ADVENTURE: A 12 mile hike up to Echo Mountain and Inspiration Point
WEEK OF: August 11th, 2013
LOCATION: Alta Dena, CA
After last week’s successful 9-mile hike and the triumphant feeling it supplied me in the days following, I decided to follow it up with an even longer hike this week…..because, apparently, I hate my feet. They’d just begun to tolerate me again, and when I broke the news to them we’d be doing 12 miles this week, I’m pretty sure I heard a wretched, suicidal moan coming from my hiking boots. Well, to be fair, initially it was just supposed to be a 10 mile hike, but because I’m terrible with direction and got us lost briefly, it turned in to a 12+ mile hike. Trust me, my friend Chris told me I’m never allowed to navigate again.
The chosen destination this week: Echo Mountain and Inspiration Point, near Alta Dena. It was another gem of a hike I discovered on Modern Hiker, an amazing blog (and app) that lists nearly all of the hikes in LA and the surrounding areas. I chose this one because of how different it was from the Santa Anita Canyon hike I did last week, even though it is pretty near to that trail. While that hike was all about trickling water and finding peace in the forest, this one is about history and epic vistas from the top of a mountain. Both ‘history’ and ‘epic vistas’ are definitely near the top of my ‘shit I like’ list, so obviously this one was a no brainer.
The first handful of miles takes you straight up hill, so I’m really glad we aimed for another 6am start because this section of the trail is shaded in the morning. The first real point of interest is located 3 miles up at Echo Mountain, where you can find the ruins of a turn-of-the-century resort that once overlooked the entire valley and city of Pasadena. The ruins of the Mount Lowe railway are there, including some massive steel gears that are now lodged in the ground. Very cool! There are also historical plaques that illustrate the now razed resort buildings, and the view is pretty damn nice. Not quite epic, but nice.
If you want epic, you have to keep going. Follow the signs down to the Castle Canyon trail, which will take you down, deep into the base of the canyon where you’ll find a stream, before you’ll go back up, further up, way up, sometimes scrambling up rocks, to the point that your calves are begging for mercy, before you finally spot it – Inspiration Point. They may have named it that because the view you get from it is inspirational, but I like to think it is for hikers like me who are on the verge of giving up and turning around, until they finally turn the corner on that ridge and see it, and they think to themselves, “Thank fuck, we found it! Now excuse me while I puke.” That’s real inspiration.
When we finally made it up to Inspiration Point, I was amazed to read on the historical plaque that it was first built in the ‘20s. I don’t know why, but I found it hard to picture people in the ‘20s hiking. But I guess booze was illegal back then so they had to find some way of entertaining themselves I guess!
The coolest thing about Inspiration Point were these old school viewing tubes. There were about 20 of them, all aiming your eye in the direction of a different part of LA. But, when they were built in the ‘20s, there definitely wasn’t the same lovely layer of smog that now blankets the LA basin. It made me a little sad to see there was one aimed at Catalina Island – that means at some point, one could actually see all the way to Catalina Island from there. Now you’re lucky to see it from the beach in Santa Monica. And also, what the hell is the Ostrich Farm?!?
After a quick break for some trail mix and string cheese, we debated over which trail was the one that looped back down to the resort ruins. The guide on Modern Hiker told me to take the Sam Merrill trail down which is partially on the north side of the mountain, but near Inspiration Point we couldn’t find a sign telling us which one of our two options was the right one. So, we took the one that looked like it took us down the North side of the mountain, right next to the trail leading back down to Castle Canyon from whence we came. It turned out to be the North side of the wrong mountain, and we hiked 1 mile in the wrong direction until it dead ended at a clearing with some very large scat sitting in the middle of it. We figured it either belonged to a big deer or an even bigger bear, but we didn’t stick around to find out.
Once we made our way back to Inspiration Point and onto the right trail, the hike back down to the resort ruins was really quiet and there was hardly anyone on the trail. I think this part of the trail only recently reopened after the Station fire last year, and you can still see some huge charred tree trunks to the Northwest. The views on the way down were gorgeous, but by this point we were getting exhausted and it was approaching noon, so we didn’t stop except for a few quick water breaks.
At the end of the hike, we felt even stronger and more victorious (albeit a lot more sore and blistered!) than we had the after the previous week’s hike. We decided to reward ourselves with lunch at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Pasadena, which we’d spotted on the way to the trailhead. I’ve never felt like I earned a plate of fried chicken and waffles more that I did with that hike! Apparently my adventures always come with a paired meal afterwards! What can I say….I love to eat even more than I love adventures.
If you’re interested in doing this hike, check out Modern Hiker for info on where to find the trailhead and what signs to follow for the loop. And don’t make my mistake when you get to Inspiration Point! Follow the trail opposite the one that got you there if you want to loop back around down to the resort.