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Mount Lowe

13 December 1987

By: Don Tidwell

Leaders: Stag Brown, Bobcat Thompson

On a crisp, cold morning the HPS met at Lake Avenue at 7:00AM for this extraordinary hike. It has historical significance, I believe, for it was an unusual day.

It was a cold morning. The wind was blowing. The leaders moved their car, and spent extra time getting their extra clothing. They weren't ready until 7:15 AM, or so it seemed.

Three people didn't wait. One well known leader said he knew the route and started up the trail. Two people followed. Then Stag said, "Hold on a minute, we might not be going that way". How clever. By a simple maneuver (stalling), the leaders had disposed of that slowpoke How Bailey and two other turtles.

Parenthetically, when Alan Coles and I hiked up Baldy in three hours on August 1, 1982, we passed How Bailey, on his way down already. Another time, on Pine Mountain on July 29, 1984, Bobcat recognized How, on his way back from Dawson already, by his yellow shirt and the red bandana in his belt. When he was a hundred feet down, on his way up, we all yelled "Hello, How!" at the same time, and he heard us, but didn't know who we were until he hiked up.

That day we went on to Dawson and came back, same as How. We talked to him about the Whitchorn route to Baden-Powell and Ross, and he did Baden Powell from Whitchorn the same day, I found out later. The trailhead is shown as Whitchorn on old maps, not shown on new maps.

It was an unusual day also. There were thunderstorms all over, except we got out of there before we got wet. Driving back it rained hard near Vincent Gap, we saw How's car at Whitchorn and wondered about him. How said, when I saw him later, that he didn't get wet. Driving down the Angeles Crest there were scattered areas with heavy downpours. Around Barley Flats it was raining hardest. Then around Red Box it was raining even more intensely, pouring buckets so no one could see out of the windshield. Bobcat continued driving, without seeing the road, and we suddenly popped out of the rain into bright sun. With the windshield wipers still going, we saw a young woman in a sports car with the top down going the other way, not knowing she would be drenched two seconds after she first felt rain. Then, four motorcyclists, with short sleeves, plaid Bermuda shorts and dark glasses were on their way up the road. They stopped about 100 feet before the wall of water. Several motorcyclists had been up on the Angeles Crest and didn't return in time to avoid being soaked on the return. In La Cañada, it was 100°. The hottest days in La Cañada are the best days for thunderstorms.

To continue the Mount Lowe Report, we went north up the ridge and in the distance we saw the three rejects on the trail, for a time, and then they were not seen for the rest of the day. It was cold and we all wanted to ascend quickly from the shadow to the sunlight, to benefit from solar energy by the most direct means - absorption - plus we wanted to warm up by physical exertion. It was too late to try to keep warm. The time spent standing at the trailhead chilled everyone.

We were not long in shadow. The steepness of the ridge allowed us to reach a better operating temperature after just a few minutes. Most of us wanted to be warm throughout, comfortably, not tolerably, so we increased our speed near maximum. The fitter hikers moved to the front and the rest spread out.

High up, the ridge became very steep, and there were deep gullies running down, with loose footing. The group spread out, and Nami Brown was looking at all of the other hikers up above her with a unique perspective.

You, dear reader, would have been the slowest person in the group had you been there. Stag valiantly deflected dirt clods raining down. The infrequently falling loose rocks, he caught and returned to their natural resting places, of course.

We came out on Chaney Trail road by the Cape of Good Hope and regrouped. Then we walked very briskly up the Mount Lowe railway past the longest stretch, the Dawn Mine Station, and then went around the bend in the shade. Brrr. Up long switchbacks we went through sun and shade and sun and then a long shady part where we stopped to look at the thermometer. It was 29°. With 25 mile per hour gusts, the wind chill factor made it zero. We sped up to reach the sun again.

Mount Lowe campground was soon at hand. Just before we reached it we met a group of Boy Scouts hiking down from their overnighter - they looked miserable. It was about 9:00AM and most of the city was just beginning to think about breakfast, but the Scouts were already packed up and on their way home. We didn't tarry either. We went up a gully past the cottage sites and an old litter receptacle, crossed the road and went up the trail on the west side of Mount Lowe.

This side is a little rockier than the west. We were sheltered from the wind by some beautiful trees, and much of the way was sunny, but then we came near the summit ridge. The trail abruptly went out into the full force of the wind at the Brown Mountain Ridge. It was strong. We bent over and appreciated live oak clumps as we hurried toward the summit. At the last live oaks, just below the summit, were piles of pots, pans, utensils, aluminum plates and aluminum cups. In the clearing were several tents which were staked out, poles removed, with large rocks holding them down. Some unfortunate souls had elected to camp out right on the summit, exposed to all the elements. The wind was especially ferocious right on the summit. It absolutely was the least sheltered place to camp. We didn't stay. We went down the east side at about 10:15AM.

Stag didn't take the shortcut down. Possibly he was concerned about the person in shorts rubbing plants the wrong way and getting all scratched up. Instead, he led a shorter short cut that met the trail much higher up. The east side trail was very sunny, and we all knew it was a beautiful day in Los Angeles. It was even becoming pleasantly cool where we were. At a nice spot, we made a meal stop, out of the wind.

We then continued down to the junction by Mount Lowe campground, and hiked the rest of the way out under warming skies. What a beautiful day. We reached the cars at around 12:45PM. We drove to the Sport Chalet and then to Pepe's for lunch.

The next day the LA Times recorded the temperatures for Mount Wilson on Sunday. A low of 18° heated up to a high of 28°. I think it was one of the fastest Sierra Club hikes of all time. We took a circuitous route and still did the round trip well under six hours. Plus, it was probably the coldest HPS hike for several years.

Time for a warm bath, a hot toddy and Vaughn Williams Seventh Symphony, the Antarctica.

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