Millard Canyon / Dawn Mine

June 22, 2008

This is actually the third time I've done this hike in the span of three weeks, and I wanted to write a sort of joint trip report covering all three trips.  The first time was Sunday, June 1, with Angela Lu and Matt Stimpson.  I found out Angela liked hiking a while ago and had already done several hikes with her and various groups of friends.  The last was a trip up Strawberry Peak which Matt also joined.  However Angela thought that was hard and was not eager to do anything more difficult still.  When I found out I was moving back to Palo Alto we wanted to do one last hike, and Matt was the one other person who could make it; he also brought a friend whose name I think was Daniel.  Matt was the one who suggested hiking up Millard Canyon to Dawn Mine, a hike he hadn't done but that another friend had recommended.  It would be a 6 mile loop hike consisting of first hiking up Millard Canyon to the mine, and then following a trail back around to the start.

Now this is a hike I likely would never have done on my own.  It seemed too short, and was up a canyon and so would lack views.  It was in the Angeles front country which from previous experience around Mount Wilson I didn't like much as it wasn't as pretty as other parts of the San Gabriels and suffered from too much human encroachment.  But for precisely the reason that I wouldn't have tried it otherwise I wanted to give it a try with Angela and Matt.  Even if the hike wasn't great we'd have an enjoyable time walking and talking, and I'd explore somewhere new.

Matt send a pointer to a web page which has by far the best description of the route I've seen.  I printed it out and it was invaluable the first time I did the hike as I'm sure I wouldn't have figured out the way up the canyon without it.

That first trip was a while ago so I've forgotten most of the details, but I certainly remember being amazed at the hike.  It was clear right away that this was an absolute gem, that extremely rare hike that is easy, interesting, and most of all a lot of fun.  The boulder hopping up the creek was great, and the mine itself wonderful to explore.  Although every guide I've seen recommends not going into the mine (for obvious liability reasons) it seems just about everyone who hikes there goes in, and we went in with a woman from another group.  To my untrained eye everything seemed quite safe and structurally sound.  There were enough planks and so forth that you could go through carefully without getting your feet wet, although the other two times I went I brought sandals to change into so I wouldn't have to worry.  We explored all we could (which isn't all that much) except for the area beyond the "waterfall" that looked quite dubious.

The hike back along the trail was a nice contrast to the canyon--here you get up in the air and finally get the great views of the canyon itself.  We took our time on this hike, I think something like 5 hours for the 6 miles plus cave exploration, and had a great time.  A wonderful way to conclude our group hikes here.  Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures but Matt did so hopefully I can get some from him and post them here.

After the hike we had a late lunch (we arrived too late for the lunch specials) at Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi in Rosemead.  I'd eaten before many times at their original branch in Gardena, and it was my favorite ramen restaurant in the US.  However we hadn't been there much in the last couple years since Santouka opened in the Mitsuwa in Del Mar, which is different but about equally as good, and a much shorter drive.  I didn't realize there was a branch in Rosemead until Lydia Yue, during a conversation not long before this hike, casually mentioned having eaten there.  I looked it up and realized what a great find this was--the location was perfect for going to after hikes in the San Gabriels.  My standard fare after such hikes is Chinese food, but I'll count ramen as Chinese food for this purpose.  At first the Rosemead branch didn't seem quite up to my memory of the Gardena one, but that didn't stop me from going back and subsequent visits seemed every bit as good as the Gardena branch.  I ended up going 4 times in a 3 week span, each time after a hike and each time with a different group.  The second time was with Kyoko and Kyle a week later (described below), the third after a solo Baldy hike but eating with Lydia (the only time I made it for the lunch specials!) and the fourth after Iron Mountain.  I hope I can go once or twice more before we move.

I immediately realized this would be a hike that Kyle would love, and returned the very next weekend (Sunday, June 8) with him and Kyoko.  Indeed he had an absolute blast and declared this to be his favorite hike ever.  He loved the mine so much that he insisted we go back in for a second time, and the second time we also tried turning off our flashlights and experiencing absolute darkness, which he thought was great.  He also really enjoyed the boulder hopping and thought of it as a game with each creek crossing (and there are 30 or so apparently) as a level to get through.  Unlike the previous hike we opted to simply return down the canyon rather than do the full loop.  This reduced the distance to 5 miles.  It was a lot better for Kyle because it was fun on the way down too--he doesn't enjoy hiking on regular trails and isn't really interested in views yet.  Also he hates heat, and a big advantage of the canyon is that it's shaded with water and so stays relatively cool.  Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures for this trip.

I already had a third trip lined up as well, since I wanted to hike again with Lydia Yue before I moved.  We'd only hiked once before, a 5 mile hike near Mount Wilson two years ago.  I made a few suggestions to her including Josephine Peak and Strawberry Peak, but she felt she wasn't in very good shape and wanted to do the easiest hike, which was this one.  Also it sounded like fun to her, and indeed it turned out to be.  Her boyfriend David Zhao, back in the LA area after graduating from UCSD, also joined us.

Even before I knew about the heat wave this weekend I convinced her to go early, which meant picking them up at 9am.  I figured this hike in the canyon would be a lot cooler than Iron Mountain the day before, but it would still be very hot and told them to bring a lot of water.  I brought more or less the same things in my backpacking pack that I did the day before, most importantly 6 liters of water (actually more like 7 as I filled the platypus bottles to the top) but didn't bother to freeze anything.  One liter was gatorade and the rest water, like before.  I brought fewer snacks since the hike would be short.  I'd guess my pack was in the 25 pound range at the start, and this time I only drank 2 liters.  It was a lot cooler, and even pleasant in parts, but other parts were quite hot.

When we arrived at the trailhead all the parking spots nearest the gate were taken, but just as we were about to give up a guy returned on his mountain bike accompanied by two dogs and took off, so we got his spot.  We started the hike at 9:50am, and it was already very hot.  Lydia loves heat and I thought we would do the full 6 mile loop, but we could decide that when we got to the mine.

I forgot to bring the detailed directions for the hike this time, but after two previous trips I hoped my memory would be enough, and indeed it was.  However Lydia wasn't enjoying the hike at the start.  She felt out of shape and was already suffering.  She said she'd forgotten that after the last hike she vowed she'd never hike with me again, but now it was all coming back to her!  But I figured she would soon forget the pain of this hike as well....  There was a bit of worry with time, as we planned to eat at a Peking duck restaurant for lunch, which requires advance reservations.  Lydia had given me the option of Peking duck, a northern Chinese place, or Thai food, and I had immediately picked the Peking duck which is one of my favorite dishes.  They'd made the reservation for 1pm, which seemed awfully optimistic to me.  It seemed we should abandon plans to do the whole loop and just come down the way we came, which would save time.  And we could perhaps abort early if she wasn't feeling well.  But I hoped she could get to the mine.  And I also hoped we could call up and push the reservations back a bit.

I didn't take many pictures going up, so to make a long story short we made it to the mine just fine, at 11:18am, so 1:28 to get there.  The first picture then is of Lydia and David at the mine.

There were two groups eating and talking outside the mine, but no one went in when we did and we had it to ourselves.  We pretty much explored everything we could, and Lydia thought it was a wonderful reward for the hike there.  She was in a good mood again.  We ate some snacks and chatted for a while, then realized it was already noon and we'd better head down.  We'd have to get back into cell phone range and change the reservations.  Also we needed to call Rosalin Khuu who was to join us for lunch.

We went back down the canyon and this time I took some pictures.  He's one in a rocky section.

And here's one in a sandy section.  Too bad I didn't take any of the creek crossings.

Finally at one point David started getting wireless reception, and we called Roz who turned out couldn't join us for lunch after all sadly, and then the restaurant just in time to change our reservation to 2pm.  I took this picture at 12:43pm of the momentous event.

Near the end of the hike you finally get views, and here are three of them.

Finally here are David and Lydia heading up the last dirt section to the road.

We got back at 1:24, so about 1:24 to descend (surprisingly about the same as the time up, but then we did stop for a while for the cell phone calls) and 3:34 for the entire hike.  Strangely although my legs felt completely fine after the Iron Mountain hike including the next morning, after this much easier hike they felt a little stiff and sore!  Maybe it was just the cumulative effect.

We drove to the Peking duck restaurant, which was nearly across the street from Shinsengumi, and found it to be empty when we arrived (at exactly 2pm!) so I can see why they honored our request to get there an hour late.  A couple other groups came after we did.  In any case the food was delicious, especially the duck.  A wonderful end to a wonderful hike.