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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