New book spotlights San Gabriel Mountains’ best trails
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
The way David Harris sees it, San Gabriel Mountains trails are like his children. He can’t choose a favorite.
“There are so many, and each one has its charms in a special way,” he says.
Harris is so close to the subject matter that he revised John W. Robinson’s book “Trails of the Angeles,” which hit stores February 9 through Wilderness Press.
“I got the (original) book when I moved to Southern California 20 years ago,” Harris says. “I’ve been following in John Robinson’s footsteps for many years. It was a real privilege to revise his book.
“John Robinson is one of the giants of Southern California mountains and history.”
The book has been described as the region’s trusted hiking guide for more than 45 years. It recalls 100 spectacular trails — ranging from one-hour strolls to challenging five-day backcountry trips — in the mountain range that looms large over the Los Angeles Basin. Featuring 18 new hikes, “Trails of the Angeles” guides readers into almost every corner of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
The guidebook offers evaluations of trip difficulty, season recommendations, length and elevation gain/loss. Historical photos and descriptions include the first American Indian footpaths, early pioneer homesteads, and landmarks still visible from the Great Hiking Era. Plus, as an added bonus, the book comes with a folded full-color map, detailing all the hikes described in the book.
Harris has been an author since the 1990s, when he began penning engineering textbooks, as he is an engineering professor at Harvey Mudd College. Since then, he has authored or co-authored seven hiking guidebooks and five engineering textbooks.
He’s been exploring the mountains and deserts of Southern California since 1999.
“Around 2004, I wrote a little pamphlet about hikes in Southern California,” he says. “I sent it to Wilderness Press to see if they were interested.
“She declined the book and I self-published it. She said they could only sell about 100 books. She was right. It sold about 100 copies. John was retiring from book writing. They asked if I could revise that one. That got me into hiking guidebooks around 2005. Once you do the first one, there’s always a demand for more. I’ve written quite a few now.”
Researching the book is physically demanding, Harris says. But a guide like this is important during a COVID-19-plagued world. It’s a natural way to social distance and, because of that, people are getting back into the hobby.
“Hiking is one of the best forms of exercise available to us,” he says. “The number of people on the trails skyrocketed since COVID. There are tons of hikers out.
“It’s much safer than going to a gym. It’s tremendously healthy exercise. This time of year, the waterfall hikes in lower elevations can be really enjoyable. Eaton Canyon Falls is a very enjoyable one.
“In terms of people who are looking to get off the beaten path and find a hike that’s going to have fewer people on it, Mount Lukens is great. The loop on the north side is fantastic. I just went up there recently and saw two trail runners and nobody else.”
Harris is revising the fourth edition of “101 Hikes in Southern California,” he says. “That’s a great book. It takes me all over Southern California. It’s the best hikes in every region.”
He inherited the brand from the late Jerry Schad, whose books are called the “grandmasters of Southern California hiking guidebooks.”
“The wonderful thing about the San Gabriels, though, is there is so much elevation range,” he says. “This time of year, the foothills are clear of snow and the water is starting to run. In the summertime, the high country is spectacular. It’s a good way of getting away from the valley.”