A favorite place for me to run in the San Gabriels front range is Mt. Lowe.
It’s good, scrappy stuff, exposed, rocky (some sections very), harsh, and fun. It’s also reachable on foot from town, although I usually prefer to get right to it and approach from Eaton Saddle, on the road up to Mt. Wilson.
From Eaton Saddle, you head down the trail, through the Mueller Tunnel, to Markham Saddle, about 3/4 of a mile in.
At Markham Saddle, there’s a junction of two trails along with the fireroad you are already on, which is the Mt. Lowe Road, and which follows the old Mt. Lowe Railway right-of-way from Chaney Trail just above Altadena.
Refer to the map at left. To the right, heading NW, is a rocky trail that takes you to Mt. Disappointment and/or San Gabriel Peak. To the left, heading SE and up is the Mt. Lowe Trail.
Head up the Mt. Lowe trail. It’s flat-tilting-slightly-up and somewhat rocky for about a third of a mile, running alongside and just above the fireroad. You’ll hit a small saddle, and Mt Lowe will be right in front of you. The trail will veer slightly left to work around the mountain, while the fireroad will swing around to the right of the mountain. The rocks will get bigger, and the uphill steeper. After half a mile, you’ll reach a junction marked by the metal sign in the photo below.
There are three trails on Mt. Lowe, easily named: Mt. Lowe Trail is the north trail. Mt. Lowe East trail is the east trail, and Mt. Lowe West Trail/Upper Sam Merrill is the west trail. To turn right at this junction will send you toward the summit of Mt. Lowe, as the sign indicates. I always turn left and head down the rocky Mt. Lowe East trail.
Sign at the junction of the three Mt. Lowe Trails
Christmas Eve morning, 2014, I headed out on this run, armed with a pair of cameras: a Yashica T4 and a Pentax ME Super with some sort of odd defect, perhaps in the lens mount, that causes the images to break apart at the edges, like the bad peripheral vision of a drunk.
After a short run up and back down Mt. Disappointment, I headed up the Mt. Lowe Trail to run and take photos. At the junction, I headed down Mt. Lowe East. This is a fun trail full of small loose rocks, sometimes made a bit more challenging by the damage done by mountain bikers or by the rains. The trail heads more or less straight down for a mile-and-a-half, from 5,400 ft to 4,400 feet. The trail splits towards the bottom. On this day, as usual, I continued to the left, which deposits you at the bottom of Mt. Lowe and then takes you in to the junction of Mt. Lowe Road, Middle Sam Merrill, Idle-Hour Trail, and the trail down to Inspiration Point. During the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run, this is the Sam Merrill aid station, mile 89.25.
Sighting Tube, Mt. Lowe West Trail
From the trail junction, head up the Mt. Lowe Road. After about a quarter mile, you’ll come to a trail marked Mt. Lowe East. Earlier, I mentioned a split in the trail heading down. I veered left to the 5 way junction. Had I veered right, I’d end up here.
Don’t take the East Trail. Don’t take the trail to your left, which will bring you down to Mt. Lowe Trail camp, once the site of the infamous Alpine Lodge speakeasy. Instead, continue up the road about 30 feet and you will see West Mt. Lowe/Upper Sam Merrill. This is the trail to take.
The lower part of this trail is narrow, washed out, and aside from the downed trees you’ll likely encounter, it’s easily runnable.
At some point, you emerge from the trees and the trail becomes exposed and rocky. You’ll come upon a few rusted metal sighting tubes. If you’ve been to Inspiration Point you’re already familiar with these tubes. There are a bunch more at the summit of Mt. Lowe. I learned most of the San Gabriels Front Range using them.
Mt. Lowe West
When it comes to rough and rocky, not much beats the middle section of Mt. Lowe West trail. Tight switchbacks, loose jagged rocks, and a harsh beauty that is awe inspiring. It’s just a mile and a half to the top, but it’s a tough little climb. The fast kids like Dominic Grossman can pull off 14 minute miles on this stretch. Folks like me, not so much. It’s tough, it’s fun, and it’s a scramble at times.
Mt. Lowe West trail, rocks
After a mile and a half, the West Trail intersects another trail. This is the Mt. Lowe trail. Turn right and head up a few hundred yards and you’ll reach the summit where you’ll find a bunch of the metal sighting tubes, a bench if a rest is needed, and not much else. Turn left instead and you’ll continue down on a trail just as rough and rocky as it was going up. Soon enough you’ll come upon the Mt. Lowe/Mt. Wilson sign you were at several miles earlier. Take a hard left to head back down the Mt. Lowe Trail to Markham Saddle. At about 5.5 miles it’s a short but strenuous run, a great little start (or end) to something longer.