ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SAN GABRIELS
Hike C2. Casada Canyon
- Hiking time: 7.5 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 5 miles
- Elevation gain: 1780 feet
- USGS Topo Maps: Condor Peak
- Difficulties: 3 rappels of 40ft, 180ft and 110ft, some tough bushwhacking
- Special equipment: Helmet, harness and rappeling gear; 200ft rope, 200ft recovery cord, 25ft webbing, 3 rappel rings, clothing for bushwhacking
- ACA Rating: 3A IV
On Sep.22, 1960, US Marine Corp Captain Howard O. Casada Jr. was killed when his Navy F-104 Starfighter (56-0740), based at China Lake Naval Weapons Center and carrying Sidewinder missiles, crashed into the southern face of Josephine Peak at an elevation of 4500ft. The cause of the crash was thought to be oxygen depletion at altitude. Casada was 29 at the time and was survived by his wife, infant son and father. At the time of the crash, there were many reports from the Pasadena area of a sonic boom. The crash started a fire that burned about 15 acres before it could be extinguished by Forest Service crews and planes dropping flame-retardant. According to a Pasadena Star-News article the next day, Mrs Peggy Hotchkiss was manning the Josephine Peak fire lookout at the time of the crash and had to be evacuated because of the fire threat. The crash took place in or close to this unnamed canyon that drops precipitously off the south face of Jospehine Peak. We named it after Captain Casada.
Captain Casada's F-104 Starfighter
The adventure begins at the summit of Josephine Peak and descends the canyon directly to the south of that peak, hoping along the way to find signs of that high speed impact. The descent of Casada Canyon consists of three distinct phases, a section of very tough, even brutal, bushwhacking, an attractive and open middle section with some big rappels and then a final section of lighter bushwhacking. A little water runs in the lowest section. This hike is best on a winter day for otherwise the south facing upper sections could get very hot indeed.
If you wish to set up a vehicle shuttle for the 0.5mi trip up the road to Clear Creek Junction at the end of the hike then, starting at Clear Creek Junction, drive the 0.5mi west on the Angeles Forest Highway to a point where there is a pullout on the right and a corrugated metal drainage structure stands in the canyon just below the highway on the right side. Park the return vehicle here at 34o16.42'N 118o9.65'W and an elevation of 3490ft.
Then, in the other vehicle(s) return to Clear Creek Junction where the Angeles Forest Highway splits off from the Angeles Crest Highway 9.4mi north of the 210 Freeway in La Canada Flintridge and 6.2mi north of the Angeles Crest Forest Service Station. Park in the dirt pullout at Clear Creek Junction at 34o16.22'N 118o9.21'W and an elevation of 3650ft.
From the parking area at 34o16.22'N 118o9.21'W and an elevation of 3650ft walk hike about 50yds down Angeles Forest Highway to where the Josphine Fireroad begins. Hike up this fireroad for 2.6mi to the ridgetop junction at 34o16.95'N 118o8.53'W and an elevation of 4880ft where you are treated to spectacular views both to the south and the north. To the south you can see downtown Los Angeles and beyond, the Pacific Ocean, the Palos Verdes peninsula and Catalina Island. In the other direction, the northern San Gabriel mountains are spread out before you. You are looking up the valley of Mill Creek toward the saddle where the highway begins its descent toward Palmdale. To the left of that is Mount Gleason and you can see the Fall Creek/Mount Gleason fire road wind its way up the long ridge toward that summit.
Left: View from the bottom: start is just to the left of the cliff-faced peak, Casada Point, and the 180ft rappel is in the lower right (in white) Right: 180ft rappel
It takes about 1hr 10min to reach this ridgetop junction. Turn left and continue up the Josephine Fireroad as it climbs toward the Peak itself. The final leg of this ascent circles around below the Peak and you want the overlook on the southwest directly below the summit where the ridge rising toward the peak from the west meets the fireroad. You should reach this drop-in point at 34o17.11'N 118o9.25'W and an elevation of 5430ft about 2hrs and 3.9mi from the start. Gear up here and prepare for the descent of Casada Canyon.
There is a well-worn, open use-trail along the top of the ridge that runs west from Josephine Peak and allows easy access to the top of any canyon that runs down from this ridge. However, all these canyons contain dense, almost impenetrable brush between the ridgetop and any passably open streamcourse. Casada Canyon is no exception. Indeed it is divided into three distinct sections. Below the ridgetop is a section of very dense and brutal brush that eventually leads to a nice open section in the middle where the rappels are located. At the bottom there is another bushwhacking section though passage here is alot easier than at the top.
There are several possible routes through the first section. One explored route is to hike a short distance down the ridgetop from the drop-in to the first rocky promontory (Casada Point) and then continue about 100ft down the ridge to 34o17.09'N 118o9.36'W and an elevation of 5260ft) where a rough use-trail proceeds to the left, appearing to contour around the bottom of the cliff on your left. This is the southern face of Casada Point, the highpoint in the photograph taken from the bottom. This explored route only traverses a short distance along the cliff bottom before heading straight down through the dense brush. If you can find this already travelled route this may be the way to go but the route still involves some brutal bushwhacking. If you go this way, then about 2hrs after the drop-in, you should be able to reach an open streamcourse at about 4800ft where several gullies come together.
[Before continuing we should mention several other unexplored options that might allow easier passage through this upper section. One would be to walk out to the peak of Casada Point and rappel down the cliff face as far as possible. Viewed from below it appears that there is a scree slope below the cliff which could ease the descent and postpone the bushwhacking. Another possible alternative route would be to stay close to the bottom of the Casada Point cliff for longer than the explored option and to rappel steep rock where needed.]
Resuming description of the explored option at the confluence of the gullies, the going is suddenly much easier though still steep. After dropping another 200ft or so the gradient eases and you enter the attractive middle section of the canyon. A little further downstream at an elevation of 4540ft you will arrive at the top of the first rappel about 4.5hrs from the morning start. This is a 40ft rappel down sloping rock from a big, shady tree at the top. This is followed by a number of easy downclimbs over white bedrock. Then, just a short way downstream, the canyon gradient steepens and at 4210ft and 5hrs from the start you arrive at the top of the steep drop near the bottom of Casada Canyon. This begins with another series of easy friction descents over white bedrock that culminates at 4200ft at the lip of a big 180ft rappel over the same shining white rock. The anchor for this big sloping rappel is a sturdy bush on the left near the lip. You descend into a narrow bush-choked slot but it is only a few yards to the top of the last rappel, a vertical 110ft drop from a bush anchor on the right. Again you descend into a bush-choked canyon bottom.
You should reach the bottom of these rappels about 6hrs into the hike. Downstream there are two long, sloping downclimbs of about 40ft before all that is left is a long, brushy hike out that concludes when you encounter a conduit for the stream and climb a few feet up to the road and your return vehicle. The end is at 34o16.42'N 118o9.65'W and an elevation of 3500ft. The hike should take about 7.5hrs during which you cover about 5mi.
Last updated 2/20/07.
Christopher E. Brennen