Hiking Saddleback Butte

~4 miles, 1000 feet, easy

A friend and I hit up a local hill for some views and elevated heart rate. The Station Fire put us out of business for a while; it closed down many of the roads heading into the Angeles National Forest, our favorite stomping grounds. Not to mention we can hardly afford to drive elsewhere and don’t get much time to do so anyhow. So we headed to the mis-named Saddleback Butte, a hill at best, that resembles a small rocky mountain ridge and is not and looks nothing like a butte.

The semantics meant nothing of course when we finally put feet to trail. This very easy 3.2 mile climb to the summit is hardly a hike at all, more like a stroll, but there’s enough elevation gain in it to get you panting if you hit it hard enough and the views are lofty, if only of the high desert (For the record, National Geographic’s TOPO software calls it 1.97 miles one way, or almost 4 miles round trip, 1000ft gain). There might not be any cascading waterfalls or towering granite cliffs, but it’ll do just fine for me.

On the way, we passed a sheriff giving a fruit stand a hard time. I can’t really decide where I come down on this argument, and I know theres an amount of “just doing one’s job” happening here, but you hate to see any kind of home-spun family money making venture having a hard time these days. We passed an old rusted out hulk of a car that has been bleaching in the sun along with all the other couches, shotgun shells, etc that people leave to elements. The Aztecs sacrificed in a sacred place to  a God, it seems desert dwellers sacrifice just on the outskirts of town and offer the gods simply discarded and unfashionable items.

We began the trail from the South parking lot, but you can add perhaps a mile starting from the North end. It is a simple path heading due west straight up the hill. Whoever built this trail possibly had never heard of switchbacks. The trail is sandy and loose on dry days but rain will make itmore cohesive. It can feel like the beach as you walk through what amounts to a gallery of the life cycle of the Joshua Tree, not the amazing album, but the amazing plant.

The trail gets more rocky the closer you get to the “butte,” allowing for a more steady foot plant as you ascend the hill. You pass some great faulted outcrops with signs of ancient volcanism before you’re greeted with panoramic views of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Tehachapi range and the distant frosted white Sierra Nevada. In Trails of the Angeles, John Robinson says that you can see Mt. Whitney from Pleasant View Ridge atop the San Gabriel’s high country and I’ve been looking for it ever since. I’m still not sure, but we saw the best candidate so far from Saddleback Butte. I’m anxious to actually take a lensatic compass and map up there to verify.

It seems like you can’t go wrong being above the desert at sunset.  The wind pushed you around like a sail at the summit, but there’s a lovely summit plateau that you could spend hours exploring where the conditions are nice. I know the term “golden hour” is well deserved for this magic time, but I think it goes beyond photography. There’s definitely something rewarding about watching the Earth turn whether you take photos or video or just sit with your #1 squeeze and take it all in in with Sangiovese and Oreos. Sometimes simply observing and witnessing the world is enough for me. You don’t have to look very hard or very far to find something amazing.

All images taken with Canon 7D + EF28-135mm IS, many of these are HDR’s.


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