Eight thousand feet above the monotonous, flat grid of San Gabriel Valley streets, Mount Islip pokes its head above the sticky, warm marine layer and basks in cooler, drier, pine-scented air. The view from the summit is comprehensive -- north over the Mojave Desert toward peaks as far afield as Death Valley National Park, and south over the vast L.A. metropolis, clear air permitting.
Two main hiking approaches to Islip's summit are available: from Crystal Lake Recreation Area (out of Azusa) in the south, and from Angeles Crest Highway in the north. The north approach takes you through aromatic pine and fir forests most of the way. Two variations of the shorter and easier north approach will be described here.
Drive up Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) from either La Canada in the west or Wrightwood in the east to a gated fire road on the south side of the highway at mile 65.5 (as reckoned by the mileage signs posted irregularly along the highway shoulder). Walk up the pinecone-strewn fire road to where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses it, 0.5 mile up and 350 feet higher. Both the fire road and the PCT go south and east to Little Jimmy Campground, but the trail is nicer.
Little Jimmy Campground, which honors early-century newspaper cartoonist Jimmy Swinnerton (creator of the "Little Jimmy" comic strip), who spent a pleasant summer here in 1909, nestles comfortably in a little flat shaded by statuesque pines. Tables and stoves make this a convenient spot for a picnic or an overnight layover for backpackers.
From the campground, the summit trail goes uphill (west at first) and continues looping upward to gain Mt. Islip's east shoulder. You ascend along this shoulder, swing around two switchbacks just below the summit, and arrive at the shell of an old stone hut on top. Look for the footings of a fire lookout tower that was constructed here in 1927. The tower was moved to nearby South Mount Hawkins in 1937.
The route just described measures 5.6 miles round trip. If you care to add another mile of round-trip distance to the hike, then start walking from Islip Saddle, mile 64.1 on Angeles Crest Highway, and follow the Pacific Crest Trail all the way to Little Jimmy Campground.