Expanding our horizon a little over the San Jacinto and San Bernardino mountains we ventured into the San Gabriel mountains for this one. These mountains are pretty busy, particularly the roads with motorcycles and sports cars. Generally one can find some “solitude” off the trail and further from the trail heads, but forest roads, peaks full of antennae and big power lines are a common sight in these mountains. This hike is named for the Monte Cristo Mine it loops around.
We entered the mountains on the Angeles Crest Scenic Byway (S2) around Pasadena and then headed north on County Rd. N3 to Monte Cristo Campground. From there we hiked along a forest roads 3N23 and 4N18.1 until we were about 450ft hundred feet below Rabbit Peak. There we left the road for the ridge leading up to the peak. At this point the air was pretty clear and we enjoyed the views while having a snack. Checking out the ridge towards Granite Mtn. with binoculars I noticed a couple of guys with bright hats. Oops, was it hunting season? We always forget to check on this during October/November and are then surprised by it. As it turns out these were only the first of about 2 dozen hunters we encountered, not all off the trail though, some in groups. We later learned that this was the last weekend of the 5 week deer season. Since we were planning to stay on the ridges in plain sight we decided to continue.
From Rabbit we followed the ridge up to Granite Mtn. This involved getting over some humps for extra elevation gain 😉 Granite Mtn. must have been a very nice, forested peak before fires took out all the big trees. After another break and scouting the route to Round Top we continued. We joined a forest road 3N90 just below the peak and followed it all the way to Round Top. There were 4 trucks with hunters along that stretch. From Round Top we followed down the ridge towards Iron Mtn. and our choice of direction for this loop, i.e., doing it clockwise, was validated since this very steep ridge was covered with soft, slippery dirt. Better to come down something like this than going up. From Iron Mtn. we made our way down to 4N18.1 and then to 3N23 again to close the loop.
With the weather pattern switching from Santa Ana (offshore wind) to light onshore winds it got progressively more hazy during the day. At the end we were able to smell some of the smoke of the big Woolsey fire west of us. Overall this 11.6 mile, 3,700ft gain loop was a lot of fun, but I’d recommend hiking it outside the hunting season for more solitude and peace of mind 😉
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