LA Dirt Rides: On San Gabriel Peak a 4,000′ Descent Awaits

Live in any city for long enough and you’re bound to feel confined after a while. Constricted by repetition, the familiar, the norm. While I’ve only been in Los Angeles for two and a half years, I’ve been riding here for longer and much of that time has been in the dirt. Once the familiar sets in, it takes extra work to break from the shell, oftentimes requiring a catalyst to do so. More often than not in this city, the catalyst takes the form of visitors looking to broaden their perspective on not only the riding in Los Angeles but the entire experience of what it means to mountain bike in the San Gabriel mountains, particularly on some of the longer descents.

There is a shuttle which drops you off at Eaton Saddle, off Mount Wilson Road, allowing you to descend back down to the suburban sprawl, via 4,000′ of elevation loss on ripping singletrack. For me, the hassle of buying the shuttle ticket, getting in the van, and having it drive you all the way up to Mount Wilson isn’t enough to merit the mostly downhill experience, which is why I have only taken the shuttle a handful of times since moving here. It’s not that the descent isn’t fun, it’s just not my idea of an afternoon exercise. Which is why when Colin proposed we take his friends Corey and Dave on a bigger, badder ride, I was all ears.

We’ve discussed this ride before, he and I. We’d do the Strawberry Peak loop, but instead of coming back through Switzer’s and back to the cars, we’d continue up the road to Mount Wilson, where Eaton Saddle and Upper Mount Lowe begins. From there, we’d traverse before dropping into Upper Lowe, to Sam Merril, down to Echo Mountain, over to Sunset Ridge, and from there, we’d see how we were feeling. Once at the bottom of Sunset Ridge, you have an option of traversing through Millard and across to El Prieto, two of the more heavily trafficked trails on the weekends, which is when we planned on taking Corey and Dave on this jaunt. A ride this long, of 90% singletrack tends to beat you up.

After planning some logistics, we did a good job of minimizing vehicular redundancies, leaving Colin’s car at the bottom and loading up our vehicles to drive to the beginning of the Strawberry Peak loop. We’ve looked at that ride before in great detail and for the most part, it was an uneventful experience, save for me t-boning a mule deer in a rather precarious location of trail – that was a first!

Popping out from the Strawberry descent, I was feeling pretty sore from my spill, and was looking forward to a snack at the Haramokngna Center, which is only open on the weekends. The tribe stocks cold soda, snacks, and in the winter, warm cocoa and coffee. It was this oasis that prompted our fundraiser bottles with Mount Wilson Bicycling Association, with its iconic Red Box water spigot and tasty treats. Feeling refreshed, spry even, we made our way to the tip-top of our ride’s elevation; 5,400′ and stared down our destination; residential streets butting up against the mountains.

Descents like this are no joke, requiring the utmost attention. With lots of exposure, loose rocks, and on the weekends, plenty of hikers, you have to ride with a healthy dose of control and restraint. It’s gauche to open it up and barrel around blind turns with so many other users enjoying their weekend hike, run, or selfie moment. Yet, everyone we met on the trail that day were all smiles upon our brief interaction, resting on a shelf trail, with hundreds of feet of exposure at our sides.

Coming down from literal high points in Los Angeles, back down to the reality of the big city and all the hustle of a Saturday afternoon, we were relieved to stop for a cold Topo Chico at the gas station and cruise back up to our vehicles that awaited our return. With legs like lead, a few good photos, and a new experience under my belt, suddenly this oh-so-familiar feeling city, just got a lot bigger.

See our ride at Strava.

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Follow Colin on Instagram, follow Dave on Instagram, and follow Corey on Instagram.

  • Bryan

    Being someone who rides/lives in LA vicariously through le internet… Does Colin own any other shorts? Asking for a friend.

  • Jared Jerome

    But was the mule deer ok?

  • Andrew Winkler

    Seeing DTLA in the background of these pictures will never not be trippy.

  • 5th photo makes it look like those high-exposure descents really got to Corey 😳

    • Corey Fitch

      Haha! That was after the up! Some people of us have sweaty arm pits and others have a torrent of sweat pouring off their belly in anything hotter than 70 degrees

    • *ascents in this case for sure!

  • aaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh

    That’s an awesome route. It’s really cool how you can string so many things together up there to make a nice long ride. I’ve never had the time or legs to do it, but someday. Great pics, as usual. Always makes me excited to get out and ride.

    Did you content-aware-delete the empty Sunset Point sign hanger, or did someone take that too? Bums me out that someone took that sign.

    • I guess someone took the Sunset Point sign because I didn’t clone it out.

      Thanks dude!

    • Erik Hillard

      The Sunset Ridge hanging sign has sadly been gone a while now. Presumably stolen.

      • aaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh

        Who posted those style signs originally? The “Sunset Point” one had interesting lettering and looked hand-painted like the “Arbor Lookout” sign on the road before it splits off to Inspiration Point.

  • Webster

    Your article is a breath of fresh air! It’s great to hear about people actually cycling to the top of the trail, and shuttling. I’m weary from being bombarded with ebike promoters and bike parks. Adventures like yours are why I read The Radivist. Thanks for not selling out.

  • Carson

    Next year you can just park at JPL/Windsor and take the Gab up to Switzer’s. And there’s some more healthy chunk via Disappointment Rd. if you don’t want to deal with traffic at all.

    • You can ride the full Switzers / Gab unofficially now.

      • Carson

        Yep, trail is fully clear and ride-able as of last Sunday thanks to lots of excellent volunteer work. That section remains officially closed by the USFS though, for those who heed such things. The San Gabriel Peak trail, on the other hand, is open to ride but often un-ride-able.

  • Juliette Penning

    WOW, what a ride! I’m gonna save this one for later…

  • Greggers

    Those red/yellow/blue socks, tho. Would be perfect in Colorado. Who makes them?