North Side of Mount Wilson

Rim Trail

Rim Trail

The sun was setting as I approached Mt. Wilson on the last stretch of trail. By the time I reached the top, it was dark, and a brilliant almost blood red sunset stretched across the horizon, interrupted in the middle by a low blue cloud.

I’d mistimed my run. I’d started too late, and run too far. My lights were in the truck, where they were of no use. I realized I was going to need to PR the way up Winter Creek and beyond if I was going to make the road before dark.

The day began at Eaton Saddle. From there, two miles up paved road to Mt. Wilson, and then down on the Kenyon De Vore Trail.

Dominic Grossman and I had a conversation a few weeks ago. We agreed that the trails on the north side of Mt. Wilson are some of the best in the San Gabriels. He prefers Kenyon De Vore, which is a beautiful trail, very runnable, easy to fly down, even with a few washed out sections, a stream crossing or two, some tight switchbacks and a few technical spots. I prefer the Rim Trail, which is not as runnable, very narrow in spots, rocky in others, maybe even dangerous if you are not paying attention, but offers some of the most glorious views to be found in the San Gabriels. Both are exceptional runs. Sturtevant Trail is also beautiful, but a distant third to Kenyon De Vore and Rim Trail.

Kenyon De Vore Trail

Kenyon De Vore Trail

Kenyon De Vore Trail

Kenyon De Vore is the last 6 miles of Mt. Disappointment 50K, and so it was one of the first of the Mt. Wilson trails I ever ran…or hiked…or trudged, as the direction we take in Mt. Disappointment is up, not down. Running down is much more enjoyable the trying to run up.

The trail is named after Kenyon De Vore, who first came to the forest as a toddler in 1913. His parents built Camp West Fork, and, later, Valley Forge Lodge.

De Vore spent his life in the San Gabriels, first growing up at his parents’ trout fishing and hiking resort at Valley Forge, later as a burro pack-train guide, a U.S. Forest Service patrolman on horseback, a county dam operator and a county hydrographer, and, finally, as a Forest Service weekend host to visitors at Chantry Flat.

Kenyon De Vore died about 20 years ago, in 1994. He was in his mid 80s, and still working for the Forestry Service, stationed out of Chantry and living nearby in Arcadia. He was known locally as Mr. San Gabriel Mountains.

At the bottom, Kenyon De Vore Trail intersects with Gabrielino, which you can take the rest of the way to West Fork (my usual route, done in reverse during Mt. Disappointment) or you can head more-or-less west, along the Valley Forge trail to Valley Forge and to De Vore Trail Camp.

A Little History

Back before flood control dams and hydroelectric development, the San Gabriel River flowed even in the summer. Stuart O’Melveny writes “There was no other trout stream in Southern California that could compare with it. The water was clean and clear, alternating between sparkling riffles and darker pools. Wherever the floods of winter had not scoured the boulders, alders and sycamores graced the banks, casting their shadows athwart the stream. The old wagon road wound its tortuous way in the canyon bottom, crossing and recrossing the rocks and river, and only seemed to make progress if it reached some bench or flat a little above the stream level and lined out across the sandy earth.”

In the Great Hiking Era of 1880 – 1930, there came to be a number of mountain resorts and trail camps in the San Gabriels, all of which are long gone.

The earliest of these was the Commodore Switzer Trail Camp, where “relaxation, stream fishing and hiking awaited tourists who arrived on either mare or burro after enduring eight miles of zigzags and sixty stream crossings.” Switzer’s Trail Camp went through a number of owners, and was considered to be the number one resort in the mountains until the late 1930s when the Angeles Crest Highway enabled tourists to travel deeper and higher in the San Gabriels.

Gabrielino Trail Sign

Gabrielino Trail Sign

In 1913, Kenyon De Vore’s parents Ernest and Cherie De Vore leased 10 acres of Forest Service land and opened Camp West Fork. There were four cabins, several small tent houses, what may have been the first swimming pool in the San Gabriels, horseshoe courts…Books were provided by a branch of the LA Library, and there were non stop card games. Vegetables and fruit grew in a large garden and orchard and supplied the kitchen.

Fearing they were going to lose the camp in a land dispute, the De Vore shifted focus to another lease 3 miles upstream, at the junction of West Fork and Valley Forge. They hurriedly moved all the buildings and equipment to this new location they called Valley Ford Lodge. There, guests enjoyed trout fishing, horseback riding, dancing, badminton, hiking, and good food.

Eventually, Ernest De Vore left his wife and Cherie continued to run the lodge solo until she married Bert Rice, who managed the lodge with her.

It all ended in the spring of 1938, when heavy rains swelled the creeks and caused flooding in the canyons. Every camp or cabin was destroyed, either by the water or debris.

Well, That Wasn’t A Very Good Idea, Was It?

From Westfork to Newcomb Saddle, and then singletrack to Newcombs Pass, and the Gabrielino Trail into Chantry, a route I’ve done dozens of times, and need to do a dozen times more, until I know every step of it, because this is the desperately lonely stretch in the middle of the night at AC100 that always makes me want to quit.

I was stopped by some Search and Rescue guys on the way up the pavement to Chantry. They figured I’d come a distance. What was my route, and had I seen an elderly Asian guy in a green shirt, hiking alone? He was late coming back.

I wished I could’ve helped them. Truth is, there’s never a shortage of elderly Asians in Santa Anita Canyon, or anywhere else in the front range. Odds were good I’d passed him and not noticed other than to say hello.

The parking lot was filled with fire trucks and Search and Rescue. Besides a few lost hikers, it seems that someone had broken her ankle. It looked like a crime scene. I hurried through and started my trek up Winter Creek.

It’s hard to judge time-of-day by shadows down in Santa Anita Canyon. Light disappears quickly in the canyons. I don’t run with a watch. I guessed I was cutting it close but reckoned I could make it to the top of Mt Wilson if I kept up a better-than-usual pace. Just to be on the safe side, I asked the time of the first person I saw. It was 45 minutes later than I thought.

This was not good.

I turned it up. It was still possible, I thought, but I’d have to PR by about 30 minutes on this stretch. That was possible, I figured, because I’m a lazy runner and I take it easy on these hard climbs.

Two miles in I pulled over for Search and Rescue, who had the broken ankle lady on a stretcher. A little bit earlier, the firemen almost lost one of their own as a cute young fire-girl took a spill and almost fell off the trail. Not easy to hike the trails in full fireman gear. Not necessary, either, I wouldn’t think. Nothing was on fire.

Mt. Wilson Sunset

Mt. Wilson Sunset

Heading in to Hoegees I passed a father and his kids. On my way up Upper Winter Creek, slowing down on the steep trail, I decided there was no chance of making it to the top. I reckoned it made more sense to turn around, run 6 miles past Chantry, down the road to the metro station, and catch a ride out to Eaton Saddle (and my car) the next morning as that was the planned starting point for Sunday’s run. The father I’d passed earlier had a spare light which he gave me.

Now that I had a light, the nerves could subside. There was not going to be any of the terrible anguish that visited a fellow runner who at that very moment was getting lost in the Santa Monica Mountains in the dark. Unlike him, I knew where I was, I knew how to get back if going forward stopped being an option, and I was making good time.

I made it to Mt. Wilson toll road just as the sun set. A few miles later, the brilliant but short lived sunset turned quickly blood red and then to black. I spent a few minutes admiring it and then hurried down the road the last 2 miles to the car. There was enough moonlight at my back to cast a gentle shadow.

I got to the truck and said to myself “That was really stupid,” and it was. On the road down to Red Box I found myself hollering in joy “That was awesome!” because it was that, too.

The Rim Trail

It’s a good thing I hadn’t left the truck at Eaton Saddle, because there was a change of plans. A bunch of us gathered at Chantry 7am, to head up Upper Winter Creek to Mt. Wilson, and then down the Rim Trail to Newcomb Pass, and down the Gabrielino Trail back to Chantry.

There are probably more ways to get up to (or down from) Mt. Wilson than to any other peak in the San Gabriels. There’s the Sturtevant Trail, Kenyon De Vore Trail, Mt. Wilson Trail, Upper Winter Creek, the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, and, of course, the road itself, from Redbox. My favorite of all of these is the Rim Trail.

Rim Trail

Rim Trail

The Rim Trail hugs the north side of Mt. Wilson’s east ridge and heads gently down for 3 miles to Newcomb Pass. The views from the top are stunning, and unlike any others you’ll find in the front range. The trail is narrow, sometimes very narrow, and challenging. Runners really need to pay attention to where the foot falls. You need to run it gracefully, one foot in front of the other, like a deer, and not legs wide apart like a football player. There are a couple of spots where the trail is almost completely washed out and these need to be stepped through carefully, because on one side is a wall of rock going up and on the other side is a sometimes sharp drop. It’s not a winter run – you don’t want to encounter ice on this stretch.

The pay-off, after all these warnings, is a beautiful 3 miles that engages you in every way. As mentioned earlier, the views at the top are like no other in the front range. The rocky cliff sections a little lower down are stunning in a completely different way. The trail is never too steep to be difficult, but always requires attention when running. Admiring the scenery involves stopping to take it all in.

There are clusters of poodle dog bush, and this winter – the winter we haven’t really had – never got cold enough to kill the stuff. It’s getting green again, which I wouldn’t normally expect until April or May.

Jesse had never run this trail. Nor had Howie, who had come down from Mammoth in part with the specific intention of doing so. Marcus went up it alone a short distance from Newcomb Pass, but wisely turned around when things started looking dangerous to him. Moises I’m not sure. Dominic, Larry, Katie and I had all run it a number of times and had become evangelists of sorts about this trail.

Dominic and Jesse took off from Newcomb Pass to explore the stretch of Gabrielino between Newcomb and West Fork. I’d been down there the day before for a bit, but turned around when it came to bushwacking time. The rest of us headed back to Chantry.

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