Total trip length = approx. 12 miles round trip
Elevation loss = 2,700′. This hike is all downhill until you turn back around for the return
Trailhead location: Vincent Gap on the Angeles Crest Highway, just west of Wrightwood
This hike descends Vincent Gulch to Mine Gulch campsite, then further down East Fork
Last Wednesday I journeyed back down Vincent Gulch to the stream side shelf of Mine Gulch Camp. Nothing’s at Mine Gulch any more in the way of improvements such as tables, fire pits or outhouses. However, the broad bench alongside the stream bed is shady and very level, offering a great camping spot at a place where you can explore the Prairie Fork by going straight across the wide, bouldery wash or heading down the East Fork toward Alder Gulch, Fish Fork and points further on. My goal was to continue down the East Fork of the San Gabriel River to a spot near the confluence of Alder Gulch and then double back, hopefully returning back up to Vincent Gap before I lost my light.
Really, once you starting heading downstream from Mine Gulch campsite, the East Fork stream bed is one big rocky floodplain for the next thirteen or fourteen miles to road’s end near Follow’s Camp. It is slow going and the stream crossings are numerous. Bring a pair of water shoes with you, so you can just slog across the East Fork without having to make an endless number of risky jumps just to keep your boots dry.
Part of the character of these upper reaches of the East Fork is the isolation from other hikers. I was out for nine hours and only saw one person, and that one person was within a hundred yards of the trailhead at Vincent Gulch. That was it! Much of the terrain passes through a myriad of beautifully striped metamorphic boulders, piles of fractured rocks that have fallen hundreds of feet from towering cliffs that border the deep canyon. You must pick your stream crossings amongst wide glades of buckwheat, Yerba Santa and mountain mahogany peppered with sunbaked driftwood from times and storms gone past.
Gentle, onshore breezes pushed up canyon as I continued heading downstream. Occasionally, beautifully twisting sycamores graced my way, sheltering me from the relentless June sunshine. Their leaves quaked gently back and forth in the fresh air. The interplay of shadow and bright pools of warm light constantly and quietly changed the mood around every bend in the canyon. Surprisingly, the stream was flowing much more abundantly than I had expected. Narrow hedgerows of white alder grew tightly along most of the stream course, adding their shade across secret pools of green.
After finally turning around for the long ascent back to the car, I had fun looking for stacked rock cairns, “ducks”, that had been placed by earlier hikers to mark where they thought the route should be amongst the wide, wide sunbaked washes. It was a tiring, yet exhilerating day in the wild and quiet Sheep Mountain Wilderness. If you want to get re-charged with the peace and quiet of the open spaces of our mountains, this just might be the place to consider.
by Chris Kasten