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The cool, forested north slopes of Liebre Mountain rear up in stark contrast to the wide, brown Antelope Valley (westernmost Mojave Desert) at their feet. The San Andreas Fault, which lies along the mountain's north base, is responsible for this juxtaposition. Vertical movements have occurred along the fault, as well as more extensive horizontal movements.

Atop Liebre Mountain's sparsely wooded, mile-high crest you can gaze north to the rolling Tehachapis and the southern Sierra, west toward the Sespe country and the highest (8000+ feet) summits of Los Padres National Forest, and south and southeast over much of Angeles National Forest. Seemingly at your feet is the flat, arid desert floor, stretching to a hazy vanishing point on the eastern horizon. By following a scenic segment of the Pacific Crest Trail, you can hike up to this crest -- an ascent of 1750 feet in 3.5 miles -- and then retrace your steps back, downhill all the way.

To get to the starting point from Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles, go east on Highway 138. After 4 miles on 138, turn right on Old Ridge Route . Go 2.2 miles south, turn left on Pine Canyon Road (County Route N2), and continue 4.2 miles east to a small summit, at mile 13.5 according to the mile markers along Pine Canyon Road. Park off the pavement in the dirt area to the south.

Just south (uphill) of where you parked, you'll find the Pacific Crest Trail. Go right, and begin a leisurely switchback ascent through red-barked manzanitas, wispy gray pines, and deciduous black oaks. Patches of Great Basin sagebrush remind you that the high desert is not far away.

The mix of mountain-desert vegetation is soon enhanced by many large California buckeye shrubs. Leafless and gray until about April, buckeye becomes one of California's most handsome blooming plants by June, showing off myriad sprays of white blossoms. Botanically, this slope resembles much of central California's Coast Ranges and the lower Sierra Nevada foothills. Here on Liebre Mountain, both buckeye and digger pine are very close to their southern geographical ranges.

Nearly 2 miles up, the trail becomes steeper amidst gray pines. On a little flat to the right, you'll discover a wilderness campsite, with a picnic table, for hikers traveling long distances on the Pacific Crest Trail. There's no water, but the breeze soughing through the long, thin pine needles overhead sets a peaceful mood.

Past the campsite, you continue over the broad top of a 4923-foot peaklet and descend to a wooded saddle. From there the trail switchbacks up through big-cone Douglas fir trees and joins an old road bed. You enter a grassy clearing dotted with black oaks (5400 feet elevation) -- a good place to admire the view of the Antelope Valley while catching your breath.

Ahead another half hour (3.5 miles from the start) you arrive at a junction where the Pacific Crest Trail veers east. Keep straight and walk up to Liebre Mountain Truck Trail (5759 feet), which is open to motor traffic when road conditions allow. That's about as high as you can get on the ridge, and is a good place to turn around.

This article contains information about a publicly owned recreation or wilderness area. Trails and pathways are not necessarily marked. Conditions can change rapidly. Hikers should be properly equipped and have safety and navigational skills. The Reader and Jerry Schad assume no responsibility for any adverse experience.

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