Winston Peak/Winston Ridge
This hike offers a taste of off-trail mountaineering without requiring much in the way of navigational skills or technical expertise. It also provides some of the excellent mountain and desert views typical of the Angeles National Forest high country. Hikers should be prepared for steep ascents and descents and some moderate scrambling over rocks and fallen trees. Though route finding is fairly simple, much of the hike is on unofficial use trails that are faint in places; those used to hiking on established, well-marked trails might want to try this trip with a group.
The two destinations visited on this trip are Winston Peak and Winston Ridge. Hikers often visit Winston Ridge first but starting with the peak, as described here, is a viable option too: it allows you to descent, rather than ascend, the steepest part of the route (the north face of Winston Peak). You also knock off about half of the total elevation gain right off the bat. Hikers who are sensitive to altitude might want to do the route counter-clockwise, visiting Winston Ridge first; done this way, the trip begins with a gentle, downhill stretch either on the Pacific Crest Trail or a parallel service road.
Assuming you decide to tackle Winston Peak first, begin by hiking uphill on an abandoned dirt road, leading between a post with the P.C.T. decal and a “parking” sign. The road ascends steadily to a use trail branching off to the left. Ascend through the pines and clusters of boulders, climbing just under 500 feet in 0.6 miles to Winston Peak (elevation 7,502). The view is impeded by the trees, but you can still get a nice look at the high desert, far below to the northwest.
After enjoying the summit, continue north on the use trail which now begins a very steep and sometimes precarious descent (remember the hiking poles). After dropping 700 feet in half a mile, you are deposited at a saddle. The Pacific Crest Trail heads both northeast and southeast at this point; the southeast fork is your return route. For now, head northwest on the left side of the bump in front of you, following a faint path along the slope. Footing is a little iffy at times, especially when a fallen tree has to be negotiated (as of this writing, there are several). Fortunately, this stretch of tricky terrain only lasts for 0.3 miles as you reach another saddle 1.4 miles from the start. This is the beginning of Winston Ridge.
Continue following the faint use trail as it heads northwest, following the ridge’s south slope. Other than a few steep bursts, the going is now easier. You ascend the pine-shaded ridge, enjoying views of deep canyons on both sides. One final climb in between some granite boulders brings you to the long, narrow top of Winston Ridge, two miles from the start. As with Winston Peak, the predominance of pines blocks the view, but between the trees you can see Strawberry Peak and the front country on the ridge and the high desert on the north side. This a quiet and relaxing place to rest for a few minutes before the return.
After retracing your steps back to the saddle below Winston Peak, you have a few options. If you’re up for a challenge you can return to the Angeles Crest Highway via the same route, making the steep climb up Winston Peak. The quickest option however is to follow the Pacific Crest Trail for 0.6 miles to a junction with a dirt road, then to bear right and follow the dirt road 0.7 miles back to the starting point. You can also continue on the Pacific Crest Trail which also returns to Cloudburst Summit via a slightly longer and more scenic route.
Text and photography copyright 2015 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. By reading this, you agree not to hold the author or publisher of the content on this web site responsible for any injuries or inconveniences that may result from hiking on this trail. Check the informational links provided for up to date trail condition information.