by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It is generally felt that the best time to hike in the rugged and scenic San Gabriel Mountains is during the period from October to June, excluding summer. One of the most popular areas is the front range of the mountains above the foothill communities of Altadena, Pasadena and Sierra Madre, where Mt. Wilson, Santa Anita Canyon, the Arroyo Seco and other heavily visited locales attract visitors.
The tallest of the peaks in that area is Strawberry Peak, which rises to nearly 6,200 feet above sea level, making it just four feet higher than San Gabriel Peak. It was given its name in the 19th century by hikers who thought its rounded summit resembled the fruit.
The two 1920s photographs, from the so-called “Great Hiking Area” spanning from the 1890s to the 1930s, highlighted here from the Homestead’s collection show hiker at or near the summit of the peak.
One image shows a trio of hikers, presumably all male, though one is only partially in view, at the summit plaque installed by the United State Forest Service. The plaque gave the elevation as 6,150 feet, though that has since been revised six feet upward.
The three wear sturdy calf-length boots along with long-sleeved shirts and long pants, with at least one gent, on the left, sporting some neckwear and what may be a handkerchief around his neck, perhaps for sun protection. The person at the top, whose head was “cut off” by the framing of the photograph, though his cap rests on his left leg, is holding some food in his right hand. Also in view are some knapsacks and water canteens.
The second photo is more dramatic and has a caption at the bottom reading “Climbing Strawberry Peak at Switzer’s.” The reference at the end is to Switzer’s Camp which was to the southwest of the peak a few miles. Obviously, the seven persons shown in the image stayed at the resort camp in the Arroyo Seco and then took the long hike up to the peak.
The four women and three men are shown perched on sharp granite outcroppings and are linked with climbing rope, which suggests they took a more difficult ascent up Strawberry Peak from its west, which required some scrambling and climbing up rocks to get to that summit.
Then, there is that striking view in the distance of portions of the majestic San Gabriel range. Because of Strawberry Peak’s status as the highest in that front range area, the views from the summit are pretty spectacular.
At the time these photographs were taken, the only way to get to Strawberry Peak was through hiking and riding animals on trails from the foothills and embarking from an existing campground or resort. In 1929, the construction of Angeles Crest Highway began and a segment to trailheads near Strawberry Peak were completed in the early years of the Great Depression.
It took nearly three decades, but, in 1956, the final link was made to Big Pines not far west of Wrightwood to complete what became part of California State Route 2. Around that time a connection was made with State Route 39, which climbed up San Gabriel Canyon from Azusa and met with Angeles Crest Highway near Mount Islip. An excellent online KCET article by Nathan Masters about the building of the highway can be accessed here.
Over the years, fires, floods and landslides have impacted these roadways and, just this week, there were articles appearing about an effort to restore the connection of Highway 39 with State Route 2, though not without some comment about whether spending the money, estimates around $100 million, to do that could be used on other highways deemed more important to most commuters.