HIKE TO: Smith Saddle (the saddle before Smith Mountain) TRAIL: Upper Bear Creek Trail MILES: 5.98 mi TIME: 4:05 hr total time, 3:18 hr moving time DATE I WENT: 11/30/19 DIFFICULTY: easy ELEVATION: 4291 ft ELEVATION GAIN/ LOSS: 982 ft HIKE PERMIT: no LOCATION: San Gabriel Mountains in Angeles National Forest, California
This past Thanksgiving weekend, a huge storm hit all over the mountains and city. LA/OC got a ton of rain in the city… and a bunch of snow in the mountains so I made my way out on Saturday [11.30.19].
The trailhead to Smith Mountain is along Hwy 39 just before Coldbrook Campground. Hwy 39 is currently closed beyond Crystal Lake Recreation Area and tends to stay closed during winter, but be sure to check for road condition updates here. There’s an open parking lot and restroom at the trailhead.
We started the hike a little later in the morning at 9:35 am. Upper Bear Creek Trail starts on a gradual incline that parallels the road for the first 10-15 minutes (and flattens out after that for the duration of the trail to the saddle) with little snow at the time I went. Remember to check the conditions before you go as it likely will not be the same as when I went, there could be more or less snow, but always be prepared for snow in the winter (guide to snow hiking blog post coming soon)!
You’ll see a notable mountain ahead on your left – that is Smith Mountain.
We reached the one-mile mark within half an hour and the snow on the trail was completely fine to walk without microspikes or poles. There was only a thin layer crusted and packed down on the trail in areas, and some overgrown bushes along the trail but nothing too bad.
With all the overgrown, snow pillow bushes and fallen tree obstacles along the trail, we reached the 2-mile mark at just over an hour from the trailhead at 10:39 am. The obstacles got worse from there and we didn’t reach the saddle for another hour… but in all honesty, I went ridiculously slow because I get more paranoid hiking in the snow – I like to know how much snow/ground I’m stepping into when post-holing which we did a bit of! Better safe than sorry.
If you’re wearing fully waterproof clothes and gaiters, you’ll probably move a lot faster. I didn’t want to get too wet on the way there because once I’m wet, there’s just no warming up and I’ll freeze. Moreso, I was afraid to get too cold/ frozen and be unable to hike back. I completely forgot I packed my gaiters…
We had the entire trail to our selves until the last 10 mins when a trail runner popped up behind us out of nowhere.
We stopped at the saddle and didn’t attempt to summit Smith Mountain because it’s normally a steep scramble without snow and that’s the false summit in the photo above. With snow, it’s a bit out of my comfort zone and we even saw the trail runner attempt it in his microspikes and turn around not even 5 mins in because it was too slippery.
It only took us 1:21 hr to head back to the car – we hauled @$$ because we thought it might rain and since we’re going back to the warm, dry car… it’s ok to be wet for a short hike back! My feet were soaked and the rain poured just a couple of hours later…
pro tip: It helps to shake the branches a little so the looser snow falls off the trees you’re crawling over and under if you don’t want to get wet from it. My backpack was SOAKED after all the trees I went under… and I didn’t even think to put on my rain cover which I had.