ADVENTURE HIKES AND CANYONEERING© Christopher Earls Brennen
IN THE SAN GABRIELS
Hike B6. Ganja Gulch
- Hiking time: 5.5 hours
- Estimated hiking distance: 3.8 miles
- Elevation gain: 730 feet
- USGS Topo Maps: Condor Peak
- Difficulties: Bushwhacking and 4 or 5 rappels up to 100ft
- Special equipment: Rappelling equipment with 200ft rope, 3 rappel rings and 20ft webbing
- ACA Rating: 3A III
Ganja Gulch, like its neighbors Mary Jane and Vasquez, is a north-facing canyon in the Big Tujunga region that provides an modest canyoneering adventure with some rappels. Access to the canyon requires some bushwhacking effort. However, once that challenge is surmounted, the canyon itself is relatively brush-free and provides a pleasant wooded canyoneering experience with 4 or 5 straightforward rappels only one of which is of any substantial size (100ft).
At the conclusion of the descent you must cross the Big Tujunga River several times in order to get back to your return vehicle and this might be problematic in the winter or spring after heavy rains (though the flow is controlled by the dam just upstream and can be unpredictable). It would therefore be wise to check the river when you deposit the return vehicle prior to setting out in the morning. Other than this constraint, the hike could be undertaken almost any time during the year.
For this one-way hike it is neccesary to leave a return vehicle in the parking area at the Stonyvale Picnic Area in Big Tujunga Canyon. Drive up Big Tujunga Road and turn right onto the road to Vogel Flat. At the bottom of the hill, turn left and go to the parking lot at the end of the road (34o17.08'N 118o13.40'W and elevation 1840ft). Park the return vehicle(s) here.
Then drive 5.7mi east on Big Tujunga Canyon Road to its junction with the Angeles Forest Highway where you should turn right and proceed 3.8mi to the Clear Creek junction with the Angeles Crest Highway. Turn right here and proceed down the Angeles Crest Highway for 3.2mi to a place where a fire road climbs up from the road (it is about 6mi north of La Canada). As you go downhill, the Angeles Crest Highway makes a sweeping left turn at this point and there is a large dirt parking area on the right (34o15.62'N 118o11.54'W). The fire road that starts here is labelled 2N79.
From the dirt parking area (34o15.62'N 118o11.54'W and elevation 2940ft), proceed past the locked gate and hike up fire road 2N79. After 0.6mi (about 15min) you arrive at a fireroad junction at 34o15.72'N 118o11.43'W marked by a water tank a little distance away on the right. Take the right fork and proceed about 0.3mi up the road to a point where you can see a low saddle above you on the left. Leave the road here by way of a rough trail through the brush and climb up to the saddle at 34o15.95'N 118o11.50'W and an elevation of 3480ft. A fairly brush-free firebreak runs north up the mountain from this saddle and you should hike a short way up this firebreak while watching for a trail that leaves the firebreak and contours left along the remains of an old, overgrown fireroad. This trail branches off the firebreak at 34o16.05'N 118o11.47'W and an elevation of 3620ft and may be marked by an orange ribbon. Contouring northwest this trail intersects another steep ridge with another firebreak at 34o16.16'N 118o11.64'W and an elevation of 3670ft. From this point there is a spectacular view of Mount Lukens to the south and of the lower Big Tujunga off to the west.
30ft rappel in Ganja Gulch Last rappel in Ganja Gulch (photo by Ken King)
At this view point, take a good look around and assess two options only one of which we have explored. The unexplored but probably preferable option is to follow a use-trail that contours almost due east into the head of the canyon; a grove of pine trees there should provide a route down into the canyon. The alternative which we followed was to hike down the open firebreak for about 170ft of descent from which point (marked by a cairn) we followed an animal trail that dropped down through thick brush into the canyon. This route required some substantial bushwhacking though the trail we cut should last for some years. That descent placed us in the open canyon at about 34o16.25'N 118o11.76'W and an elevation of 3050ft. You should reach this point about 1.5hrs and 1.5mi after the start. Note that the first option is preferable since it encounters a 25ft rappel in the canyon at an elevation of about 3250ft.
Resuming the descent of the canyon, the going is straightforward, brush-free and with only a few downclimbs. After a few minutes, at 2990ft you will encounter a small, 20ft rappel anchored by a tree on the left. A similar obstacle occurs at 2930ft anchored this time by a tree high on the left. Thereafter there is a long stretch of wooded, open canyon with few obstacles. Finally, about 3hrs 15min from the start at 2280ft you come to a sloping 30ft rappel that can be anchored from a tree high on the right. About 50min later at an elevation of 2000ft you will arrive at the top of the last rappel. This blind drop is anchored by a stout bush on the right and consists of a small 15ft drop down into a slot ledge followed by a vertical 60ft drop into a 3ft deep pothole and then by a further 10ft drop. This would be a good place for a guided rappel so that most of the party could avoid the pothole; some large trees are well-placed for the lower anchor of the guided rappel.
The exit from Ganja Gulch is just a few yards downstream from this last rappel and you should arrive in the Big Tujunga at 34o16.73'N 118o12.55'W and an elevation of 1940ft about 4hrs 40min from the start having travelled 2.5mi. Turn left here and start downstream alongside the river. Initially there is not much of a trail but once past Vasquez Creek the trail on the north side of the river is well developed. You should come to the Stonyvale parking area at 34o17.07'N 118o13.37'W and an elevation of 1840ft about 5.5hrs from the start having travelled 3.8mi.
Last updated 12/09/06.
Christopher E. Brennen