Completion of a new trail is always a cause to celebrate. And that's just what the San Gabriel Mountains Trail Builders intend to do next Saturday at the grand opening of the group's Islip Ridge Trail.
The trail provides a new route from the Crystal Lake Recreation Area in Angeles National Forest to the top of Mt. Islip. The Trail Builders, a volunteer group under the leadership of Charles Jones, worked thousands of hours to blaze, then build, the pathway.
Trail connoisseurs will appreciate the look--and feel--of a hand-built trail. The moderate grade, well-engineered switchbacks, rock work and the way the path gently crosses the land are due to the skill and hard work of many dedicated volunteers.
Mt. Islip (pronounced eye-slip) is not named, as you might guess, for a clumsy mountaineer, but for Canadian George Islip, who homesteaded in San Gabriel Canyon a century ago.
The mountain is not one of the tallest San Gabriel Mountain peaks, but its relatively isolated position on the spine of the range makes it stand out. The summit offers the hiker fine views of the middle portion of the Angeles National Forest high country and the metropolis.
Mt. Islip has long been a popular destination for hikers. The mountain was particularly popular with Occidental College students, who, in 1909, built a huge cairn (heap of boulders) dubbed the Occidental Monument atop the summit.
The monument, which had the name Occidental on top, stood for about two decades until the Forest Service cleared the summit of Mt. Islip to make room for a fire lookout tower. Today, the monument and fire lookout are long gone, but the stone foundation of the fire lookout's living quarters still remains.
The new trail to Mt. Islip climbs the forested shoulder of the mountain, and intersects a summit trail that leads to the peak.
Directions to trailhead: From the Foothill Freeway (210) in Azusa, take the Highway 39/Azusa Avenue exit. Drive north on Highway 39 for 24 miles to the turnoff for the Crystal Lake Recreation Area. After a mile you'll reach the Forest Service entry station ($3 per vehicle).
Continue another mile to the Crystal Lake Visitor Center, which is open on weekends from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., then a half-mile to a large dirt parking lot on your right and signed Windy Gap Trail on your left.
(Next Saturday morning only, you'll be able to continue past the parking area another mile to Deer Flat Campground, where the trail dedication ceremony takes place.)
The hike: Ascend moderately on Windy Gap Trail, which passes near a campground and heads into the cool of the forest. The trail crosses a Forest Service road leading to Deer Flat Campground, ascends some more and reaches the dirt South Mount Hawkins Truck Road. Cross the road and look left for the beginning of Islip Ridge Trail, which some of the Trail Builders like to call the Big Cienega Cut-off because it passes near Big Cienega Spring.
Enjoy the pleasant trail as it ascends moderately, more or less west, through pine, spruce and cedar forest. A bit more than a mile from the top, Islip Ridge Trail turns sharply north into a more sparse alpine forest.
The trail intersects the path coming from Windy Gap. Turn left and walk a short but steep distance to the top of 8,250-foot Mt. Islip.
Dedication ceremonies for the new Islip Ridge Trail will be held next Saturday at Deer Flat Group Campground in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area. Breakfast will be provided by REI outdoor gear and clothing store of San Dimas and the Big Santa Anita Historical Society.
Breakfast will be from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., dedication ceremonies from 9:45 to 10:15, with a 10:30 hike along Islip Ridge Trail to Mt. Islip. For breakfast reservations, call REI at (714) 592-2095.
Windy Gap, Islip Ridge Trails
Where: Crystal Lake Recreation Area, Angeles National Forest.
Length: 9 miles round trip, 2,200 foot elevation gain.
Terrain: Mountains, pine forest.
Highlights: New trail, grand views.
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous.
Precautions: Pace yourself at 8,000-foot altitude.
For More Information: Call the Crystal Lake Visitors Center at (818) 335-1251 (weekdays), (818) 910-1149 (weekends).