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On the ridge below the Mt. Williamson summit

Northbound view from the Williamson summit

Text and photography copyright 2011 by David W. Lockeretz, all rights reserved. Information and opinions provided are kept current to the best of the author’s ability. All readers hike at their own risk, and should be aware of the possible dangers of hiking, walking and other outdoor activities. The author does not take any responsibility for injuries sustained during hikes or walks on the routes described here. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.

Mt. Williamson

  • Location:  Angeles National Forest back country on Highway 2.  From the 210 freeway in La Canada Flintridge, take the Angeles Crest Highway (highway 2) northeast for 40 miles to Islip Saddle, just beyond the two short tunnels.  Park in the lot on the left (north) side of the highway.  A National Forest Service adventure pass ($5 per day or $30 per year) is required. Click here to purchase.
  • Agency:  Angeles National Forest, Santa Clara and Mojave Rivers Ranger District
  • Distance: 5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,600 feet
  • Suggested time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty rating: PG-13 (Elevation gain, altitude, trail condition, steepness)
  • Best season: April to November
  • USGS topo map: Crystal Lake
  • Recommended gear: hiking poles; insect repellent
  • Recommended guidebook: California Hiking
  • More information: here
  • Rating: 10

Located on the north slopes of the San Gabriels, Mt. Williamson (elevation 8,214) offers Mt. Baldy-class scenery for considerably less time and effort.  That said, hikers who decide to visit this summit should be prepared for a challenge; the route is steep and often rocky, with some very sharp drop-offs.  This is not a hike for the acrophobic.

From the parking lot, the Pacific Crest Trail wastes no time in ascending.  As you climb, you get great views of the high desert, far below, and of the San Gabriel Canyon.  A mile in, you make a hairpin turn.  The grade becomes a little more mellow here, and you get a nice aerial perspective on the road on which you drove in.  More climbing brings you to a saddle (1.9 miles from the start) where the P.C.T. descends toward the highway, and an alternative trailhead.  This is a nice place to sit and enjoy the scenery before the challenging push to the summit.

From the saddle, head north along a ridge.  The steep trail becomes a little tough to follow in spots; keep in mind that it tends toward the west (left) side.  After some climbing, you head left along a stretch that resembles the Devil’s Backbone of Baldy.  Here, the views to both sides are phenomenal, but don’t let it distract you–the drops on both sides don’t leave much margin for error.    The trail dips steeply for about 50 feet–and the loose terrain will make you glad for your hiking poles.

After climbing up again, the trail continues toward Will Thrall Peak.  A short spur on the left brings you to the Williamson summit.   The views here aren’t quite as panoramic as one might hope, due to a lot of trees and other nearby peaks, but it’s still a nice place to relax before beginning the descent.  The variety of scenery and the relative solitude on Mt. Williamson make it one of So-Cal’s best hikes, and the recent re-opening of Highway 2 makes it more accessible.  It might not be quite as well known as Baldy, but it’s just as essential.

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