July 4íst Week End in the San Gabriel Mountains
Another trail building week end come and gone. And boy is it fun!
July 4'st Week End in the San Gabriel Mountains
First off, hello, Lois. Yes, I survived the Fourth of July "long week end" in the San Gabriel Mountains and hope that you and the other U. S. Forest Service, Sheriffs, fire crews, and emergency medical first responders managed to survive it, too. I think you guys work harder up there than the trail builders do some times.
Considering the fact that there must have been something near 20,000 people clogging the canyon in 100 degree weather and that half of them had fires going, you guys probably suffered a greater threat to your health and sanity than I did on my bicycle dodging my way through the drunk drivers on my way back down the mountain.
July 1'st was another work day for the San Gabriel Mountains Trail Builders who once again devoted a day of hot, sweaty, unpaid labor toward repairing trails in the Crystal Lake camping grounds in the Angeles National Forest. Since I wasn't doing anything that day I decided to join them, my bicycle and camping gear being carried up in a pickup truck and Mike, Tom, and I driving up in a car to the Rincon Fire Station.
While we were driving up Highway 39, we passed through a cloud of smoke. I asked Mike if he might turn around so that we could check it out even though it looked like someone parked along the highway was working on her car. I got out and looked over the canyon wall down to the river below, then went back to get Tom. Since Tom fortunately wears a US Forest Service uniform, I asked if he'd come join me in asking the guy down below to put out his ground fire. The area was packed with humans, many of them with BBQ and stoves going, and this guy had a ground fire going, putting everyone's life at risk.
Coming up toward the start of August, some of the regular trail builders and crews will be getting some basic law enforcement training so that we're better equipped to politely and forcefully request such people to put out their fires. Usually I go and get a Sheriff or a USFS Freddie with a radio rather than confront the individuals setting the fires, but since Tom has a uniform, that works well though I believe it can be dangerous. (People don't like to be told what to do, more so when the people are doing something dangerously stupid.)
Eight of us worked on repairing the Lost Ridge Trail which is one of the better hiking trails in the Crystal Lake area. These trails are designed in an effort to focus foot traffic along "official" routes to limit pollution and erosion, and to make it easier to collect and pack out litter and garbage.
We split into two teams, one team heading up toward Deer Flats to cut up and remove some trees that had fallen onto the hiking trail, the rest of us working up the trail from the other end. The work consists of digging into the hillside with McClouds and other hand equipment and removing dirt, brush, and rock so that there's a canted foot trail wide enough to accommodate hikers safely. (Well, reasonably safely, anyway: it's always easy to fall down a hillside onto the jagged rocks of the canyon below never to be seen again.)
Though the Crystal Lake area isn't yet open to the public, rumors are that the area will be opening up again some time around April (is my best guess) and while the USFS and Caltrans still have a lot of work to do up there, there are some hiking trails that have yet to be repaired or maintained which will need to be taken care of. A number of trails have been cleaned up and made safe but there are still hundreds of hours of work to restore the whole system of hiking and educational nature trails.
Some 90 million years ago tectonic and volcanic forces raised the mountains we were working in and among them was a boulder that resolutely deposited itself right smack in the middle of Lost Ridge Trail. Fortunately evolution developed tool-bearing primates, among them Bernie and Tom who traded a Polaski back and forth to take whacks at the offending boulder with the pick end in an attempt to break it up and move it off the trail. Evolution still has some ways to go because the rock defeated the primates and it's still resting in the middle of the trail. In another few million years maybe another species will come along with better tools to remove it.
Some of us (myself included) stopped working a bit before 2:00 p.m. due to the heat and running low of water. I hiked back down to the lake road and found some shade in the middle of the road to lay on and waited for the rest of the trail builders to quit, too tired to try to chase away the millions of insects that descended on me to suck the salt from my blood.
When the chainsaw crew met up with the rest of us, we got a reward of cold drinks and then headed our separate ways. I packed up my stuff and bicycled to the Visitor Center while everyone else headed back down the mountain.
During the next two days I assisted the caretaker up there by doing some electronics work (with the telephone lines and other things) but mostly by raking and moving brush and pine cones away from the buildings up there. Mitigating the fire hazard is always a good thing since if any of the buildings catch fire, the lack of combustible fuel anywhere within some 30 feet of the building should help keep the fire from spreading to the surrounding forest. Likewise if some AH sets fire to the forest, the buildings should be okay. (I'll be returning later to remove all of the brush from within the fence surrounding the buildings -- should take another 12 hours of work.)
Bears got my "Good and Plenty" candy and deer got my bread rolls. My fault: I can't imagine that the candy is good for bears but I'd thought I had it packed away tightly enough in my backpack. Apparently the bears have opposable thumbs up in the San Gabriel Mountains because that's what it would have taken to get to my candy.
I'd been raking up brush for several hours, carting it away in a plastic trash can, dumping it in a safe place, and then doing it all over again when I noticed that Reggie Jackson who used to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers was standing on the roof of the trading post. I wiped the sweat from my eyes, blinked several times, then yelled at him, "Reggie, what the Hell you doing up there?!" I then asked the waitress for another strawberry margarita, please, (Nurse! Another round, please!) then realized I was suffering from heat exhaustion and needed to get some water into me.
I don't see flying saucers or Bigfoot. I see baseball players. As it turned out, Reggie was actually the bear that got my candy, maybe coming back looking for more. And Darryl Strawberry had managed to work its way into my heat-stroked brain some how. When things start to go dark, it's time to take a rest.
Though I stayed on the caretaker's property while I was working for him, I went down to Soldier Creek to wash off some of the sweat and top soil from time to time. There are places where one can sit under waterfalls and scrub with sand, something I can do because there's nobody else up there to be annoyed by the naked pagan pounding his blue jeans and socks against rocks to remove some of the more encrusted dirt. (I probably account for half of the Bigfoot sightings up there.) When the place opens up to the public, I won't get to do that any longer but then I don't expect I'll be working so hard as to get that dirty.
While working I managed to dislocate one of my toes, the one that I'm always torqueing out of shape and having to tape back into place until the bone settles back where it's supposed to be. Since I didn't have tape I wrapped it up against a neighbor with a long string of plant stem then soaked it in the cold water until it all went numb. Later when I got my medical kit, I took a photographs just because.
Incidentally I noticed that the Visitor Center needs to have the brush and living plants cleared out if it's to pass a fire inspection. Maybe I should ask the USFS if they'd let me do that, including trimming branches away from their telephone line. Nobody's using the Center for the past four years, though, so it's probably not a high priority. The bench and surrounding woodwork needs to be sanded down and painted USFS brown, and something should be done about the gaping hole in the basement foundation where just anything could be living.
The trip down was fairly horrible since the highway, canyons, and fire roads were jammed packed with humans and their cars. There were so many people that they were parking on the highway, pretty much killing any hope of people leaving, and making of themselves a massive safety hazard in the event one of them set the forest on fire. The first 11 miles were great because the road is closed around mile marker 29.6, but after that it was wall to wall humans, many of them standing or sitting on the highway without a care in the world, already dumping their garbage, used diapers, and cigarette-packed ashtrays on the ground. (I saw that the sewer pumper truck was kept busy, too.)
I stopped by the Elmer Pen (off road vehicle staging area) to suck down some water (from my canteen filled with deer-shit-infested water from Falling Springs -- tasty!) and to satisfy my curiosity about how things were going with the large crowd of people. I don't know how they manage it but the USFS Freddies are always polite and cheerful despite the hot weather and despite some of the more difficult visitors to the canyons that they work with.
If it were me handing out parking permits in 100+ degree weather, I would have been medicated and packed in cold towels after the first hour of screaming myself hoarse from some of the things I've seen people do up there. I mean I've seen a USFS woman ask a driver to wait, please, while she copied down the vehicle's license plate only to watch the guy apply the gas and drive toward her. She stepped aside to avoid being run down and again politely and calmly asked the guy to hold on a minute, please. Either the USFS hands out tranquilizers at the beginning of every shift or they're trained and immune from some of the stuff they put up with.
Lois offered me cold water -- presumably water that's not got a lot of deer shit in it --which I declined since I prefer deer shit water. (Thanks anyway!) She asked whether the trail builder group was ever going to complete the trails down below and I mentioned that I think that maybe Ben is a bit discouraged about that because someone pulled out and destroyed all the work we'd started on the East Fork trail down to the river below. Eventually we'll have to start over and complete it but we'll be doing it in 100+ degree weather.
That East Fork trail that was deliberately destroyed is an important one because that area is known as "Pamper Flats" due to the amount of used baby diapers and other garbage that gets routinely dumped by people along that area. The trail we were putting in was to be wide enough for horses to be used to assist in the packing out of garbage, but a primary reason for the trail was to provide safe access to the river while closing off all of the dangerous trails that had been haphazardly created unofficially before. The area also suffers from graffiti and I've talked with USFS people about the problem while they've chipped and scraped to remove it.
In all it was a good trip out with the trail building crew doing a stellar job once again. After I got home I was pretty badly wasted and lost a day of work due to being so dizzy and light headed I couldn't walk straight. My hands were covered in blisters anyway so work would have been a bit difficult at any rate.
Down at the bottom of the mountain the USFS maintains a "temporary" office that hands out parking permits and the line of cars waiting to go past the checkpoint stretched back all the way to Sierra Madre Blvd despite the fact that the canyon was full already and the Forest Service was getting ready to close the canyons to any more vehicles coming up.
When Crystal Lake opens next year, and if Angeles Crest Highway is completed and re-opened to allow vehicles to access the lake from above, every Summer day could very well be one in which some 20,000 people camp, hike, and picnic in the area. It should be interesting to see whether the environment (which has been cleaning itself since the 2002 Curve and Williams fires) manages to survive it all.
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