It was Sunday, January 26, 2020. My planned outing for the day started like most new routes: sitting at my computer looking at Open Street Map (which has an amazing amount of trails digitized), trying to find a route that looked interesting enough to do, and researching recent reports on the internet from others that have done the trails involved. I finally settled on a route that focused on Hoyt Mountain (4,404 feet) starting from the Grizzly Flat Trailhead, traversing fire road to the saddle west of the summit, down again on the “Telephone Trail” (which is listed in most sources as “unmaintained”) toward Clear Creek, then up an unnamed switchback trail to the east summit ridge, up to the Hoyt Mountain summit from the east, down the west side back to the western saddle, and back to the car. At least that was the plan.
Despite the research I wasn’t sure what to expect. The Hoyt Mountain area had always been a spot I bypassed along the Angeles Crest Highway while traveling to points beyond. Reports stated that the area was not heavily-traveled by hikers, and a handful of group hikes I found required attendants to bring something to trim the brush. I left my route information with my wife, ensured her I’d turn back if I ran into problems, and headed out for the day’s adventure above the dense fog and clouds of the Los Angeles basin.
The first two miles of the route were pretty simple: a well-maintained fire road. The biggest hazard on this section, which wasn’t much, was the fire hose and other fire equipment left in place from controlled burning operations on the nearby slopes. While most trails in the front country of the San Gabriels are pretty crowded on the weekends, I saw only a half dozen people on the way up.
At the saddle, I had to poke around a bit looking at the Gaia GPS app on my phone (which had my planned route on it) to find the unsigned trailhead for the Telephone Trail. As expected, it wasn’t much of a trail from the outset and it quickly disappeared into the brush. It seemed obvious that the trail was – at some point long in the past – a fire road that had largely been buried by rock slides or its surface collapsed by the same. There had been some maintenance at points, with trail edges clearly built up by rocks and trailside yuccas that were obviously cut by someone. Regardless, there was a decent amount of bushwhacking and unsteady footing which made progress pretty slow despite going downhill.
Like most of the front range peaks, the north slope of Hoyt Mountain was significantly steeper than the south with lots of exposed granite; the low sage scrub and chaparral of the south largely replaced by live oak, California Bay, and Douglas-fir. It was beautiful and it was quiet: the loud engine noises of the Angeles Crest Highway unable to pass the landscape barrier.
It was at about .75 miles that I went through an extensive section of overgrown chaparral where I had to continuously duck or crawl through a vegetation tunnel. That was starting to get tiring and it made my neck hurt. As I was beginning to wonder whether continuing was worth it, I came across a large tree that had fallen from the steep slope above onto the trail’s chaparral. I couldn’t figure out a way around it because of the steep terrain and loose rock on either side. I didn’t see way over it, either. I turned around and went back to the western saddle.
The western approach to the Hoyt Mountain summit is via a use trail through a fire break. Much of it is stupidly steep with a lot of loose rock and I knew as I went up that going back down was going to be “fun”. There are also a lot of young-but-big-enough-to-painfully-stab-you yuccas along the route. Choose your path (which is often braided) wisely, unlike me who found myself in a sea of yuccas at one point and had to backtrack a bit.
The trip to the summit was about a half mile with a little over 500 feet of elevation gain (for the math-challenged, that’s 1,000 feet per mile, which is pretty stout). I could not find a summit marker or register at the top, but there was some weird teepee-like structure built of yucca stalks. There were nice views of much of the front range. I hung out for maybe ten minutes at the most before heading back down. The trip back was down the ridge was – as I expected – challenging and you had to plan your steps carefully. I rock skied several times, but managed to stay upright and avoid sliding into yuccas.
Route summary follows: