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A Journey to Lookout #2

February 2003

By: Laura Joseph with Jim Kalember


In October 2000, before I became a member of HPS, I joined an HPS outing to Lookout #2. As I recall, the hike was to be led by the venerable team of Tom Hill and Virgil Popescu, with Tom navigating the route from Bear Flat. Tom, however, was AWOL that day and was replaced by Mars Bonfire, who allowed as he wasn't real sure how to get there. I don't remember exactly how we did get to Lookout, but it was touch-and-go for a while. There was a canyon and LOTS of brush; Mars seemed to be uncertain, but we did finally end up at a fire break, which we followed to the unimpressive summit. The return trip was no improvement.

A few months ago, having read about "Erv Bartel Canyon," I asked Dorothy Danziger -- who knows our peaks very well indeed -- to accompany me on an adventure to Lookout via the infamous canyon. "You're crazy," said Dorothy (or words to that effect) and volunteered to join me for a romp up the fire break. "Too tame," said I.

At the beginning of February, I was thinking about a relatively short, nearby hike to do on a Saturday and remembered my interest in Bartel and -- more important -- I remembered my favorite partner in impossible adventures, the courageous Jim Kalember.

On the appointed day, after studying the topo, we decided the cool thing to do would be to go to Lookout via the route from Bear Flat to the West Fork of Bear Canyon and return via Bartel canyon. As we climbed Bear Canyon trail (AKA baldyfromthevillagetrail), we studied the ridges and canyons to the west and traced them on the map. As best we could determine, the canyon named in honor of Erv Bartel was, without doubt, the brushiest, most overgrown canyon we could see. We therefore tentatively selected the ridge that begins just east of the summit and travels down at about 110 degrees as our preferred method of descent. It looked like that ridge would drop us into Bear Canyon and we figured we could make our way out from there.

The trail from Bear Flat to Lookout is a delight: one of the prettiest and most varied I have seen. It begins by contouring around a wide ridge at about 5600'; this stretch is unshaded and the trail is well defined. Gradually, the trail meanders down into the canyon and follows it up, staying on the east side, through beautiful trees -- incense cedar, says Jim -- and the kind of scenery that makes me want to stop and just hang out. But we pressed on and up the canyon. As the trail reaches about 6000', it becomes faint and disappears (to me), but Jim has an eagle eye and we soldiered on. If you don't have a Jim with you, just stay on the east side of the gully and you'll make it.

The peak guide advises following the gully up to the saddle at 6520'. We hadn't read the peak guide and it seemed to us to make sense to cut up the broad ridge northeast to bump 6840'. After sitting upon that bump and admiring the panoramic view, we proceeded south along a fairly clear use trail that goes down to the saddle north of 6930' (which we think should be the peak, being both taller and prettier than the named Lookout). From the saddle the trail skirts east of the pretty 6930 and contours around into a saddle and up to Lookout.

The summit of Lookout #2 is most notable because it was, with Mt Wilson, the site of one of the most famous physics experiments of all time when the speed of light was accurately measured. The three concrete slabs on the summit once supported a large parabolic mirror which reflected a beam of light back to a spinning apparatus on Mt Wilson.

Jim notes that, from the summit, his observation that the fire break shown on the map is fairly well overgrown with manzanita is confirmed.

It was on the return trip that our adventure reached its high point -- or, to be more precise, its low point. We identified our chosen ridge and made our way due east through moderate brush to reach it and begin heading down. The going was fairly easy for a while but became increasingly brushy and, as it did, we began to slide (literally) down the north side of the ridge, ending, inevitably, in the gully.

Now Jim is as agile as a cat and just dances over obstacles. I, on the other hand, as is well known, am a klutz. The gully -- as one might expect -- was littered with dead fall, rocks, puddles, leaves and miscellaneous debris of the forest. Picking my dainty way over this stuff slowed us down considerably and, before long, I suggested we might want to check out the ridge to the east of our path. (For those who wonder how I ever passed nav, I want to note that I studied the map and identified exactly where we were.) We plowed up the ridge when the opportunity presented itself and, reaching a high point (dramatic pause) what did we see?

Picture, if you will, an early morning and you are trotting up the baldyfromthevillagetrail to work off those extra pounds. You've gone about half a mile when you see a trail that forks to the left just as the actual trail turns sharply to the right. Have you ever peered down that spur? If you have, you will have noticed the remains of a cabin: chimney and some concrete footings.

Well, folks, that's where we were! Right behind that chimney! Well, almost. Actually, there was some class 3 rock between us and the chimney. Jim scrambled down and then guided me.

We congratulated ourselves on superior navigation and route finding as we romped back to the car. We highly recommend this route for beauty and adventure. It is obviously not for everyone. But, consistent with my mission to lead hikes that no on else ever does, I plan to lead this one next fall. Look out for it in The Lookout.

NOTE: The sage Tom Hill suggests that I note that Erv Bartel, a long term HPSer -- and someone I wish I had known -- is survived by his still-active spouse, Janet. He further corroborates that we were not in the famous Bartel canyon. Here are his words:

"On the topo map, find the contour number 5600 in brown letters, ESE of the summit of Lookout. You indicate that you are on the ridge line adjacent to the top of this number whereas Erv Bartel Cyn is the canyon adjacent to the west and south of the number. You went north of the ridge line into an interesting but unnamed gully [hereinafter known as "Kalember Gully"] and then even further away by escaping onto the next ridge east. The nature of the contours of that final ridge predict the possibility of some Class 3 work."

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