Condor Peak via West Ridge - Angeles National Forest | TRVRS Outdoors
by Ricardo SoriaFebruary 08, 2019
Condor Peak sits at 5,440 feet elevation, along the eastern end of the Angeles National Forest just North of Mount Lukens and Big Tujunga Canyon. Named after the infamous California Condor for its historical nesting activity in the area, its peak is only rumored to have seen the endangered bird since as far back as the 40's. The summit can be reached via three official trails, however much of their access is limited due to closed roads or lack of maintenance after the 2009 Station Fire decimated the area. Fortunately, a decade has passed and although a hike to the top may require some unpleasant route finding in some cases, even a short walk to Trail Canyon Falls is evidence that nature is persistent in its efforts to restore this ecosystem.
One of its previously most popular routes, followed the Trail Canyon trail north past Tom Lucas Camp before meeting with the Condor Peak trail, an approach which found the peak from the North ridge. Although this trail has seen some restoration efforts, the peaks west ridge seems to have sparked the interest of at least a few bold hikers and Ben Broer introduced us to this faint use trail. The cross country route includes a 4,300 foot ascent in just over five miles as well as rock scrambling and moderate bushwhacking with little to no shade. For all of its difficulties however, the payoff is of course the view which picks up as soon as you gain the ridge. To the North, Mendenhall Ridge sits above Trail Canyon and moves toward Iron Mountain and Mount Gleason. Mount Lukens and Yerba Buena Ridge flank Big Tujunga Canyon to the Southeast, creating an impressive network of fingers that steadily diminish toward Sunland Valley while Santa Monica and Catalina Island paint its backdrop.
Google Earth overview of selected (west ridge) route to Condor Peak.
Big Tujunga Canyon Road
January 27th, 2019 -- 7:00AM. Fourteen people stood at a turnout waiting for a few more potential hikers to show up. The majority of the group were people who had participated in the Fool's Traverse the year before which was a good sign of a successful outing early on. The gate to the trail head was closed as it had been since the previous years outing and so this turnout off of Big Tujunga road would be our starting point (an additional 1/2 mile of fire road walking). We paired up walkie talkies, handed off beers for the peak and by 7:15 AM, we started for the trail head.
Trail Canyon Falls Trail
Sunlight beginning to reach Trail Canyon as we move toward Trail Canyon Falls.
A quarter mile marked our first junction where Forest Service Road 3N29 (Gold Canyon rd) meets Trail Canyon. We stayed on the main path and followed the winding road toward the actual trail head to continue north. Ben set the pace which meant we had a huge spread within the first half mile. Several creek crossings over two miles and 1,000 ft. of vertical gain brought us to the top of Trail Canyon Falls where we took a short break to regroup and delayer. Most hikers would have visited this canyon purely for the falls and as I recall, not one person in our group mentioned dropping down toward its foot.
Less than a quarter mile further was another crossing that brought us on the eastern side of the creek. The importance of this crossing is that gaining the ridge is easiest at this location and in the true TRVRS group hike fashion, we completely missed it.
Gaining the West Ridge
Hikers ascend the bottom of the ridge. Condor peak is the small peak just left of the tallest (pseudo peak).
Ben and I discussed the missed use trail at our next opportunity to gain the ridge just a quarter mile further, and ultimately decided not to turn back. If there was ever a way to convince someone that joining your group was a bad decision, its yelling "Pick your poison!" as you stare at a 35 degree slope made of loose dirt and large rocks. After climbing 1300 ft in 2.75 miles we had at least gained...A ridge.
The toughtest part of the ridge. A massive 2,400 foot climb in under two miles.
The next 1.5 miles along the ridge would include 2,400 feet of vertical gain (the bulk of our ascent) through an endless sea of chaparral. The trade off seemed to be better footing over rooted soil for scraped limbs. We used each plateau to take short breaks while admiring the view of Tujunga Valley and Santa Monica.
A Ridge Scramble
Descending Peak 5,047 and moving north toward the pseudo peak.
Class 2-3 rock scramble along the ridge.
10:30 AM -- We finally reached Peak 5,047 (4.2 miles, 3,655 feet climbed) where we were rewarded with clear 360 degree views of the Angeles National Forest. The only evidence of Mount Baldy's prominence from this far away was its snowy cap as it peaked over the San Gabriel Wilderness. We took a twenty minute break to make sure everyone had recovered after completing the hardest part of our trek. The scramble ahead would prove difficult for our less experienced climbers as it teetered into the realm of Class 3 with exposure. With a little bit of friction and a guidance, everyone made it across without issue.
Reaching Condor Peak
Enjoying lunch and libations at the true summit of Condor Peak.
We continued along the ridge and with the exception of a few short sections, everything past the scramble was pretty tame. Most of the thick brush could be bypassed by the observant hiker and the South slope seemed to be the popular nomination. One after another, our party of fourteen thirsty hikers made it to the summit to claim their part of the pot. A space in the circle sitting on uncomfortable rocks to spend an hour sharing libations over lunch, good conversation and impeccably clear skies.
Eventually we took a group photo and discussed our departure. Our group would split into three, and while the majority would follow Jeremy east on the Condor Peak trail, Ben would take one person North toward the top of trail canyon while I would lead the rest back down the West ridge. A mile after we went our separate ways, walkie-talkie communication ceased which was probably a good thing. We had discussed our rendezvous in depth and most of the radio communication up to this point was used for Mom Jokes.
Pictured is the Gully just after Trail Canyon Falls. The easiest way to gain the West Ridge, which we missed in the morning.
The day was hot and reaching the creek was a huge relief. We spent five minute bathing our feet when to my surprise Ben and Rohan regrouped with us from the top of Trail Canyon. Ben had shown me the same route three years prior and I promised I'd never go back after experiencing an overwhelming amount of stinging nettle and poison oak. He seemed convinced that someone had cleared some of the trail.
3:45 PM -- We reached the car and a few people parted ways. The rest of us cracked open a few more libations and drove up to the Condor Peak trail head just a couple miles up Big Tujunga Road. Jeremy and the others would return thirty minutes later, describing the Condor Peak trail as very easy with a few overgrown segments, but nothing serious. The early talk of moving the party to a brewery had ceased and for good cause. The west ridge of Condor Peak was no joke. Everybody got their money's worth that day.
Our entire group holding the TRVRS Apparel flag on Condor Peak.
MORE INFO (for out-and-back route)
Total Distance: 11 miles
Total Elevation/Loss (feet): +4,800 ft / -4,800 ft
Trail Difficulty: Moderate/Difficult
Steady class 1 trail until you reach the use trail that gains the west ridge.
Negotiate steep crumbly (dirt) terrain to gain the ridge up to peak 5,047.
Class 2-3 scrambling with minor exposure up to the pseudo peak.
Moderate bushwhacking along the entirety of the ridge.
***If you are planning to complete this hike, please be aware of your own abilities and needs. Although the the trail is well marked up to trail canyon falls, the route past the falls requires route finding skills. I mean you are on a ridge, but focus and skill is most definitely necessary.