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Mount Williamson: An Accessible Subalpine Paradise

This week's hike in the San Gabriels profiles one of the easiest subalpine peaks to attain: the 2.2 mile hike up to the summit of Mount Williamson from Islip Saddle.

There is a common conception of subalpine landscapes as being desolate and difficult to reach. However, this is not always the case, as evidenced by my recent trip to Mount Williamson.

Mount Williamson is an 8,214’ mountain in the northern San Gabriel Mountains. The easiest way to hike Williamson is via Islip Saddle, a small parking lot area located off of Angeles Crest Highway. Once you have reached Islip Saddle, you will have your choice of trails that each jet off in very divergent directions.  

In order to hike up to Mount Williamson, you will hike on a small section of the Pacific Crest Trail that obviously begins behind the restroom on the north side of the parking lot. The trail immediately begins a sharp ascent along the Eastern edge of Mount Williamson.   Common subalpine plants like chaparral and snowplants highlight this ridge trail, contrasting the decomposed granite as eyeliner contrasts one’s skin tone. For two miles, this trail winds along, presenting vertigo-inspiring views of canyon after canyon.

At just shy of 8,000,’ a junction in the trail appears. If you would like to continue along the PCT and Pleasant View Ridge, you can follow the left arm of the trail. However, to summit Mount Williamson, you must take the less-maintained branch on the right-hand side.

This is the only part of the trail that becomes steep and requires cross-country trekking. Fortunately, you will only hike up this ridge for a couple tenths of a mile.

Once past the steepest part, the level, exposed summit area will make its face visible - and you can celebrate conquering one of the least-traveled subalpine summits of the San Gabriel Mountains while only ascending 1,500 feet!

Hike At A Glance

Difficulty Level (1-10): 4

Distance: 4.5 miles roundtrip

Scenery: This trail runs along a narrow ridge of Mount Williamson and presents excellent views of the entire San Gabriel Mountain Range, as well as the nearby Devil’s Punchbowl, Mojave Desert, and the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Best time to go: May to October.  If you go between November and April, it is common to have ice and snow on this trail, and crampons and ice axes would likely be necessary.

Trail condition: Well marked the first 2 miles or so.  After that, you need to simply follow the ridge to the top.

Other considerations: I would avoid this area if you have vertigo or are uncomfortable around steep drop-offs.   Also, like anywhere in the San Gabriels, beware of any hazards that are typically in the mountains: snakes, bees, and anything else.

Getting there: Take SR 2/Angeles Crest Highway north from La Canada.   You will drive for about 40 minutes, past Newcombs Ranch and Eagle’s Roost.   Finally, you will reach Islip Saddle.  Park in the parking lot.   The trail begins behind the outhouse.   Display your required Adventure Pass in your car (an Adventure Pass may be purchased from REI, most ranger stations, or many local sporting goods stores for $5/day or $30/year).

Dan Abendschein July 30, 2011 at 03:34 PM
Matthew, you seem to make to have written about just about all the great local hikes- this one is a favorite of mine. Anyone who wants to climb a high(ish) peak and have an alpine experience but is not in tip top shape should consider this one. I also attached a picture I took of a sailplane flying over Mt. Williamson. I think it is quite common in the area as I have seen them two of the four times I've hiked this peak. Here's an old blog entry I wrote about it: http://www.insidesocal.com/laoutdoors/2007/09/glider-planes-and-mt-williamso.html
Ron Cooper July 30, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Thanks, Matt, for another enjoyable read! Thanks also to Dan for his pic and link. By following Dan's link, and subsequently clicking on another link, I discovered an entry that alluded to "Cooper Canyon." Well, that was over an hour ago and I have now spent most of the morning watching YouTube videos and clicking on links that led to a plethora of vicarious hiking thrills in our beautiful San Gabriel Mountains. Here is one such link: http://www.world-of-waterfalls.com/california-cooper-canyon-falls.html So, thanks again, Matt, for providing the catalyst that spawned my curiosity and the subsequent discovery of a waterfall that bears my name! Cheers!
Matthew Cavanaugh July 31, 2011 at 04:41 AM
Haha, thanks guys. Great website, Dan! And great hike (Cooper Canyon), Ron!

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