Lytle Creek revisited

another adventure in the canyons mid October 2009:

Well, despite most of the Angeles Crest being closed for the next year due to the Station Fire, I managed to spend a gorgeous fall weekend hiking and canyoneering in the mountains. I had wanted to go climbing on Saturday, but couldn’t get anyone to come along so instead I went exploring. First I went to check out Lyttle Creek where we were planning to do a canyon on Sunday. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t burned since there had been a fire in that neighborhood a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately I found it to be unburned and the water was running strongly even this late in the season. Next I drove around the end of the San Gabriels and came back up through Wrightwood, where the Mountain High ski resort is. The Angeles Crest Highway is still open at this end and I wanted to find how far into the mountains it went before it was closed. About 8 miles past Wrightwood I came to the gate where it is closed. This was at the parking lot leading to the hike up Mt. Baden Powell. Since I had been driving all day I figured I should get some exercise and so I headed up the mountain. This is a very nice hike which is about 8 miles to the peak and back to the parking lot, with an elevation gain of 2800 feet. I wasn’t actually planning on doing the whole hike but I kept going to the next cureve, and then the next …. you get the idea. The view from the peak of this mountain is spectacular since it is the highest at this end of the range. There was also a glider playing on the thermals coming off the peak. It would come over the peak fly off for a bit and circle back making a loud humming noise as the sharp wings cut through the air. The peak is at 9380 ft and is high enough to support some Bristlecone pines. I hadn’t realized there were any this far south so this was a nice bonus. Anyhow I headed off the mountain after enjoying the view for a while and drove on home to prepare for our early start the next morning.

Sunday morning at 6:00 I got up, showered and dressed and finished packing the car and went to pick up Dennis. There was a fairly thick fog, and the sun was not yet up so it made for a very film noir drive. We tossed Dennis’ gear in the back and went off to meet Jenny. This was going to be Jenny’s first canyon and she wasn’t yet quite aware of what she had got herself into. We drove east into the rapidly brightening morning and tried to prepare Jenny for what was to come. An hour and a half drive laterthe last part over some very rough dirt road, we arrived at the parking lot at the trailhead for the Middle Fork of Lyttle Creek. It seems it is hunting season and the lot was fairly full of hunters vehicles. A father and son hunting team sat on some rocks by the side of the parking lot and waved to us as we geared up for the hike. This hike is 6.6 miles with 2000 feet of elevation gain, so while it isn’t too bad its still a reasonably stiff walk to the drop in point. After we got our harnesses, wetsuits and helmets sorted out we headed on up. The beginning of the hike is pretty enough in a rough desert sort of way, but the real bonus was a little higher up when the trees started to surround us and we began to feel as if it was actually fall. The leaves are turning yellow  in the mountains and the crunch of dead leaves underfoot and the smell of fall made all of us remember what it was like back on the east coast in fall. Its a welcoem reminder of the seasons since we get so little of that sort of thing in LA. Taking our time and enjoying the sights we eventually reached the point on the ridge where we dropped in down the forested scree slope tot he stream bed.

Just as I reached the stream I found another wonder of the season. The rocks and branches were literally dripping with ladybugs. Mounds of them were crawling all over, and I assume they were mating in preparation for sitting out the winter. Whatever they were doing it was fascinating to see them covering the trees in their thousands. This was the opposite end of a cycle Dennis and I had seen in the spring when we had done this canyon before and seen thousands of ladybugs flying down the canyon heading for wherever they go in the summer. We took some time to just watch the ladybugs before finally setting off downstream. The ladybugs thinned out as we reached the first Rappel and stoped to have lunch and gear up. They were still around though, and they seemed especially interested in the black of our wetsuits. We had to shke them off as we donned our canyon garb. We headed over to the start of the rappel and set the anchor up while preparing Jenny for her first rap. The first rappel in this canyon is a dry one, and reasonably low angle as well, so it was an excellent one for her to get her feet wet on (in a manner of speaking, they would really get wet soon enough). I headed tot he bottom to give a fireman’s belay while Dennis coached her through setting up her atc and heading down. Taking her time but not panicking she did a great job, and reached the ground pretty much astounded at what she had just done. Thirty feet further down we set up the second rappel and the first wet one. This time Dennis headed down first and gave the belay while I talked Jenny through leaning back and getting over the edge. The water is running at only a little less flow then it has in the spring and cascades down into a bowl which the drops another 10 feet to the bottom of this waterfall. We had set the rope long enough so that Jenny could get all the way to the bottom, but we then had to pull up the 20 feet to the bowl since the 200 ft rope is only long enough to get both ends to the first bowl. I headed down and then Dennis and I down climbed the bottom section.

After this is a nice hike down stream before reaching the last 3 rappels. Just before reaching the rappels we came to the remains of am avalanche which happened about 3 years ago. The debris left in the canyon by this avalanche is tricky to maneuver through, although the many tree trunks seem to settle a little more each year. Anyhow, soon enough we were at the top of the last set of falls. The top fall has a number of options for rappeling. You can go high on the right side off a tree which keeps you dry, there is also a bolt on the right wall of the falls which allows you to rappel down the water course. Lastly there is a tree on the left side of the watercourse which allows you to follow the falls but remain relatively dry. We chose this last option since it is less slippery the the route under the bolt but still allows you to do the second rappel from the suspended granite bowl halfway down the cliff. Dennis headed down after a nice rest to contemplate the view, and set up to belay Jenny. Jenny then set off down this, which is the most difficult of the rappels in this canyon. Taking her time and stopping to relax she made it down to the pool and made her way to the rim of the bowl to wait for the next rappel. I came down as quickly as possible and we pulled the rope and setup the next rappel rapidly since it can easily get very cold on this part of the canyon. I headed down to the next wide ledge and belayed Jenny down this one. After this there is just the one last 100 foot rappel into another pool, and the technical part of the hike is done with. We dispatched this rappel quickly and stood back to admire the 300 feet or so of cliffs we had just come down. A quick hike downstream to the path where we changed to dry clothes and then we were on our way back to the cars.

This is a spectacular canyon, and is easily one of my favorites in the San Gabriels. Right now it is wearing its full fall regalia, and along with the ladybug orgy it was a magical day. Without further blathering here are the pictures of the weekend, with a couple of bonus pictures from our rainy day last week:

Mt. Baden Powell and the Middle Fork of Lyttle Creek

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