Hike Date: February 22 2015
Miles: Approx 7.5
Hours: Approx. 5 total
A quick trip up Mount Islip in front of a storm system moving in, which made for some great pictures of the clouds as we came towards the summit. This hike was planned at the absolute last-minute (even more last-minute than last week’s hike). Unfortunately my phone was acting up again on this hike, so I didn’t get a good GPS track (or very many pictures).
The hike was scheduled to meet at 5:15 AM, due to the exceedingly long drive up highway 39 to Crystal Lake Recreation Area. The drive was complicated by the incredibly heavy fog that had moved into the area, making us drive only 15-20 MPH for several miles of switchbacks. We parked at the trailhead around 6:00, and were on the trail by 6:30 AM.
As we started hiking up the trail, rain gear was important as the fog was so thick is started drenching everything (plus it was condensing on trees and raining down). There were spots where drizzle or light rain started as well.
About 1.2 miles into the hike the trail junction of the Windy Gap and Big Cienega trails occurs. Normally I head up Big Cienega and come down Windy Gap, but since we were still playing with the idea of taking the PCT towards Mt. Baden-Powell, we went up the shorter Windy Gap trail. This is where things got a bit weird.
We couldn’t help but notice a backpack, baseball cap, and water bottles abandoned literally right in the middle of the trail. That officially brought the creepy-meter on this hike up to 7/10. About a half mile farther up we came across a flashlight (still powered on) in a bush on the side of the trail. It appears someone who was up there sometime earlier than us was not having a good day. We made note of all of this, as if the pack was still there on our return, it would be prudent to haul it down and bring it to a ranger.
After that little bit of creepiness, the rest of the hike was enjoyable, although with the clouds so thick, kind of monotonous until we reached Windy Gap.
We took a short break at Windy Gap, having a snack and putting on some warmer gear. Judging on the wind, and the rate at which clouds were moving into the area, we decided to just call it good, by finishing the Islip loop, and saving the trek to Baden-Powell for another day (soon).
Once on the final 1.2 mile trail (even though the sign at Windy Gap says 0.8 miles, its wrong), we were much more sheltered from the wind most of the time. The trail crossing back and forth across the ridge, exposing us and then protecting us from the wind. About a half mile from the summit we were treated to the sky starting to open up.
This part of the hike was nice, as we had some great views of Islip Ridge in certain spots, and of the top of the rain clouds from others.
Unfortunately my phone didn’t capture any pictures at the summit itself. We took a short break at the summit for a couple of minutes, got chilly and went and hid in the ruins of the old cabin at the summit to get out of the wind.
On the trek down, we took the Big Cienega trail, which requires heading down the Islip Ridge. The last time I had been up Islip the entire area was snow-covered so we went cross-country most of the way to the summit (as there was no way the trail was going to be able to be found). On this trip there was hardly any snow, but the trail was still tricky to find just due to the number of downed trees. It’s very easy to see that the Windy Gap trail gets a lot more love than the Big Cienega trail (although that makes sense since the Windy Gap trail gets more traffic).
Once back to the junction of the Big Cienega and Windy Gap trails, we went back up the Windy Gap trail a couple hundred feet to check on the pack I mentioned earlier. It was still there, which was kind of ominous. Just to do due diligence, I followed the tracks that lead away from the pack down to the South Hawkins Lookout Road, and then down a slope and into a wash. When down in the wash I found a shoe, which is always worrying. People losing shoes 1+ miles from the nearest camp isn’t good. I followed the track along the wash for a little way until things became more dangerous than I cared to risk.
We retrieved the pack, and made our way back to the trailhead, which was very uneventful. After getting to the car we drove down to Crystal Lake café, where we found a ranger and told our story. He took a statement, but all he could really do was call it in and let SAR decide what was best.
On our drive back down, I noticed a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s car driving up, but so far I haven’t heard anything. I’ll be sure and update this post if I do.