Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Echo Echo Echo Mountain

I had been on the outdoors "sidelines" for a few weeks TCB'ing it with various life obligations so when I got back out onto the trail this weekend, I wanted to put myself through my paces.

I had been compiling information on some great California hikes from Modern Hiker and I have been slowly hiking them all. One of them still on the list was Echo Mountain/Inspiration Point.

Billed as a 10 mile hike with calves burning switchbacks and great views I decided to tackle it this weekend.

I got to the trailhead at about 6:45am and as I stretched out and started to make my way up the mountain I realized I was not the early bird but decidedly the late bird. This is apparently a very popular early morning hike for people to see the sunrise and I meet at least 10 people coming down the trail at around 7:30am!

And who could blame them with views like this?

To get to the proper trailhead, you have to wander through an old estate, The Cobb Estate which is at the end of Lake Avenue in Pasadena/Altadena. Its amazing that the road just goes up and up until you hit the mountains and it takes a sharp left and there is the estate.

You wander through the estate with some signs pointing the way (did I mention it was still dark out?)

Until you hit the trailhead proper.

The trails on the way up to Echo are much narrower than the fireroads/canoe trails I was expecting. These trails were about 3 feet wide which felt palatial considering the other trails on this stretch.

After about 2.75 miles (with some pretty incredible views along the way)

you reach the top of Echo Mountain and come out onto the abandoned remnants of a hotel. I am not just a huge fan of hiking but of hiking history. The top part of the mountain had all these great early 1900s pieces of the hotel.

It reminds me to mention this great outdoor historical blog that fellow SoCaler's the Greene's run. It is a bunch of historical photographs of people enjoying the outdoors. You should really check out:

The Outdoors As History

I was feeling good and decided to press on to Inspiration Point.

There are several trailmarkers in stone and I CANNOT emphasize this enough, go to the right/East most one that leads to the IP. Otherwise you go on the Sam Merrill trail (which is lousy for all the reasons I will detail shortly).

The trail narrows to about 18 inches but unlike backbone trails, at least you have the side of the mountain to hug if things get tough. They don't really but every once in awhile you have to watch your step.

Eventually you make your way into this awesome alpine forest which is great for its greenery and views but will start to seriously kick your ass with the switchbacks.

Also, hints of Fall!

You wind and make your way and then when you think "what the hell, this is the trail to nowhere" there it IS! Inspiration Point!

Of course, there are several more switchbacks to go but seeing your goal doesn't make you mind it so much.

I chilled out here,

looked through some metal barrels

This was my favorite view.

Then I decided to press on. At this point I was doing really good on my time, I was feeling really good despite having hike 6 miles uphill. It was still early in the day, now was the time to go down.

But no gentle readers, I decided to press (stupidly) on! I met this really good guy named Mark who is starting up an inner city leadership program for youths to get them outdoors and enjoying all it has to offer. He was pressing on to Mount Lowe and I went in his general direction.

On the backside of Inspiration Point, you can really see the fire damage that was done during the Station Fire in 2009.

As you head West, you come to the trail junction with the Merill trail heading down and South or you can keep going West and see some remnants of bars (?!) and other houses. You also get to trailheads for Mount Lowe and there is also a backside fireroad to the really high peaks around there.

I decided to go on the fireroad. Don't get me wrong, there was some cool scenery (it looked almost like the North Carolina mountains at points) and it is a more genteel way up but it is a LONG way on those fireroads and eventually you get to a trail intersection:

and you basically have even MORE mountains to climb. Well at that point I knew I was about 2 miles and 40 minutes waaaay out of my way and so I headed back muttering to myself.

It is a weird thing about being so inside your head while being outdoors. The whole point is to enjoy the outdoors, be away from your workaday life but when you make a bad decision and you know its going to cost you, its tough to enjoy the scenery no matter where you are.

In any event I got back to the Sam Merrill trail

and you start going downhill through some nice, rugged pine forests.

Be a little careful because there are mini rock slides everywhere and in several places you are stepping on loose rocky that desperately wants to head South. Just keep your sure footing throughout.

The real problem with this trail is when it comes out of the pines you come through this weirdo swale grass

and you are then in sun central. The trail is very narrow so there is no making up time. Also, the sign lies. 2.5 miles? I've got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. It is definitely over 3 and it will take you much longer to get back to Echo Mountain than you think. Be sure to bring lots of water just for this section of the trail alone. If you hike this trail, there is plenty of shade going up in the morning and given my experience on the Merril, I would almost rather take the IP trail back down (even though I would much rather loop it than hike the same trail again).

Eventually I got back onto the Echo Mountain trail and it was super busy around 11-1 PM. So be prepared for that. I was in no mood because I was on the longest hike in quite some time and I ended up at 10 miles (14 miles because of the mistake). 14 freaking miles.... Unreal.

I definitely learned some hard-won lessons this weekend. 1) If you have a plan, stick to it. I was on time and was ready to head down but I was feeling so good I decided to press on. Better to save that energy for another day (especially for the hike down on the Merrill). 2) Remember what my dad always said "hike early". You hike in the cool morning, build up a sweat and its hot later in the morning so you don't get cold and you are on your way down before it starts getting dark. Hike early, leave early, especially here in SoCal.

Overall, Echo Mountain is a great 5 mile roundtrip hike. If you want to stretch it into 10, I highly recommend going to IP just to experience some great views and a great sense of accomplishment when you get there.

Hear ye hear ye, if you want more info on this hike, read all about it here at Modern Hiker's take: http://www.modernhiker.com/2007/10/02/hiking-echo-mountain-and-inspiration-point/


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  2. Thanks for the shout out! This is on our list as well, but we are definitely more sunset people than sunrise people, so I doubt we'll ever run into you at the trailhead, unless it is heading opposite directions!


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