Waterman Mountain • San Gabriel Mountains
• Los Angeles County


The hump of Waterman's summit.
 

Nice upper trail.
 

Approaching the top rocks.
 

Summit cairn.
 

As viewed from a nearby set of rocks.
 

North summit.

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Date: August 10, 2012 • Elevation: 8,038 feet • Prominence: 1,438 feet • Distance: 6 miles • Time: 3 hours • Gain: 1,400 feet • Conditions: Humid and hot

Waterman Mountain is located along state highway CA-2, the Angeles Crest Highway, about 25 miles west of Wrightwood and about 30 miles northeast of the Los Angeles Basin. It’s most well-known for being one of the closest ski areas from northern L. A. or the San Fernando Valley. Back in May, while driving Angeles Crest Highway, I passed by the area and noted to myself that this would make a nice hike for a later date.

I was visiting my folks in Wrightwood and had driven out yesterday from Arizona, hiking two peaks in the San Bernardino Mountains along the way. My plan today was to hike Waterman Mountain and nearby Mount Williamson, with Waterman first. I left before dawn from Wrightwood and started the drive westbound on CA-2. Yesterday, the area had been hit by heavy rains, and for the first few miles out of town, the highway was covered in dirt and rocks from where small floods had passed over, or small rock-slides. In a few cases I needed to slow to a crawl to worm through the rock obstacles.

The drive was scenic. No one was on the highway and the sunrise was beautiful. I drove slowly to enjoy the views (and to watch out for stray rockfalls or animals). In about an hour I had arrived to the Mount Waterman Ski Area, which was completely vacant. I parked at the Buckhorn Campground day-use parking lot, got my stuff organized and locked everything up. It was 6:25 a.m. when I started my hike, but it was already warm, even here at 6,700 feet elevation. Yesterday had seen record-breaking temperatures in Southern California (and big mountain thunderstorms), and today seemed to be more of the same. For now, it was clear, still and warm.

Across the highway from the parking area, I found a gated dirt road, bypassed the gate and walked up this road about 200 feet to where a trail branched off to the left. Now on the trail, I followed it as it slowly gained elevation, contouring in and out with the folds of the slopes. The trail swung more left (east) and made a long end-run around a ridge, with some open, rocky areas allowing for fine views east into the rising sun. Here, the trail bent right, now more southerly, and re-entered the forest and the shade. The gradient was lenient and the tread was smooth, with few rocks to kick or trip over. I was enjoying the hike very much.

After about a half hour, the trail reached the main range crest. Here, I made a hard-right, now moving west, and followed the trail as it gained slightly more steeply up the lightly-forested slopes. The trail makes about four or five sweeping switchbacks up this slope, keeping the pitch to where even slowpoke me could move without needing to stop every few feet. Shortly, at about 7,900 feet elevation, the trail meets another trail, this one branching left (south) and aiming for the Twin Peaks, which I could see in the distance.

I stayed on the main trail as it moderated in slope, slowly closing in on the rocky summit of Waterman Mountain. There’s a split in the trail, and I went left, now more steeply, gaining about 150 feet to top out on the summit ridge, which features about three or four rock outcrops, each about 15 feet high. Now to find the highest of them.

I first scampered up the “bigger” of the outcrops, and topped out on a big cube of rock, but looking to my left I saw a slightly higher, more pointed outcrop with a cairn. That must be it. Before I descended, I also looked north toward what seemed to be a region with equally-high rocks. The map shows an 8,000-foot contour but no spot elevation, so those rocks could also be higher. First, though, I descended and walked over to the other outcrop, weaseling through a narrow crack in the rocks to get beside the tip-top, where I tagged the cairn, shot a photo of the benchmark, and signed into the register. I descended back to a flat area of ground and had a small rest and snack break. It had taken me about 90 minutes to get here, and I was enjoying the solitude.

After about 15 minutes, I descended back to the main trail, and decided to follow it north and inspect this northern summit region, about a quarter-mile away. This took me just a few minutes, and soon, the trail turned into a road, with a small road branching off and leading right to the top of this north summit. Here, there are a few solar panels, buildings and repeater boxes. I climbed a few of the rock piles and tagged the highest points. Looking back south to where I had just been, I could not tell which was higher. I suspect the south summit is higher, but I had covered all bets by visiting both areas.

The roads are actually part of the Waterman Ski Area, and I decided to follow these back down instead of the trail. Shortly, I was at the upper ski buildings, no one around, some bladers and earth-movers just sitting there. The ski-lifts were still, and the whole place felt ghostly. I walked down more road then got seduced by another road that seemed to drop faster and in the direction I wanted, so I took it. This led me to the bottom of a side ski-run, but no farther. I had to walk back up about a hundred feet to get back on the main road. This little detour cost me about 20 minutes.

Back on the main road, I made good time walking back toward my truck. I could see the highway through the trees: first as a tiny ribbon of black way below me, then slowly, closer and closer, until I came back to that initial gate I had crossed earlier in the morning. I was back to my truck at 9:30, a three-hour hike with about 1,400 feet of accumulated gain in six miles. I was feeling good.

My left foot wasn’t feeling so great, though. My new hiking shoes had rubbed a mean-looking hot spot into my left big toe. It was also very warm now, and these two things were enough for me to decide to postpone Williamson for another day, and give my toe a chance to heal a little before tomorrow’s hike up Telegraph Peak in the Mount Baldy Area. I drove back to Wrightwood, where my dad had now arrived. The three of us went out for a meal at a nice restaurant in town, and I ended up crashing for a couple hours. The remainder of the day was spent at the house, watching the storms build, and watching Olympics.

The trail up Waterman Mountain was fantastic, and I was surprised to have it all to myself. I saw not a single person the whole hike. In winter, it seems one could snow-shoe from the top of the ski runs over to the south summit, although I suspect most people wouldn’t come all the way here for that.

(c) 2012 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.