Saturday, January 23, 2016

Tongva Peak via Beaudry Motorway

View of the Verdugo and San Gabriel Mountains from Tongva Peak
6.1 miles loop, 1400 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
Access: Parking is along a residential street in a subdivision

Tongva Peak is the eastmost major peak in the Verdugo Mountains, a short urban mountain range just northeast of Glendale and Burbank, at the center of the Los Angeles metropolis. The Verdugos are not particularly tall and only slightly separated from the much larger and much more dramatic San Gabriel Range: thus, the Verdugos offer relatively easy hiking country to enjoy city views and views of the San Gabriels. Tongva Peak, which can be reached by hiking along the Beaudry Motorway, a former dirt road, is perhaps the easiest access to the good views of the Verdugos. As the hike follows a fairly wide road the entire way and elevation gain is substantial but spread out, this hike is doable by most reasonably fit people. However, do be prepared for the heat and the sun: we found ourselves sweating quite profusely and using plenty of sunscreen, even in February.

The trailhead is in an unconventional location: the hike starts in the middle of a subdivision in Glendale, near La Canada Flintridge. A friend and I hiked this trail in mid-February: we drove over from West Los Angeles, taking Highway 2 north from the downtown area towards Glendale and La Canada Flintridge. We left Highway 2 at the exit for Verdugo Blvd (21C), which is immediately before Highway 2 merges with the 210. There is an earlier exit for Verdugo Rd much further south near downtown Glendale; be sure that you don't exit there. After coming off the ramp, we turn lefted onto Verdugo Blvd and follow it for a couple of blocks to Verdugo Rd; we then turned left onto Verdugo Rd and followed it south a few blocks past the Oakmont Country Club to Canada Blvd. We followed Canada Blvd to the right, then immediately made a right onto Country Club Drive. We followed Country Club Drive for a half mile and then turned left onto Beaudry Blvd, which led into a residential neighborhood. About a third of a mile down Beaudry Blvd, the road makes wide right turn and begins to head uphill. A narrow paved road heads off to the left at the turn: this is the trailhead. We parked on the side of the street nearby.

The beginning of the hike was not terribly promising. The fire road began near a small concrete dam, then paralleled a small, dried-up reservoir and became a dirt road after passing a gate. The wideness of the trail (fire road) here makes the trail easy to follow and comfortable to hike on, but makes the experience distinctly non-wild, though there isn't much wild about an urban mountain range in the middle of the second largest metropolitan area in the country anyway.

Past the end of the reservoir, the fire road made a few turns into a wooded area and offered its first view of the communication towers atop Tongva Peak itself. Soon after, we came to the junction of the North and South Beaudry fire roads. We followed North Beaudry, which was the main branch of the trail, off to the right, starting an ascent up a wooded canyon.

View from the fire road at the bottom of the canyon towards Tongva Peak
The tree cover didn't last for too long: the fire road was soon out on the open north slope of the Verdugos. On the bright side, we now had good views looking back towards the San Gabriel Range, including Strawberry Peak, one of the more prominent mountains visible. On the brighter side, the sun was bearing down on us with its full afternoon heat. Although the trail was a little too warm for us, even in February, it seemed to be roughly the right temperature for a number of lizards that we spotted alongside the trail.

The first three miles along the North Beaudry Fire Road were all uphill. The trail wound in and out of gullies in the side of Tongva Peak, alternating between short stretches of shade and long exposed stretches with views first of the canyon itself and later of the San Rafael Hills across Highway 2 and of the San Gabriels and La Canada Flintridge. The trail passed directly downhill of the summit communications towers and began to wrap around the mountain, meeting the crest of the Verdugos at a saddle on the far side of Tongva Peak. The 1400 feet or so ascent to reach the saddle was fairly significant but was spread out over 3 miles; the fire road itself climbed uphill at a steady but not too steep grade.

San Rafael Hills
San Gabriels from Beaudry Motorway
At the saddle, the North Beaudry Fire Road connected with the Verdugo Motorway, which followed the crest of the Verdugos towards the northwest. We turned left here and instead followed the South Beaudry Fire Road a short distance to the summit of Tongva Peak. The summit was topped with a wide array of communications towers. We walked past the first section of the towers to the point where the road began heading downhill again. Here, an unmarked dirt trail branched off to the right, following the edge of the fence surrounding the towers before coming to a bench and a magnificent viewpoint. Here, the Verdugos seemed like an island in a sea of sprawl: Los Angeles and its attendant cities stretched out in all directions. Directly below, we could see Glendale, Burbank, and the San Fernando Valley. The Santa Monica Mountains and the peaks of Griffith Park appeared as a reef in an ocean of neatly arranged grid. Yet the full extent of the metropolis was outside of our view: the smog, that exhalation of 22 million people living in the twenty-first century, engulfed the distant views.

Smog above the San Fernando Valley
Closer in, we saw some of the taller peaks of the Verdugos to the northwest. Just to the north was Verdugo Peak: we could see the Verdugo Motorway winding its way along the crest of the range towards that peak. Roads and power lines dotted the lower slopes of the range, reminding us that we were still deep in an urban setting.

Verdugo Mountains
Tongva Peak derives its name from the Tongva people, who lived in the Los Angeles Basin at the time of European colonization of the region.

After spending a while on the summit, we headed back to the South Beaudry Fire Road and continued to follow it to the southeast (right turn from the summit). The hike was more or less all downhill from that point: the fire road generally followed the ridge crest and climbed a slight bit when it approached Mount Thom. At a saddle just before reaching Mount Thom, the South Beaudry Road met up with the Las Flores Motorway. We stayed left to stay on the Beaudry Motorway. The road skipped by the summit of Mount Thom but continued to offer views once it returned to following the Verdugo crest.

After passing Mount Thom, the road made a slight turn towards the east. This turn put the San Gabriels front and center in our vision as we descended. The late day lighting accentuated the shadows cast by each fractal ridge in the range, casting a beautiful pattern of light and dark on the mountains. Strawberry Peak and San Gabriel Peak dominated the view. Far below, the houses and shopping outlets of La Canada Flintridge escaped the rays of the late day sun.

Sunset glow on the San Gabriels
Views of downtown LA also improved. Earlier in the day, the downtown skyline had more or less been engulfed by the smog, but smog conditions were changing enough in the late day that the US Bank Tower and its attendant skyscrapers reemerged. On the horizon, the hills of Palos Verdes rose above the low-lying haze.

Downtown LA in the evening light
The hike back from the top on the South Beaudry Motorway was about 3 miles. The road followed the ridgeline for most of the way until the last half-mile, when the trail turned around the ridge and began to drop along the north side of the ridge. Soon, we were back at the junction of the North and South Beaudry roads; here, we turned right and hurried back to our car before dusk settled.

This was an enjoyable hike with stellar views of the San Gabriel Mountains. This certainly isn't for anyone who is looking for wilderness: it's hard to imagine a mountain range more engulfed in an urban setting. However, if you live in LA, there's little reason that you shouldn't check out this fun peak on a fairly easy hike.

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