Mount Wilson Micro-Adventure
Bikepacking California’s Angeles National Forest with almost no cars: up Mount Wilson, down to Red Box, camp at Valley Forge, and back on the Mt. Lowe Railroad Trail.
Bicycle Adventurers: Chris Lindensmith and “Bitingduck”
When: June 4–5, 2016, National Bike Travel Weekend
Accommodations: Valley Forge Trail Camp campground, Angeles National Forest
Distance: About 40 miles in two days.
Bonus tip for this adventure: There are neat abandoned dwellings around Valley Forge and several campgrounds that aren’t shown on most maps, though they are on the National Forest web site. If you don’t know where to camp, just stay on the fire road until you see a nice place.
Starting at Altadena, we rode the 10-mile, 4500-foot climb to the Mount Wilson Observatory via the Mount Wilson Toll Road, followed by a descent to our campsite.
Not wanting to hang around the campground all day, we left Altadena late, around 1:30 pm. This meant the first part of the climb was HOT in the baking sun to Henninger Flats (which no longer has a drinking fountain). After Henninger, we rolled through the cool forest with tons of wildflowers after the wet spring, and the fire road, in good condition, made it reasonably easy to navigate with our unfamiliar, front-heavy load on the bikes. It was quiet and peaceful the whole way up with just a few hikers looking hot. We got to the top in plenty of time to eat some awesome three-bean vegan chili at the Cosmic Café and ordered two cups of coffee to store in a thermos. Without any cooking gear, breakfast would be fig bars and trail mix, and we hoped the thermos would hold some heat in the coffee.
Then, we descended five miles on the paved Wilson Red Box Road to the gated Rincon Red Box Road turnoff, just behind the Red Box picnic area. This is a wide, clean fire road that, from Red Box, is all downhill.
About a mile or two in, we realized the bugs had all hatched this weekend! Mouthfuls of gnats and deerflies flew everywhere. I dug out the OFF and we ended up stopping a bit earlier than planned — at Valley Forge Trail Camp, rather than the planned Devore Trail Camp campground. Valley Forge does not appear on some maps, but it’s a nice, clean, well-developed campground. Permits are needed for fires, but we didn’t bother — we just hid from the bugs in a tent and ate some trail mix, falling asleep early.
We heard a lot of spooky noises in the forest at night, probably mostly hikers, but maybe some large animals as well. We hung all the food, toothpaste, etc. over a tree limb in a stuff sack, recommended by the Forest Service if you don’t have a bear can.
Morning dawned bright and sunny, with the bugs already waking up. The bear bag was still safe and hanging from its tree. We drank our lukewarm coffee in the tent, along with some fig bars, and slathered on the OFF before facing the swarm.
As we climbed out of the river valley, the bug density became lower, and it was beautiful on the ridge with a view all the way down the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. All of the descending we did yesterday was now climbing, but at a relatively gentle grade.
Back at Red Box, we stopped at the Haramokngna | American Indian Cultural Center for a lemonade, then got back on the road towards Mt. Wilson. Rather than go to the top and descend the Toll Road, we turned off at Eaton Saddle (mile marker 2.7) and descended via the Mt. Lowe Railroad Trail. This made for a change of scenery and it’s also very smooth and non-technical, great for maneuvering loaded bikes. Once down at the bottom, it's just a few miles on residential streets back to the start in Altadena.
Your favorite local bike shop? Open Road Bicycle Shop: 60 N Sierra Madre Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107.
Bike overnight tips and tricks?
- Bring mosquito netting and a bear bag.
- A water filter is optional. The creek may or may not contain water.
- A large enough tent to hang out in is nice when it’s buggy.
- We didn’t try to cook or make a fire, which saved a lot of weight and was fine, especially since we had a hot meal after the major climb.
HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your own bike overnight adventure!