Google Earth Overview of Rattlesnake Peak Loop Route.
February 9th, 2020 6:30AM - My phone vibrated.
Jeremy and I hadn't settled on where were headed and in fact only even committed to meeting up for a hike hours before going to sleep the previous day.
"How many beers do you have?", he said.
"I have three, so we're good."
Once the priorities were in order, we were able to focus on less important details like the weather, and where we intended to walk. I continued to pack and eventually we committed to Rattlesnake Peak; more specifically, the east ridge of Rattlesnake Peak. A route featuring an unrivaled view of the San Gabriel River as well as the infamous Sheep Mountain Wilderness of the Angeles National Forest. The terrain consisted of some excellent class 2 cross country scrambling and route finding. It also happened to be where I hosted my first Instagram promoted group hike, which is how I met Jeremy over five years ago. In fact, the majority of people that showed up that day ended up remaining close friends ever since.
View of Shoemaker Canyon Road and the tunnels north terminus.
8:00 AM - A long drive up highway 39 brought us to the dirt lot at the end of Shoemaker Canyon Road. From the trail head we would follow the path past the yellow fence. Originally intended as a means for escape from potential nuclear attacks during the Cold War, construction of the unfinished road was halted indefinitely due to budget cuts and the area eventually achieved wilderness status. This is how it found its moniker, The Road To Nowhere.
We traveled 1.5 miles before reaching the more common and yet still unmarked Rattlesnake Peak trail. The visible "path" consisted of loose dirt and brush, and although we would return using this easier route, it seemed like some good foreshadowing of what was to come. A half mile later, we reached the first tunnel. The excellent condition of the nearly seventy year old tunnel was a testament to the prowess of its builders. Even more impressive was the graffiti along the walls. Where most concrete walls featuring spray paint in the San Gabriel range are covered in illegible garbage, the work here was obviously done by someone of skill.
Leaving Shoemaker Canyon Road
Jeremy, looking south along the use trail leading up to Rattlesnake Peak's east ridge.
A half mile later, we reached the second tunnel and shortly after its end, the road disappears and a single track takes its place. We knew based on previous experience and research that we would need to ascend the ridge soon. The next gully brought us to our GPS coordinate (3.25 miles, 1578 feet climbed) and although we should have just followed it up to the ridge, our curiosity got the best of us. The single track path that continued east at the same elevation was extremely well maintained and lead us to believe there could have been a well carved out path up to the ridge.
After thirty minutes of traversing the sandy slope, we confirmed that there was in fact no escalator to the peak and our route converged with the path we should have taken. We were both completely blown away by the amount of care that had been put into maintaining this segment of the route. All of the chaparral was precisely trimmed. Yucca spears that would otherwise stab our thighs as we passed were not only trimmed, but sculpted into perfect orbs and all of this work looked relatively new. We reached the ridge (3,600 ft elevation) after climbing roughly 2,200 feet over the course of 3.7 miles from the trail head.
Rattlesnake Peak's East Ridge
Jeremy, looking back at what we had already ascended.
Gaining the ridge offered a pleasant change in scenery. The San Gabriel River rushed along the canyon floor while Iron Mountain loomed silently above. A snow capped Mount Baldy occasionally materialized above low clouds. The next thousand feet would prove to be a circuitous mess of chaparral. I would take one seemingly promising animal path and Jeremy would take another. I recall staring blankly into an abyss of buck thorn and deeply questioning the logic of all the life decisions that brought me to this point, yet any internal doubt would quickly be put to rest by the sound of breaking branches and cursing coming from Jeremy less than fifty feet away. It was every man for himself.
East Ridge Plateau (4.690 ft)
Jeremy, reaching the treeline.
Reaching the ridge plateau placed us at the halfway mark for the ascent since leaving the road, but also exposed to the chilling winds. Although It never actually rained, the amount of moisture falling from each shaken branch left us completely soaked. We took a quick break to enjoy a snack and admire the now completely visible Bridge to Nowhere just northeast of us in the bottom of the canyon. There was just one more saddle before the final ascent and even in the brisk air, a cold beer sounded proper.
Rattlesnake Peak (5,820 ft)
Nearing the summit of Rattlesnake Peak.
Reaching the saddle (5,370 ft) meant we were less than 500 ft from the summit and it was starting to feel like we were in the high country. Thick chaparral was replaced with granite boulders and pines along the northern aspect of the ridge leading into Rattlesnake Canyon. To our surprise, It started to snow; an odd but pleasant occurrence. The final stretch up the summit was extremely tame and by 11:30 AM, our goal was met. We had made the summit of Rattlesnake Peak via its east ridge for the second time. We spent roughly an hour celebrating our accomplishment over several beers while staring off into the surrounding canyons, reminiscing over past treks and plotting new endeavors before making way down the much less rugged Rattlesnake Peak trail.
View of Iron Mountain and Mount Baldy from the summit of Rattlesnake Peak.
Panoramic shot of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.
Total Distance (from trail head to summit): 5.6 miles
Total Elevation (feet):4,600 feet
Trail Difficulty: Moderate.
Fire road for the first 3.25 miles.
Well maintained use trail up to the ridge.
Class 2 cross country travel for remainder of ridge line ascent with roughly one mile of circuitous route finding through thick chaparral.