Tuesday, February 26, 2013

C50 Training: Four Loops In The Verdugos

Various radio facilities crown the Verdugo peaks.
Due to an abundance of fire roads, mountain bikers, and radio towers, I rarely hear the beckoning call of the Verdugo Mountains. Nevertheless, when in Burbank for a work assignment, sometimes I hustle up the sweat-inducing ridge route from Wildwood Canyon Park. I like ridges--and, I suppose, sweating. But I also like loops and very long dayhikes. So while searching for another training scheme for the C50, I noticed that a challenging and semi-interesting 25-mile walkabout could be achieved by highlighting variations of four different loops in the Verdugo range: Beaudry Motorway, Stough Canyon, La Tuna Canyon, and Wildwood Canyon.

I convinced two other people to join me. Well, actually I convinced Sue, who had participated in the superloop to San Gabriel Peak. Then she convinced Bob, one of her regular hiking partners. We three gathered at the entrance to Wildwood Canyon Park (1,240') on January 4th. It was a frigid but crystal clear, shining Friday. Bob pointed out a family of coyotes moseying around on the neighboring golf course, and by 7:00 AM we hit trail.

Mt. Thom radio facility.
A few yards down the park road an unsigned trail on the left started steeply up a toe of the ridgefoot. It curved sharply to the right before switchbacking up a second toe and thereby gaining the primary ridge at an elevation of 1,740 feet. This initial half-mile buttkicker warmed up our legs while raising us into view of the city below and the canyons on either side. Soon the Vital Link Trail joined forces with our nameless ridge path. It helped us, by means of well-constructed zigzags, reach a communication tower (West Peak) at nearly 3,000 feet.

This completed the first half of our Wildwood Canyon loop, which more precisely is a lollipop-shaped route. The second half, returning via the park road, would have to wait until the end of our day.

Turning east across the tower facility we merged with the Verdugo Motorway, a wide, unpaved, service road traversing almost the entire range west to east and providing connections between other roads and trails. It carried us past a junction for Hostetter Motorway, which wound down the range's north side toward Tujunga. A few minutes later we stood upon the fenced, tower-covered summit of Verdugo Mountain (3,126'), nicknamed Bicycle Peak, presumably for its appeal to mountain bikers. The Sierra Club has planted a register can on an antenna-free bump a quarter-mile further east. But I did not know that at the time.

Photo Op Rock on Mt. Thom.
Moving on, we flew east along the Verdugo, occasionally glancing over at the much larger and loftier San Gabriel range, which included prominent Mt. Lukens. At a split for the Whiting Woods Motorway, we instead kept to the right, following the backbone southbound. The road alternately offered sweeping views of Sunset Canyon on the right and Henderson Canyon on the left. We passed Skyline Motorway, a crumbling, overgrown, tick-infested roadbed heading back down to Burbank. Beyond Skyline, the well-maintained Brand Motorway dropped to the right toward Brand Park in Glendale. Then, 0.6 miles after Brand, we finally said goodbye to Verdugo Motorway and hello to Beaudry.

The North Beaudry Motorway seen descending toward Glendale.
Most people do the Beaudry Motorway loop starting from Beaudry Blvd. in Glendale. Having come from the opposite direction, we began at the upper junction with Verdugo and marched through the course clockwise, first passing through trickling Deer Creek on the North Beaudry road. We then bypassed the 0.4-mile connector to Beaudry Blvd. at elevation 1,360 feet, transitioning to South Beaudry, which wiggled its way up to a ridge and steadily climbed to the radio facility at Mt. Thom (2,440+'). A brief stop at Thom included peering over the city at Griffith Park, checking out the "art" on Photo Op Rock, and barely noticing Las Flores Motorway as it weaved across the south face of the summit. South Beaudry then shuffled us onto Tongva Peak (2,656'), less than a mile north of Thom. Adjacent to the KROQ-FM radio facility, a small overlook area provided a suitable spot for sitting and snacking. Pomeroy Canyon formed a great corridor before our eyes, and to one side an alluring ridge route descended gently in the direction of Brand Motorway. I made a mental note to include that in a future adventure.

Pomeroy Canyon leaving Tongva Peak with Griffith Park in the distance.
After refueling we hopped back onto the Verdugo Motorway, having finished up the roughly 5-mile Beaudry loop. The road then transported us 3.3 miles back to the first radio facility at West Peak. We continued westbound another mile before deciding to shake off the boring motorway and try on an obvious use trail seen etched along the very top of the backbone ridge. This 0.6-mile path climbed up to Point 2646 and then sharply dropped 500 feet to a junction where the Verdugo and Stough Canyon motorways intersect. The steep, hardened slope caused some slipping and one minor fall. But still it was a nice diversion from stomping the fire road all day.

Sue and Bob taking the use trail up to Point 2646.
Starting down the Stough Canyon Motorway, our next loop was under way. Normally folks park at the Stough Canyon Nature Center 500 feet below and begin from there. But we were doing it in reverse. The uncomplicated road eased down 0.9 miles, delivering us at the Nature Center (1,520') by 1:17 PM.

Thus far we had covered a distance of 16.3 miles in 6.25 hours. An empty bench welcomed our weary rear ends. Miss Drinking Fountain and Mr. Restroom shouted out, "Use us!" Socks were changed, lunches consumed. And half an hour later, Sue, Bob, and I felt somewhat refreshed, ready to take on the second half of the Stough Canyon loop.

This is what remains of the Old Youth Campground facility.
Back up the road we marched for 0.4 miles. A turnoff on the left climbed 60 feet to the Old Youth Campground trailhead. This wide, pleasant path pushed us up a little ridge and into a flat hideaway above McClure Canyon, where the campground ruins (a stone foundation and fireplace) sat restfully. This corner of the range offered more views of Burbank, including Bob Hope International Airport. The trail continued slightly uphill, wrapped around the east and north sides of Point 2256, and terminated at the Verdugo Motorway. Turning east (right), we quickly found ourselves back at Stough Canyon junction, having now concluded the simple 2.4-mile loop. Another half mile on Verdugo brought us to the La Tuna Canyon Trail junction (2,300').

The La Tuna loop is longer, more rugged, and less popular than Beaudry or Stough. It begins and ends off of the I-210 on La Tuna Canyon Road. Hikers park at turnouts for either the La Tuna Canyon or La Tuna Foot trailheads, which are 0.3 miles away from each other. It is therefore necessary to car shuttle or to walk the moderately busy, litter-filled surface street between trails. Both singletrack paths ascend to the Verdugo Motorway, which can be used to connect the two and form a loop.

A bobcat notices our presence.
Our unusual plan, however, required us to modify the loop a bit and do some of it piecemeal. In fact, we already had completed part of the route before lunch, when we took a combination of Verdugo Motorway and the ridgetop use path from the West Peak area to Stough Canyon. And now, post-lunch, we had already taken the road from Stough to La Tuna Canyon trailhead. Therefore, we only needed to cover the remaining portions down La Tuna Canyon and up La Tuna Foot.

Without delay, the La Tuna Canyon Trail gently sent us northward along a ridgeline, falling a mere 250 feet in 0.4 miles. A more rapid decline followed as we were moved eastward into a lush little tributary. This refreshing side canyon sponsored a slow-flowing stream and numerous oaks. Unfortunately, the footpath seemed in a hurry to depart these cool narrow walls. It floated over to the next canyon and after a few u-turns released us onto La Tuna Canyon Road (1,320').

Here we faced east and negotiated the street, which ran in unison with La Tuna Canyon creek. After a short distance there was a turnout and picnic area for The Grotto, apparently a local hangout featuring a small, enclosed waterfall.

The La Tuna Foot Trail is visible across the canyon.
A use path took us into The Grotto (1,440'), located a mere 300 feet or less from the roadway. We identified the eroded, unsigned La Tuna Foot trailhead, steeply withdrawing up the east wall. After a quick and easy scramble, the trail took shape and looked to be in fine form. It switchbacked a bit before gaining the dominant ridge and calling it home. For approximately 1.9 miles we steadily tackled this incline, gaining maybe 1,500'. The path sometimes skirted along cooler north slopes below the ridgetop, passing through green-growth and a few small trees. Mostly it sprawled out across the chaparral-decorated spine, undulating a couple times over small bumps. At last the narrow track bumped into a wide fire road called Plantation Lateral around elevation 2,880 feet.

Plantation Lateral spent another quarter-mile increasing us to 2,980 feet, and in the process guided us through a bunch of planted trees, including pines, referred to on maps as the Fire Warden's Grove. Shaded benches provided a place to recuperate after our stamina had taken a beating on the La Tuna Foot climb. Having previously criss-crossed between Warden's Grove and West Peak, we considered the 7-mile La Tuna Canyon loop closed and could almost see the end of our journey.

Heading down the Vital Link Trail at sunset.
Ten minutes later, at 4:42 PM, we willed ourselves back over to the Vital Link. Gazing down the long ridge, it appeared much the same as when we started up ten hours prior. The sun slid behind the Pacific at 4:56 PM. Bob snapped some pictures. We reached the 1,880-foot mark and abandoned the ridge, selecting an unpaved fire road that plummeted into the heart of Wildwood Canyon Park. As darkness closed around us, and the road switched to pavement, we noted the park's audible firing range and its scores of tree-shaded picnic tables. The road through the canyon ended up being 1.2 miles long, the final leg of our final loop of the day. It was a relief to finally see our cars at 5:39 PM.

Despite some aches and pains, and a few blisters, the group fared well. We racked up 25.6 miles and 6,700 feet of gain, all done in less than eleven hours. I, for one, felt like there were another 5 or 10 miles left in my legs. Next time I would put that feeling to the test.

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