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Rattlesnake Peak

1 December 2002

By: George Wysup

Sandy Burnside and I decided to climb something on Sunday after Thanksgiving. What? "How about Big Iron?" she suggested. Why not? Later, Don Croley inquired as to any plans for the weekend. The result was that he, Ray Riley, and Deb Clem met us at the Ranch Market at Azusa and 9th St. at 0630. We reached Heaton Flat and noted that there appeared to be considerable snow atop Iron Mtn., most of it dumped Friday night and Saturday. This snow cover offered the possibility that we could hike all day and not get the peak. Iron can wait, we decided.

A fine alternative was available in nearby Rattlesnake Peak. This is certainly an easier destination than Iron, but is certainly not easy. Elevation gain is something near 4400' with some class 2 scrambling. I had heard that Rattlesnake burned during the Curve or Williams fires, and I was eager to check this out.

We commenced hiking at about 0740, seeing no indication that the notorious brush cover had fallen victim to any fire. On the other hand, the use trail was wide open and brush was not a significant hindrance (thanks, Mars). We reached the summit in a bit over 3 hours to find that we were the first party since September -- before the fire closure.

Near the summit, just after passing an impromptu heliport (probably the result of the fire fighting operations) we encountered the smell of damp charcoal. The fire had reached the summit and went no farther. The register, inside the nested red cans, was intact. We lunch, and Deb entertained with some yoga postures.

We observed that everything West of the summit -- Hawkins ridge, Copter Ridge -- was toast; no more pine trees. There was no evidence of a fire lookout on South Hawkins. The alternate route from South Hawkins to Rattlesnake looked brush free (here's your chance for a pathfinder). Baldy and Baden-Powell were inundated with deep snow, extending down to Ross Mtn.

On the descent we saw two climbers coming up. They turned out to be Mars Bonfire and Kathy Cheever (going for her peak #206 or so). We reached the road at about 1:40.

Sandy and I decided to check out the tunnels on the road to nowhere. This road was intended to take Angelenos out to the Antelope Valley as an escape from imminent nuclear attack. What a great idea (for a boondoggle). The first tunnel has a 1961 date on the fascia. The second tunnel, about a half mile further along, shows a 1964 date. It appears that the tunnel is an afterthought, constructed after the road avalanched into the canyon. The road looks to stop not very far after this second tunnel (we did not walk to the road's end). Each tunnel is about 100 meters long, wide enough for 2 lanes, and sturdily constructed. There is extensive rebar along the sides, anticipating the addition of concrete which was never poured.

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