CHRISTMAS VACATION, 1887: A TRAGIC OUTING TO MONROVIA PEAK

     In late December the front range of the Sierra Madre often stands 
crystal clear against a cloudless sky, with mile-high Monrovia Peak luring 
flatlanders to climb its summit for spectacular views of the San Gabriel 
Valley.  Today the peak is easily reached via forest service roads that 
come within a few hundred feet of the summit.  In 1887 it was a grueling 
hike of several miles, but the lure existed even then, and during Christmas 
vacation two Monrovia boys accepted the challenge.

     Wednesday morning, Dec. 28, fourteen-year-old Vincent Applegate and 
his older friend, Chester Odeneal, left for a three day hunting trip on the 
peak.  Odeneal, an expert woodsman, had made sure they were adequately 
supplied for their short campout, and Applegate's parents gladly gave their 
consent.  

     Hiking in favorable weather, the two young hunters made good time 
despite their heavy packs. That evening they camped near the summit.  Today 
a register is available for hikers to record their climb.  In 1887 
Applegate and Odeneal simply carved their names on a tree, beneath an 
earlier inscription.

     The weather changed dramatically on Thursday as a storm moved in. 
First rain, then snow, covered the range.  Valley residents could no longer 
see the peak.  An uneasiness gripped the Applegate family.

     Thursday night's heavy snowfall prompted young Applegate's father, 
James, to head up Fish Creek trail on Friday, but a search until late that 
night was fruitless.  More snow sent the increasingly desperate father out 
again on Saturday.  This time he stayed overnight, but returned home again 
Sunday without success.

     Inquiries in town on Monday - now two days after the boys were 
scheduled to return - revealed that the two intended to go up Sawpit 
Canyon, where the major trail leads up to the peak today.  Applegate's 
three day search had been in the wrong place.

     Long before there was a Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team, citizens 
of Monrovia and Duarte rallied together in a massive hunt for the two 
youths.  A search party made its way through the snow to the top of the 
peak.  Their they found the boys' names on the tree.  One account claims a 
bottle at the summit contained an account, written by young Applegate, of 
the scenery, obviously written before the unexpected storm. 

     Ominously, searchers also found the  remains of the boys' camp - 
blankets and provisions unattended.  Hope for their safety diminished.

     On Wednesday, Jan. 4, an even larger group of nearly fifty men moved 
up the mountain, but rain and more snow drove them back, without success, 
the next day.  

     As the days passed, hope for the missing hikers dwindled.  A rumor 
circulated through the valley that Vincent Applegate had quarreled with his 
father and had used the hunting trip as an excuse to run away from home.  
According to another rumor, Applegate and Odeneal were seen, in the company 
of other youths, on the streets of Pasadena.  

     Meanwhile, James Applegate continued the search, largely alone.  For a 
week he roamed the peak, looking for his son, spending several nights in 
the rain and the snow, now nearly two feet deep.  

     With return of better weather on Wednesday, Jan. 11, a permanent 
search base was set up near the site where the boys had camped.  For nearly 
two weeks the elder Applegate and a handful of others continued what they 
now assumed was the sad search for bodies.  

     Tuesday, Jan. 24, a family friend, found both boys, frozen in death.  
One was sitting, propped against a tree.  The other died lying in the snow.  
Odeneal was said to have written a story, found in his pocket, about being 
lost in the mountains.

     Monrovia Peak still beckons valley residents to ascend its heights.  
But those venturing up its trails might reflect on the danger that can 
befall even the most prepared hikers, as young Applegate and Odeneal 
learned.  Today a monument in Live Oak Cemetery marks their final resting 
place.
                               - - -

[Ralph E. Shaffer, professor emeritus in history at Cal Poly Pomona, has 
been to the top of the mountain.  He can be reached at 
reshaffer@csupomona.edu]