Strawberry Peak, Mount Lawlor
15 February 2003
By: Karen Isaacson Leverich
Leaders: Wolf Leverich and Karen Isaacson Leverich
Peter Glover and Susanne Weil lead some of the most "user friendly" hikes on the HPS list. The very first Lookout I ever received (July-August 2001) included this paragraph by Susanne:
And since then, I've followed their exploits, to wonderful peaks like Akawie, the Winstons, Waterman, introducing many many new people to the joys of our local mountains and welcoming many new members to HPS.
Recent health problems have (we hope briefly!) interfered even worse than the work schedule with Peter and Susanne's hikes. So when Susanne asked if Wolf and I would cover for them on their 15 February outing to Strawberry Peak and Mount Lawlor, we readily assented. We'd much enjoyed our adventures with Mars last summer leading folk up some of the easier peaks of the San Gabriels. Strawberry and Lawlor are a bit more of a commitment than, oh, say, Sally or Mooney, but sounded like a nice way to ease back into leading. (See, I've restrained myself from whining about our long trip to Houston and not hiking for days and days and days!)
On the other hand, while most of you probably think nothing of an 8AM meeting in La Canada, for Wolf and I it means leaving the house at 6AM. Not only do we lead a lot of those exotic Los Padres peaks, we happen to live out here in the middle of them! But we anticipated a good turn out -- our phone had been ringing, as had Susanne's, with hikers wanting to know if the hike was still on. That tremendous mid-week rainstorm (something like 6" fell out here in the boonies) might have meant trouble. And in fact, Highway 2 was closed somewhere before the ski areas. But we only needed to make it as far as Red Box.
"How will I know I'm at Red Box?" asked one of our ten or so participants, as we prepared to leave La Canada for the mountains. "There's a red box there," said Wolf, helpfully. (Actually, he gave her the mileage and a bit more detail.) There is? I'd never noticed that before. But indeed, there IS a red box at Red Box. Imponderable.
Last time we did Lawlor (not a scheduled lead), we came down the short cut ridge (if you can call that chute a ridge!) from the summit of Lawlor. We decided then and there we would never take a group that way, and probably never do it ourselves again. When we passed below that option and pointed it out, most of our hikers were gratified they'd not have the opportunity to experience that steep yucca-filled descent. Two, however, were intrigued, and ultimately signed out to return that way. They lived -- we found a note from them under our wipers.
But that was later! Since we were neither going up nor down that steep loose ridge, we continued contouring around Lawlor on the trail. While not as posh as the PCT, this is normally the part of the hike where you can really scamper along, being neither steep nor rocky. The recent deluge had changed that equation a bit, though not dramatically: here and there the hillside had washed across the trail, or the trail had washed down the hillside, or both. One of our hikers was a bit nervous about heights, and was disturbed by the seemingly precipitous dropoff to the side. We were all cautious, especially on the narrower bits where it looked as if the trail hadn't decided yet whether or not to slide on down the hillside.
There were definitely fewer mountain bike tracks than the last time I did this hike, though I expect once a bit of trail maintenance has been done, they'll be back.
It's all very civilized now at the Strawberry-Lawlor Saddle, with a lovely sign (our Adventure Pass dollars at work?) indicating various potential destinations, including Strawberry Peak (1.0 miles) and Mount Lawlor (0.6 miles). One would almost think that meant there were trails (you, now, TRAILS!) to those two peaks. Nicely graded, maintained, easy to follow? Well, they are a bit more traveled, as use trails go, than some of the ones on offer up here Los Padres-way, but still...
The use trail up Strawberry is pretty easy to follow. Steep and rocky in places, and ambiguous in others (but just keep going up and it will all work out), we persevered over the intermediate bump just out of the saddle and on up. There were several other hikers at the summit, though we'd not seen a lot of others out hiking -- while it was indeed a pretty day, and a pleasant change from the preceding rainy days, it was a bit hot and muggy. One man particularly attracted my admiration: he'd lugged up a stove and a coffee pot and was enjoying a nice cup of freshly brewed coffee while taking in the vistas!
We debated whether it was lunchtime (still early) and headed back down to the Saddle. Along the way, the hiker most spooked by heights queried us about the route up Lawlor, which she could easily see from the side of Strawberry. Would it be rocky? Cliffs? I didn't remember anything too dramatic, but then, I'd never noticed the steepness of the dropoff to the side of the trail approaching the Strawberry-Lawlor Saddle, so honestly wasn't sure. She decided to try it -- since we were going to simply retrace our steps back down from Lawlor, once we got there, if she freaked she could just sit down and await our return.
As it turns out, there are a few spooky bits on the ascent of Lawlor. The good news is that they're really quite short. Just when she was ready to give up, Wolf called down from all of ten feet above her head to relay the happy news: this was the last of the rock, and from then on to the summit, it was simple hiking. Up she went. Up we all went.
On Lawlor, we had our long anticipated lunch. I'd lugged a batch of freshly baked cookies up to the Saddle, thence to Strawberry, back to the Saddle, and finally up Lawlor. I was much gratified to be able to coax the group into eating every last cookie, thereby substantially lightening my load.
Then back down the (civilized) ridge to the Saddle, and back around Lawlor to Red Box. It had been a full day -- we met at 8AM at La Canada and got back to Red Box around 4:30PM or so.
To (for Wolf and I) an annoying surprise. Besides the note under our wiper from the two who had checked out atop Lawlor, to let us know of their safe return, there was a ticket from the Forest Service. They hadn't seen our Adventure Pass! How could they have missed it? After systematically forgetting over and over and over again to hang it whenever we stop, we'd finally affixed it to our bumper so we'd never have to think about it again.
I don't know if it was stolen, or washed off by the rain, but our Adventure Pass is now missing in action. We noticed another Wrangler in the lot at Red Box -- it had an Adventure Pass on its bumper, but mounted under a bolted on piece of Plexiglas. Apparently our experience wasn't unique. Oh well, at least there's now a nifty sign at the Strawberry-Lawlor junction! And we've done our bit to support it.
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