City Highpoints Trip Report
© September 2011 Adam Helman

Note 1: All coordinates use the WGS84 datum.
Note 2: Mouse-click any image for detail.


Colorado climber John Mitchler has a set of company meetings in San Diego. He arrives a few days early to hike some city highpoints on a growing list generated through his own researches. I join John for these efforts.

Friday, September 9

After his flight John meets me at home. He samples one of four exotic beer varieties I've purchased for his enjoyment, and then have supper at the "CPK" (California Pizza Kitchen) in Solana Beach. My pulled pork-habanero salsa pizza is fine - yet his barbecued chicken pizza is superior. It's the "classic" variety offered there, and I'm pleased that my recommendation works well.

John Mitchler
John takes-in a view early
in the Mount Lukens ascent.

We ride north on I-5 by dark, and take a room in the La Crescenta motel in the eponymous community near Burbank - just six minutes drive from the chosen trailhead. John is justifiably tired, having started the day in Golden, Colorado 17 1/2 hours before.

Once settled into the room our daypacks are prepared and I spread out an array of condiments for the construction of pastrami sandwiches for tomorrow's summit siesta. It's wonderful stuff!

I sign a commemorative wooden ice axe, adding my name alongside other completers of the Colorado county highpoints.

Saturday, September 10 - Mount Lukens

The venue is Mount Lukens - highpoint of Los Angeles the city as distinguished from the Los Angeles County highpoint, Mount Baldy (Mount San Antonio) which we've both done. After coffee / hot chocolate, blueberry Pop-Tarts (John) and peanut butter cookies (Adam) we reach the trailhead parking lot just as the area opens at 7 a.m. - and hike by 7:04. GPS-measured elevation is 2,323 feet so we have about 2,800 feet of net (and total) elevation gain.

This is the first "significant" climb since John busted his femur while training for a marathon. He's been inactive for the entire summer; and this effort is a true test of his recovery progress as it triples the effort level of his last hike.

The route begins by walking the obvious road through Dunsmore Canyon. It then enters the dry wash to its right at WGS84 datum (34.25186° N, 118.24902° W). Cross the wash and locate the trail heading uphill on northwest-facing slopes for a few hundred vertical feet before reaching a ridge which is then taken generally northeast to 4,500 feet.

city vista
A part of Greater Los Angeles
thousands of feet below.

The route is a bit eroded in places, unmaintained through lack of funds. However it's much better than many many trails I can cite as it zigzags up the cited ridge to meet a pair of jeep roads for the final 500 vertical feet. Walk these roads northwest to the summit area.

The first road is encountered here; the second (more substantial) road here.

We summit after 2.3 hours; and there's a nice three foot boulder alonside a witness marker (benchmark Sister Elsie, 5,074 feet) to indicate we've come to the correct spot among the assorted communications towers.

Although it's not within the city boundaries, there's a second possible highest ground near another fenced area about 100 yards southeast. Visit both to guarantee you've been to the mountain's very highest ground.

Much of the day's heat is relieved by clouds. On the descent we hear thunder from the west. Later I learn that the "Valley" (San Fernando Valley) had rain and lightning - and that's exceptional for early September.

About halfway down we rest at a sizeable windbreak along the ridge. Here, we recall to take the right fork (northwest), there being another path leading south. Juicy D'Anjou pears are quite welcome in the direct sunlight.

We descend in 2.1 hours, have both peach and plum, and drive south to Long Beach.

mountain island
A nearby range well demonstrates
the prominence island concept.

Long Beach and Signal Hill Highpoints

Signal Hill is a separate community and hilltop completely enclosed by Long Beach. Although it has a tiny presence, so long as we are there it's reasonable to visit its highpoint in addition to Long Beach's.

The latter highpoint is totally trivial, lying near or atop a four-way intersection at the boundary of Long Beach and Signal Hill communities. We park 100 feet away, and with perhaps 5 feet of elevation gained, completely "grid" the relevant intersection, even photographing a manhole cover as it's stamped with the city of Long Beach as owner.

We drive uphill and park near a gated community housing the top of Signal Hill. We walk a few blocks within the area and satisfy ourselves that the highest ground, long-since gone due to development, was passed-by at some point. Note that the obvious communications towers are in a fenced compound with numerous negatively-signed warnings.

After some snacks plus drinks we drive to my condo - but not after wasting an hour in terrible traffic. There we "chill", enjoying some rather unusual beer in addition to more pastrami. It's a rather sweet hazelnut brew that even I enjoy. I prepare a stir-fry with cabbage, eggs, pastrami - and wrapped in a large flour tortilla. Half of it then gets Velveeta cheese ... and, although not quite so tasty as John's BBQ chicken pizza it's immensely cheaper and convenient.

John spontaneously falls asleep on the sofa as I continue to watch TV programs related to tomorrow's tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack.

Sunday, September 11 - Cowles Mountain and Pyles Peak

Cowles Mountain is the San Diego city highpoint. It's an immensely popular local hike with routes coming from every compass point. With two vehicles I propose a traverse with car shuttle, nearby Pyles Peak to the northwest added for good measure.

We first park my truck near the western trailhead for our exit. Then we drive in John's rental to the eastern trailhead - one using a former road for summit access. Note that the most popular route was not taken, one that comes from the south.

summit vista
View southwest from Cowle's
top with John at right.

On the top are several groups, and we wait our turn for a photograph of the engraved summit plaque embedded in a four-foot stone monument which is clearly not a natural feature.

One does not normally see a multiracial mix while peakbagging. However today's an exception with Spanish-speaking hikers, a trio of black girls, and several Asian Americans of all ages.

We descend 350 feet to a saddle and take a side-trail to Pyle Peak's summit - a 1,379 foot spot elevation on the 24,000:1 topographic chart.

There's a nice boulder as the highest ground of this flat summit, and great views to the north with Route 52 in the distance.

summit boulder
Summit boulder atop Pyles Peak
with an unknown hiker I am
reluctant to shoo-away.

After some apples and Dutch cheese we descend the side-trail and find a use-trail leading farther west generally hidden from view immediately behind a wood railing overlook. Its use seems discouraged as its presence is unannounced by any sign. Still we must take it because we cannot complete the traverse otherwise short of bushwhacking.

It's a bit steep and eroded in-places yet fully negotiable. Soon enough we reach the western trailhead; then turn around and read that the trail is closed owing to habitat preservation.

We walk south 200 feet to my truck parked at the closest condo unit and return to John's rental after 2.6 miles. It's not even 11 a.m. John will watch a football game at someone's home and I just go home to check E-mail and describe the power blackout of last Thursday which effected over 5 million people.