On August 4, 2013, at 5:30 a.m., I set out to hike to the top of Mt. Gleason in the Angeles National Forest in Acton California. The hike took me nearly eight hours to complete from start to finish and the total round trip was 19.2 miles.
Mt. Gleason’s elevation is 6,502 feet high and stands high above most of the summits in the San Gabriel Mountains. The well-maintained Pacific Crest Trail is also there and crosses through the paved Mt. Gleason Road way and is available for the more rugged hikers.
I personally decided to stick with hiking along the paved Mt. Gleason Road rather than hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Hiking nearly 20 miles is certainly rigorous, and there are many other dirt trails throughout the mountains. From experience, I know it can be easy to accidentally take the wrong trail and end up lost and re-tracing your steps to try and get back to somewhere that looks familiar. Besides, the Pacific Crest Trail for the most part runs alongside Mt. Gleason Road, so my advice is if you are going to hike all the way to the top of Mt. Gleason, stay on the paved Mt. Gleason road and you will have no chance of taking a wrong trail and getting lost.
Where to park and start
The starting entrance I took was near the new Ranger station located at County Highway N3 and Mt. Gleason Rd. Angeles National Forest, Palmdale California 93550 USA.
You can park on either side of the Angeles Crest Highway without any problems. I parked in the parking lot near the restrooms.
Note: (Due to the 2009 fire that destroyed the forest and the entire area, Mt. Gleason Road and the Pacific Crest Trail is closed to any and all motorized vehicles and is only opened to hikers and bicyclists).
Starting your hike
Allow eight to 12 hours from start to finish, so whether you start in the morning or afternoon, you will need to know that it will take about 8 to 12 hours from start to finish. I took several two minutes breathers and a 10-minute break at the memorial site and at the top of the Mt. Mountain for a snack.
As you start your hike, there is a gradual upgrade for the first 2.3 miles and you may begin to wonder if you have taken on too much. But do not despair, the road does level off and becomes a much more pleasant hike.
What I’ve experienced is that a lot of hikers will hang their heads down looking at the ground five feet in front of them. Try and resist the temptation to walk like this and remember to lift your head up and look along the horizon and take in all the beauty and the spectacular views as you begin your climb to the top.
It is also important to watch where you are going so that on your way back down the mountain everything will look familiar. I can promise you that at some point every hiker has the thought and begins to wonder if they are on the right path. In fact, on your way up the mountain, make sure to pick out some landmarks such as an unusual rock formation, a cement barrier, posted signs etc., so you can convince yourself that you are on the right course. But as long as you stay on the paved roadway here, you cannot get lost.
The Memorial for Fire Fighters, Ted Hall, and Arnie Quionoes
Six-and-one-half miles into your hike, you will come across the memorial site for firefighters, Ted Hall, and Arnie Quiones, who both lost their lives in the 2009 Angels National Forest fire that burned more than 160,577 acres.
Once you step foot onto the memorial site, you will feel something very special and realize that you are upon sacred ground. The memorial site is the very spot where both fire fighters lost their lives racing to help and protect their fellow fighter fighters and friends.
As I walked onto the memorial grounds, an overwhelming feeling came over me, and I am not afraid to admit that I began to sob uncontrollably. I saw the many hats, the messages left and American flags aligning the memorial. I felt the spirit of not only these two firefighters but of all of the hundreds of people, friends, and family who have taken the trek up the mountain to pay their respects for these two brave men.
At the location, there are two leather bound books inside a metal box with Ted and Arnies’ names on them where everyone who visits can sign and leave a message or just a signature that they were there.
This memorial will change your life in many ways as it did mine. The feelings of pride for all firefighters and all of those who give their lives in the service of others. (It is a must that you visit this place).
Ranger Station 16 is only a ghost town
As you continue past the memorial site, make sure you continue to stay on the paved road way and walk through the base camp fire station. You will see it has been completely destroyed by the fire. It is such an eerie and sad sight to witness the once flourishing fire station base camp is now a quite empty ghost town.
As you venture through the camp, you cannot help but feel the salience as you look all around at the devastation and destruction of buildings, offices, kitchens, and locker rooms. Even the basketball hoop is still standing silent among the destroyed buildings and tall burnt pine trees where firefighters once cheerfully played games of basketball. There is a stillness there in that camp that you will never forget and you cannot help but realize what an unnecessary shame that so much was lost.
Continue through the camp and stay on the paved road. As you exit the camp, there is a couple of hundred yards of dirt trail leading back down to the paved road that continues to the top of the mountain.
2.5 miles more to the top of Mt. Gleason
Once you pass through the burned base camp, you have about 2.5 miles to go to reach the very top of Mt. Gleason. This section is a grueling uphill steep incline which will wear you out, so take your time and make frequent rest stops as needed and enjoy the views.
A fork in the road
Once you reach the satellite and radio tower, you will see a fork in the road. Stay to your right and follow the paved path a few hundred feet more all the way until the paved road finally ends.
The top of Mt. Gleason
There is not much to see at the top due to the pine trees, so you will have to walk to the edges to take any photos, and believe me, you will see stunning views.
Take a rest, look around, and sit on the roadway and enjoy a break and lunch before the decent down the mountain.
I personally think it is harder to hike downhill. You are now back tracking the same way you just came, so for the next 2.5 miles back, you will be hiking down the steepest part of the whole hike. Take your time coming back down this steep section.
Once you descend from the top and reach back at the base camp, if you do not want to go back through the base camp again, you can take a side route which is a dirt trail on the outside of the camp.
Once you pass the camp and memorial site, stay to the left and stay on the “paved road” to continue back down the mountain.
19.6 miles round trip
Once you have hiked up to the top of Mt. Gleason and back, you will have traveled a total of 19.6 miles, round trip. Needless to say, this is quite an accomplishment to hike this far and you should be proud of yourself.
Like you, I truly love hiking, nature, and the great outdoors, and it is my hope and my prayer that each of us will maintain keeping our mountains safe, free of litter and destruction, and continue to respect Mother Nature. But most of all, I hope everyone will enjoy and love life to its fullest.
Good hiking and stay safe out there.