Haunted Forest Hike

Of course it started to rain the other day as I drove to go on a hike.

Of course it didn’t stop raining until well after I got back in my car following the hike.

And, of course, it was one of the best hikes I’ve ever taken.

I had no idea what to expect when I left home for the hike. My friend Natalie had been in town a few weeks prior, and a friend of hers had told her about an awesome hike, which Natalie didn’t have time to do before leaving. On her last day, Natalie handed me a post-it with directions:

Mt. Lowe. Exit 210 at Lake. Head north until Lake dead-ends.

So, the other day, I did exactly that. I didn’t look into what was at the end of Lake, or the difficulty of the hike – I just went. I ended up spending over two hours on the mountain, ascending and descending into some serious fog. It was gray everywhere, and it was absolutely stunning. The fog added a huge element of mystery and surprise – I literally had no idea what was around the next corner, or which direction I was heading.

After the hike, I settled in with my laptop, and did some research into where I had just been, and what I found was utterly fascinating. Just like that, my hike went from awesome to awesomer.

Here’s what I learned.

The trail begins at the gate to the Cobb Estate.

Charlie H. Cobb made his fortune from lumber, and in 1918, he and his wife built their dream house in the foothills above Altadena, CA. They lived there for slightly over 20 years, until Cobb died in 1939.

Cobb made news in 1935, when, at 83 years old and armed with just a garden hose, he saved his house and family from an encroaching forest fire in the middle of the night.

Cobb left the house (pictured at right in 1930) and land (all 107 acres of it) to a local Freemason group, and over the next 17 years, ownership changed hands multiple times, until the Marx Brothers bought the property in 1956 as an investment. By this time, the house had fallen into disrepair and was used as a hangout for local teens (police arrested nearly 200 people for petty crimes at the dilapidated mansion). The Marx Brothers demolished what was left of the house in 1959, leaving only the foundation behind, which I found on my hike:

Eventually, the Marx Brothers wanted to turn the land into a cemetery, an idea that was hated by the community. In 1971, after those plans fell through, the Marx Brothers decided to auction off the land to developers. That plan was foiled by a group of high school students, who, in just one week, raised a commotion in the media and caught the ear of a local wealthy art collector, who helped them buy the land at the auction. They turned the land over to the Forest Service, with the condition that it could never be built on. The story of the auction is riveting stuff – read a great article about it here.

So I have a group of high students to thank for my wonderful hike. Thank you. Without your hard work, I never would have spent the afternoon amongst scenery like this:

The trail went up a mountain, and I got higher, the fog got thicker.

There were all these wonderful moments when I would see the trail curve ahead of me, and there was nothing beyond but fog.

At one point I saw these structures looming ahead – it turned out they were power line towers (I’m not sure what these are called, are you?):

After a switchback or two, the trail went directly beneath one of the towers.

The entire experience was unlike any other I’ve had, mostly because of the weather. Rain is rare is Los Angeles, and even though I was soaked by the end of the hike, I loved every second. For the most part, I was alone on the mountain (in 2 hours, I came across maybe 8 other people), and the fog and the gray made everything seem… a little unsettling. A little eerie.

Turns out I’m not the only one that thinks that way. One of the other things I learned after my hike was that the Cobb Estate has another name: The Haunted Forest.

I couldn’t track down specific stories of spooky occurrences or unexplained activity, but apparently the Cobb Estate is a whole different place at night – a place where there are weird lights and sounds, and where people have claimed to have been ‘touched’ when no one’s there. Thankfully for all of us, the very-official-sounding Los Angeles Ghost Patrol investigated the Cobb Estate – you can read their write-up (and watch videos) here.

Lastly, I also learned that had I continued on that trail for a few miles longer, I would have come across some more ruins from another fascinating chapter in Altadena’s history. I’ll share those details at some other point – probably after I go back andfind those ruins on another hike. It gives me something to look forward to.

I kinda also wanna go back to the Cobb Estate at night. Who’s up for a nighttime hike in the Haunted Forest? Anyone wanna come with?

And did I mention that it was an tiring hike? I have no idea how far up the side of the mountain I went, but I was definitely feeling it in my quads later that day.

Keep it up, David!

10 Responses to Haunted Forest Hike

  1. I’m so excited to see this, David. I live in the Pasadena area and my husband and I were talking just yesterday about taking a hike up one of the many San Gabriel foothill trails. This looks spectacular…although with the weather this week, you are definitely more adventurous than I. And at night? No thanks. LOL! I will definitely check out the Cobb Estate soon! We would just love the challenge! Debra

    • David says:

      I hope you check it out, Debra! One you get beyond the gate, there are couple different trails you can take. I explored 2 of them, and the one that leads to (and beyond) the power tower was my favorite. Follow the driveway beyond the gate. When the driveway veers left (its first turn) go straight ahead, on the trail, and after a few hundred feet you’ll see signs/markers. Head down the trail into the river bed, and come up the other side (you’ll see a couple old dams, but it’s a dry bed) and continue up up up to the power tower. Beautiful.

  2. Stefi says:

    Wow. What a cool place

    In the uk we call the towers. Pylons not sure I that’s tha same where you are. Some people think they are ugly but I like them

    I have a post card of them on my desk at work which makes people laugh as I work in electricity.

  3. Kyle Kuns says:

    I’ve hiked from the Cobb Estate many times. It was great to see an old picture and learn some of it’s history. You’ll probably also like hiking up to the ruins of the White City at Echo Mountain and the trail leading up from there that follows the old electric railway.

    • David says:

      Thanks, Kyle, for stopping by! I’ve been reading about the Echo Mountain house/ruins and also Inspiration Point – they’re both on the list! I’ve been trying to figure out if the trail I was on was the one that continues to Echo Mountain, or if it’s the other trail from Cobb that I didn’t take. Do you know?

  4. Kyle Kuns says:

    Yes, you were on the Lower Sam Merrill Trail. I just gave you the link showing which way to go at the top. The first time I hiked there I went the wrong way. While the trek up the lower Mt.Lowe Railway is great (with remains and photos of the old electric train) and only 1.6 miles round trip, it’s better to know that in advance … Keep up the weight loss–and then maintain it!. I’m down 65 lbs doing a similar program myself–a side effect of my goal to hike Mt. Whitney.

  5. Katherine says:

    I can’t wait to visit this area someday. Charles was my great great grandfather’s (emery cobb) brother. They were born and raised in Lee, Maine.

    • David says:

      Whoa – Small world! How exciting that Charles’ great great grand-niece read my blog! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you visit the area, too!

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