Skim the rim of the rugged San Gabriel Wilderness on the Mount Waterman Trail.

The Mount Waterman Trail traverse across the north rim of the San Gabriel Wilderness provides almost constant views of statuesque pines, yawning chasms, and distant, hazy ridges. The rugged topography of the wilderness area is a refuge for herds of Nelson bighorn sheep, and you might chance upon one or another of these swift, elusive creatures crossing the trail. The hike is one-way, necessitating some kind of transportation arrangement, and involves a total ascent (mostly in the beginning) of 1400 feet, and a total descent of 2250 feet.

The Mount Waterman Trail starts on the south side of Angeles Crest Highway, opposite the Buckhorn trailhead, where you'll find a parking lot and restrooms (mile 58.0 by the highway markers). Three Points trailhead, at the far end of the hike, is located at the intersection of Santa Clara Divide Road, mile 52.8 on Angeles Crest Highway. Cars parked at either end must display a National Forest Adventure Pass. (If you prefer, you can shave some time, distance, and elevation gain from this hike by making use of the Mount Waterman Ski Lift, which is open on summer weekends to cater to hikers and mountain bikers. The lift carries you 900 feet up from Angeles Crest Highway to a point about three-quarters of a mile north of Waterman Mountain's summit, and from there you can navigate toward the Mount Waterman Trail. Note that mountain bikes are not allowed on the trail itself.)

From the Buckhorn end, follow the well-graded foot trail -- not the old road bed paralleling the trail at first -- along a shady slope. After one mile of easy ascent through gorgeous mixed-conifer forest, you come to a saddle overlooking Bear Creek. The trail turns west, follows a viewful ridge, and then ascends on six long switchbacks to a trail junction, 2.1 miles. A trail to Waterman Mountain's summit goes right; you stay left and contour west about one-half mile, then zigzag south down to a second junction, 3.5 miles. Twin Peaks saddle, a spacious spot suitable for camping, lies below to the left. Stay right, and continue west.

The remaining four-plus miles take you gradually downhill (more steep at the very end) along a generally south-facing slope. You wind in and out of broad ravines, either shaded by huge incense cedars and vanilla-scented Jeffrey pines, or exposed to the warm sunshine on chaparral-covered slopes. The older cedar trees are gnarled veterans of past fires. Near the end of the Mount Waterman Trail, you hook up briefly with the Pacific Crest Trail. You swing down to cross Angeles Crest Highway, and climb up on the other side to reach the parking lot at Three Points.

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