It’s been nearly a year since I’ve added a new chapter to the San Gabriel Trails Project. You can ask me why that is, but I would not have an answer for you. There are many miles of high country trails that I have not yet covered, and I haven’t spent much time in the high country this year because it was not a good way to prepare for the Angeles National Forest Trail Race. I decided yesterday was a good time to scratch that itch and visit a new place. That new place was Pacifico Mountain.
Pacifico Mountain is a 7,124-foot peak in the northern portion of the San Gabriel Mountains. It is the western-most of the 7,000-foot peaks in the range. While there are several routes to choose from, I chose to take the Pacific Crest Trail from Three Points as I was looking for a 20 mile or so day. The peak is somewhat infamous in the local trail running community for its 2016 appearance in the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run (AC100): as part of a last-minute course reroute when the Angeles National Forest decided it would not allow the race into designated wilderness areas within the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, the course was routed up Pacifico via a fire road to the top, with an equally long run back down. It was hot and exposed and there was a lot of carnage. That segment was removed the next year. The opening 3.5 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail out of Three Points were part of the original AC100 course and where I met my demise in two of the three years that I’ve run it. Good times.
I started at around 8:00am. It was surprisingly warm for that early. The first 3.5 miles or so that were part of the original AC100 course brought flashbacks to my own destruction here during that race, leaving scars that are nearly as evident as those left on the landscape here by the 2009 Station Fire. Once I passed Sulphur Springs Road I was in new territory. The trail climbs gradually at first, hitting a series of low hills and ridgelines that are mostly burned, with pockets of still-standing pine and oak forest that withstood the fire.
While I saw plenty of fresh footprints on the trail, I didn’t see a single person until mile 6. I passed a lone hiker and confirmed that the summit of Pacifico was also his goal. He looked familiar, and I think I’ve seen him hiking before. As it was getting hot, I checked to make sure he didn’t need anything and told him I’d see him at the top.
At around mile 7 was a nice patch of tall pine forest with burnt underbrush. The trail was getting steeper now and I could see the summit. It appeared to be so close, and I thought I was going to hit the summit at a far earlier mileage than I expected. The trail was a bit overgrown here. I was startled by a large flock of Mountain Quail that flushed upon my approach.
Mile 8 brought a long stretch that was completely decimated by the fire. Most of the vegetation was only a couple feet high. This area had a very healthy population of poodle-dog bush, a species that most users of the San Gabriel Mountains became familiar with after the Station Fire when it formed extensive thickets. In most places, this plant has (fortunately) mostly died out. Not here. I was careful to try to avoid it, a task made difficult because it often seems to reach out into the trail for you.
Heading into mile 9, the trail starts a gradual descent toward the Pacific Mountain Summit Road. To be honest, I found the view of the descent ahead of me a little disheartening, as it meant that I had to climb back up again toward the summit. A left turn on the road where the Pacific Crest Trail intersects began the steep climb. The road winds around the top part of the mountain and eventually meets the broad summit at the Mount Pacifico Campground. While I had only consumed about 40oz of my 110oz of water, I was hoping that I would find an unlikely water source here as I really wanted to just chug a bottle. Unfortunately, there was none. There was cell reception, so I called my wife and posted a picture of myself in a jumble of rocks at the summit noting that I had reached my goal and that everything was OK.
The lower elevations on the return were preposterously hot and I struggled a lot in the last few miles. I do not recommend doing this trip alone during the late summer.