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Mt. Disappointment: A Hike With A View That's Anything But

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By David Lockeretz of Nobody Hikes in L.A. / Special to LAist

If mountains had rivalries, one of the most heated would be between two summits in the Angeles National Forest: San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment. The rivalry goes back much farther than that of USC and UCLA, the Dodgers and Giants or the Lakers and Celtics. In fact, when Mt. Disappointment was named in 1875, the Hatfields and McCoys were in the middle of their famous feud.

How does a mountain end up with a name like Disappointment? It was christened when a group of surveyors carried some heavy equipment to the top of the mountain, thinking it was the tallest peak in the area. Unfortunately, when they arrived at the summit, they saw taller San Gabriel Peak to the south, and felt the disappointment of knowing that their efforts had been for naught.

On clear days, both Disappointment and San Gabriel can be seen from the L.A. Basin. To the west of Mt. Wilson’s wide, antenna-covered summit, San Gabriel Peak’s pointy summit stands out. Farther west, the flattened shape of Disappointment can be seen. In the 1950s, the U.S. Army lowered Disappointment to make room for a Nike missile base. The peak’s current elevation is 5,994 feet; San Gabriel’s is 6,161. The elevation of these peaks is high enough so that it can be a great way to escape summer heat, and they’re low enough so that snow is not likely to be a factor during the winter.

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The two summits are so close together that it is easy to combine them into a single hike. You can take either the San Gabriel Peak single-track trail or the Mt. Disappointment Service Road, or you can combine the two into a loop. The trail is more strenuous, but more scenic; the road, while not as interesting, may be a good option for beginning hikers.

After about 2 miles of road or 1.5 miles of trail, the two meet again. Here, the road continues north to Mt. Disappointment while the trail continues south to San Gabriel. A steep climb, through some terrain scorched by the Station Fire of 2009, brings you to the San Gabriel summit. If the air is clear, the view is quite something: Mt. Baldy far to the east, the L.A. basin to the south, Strawberry Peak to the north and the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood Hills to the west. You may even get a glimpse of the ocean.

The view from Disappointment isn’t quite as panoramic, and the antennas on the summit are hard to ignore, but it is so close by that it’s worth a visit, especially if you consider yourself a "peak-bagger." The road, while not as steep as the trail to San Gabriel, will definitely get your heart pumping, especially considering the high altitude.

To get to San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment, take the Angeles Crest Highway (2) northeast from La Canada for 14 miles. Turn right onto the Mt. Wilson service road and head south for half a mile to a turnout where the San Gabriel Peak Trail begins. Remember your U.S. Forest Service Adventure Pass.

Ironically, while San Gabriel Peak may be taller than its rival, the last word in the dispute goes to Strawberry Peak. Named for its resemblance to an upside-down strawberry, the roundish summit to the north edges out San Gabriel by three feet, making it the tallest mountain in the Angeles National Forest front country. However, while Strawberry Peak is a deservedly popular hiking destination as well, it is currently inaccessible as the area recovers from the Station Fire.

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For more information about San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment, go here.

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