Why should you own a gravel bike?
- Riding closed roads not open to traffic.
- Dirt is fun.
- The opportunity to get away from it all.
- Being able to do rides like the one I’m about to describe.
CiclaValley has long chronicled failure after failure and luck doesn’t owe me anything.
One thing I know, the deeper I go into the Angeles National Forest, the more I fall in love with it.
I spend tons of time looking on Google Maps and cross referencing Strava for new places to ride trying to judge with limited data which dirt roads are appropriate for gravel.
Pacifico Mountain has grabbed my attention the last few months, but with limited knowledge and snow season actually being a season this year, I’ve held off.
My dreamt up plan was to do a 40 mile loop with limited exposure to ACH since the highway is filled with weekend warriors speeding their motorcycles and exotic cars.
I knew my friend Hamish was equally twitchy to ride some dirt and after some jostling of calendars, we finally made it a reality.
Starting off on Big Upper “T”
We parked at the junction of ACH and Big Upper Tujunga starting off with a nice descent with some built in rollers that allowed us to cover about ten miles in a half hour.
This stretch is a jewel in itself with perfect road conditions and strangely few cars in this region setting the tone for isolation.
We turned north onto Angeles Forest Highway which is always a slower than expected processing climbing six miles until we would turn off at Mill Creek Summit.
Hamish spotted a friendly snake in the middle of the road, but it stubbornly wouldn’t cede to my suggestion to move so I got out of the way before approaching traffic was going to get me slimed.
Share the road.
As we neared the summit, there was a parallel fire road that looked intriguing, but the finale featured a steep, unclimbable embankment that made us feel content to stay on the road.
Maybe next time when someone buys me a mountain bike…
The Mill Creek Fire Station offered us our only chance to grab water on the ride and while I was carrying nearly three liters worth (seat post bag), I filled up my bottles again to be safe.
Oh yeah, just to be safer, I also had two tubes and a spare tire since I’ve proven before that I need to stock up.
Now that we were about to hit dirt, it was time for a tire check.
Hamish was riding 40s at 45 psi while I had a 36 F / 37 R with no idea about the pressure since my gauge was broken.
The best I could do was to compare mine to Hamish’s which probably put me around 35 psi, so who knows what’s going to happen.
I was surprised when we passed the gate to see the fire road in great condition.
Nothing but room.
It was slightly on the sandy side, but never bad enough where we spun out.
The climb snaked up the hill with each switchback giving a more complete view than before.
I didn’t expect to be that on top of Mill Creek Summit, but my eyes were also drawn to the more popularly ridden Mount Gleeson on the other side of AFH.
Looking down at Mill Creek Summit and Mount Gleason
We soon hit the mile high mark with coming across more and more tree remnants which were victims from the Station Fire in 2009.
While the first major climb averages 8% over three miles, there never was a point where the grade became a problem.
Damage still from the Station Fire
Sure, I was out of gears, but I never felt like I needed more.
Reaching the top of this segment came quicker than I expected and it was quite a reward.
Picture taking opportunity
Looking north and west, I could see portions of both the Sierras and Los Padres Forest.
Palmdale and Lancaster were in view too giving scale to this expansive panorama.
Looking south towards Adler Creek
Back behind us was the Adler Creek area which is a lush valley with no indication of human presence anywhere.
Looking around provided one of those moments where you appreciate where bikes can take you.
…and it rocks up here.
After many requisite photos, we continued ahead on the fire road enjoying the playfulness of the rollers.
For this being our first time out here, we were able to move at a pretty good clip without worrying about the conditions.
I’m always cautious on new roads, but it was easy to build confidence as we rolled.
It was just gorgeous to have my perspective shift as the mountains seemed to grow and shrink with each turn.
At the five mile mark, we reached the turnoff for Pacifico Mountain which is only 1.4 miles to the top.
The start looks discouraging, but if you build up a little speed, you’ll easily make up this little pitch and the grade becomes more reasonable.
Sandier, but still super manageable to the top.
Compared to earlier, this climb is a bit sandier than before, but there was only one small spot near the top that was a problem.
Hamish and I yo-yoed in positioning as he would pull away on the softer parts while I would grab his wheel on the harder pack.
That’s the difference in just a few millimeters in tire width.
The storied Pacific Crest Trail laid right off our path about halfway up and while bikes aren’t allowed on it, we stopped and paid our respects before continuing on.
To the right of us, we could see Mt. Baldy hiding between two peaks with some trace snow on its north side.
Shortly, we reached the rounded peak which topped out at 7,124 feet was quite a reward.
A nice resting spot to say hello to the Sierras.
Our view of the far off mountain ranges was extended even further.
The air was thin and clear whereas the nearby High Desert looked dusty, but almost celestial from our perspective.
A little shelter in the campground.
We were also surrounded by a pretty well laid out campground which was still vacant for the season.
This is a place where you have a moment and relish in the gifts that nature provides.
Baldy in the background.
After an extended break, we rode back to the main fire road a bit cautiously, but the sandiness was less of an issue than I had thought.
The route towards Angeles Crest Highway was mainly downhill, but this time our concern was dodging a couple small patches of rocks and having to dismount for a couple of downed trees.
We’re not turning back!
Otherwise, it was a really smooth descent where we enjoyed the panoramic change in perspective on every curve.
Speeds didn’t really matter as we were enjoying the solitude even though it had been an hour since we had seen another person.
We approached a junction where we could have taken dirt back to Chilao Flats, but it would have been a shorter route.
Instead, we wanted more and continued east towards Three Points which switched us back into climbing mode, but up pristinely finished pavement.
Hold on to everything.
It was quite easy to find a good tempo, but it’s a segment where you should be aware of other cyclists coming down these blind curves (we didn’t).
After about a mile, the road flattened out and we reached a gate with a number of cars parked nearby.
We were still up at about 6,000 feet and it still felt like a forest, but some of the cars driving by weren’t driving at speeds to enjoy it.
After passing the Christian Camp, we were soon back onto ACH tucking in and gliding down as a reward for all of our climbing.
Newcombs Ranch was right at the start of our descent which had two million motorcycles parked in front along with another million exotic cars.
I hate being on ACH on the west of Newcombs, especially on the weekend because this is where the bulk of speeding takes place.
We soon came across that big fire station that looks like great place to get water, but isn’t since it’s gated right after passing the entrance to Chilao.
What was also a new hitch for me was this small dirt road past the station I noticed on Google Maps leading to a place called Mooney Mountain.
Plenty of people had ridden it on Strava and I still had plenty of water left, so why not?
While the views were more concealed than Pacifico, the slope and conditions were the same, although the climb was only 2km.
Maybe all this dirt made us badasses, but it sure didn’t seem like it took us long to get to the top.
We had a choice to head towards a small observatory, but we were already running a little behind, so we decided to continue on to ACH.
This side of the mountain was a bit ruttier and while following someone’s line is a smart choice, my one moment of indecision yielded a predictable result.
All is good.
We had about three miles to reach our car once we were back on the highway, but as we neared the end, we noticed the dirt road to our left which leads to Cogswell Dam and thought about our next adventure. Hmm, maybe next time…
If you have need for Sierras or the feel for some type of escape, but don’t have the time to get away, this dirt will take you there.