summit.
Our whole group took several instances to note all the assorted atmospheres of this one hike. There were canopied dense foliages, to open meadows, to rocky arid sections, and all that change held our interest for our long day outdoors.
The first two miles are pretty straight forward, at this stage you should be heading towards the large trail junction that is Josephine Saddle. The first couple miles start out with sustaining elevation gain. After you pop out of the canyon floor you're treated to a prime viewing of your mountain destination.
Upon arrive at Josephine Saddle you will find a huge water tank, this makes for a great landmark. You can access the top of the tank from the back and the big round rood makes a great place to have a snack before the adventurous terrain begins. Here you can choose your own adventure, you can head west to Josephine Peak, or north to Strawberry Peak, and if you keep your eyes peeled to the steep right on your right you can be treated to the "mountaineer's route" of Strawberry Peak. Below is Nancy heading up the use trail that climbs the ridge of thae mountaineer's route.
Here's a better POV photo of that ridge if you were to be stationed near the water tower. If you head left of this ridge on the very well maintained obvious trail, that will also take you to Strawberry Peak, but it fully traverses the mountain and climbs the back, adding 5 miles to your trip. We opted to use this as our return route to extend our time outside and mix up the scenery of an out-and-back hike.
When the ridge starts to plateau you will hike until you hit the wall of your first rock scramble. The white outcropping of rocks is easy to spot from as far back as the water tank. Yes, you will be heading directly up and over that.
Most of my adventures this year have really been focused on technical rock climbing so I was not worried, rather excited for these sections! It was also great because it was everyone's first experience for this summit, so nobody fully knew what they were getting into, until we got into it!
Below you can see Geoff doing some route finding on the first section of the 3rd class terrain. Although there's some large blocks of granite that are good, much of it is mixed with loose and slippery scree. Just enough exposure to get the blood pressure rising. Geoff and I established it didn't matter "left or right?" the only correct way was up.
Here's Heather heading up and over, stay light on those feet and maybe don't look down.
It was a brief but legitimate little scramble up. I guess since we all made it in one piece we decided it was best to take a group photo. The views were great at this point but we still had a very steep mile ahead of us to get to the summit.
Here's Matt navigating his way between the large bushels of poisonous Poodle Dog Brush, it was all over the place since the station fire. You can see the summit of Strawberry Peak just above him, the last 400' is extremely steep 3rd class with a couple really fun exposed moves. This is what I really came here for!
You know you're in the middle of a great time when you forget to capture some photos. The last push up the summit head wall really requires the use of all your limbs, so it made it exceptionally hard to shoot some photos, however here's a telling pic Geoff snapped on his phone of Matt rounding some granite.
We made it! It was really strange, we came over the top, and after a crowdless trail the summit was actually busy! ???? There was a large group of backpacker's who came up from Red Box Canyon, a different trail head, and a few other randoms. Kind of odd. We celebrated with an early lunch, but not really early because most of us had been out of bed since well before sunrise. I had some oysters, yeah oysters and we all hydrated as there is little shade along the trail. It was only around 3 miles to the peak, but nearly 3000' elevation gain so you're a liar if you're not feeling it at this point. We probably rested for almost an hour. It was a gorgeous fall day in Southern California.
Time for the ubiquitous summit pic! CHEESE!
Here you are crossed with another decision, descend the same route you came up, which would require some brave down climbing or walk off the back and make a 6 mile hike into a near 12 mile day? We were enjoying it, so we're taking the long way home! Here's a map with all your options, this map is was provided by the Sierra Club's Hundred Peaks Section. I have traced the lollipop style hike we did in pink, which requires hiking the first 2 miles to the water tank out-and-back but the rest of the traveling doesn't overlap. I have also pointed out the necessary landmarks of the trail head, summit and use trail of the mountaineer's route.
Down and out we go. The funny thing is usually at the summit you are half way done hiking, for us though, we were only one quarter of the way done. Looking at 8 miles back to the car after all that climbing!
Below you can see the ridge we hiked down the back of Strawberry Peak, from here you can see the prominent saddle you will approach, continue up if you're heading to bag the summit of Mt. Lawlor or turn left at the junction to head down and back around the mountain you just climbed.
The trail had a bit more undulating gain and drop but starts off descending very quickly. We enjoyed each other's conversations and shared a ton of laughs. At one point we crossed the smallest snake I've ever seen right on the trail. Stiff as a rock we thought it was dead! Us guys, in true immature guy fashion, wait to see if the girl's would see it an scream. Indeed, just like the encyclopedia said they would! Yes the harmless snake was still alive. Ha!
We rounded a corner and in the distance it looked like a lenticular cloud but it was actually just the sun reflecting off the ocean, Catalina I presume. Here's a tiny silhouette of Matt right as the trail bends around the mountain.
Several miles and and the endurance challenge now on, we approached was really the first trail sign, a unique one compared to most I've seen. Decorative and cute compared to the typical cut and dry. Next stop- Strawberry Meadows, then hopefully we see that water tank again, a sign we're getting closer!
It's been really dry the last couple years and we've all heard about California's drought. Unfortunately the meadows was pretty brown. It was still gorgeous and I was using my imagination to envision what this place will look like next spring after the El Nino rains come!
It had been 3 hours since we left the summit and we just kept marching on. The sun lowers so early this time of year but the tranquility was at an all time high. We only saw one other group of fast and silent hiker's whiz by as we made our way back to Josephine Saddle.
Towards the end of the hike, I took time to actually take it all in. As much as I am outside I'm often on these alpine missions and the objective is complete the task and get back. I allotted time on this hike to not have to rush, and everything fell into perfect place as we were treated to Angeles National Forest Sunset around 5pm.
We got back to the cars as the sun was heading down. We hugged good bye with an unspoken sense proud accomplishment. This was a great team and just an excellent day. So nice I think I might hike this twice!