Participant: Jane Strong
Date: 01 November 1999
Overview: Short in mileage; long in exercise. Varied topography: sandy stream bottoms, large boulders, grassy flats, steep-sided canyons, open ridgetops, and scree descents.
Maps: Maps are a real problem for this hike. You need at least three. Afoot and Afield in Los Angeles County by Jerry Schad on page 196, the Area A-7 Charlton-Chilao Recreation Area, shows the Silver Moccasin section correctly including the part from Bandido Group Campground to the intersection of 3N17 with 3N17B and C. This map does not show the return part of this trip.
Topo! 1998 and the USGS Chilao Flat (1994) and Waterman Mountain (1995) Quadrangles show the return section along the firebreak. The firebreak is marked on Topo! but is marked 11W06 on the Waterman Quad (1995) which is the designation for the Silver Moccasin Trail. In any case, the trail is difficult to follow on the ground part of the way, so the map isn't that helpful, just as a general guideline for proper direction.
Directions: From SR2, the Angeles Crest Highway, turn left at Chilao Visitor Center, 26 miles from I-210. Drive past the Visitor Center keeping to the right until you find the stream crossing. Park in the wide spot. The Silver Moccasin Trail is marked with a brown carsonite stake.
Distance: Round trip is approximately 5 miles.
Elevation Change: 5,200' at Upper Chilao Picnic Area and 6,080' at the top of the firebreak, 880' overall
Season: Not summer; very hot with exposed, south-facing slopes with lots of reflection from bright, white rocks and trails. I did it on the first of November and the temperature varied between 80 and 90 degrees!
Weather: Hot, 85° F, and dry, relative humidity less than 10%; UV index was 4, but I got burned a bit from reflections and intense sun
Trail conditions: The Silver Moccasin Trail begins with switchbacks up a south-facing, chaparral-covered slope. Large logs are set across the trail at regularly spaced intervals--giant step up, then long faintly rising tread, like walking Paul Bunyan's staircase. Hot, with lots of black flies around the oaks. They liked the shade, too, when available, which was not often.
The surrounding peaks came gradually into view as I mounted the slope--Condor, Lukens, Josephine, Strawberry, Lawlor and Barley Flats with the trees, Disappointment with the communications towers, San Gabriel, pointed Markham, Occidental, the antennae of Wilson, Vetter's flat top, Devil and Mooney up close.
The convection clouds were very bright and reflective with streamers of vapor flowing down. Thickening and graying; eighty degrees.
At the top, the trail goes under the utility lines, and then down to what I called "Woodpecker Flat" for a welcome rest on a log in the light shade of a Jeffrey pine. This flat has many dead tree trunks filled with holes made for acorns and cavities made for nesting by the squawking acorn woodpeckers. Little juncos ate seeds from the bunchgrass. I looked at the plants--sagebrush, Wright's buckwheat, and mule's ears.
The trail junction to Horse Flats and Mt. Hillyer is just around the corner. I continued on the Silver Moccasin Trail to Bandido up and over a rise, then down into a pleasant, grass-covered valley. A gray fox and I stared at each other for awhile until he loped away to the brush. This is perfect gray fox country, open and grassy with big boulders for dens. The small, dry streambed has a sandy bottom and the trail here is sandy, too, not rocky. Nuttall's woodpeckers and flickers could be heard in the canyon oaks.
The trail crossed the valley and ascended the slope to Bandido Group Campground. The campground has restrooms, shaded picnic tables, fire circles (amphitheatres), and many, many horse corrals. The water was turned off. Ash trees in fall gold glowed in the sunlight.
The next section of trail goes up to the crest and the junction with 3N17 and 3N17B and C at the Camp Christian sign through mountain mahogany, scrub oak, yucca and California buckwheat. It was hot and steep and buggy. The convectional clouds overhead dissipated while the clouds of black flies around me increased! My skin itched. I was glad when I reached the top and could sit on a rock and guzzle water.
The Silver Moccasin Trail goes sharply to the right here paralleling 3N17C to the water tank. Although the trail is not on any map, it is very well marked the whole route from Chilao to the Camp Christian sign. After one-eighth mile on 3N17C, there is a 4-point intersection. To return to Chilao, I took the broadest path which is unmarked. It looked like a roadbed, but was actually an old firebreak.
The "trail", white and bright crushed rock, follows the ridgetop like a road. Views on both sides were wonderful. I found a "Lookout Rock" to climb and spy down on the valley--just perfect for imagining that the banditos had used it for the same purpose. The rock was darker than the trail with spots of dark orange and red.
Then the ridgeline disappeared. I followed what I thought to be the best trail down; it was the softest, most churned up dirt with a sometimes bike rut, boot prints and animal tracks. Occasionally, the bike track went in circles. Ummm. But most of the time I was like water taking the line of least resistance down the slope, slip-sliding down the scree. Once in awhile I had to backtrack because of dense shrubbery or too steep dropoffs. There really was no trail here. When I got to the bottom and to the trees, I came across a very faint trail under the power lines.
The trail split at the next pole but after inspecting the lower way, I retraced my steps and went up the ridge where I eventually found the firebreak again and could look back on where I had been. The way seemed so obvious from this vantage point! From then on everything was fine, I could see Newcomb's and the Chilao Visitor Center. Before descending to Chilao, the trail splits again, one branch going toward the Visitor Center and one toward the Picnic Area. Chilao looked so beautiful in the low autumn sunlight--the cottonwoods blazing yellow, the willows and wildrose lining the streambed in bronze, the ash and black locust lighting up the picnic areas, the dark-green Jeffries in the background and the blue sky beyond.
Time: 3 hours and 45 minutes with rest and view stops
Plants: Manzanita, chamise, scrub oak and yucca on south-facing hllsides; Great Basin sagebrush, bunchgrass, mule's ears, and Jeffrey pine on the flats; cottonwood, ash, black locust, willow, wildrose and a few very late asters at Upper Chilao Picnic Area
Bugs: Breathed and ate black flies; very bad, clouds of them around my face
Wildlife: Acorn woodpeckers, juncos, ravens; gray squirrels and a gray fox; deer, bobcat, coyote and raccoon tracks and signs; young spiders spinning gossamer, I kept wiping the stands off my arms thinking they were hair until I saw them floating, translucent in the sunlight
Arrived Left Elevation Comments 1 0.0 10:15 5,200' Upper Chilao Picnic Area 2 11:00 11:10 5,600' "Woodpecker" Flat 3 1.1 11:15 5,650' Jct. Mt. Hillyer / Horse Flats Trail 4 1.8 11:30 11:45 Jct. Bandido Group Campground Trail 5 2.3 12:15 12:25 6,000' Jct. intersection of 3N17 and 3N17B and C.
6 2.4 6,080' Jct. firebreak and Silver Moccasin Trail.
7 12:40 6,080' "Lookout" Rock 8 1:15 Power line crossing; took upper "trail" 9 1:40 5,560' Trail split 10 4.4 1:50 5,200' Chilao Road 11 4.8 2:00 5,200' Car; 90°
Side trips: Chilao has a Visitor Center and a lovely empty campground this time of year; the one called Meadows is especially beautiful. Bandido Group Camp is also available by reservation.
Sierra Club Non-Peaks Section has a write-up which includes a visit to Louie's Cabin which is on a side road at Newcomb's Ranch.
Copyright © 1999 by Jane Strong.
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Last update: 02 November 1999