A 6.3 mile ascent over an additional ridge to an often-overlooked peak in the front range of the San Gabriels. This route passes by several other prominent peaks in the area, and finally makes a ridge-line ascent of Markham that includes some moderate class 2 scrambling to the peak.
Mount Markham is an interesting peak, but one that is rarely bagged by hikers. Most treks in the area focus on the more popular Mount Wilson area or the historically significant Mount Lowe and White City — but between the two is this moderate, fun climb that can be done by itself or combined with other peaks in the area for more of a full-day adventure.
While it is possible to drive to Eaton Saddle and make this a fairly short, no-nonsense hike, this route adds a bit of distance and elevation by starting near the base of Mount Wilson Road, just past the Red Box Station. There is a short, paved road a few hundred yards after the ranger station, which ends at a locked gate and parking area. Look for the turnoff just across from a fire safety sign.
This is also the trailhead to Mount Disappointment, San Gabriel Peak, and Mount Lowe. It’s one I’ve done many times, and with good reason. It’s a mostly shaded, fairly easy switchback with great views of the nearby valleys, and it starts just near the turn-off from the Mount Wilson Road. Look for a small wooden stake marking the beginning of the trail.
This trail starts out on barren slope, but quickly becomes partially shaded by the trees and brushes on the slope. If it’s sunny and hot out, you’ll still feel it, but you’ll be thankful for the occasional tree cover … which also makes for more remarkable views of the canyons below when they finally part.
This pleasant route climbs about 1000 feet over 1.4 miles, though patches of shadeless manzanita, meeting up with the paved road 12W24 for the last, relatively flat stretch. You will reach a prominent ridge at a road intersection — to the right, the well-maintained road winds up to the radio towers on top of Mount Disappointment.
Directly ahead of you, the wide expanse of the L.A. basin spreads in all directions. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see through the haze … but if you’re hiking in the summer months, don’t bet on it. You will, however, be able to see Mount Lowe — almost directly to the south, and recognizable by the nearly level former railroad grade, current fire road cutting below the summit.
To the left, a road in a greater state of disrepair passes beneath some low pine trees. In a few hundred feet, you’ll pass by an old Nike missile command site on the right (only the foundations and some bricks remain — not really anything worth investigating), and look for the trail to continue where the paved road turns toward the foundations. There is a small wooden pole marking the intersection.
Continue on this trail until you reach an intersection. Going straight here will climb a few switchbacks to the 6161′ *almost* 360 degree view on top of San Gabriel Peak. Instead, turn right onto the trail, following some old telegraph wires as the trail descends about 550 feet in the next 0.7 miles.
Spatially minded hikers like myself would do best to try to peak out from one of the occasional clearings toward the Mount Markham / Mount Lowe saddle to the south:
You’re basically going to travel on a trail parallel to that fire road, but above it — then you’ll wind to the saddle and climb up the ridge to the mountain on your left. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For now, just enjoy the single-track, rugged route as you descend to the saddle below. You’ll have good views of Mount Wilson to the east, Markham and Lowe to the south …
… and the occasional lizard below you, making a lot more noise than they should.
This trail ends at a 4-way intersection with a fire road. Directly across the road from the trail you just came off of is the Mount Lowe trail, marked with a rusted metal board.
Take the upper path (marked Mount Lowe Summit) at this junction, and continue along another easy 0.6 miles as the trail gains just 58 feet in elevation. Be sure to take a few breaks to admire the (hopefully) clear view to the west, toward Mount Lukens and the long low ridge of the Santa Monica mountains.
Enjoy this stretch of easy trail, because you’re about to hit the most challenging section.
After the long flat stretch of trail, you’ll reach a saddle at about 5361 feet. Here, the main Mount Lowe trail continues south toward the mountain in front of you. Instead, you’ll hang a sharp left and hop onto the ridge, traveling northeast toward the summit of Mount Markham. There are some faint use-trails leading to the ridge, but realistically you can just climb to the top of the ridge as soon as it looks easy to you.
After the first 30 feet or so, the trail on the ridge becomes clear and apparent — even though it’s not on any topo maps of the area. It’s a tough, rough, shadeless climb through some low brush and Spanish bayonets. While it’s not difficult by general trail standards, it is noticeably more challenging than the trails you’ve been on so far — so let this be fair warning.
After another third of a mile of rough but passable trail along Markham’s ridge, you’ll reach a section of very steep switchbacks that quickly turn into some class 2 bouldering. There’s nothing on the adrenaline-inducing scale of Strawberry Peak, but you will need to use your hands on certain sections here.
After you’re done getting your hands dirty, you’re pretty much done with the ascent, and you’ve reached the long summit plateau of Mount Markham. Here, you’ll be surprised by the lay of the land — because the mountain, which looks flat from many angles (like this one from an ascent of Mount Wilson) …
… is actually an incredibly long, thin summit ridge — in some places only a few feet across.
Just after the small section of climbing, the trail goes back to hiking and opens up with incredible views of Eaton Canyon and the city below.
You will come upon a small pile of boulders with an old cement cylinder, which you may assume is a former USGS summit marker.
Unfortunately, you would be incorrect. Topo maps mark the summit at the northeast end of the plateau, so continue following the use-trail along the ridge. There are one or two sections that hang perilously close to the edge, but it’s nothing an attentive hiker couldn’t navigate. Just use caution.
The summit plateau ends abruptly at the northeast peak, just beyond the summit elevation of 5742. Enjoy the views and the breeze, then return back the way you came, climbing back up and over the ridge between San Gabriel and Disappointment.
Tags: Angeles National Forest, Hiking, Mount Disappointment, Mount Lowe, Mount Markham, San Gabriel Mountains, San Gabriel Peak