Photographs are provided at the bottom of this web page.


Chainsaw work

It's Labor Day week end and it's hot hot hot! But nothing is too hot, too rainy, or too freezing cold for the San Gabriel Mountain Trail Builders and your intrepid adventurer (that would be me!) to spend some time in the San Gabriel Mountains doing trail restoration and maintenance volunteer work.

The day began as it usually does: with a whimper and a denial that it is, in fact, morning and time to get up.

Tossing two water containers and my old leaking canteen into my knap sack, I climbed on to my borrowed bicycle and headed toward the Azusa King Ranch Market to meet with the others, pausing to note on a bank advertisement sign that it was already 74F degrees and rising even as I pedaled past.

For a wonder I was the first to arrive, an hour and a half early since in the Summer when the temperature is expected to exceed 100 degrees the SGMTBs like to start an hour earlier than during the Winter months.

Wayne, Jannett, Bill, Ben, Mike, and myself headed up to Rincon Station along Highway 39 within the San Gabriel River Ranger District of the Angeles National Forest, there to collect the tools we would be using and to see whether the fire crews had any ice we could have (they didn't.) From there we headed up to the Big Cieneca Trail which begins along the road that leads up to Deer Flats in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area (which is still closed and is likely to remain closed until 2009.)

The goals of the day included taking a look at the general condition of the trail, doing some tread work on the lower section, and removing all of the downed burned trees from the entire length of the trail.

We saw a bear cub (about two years old) walk across the road and stop to stare at us, and we saw many deer resting in the shade while we walked past them.

Generally and for safety sake, chainsaw crews comprise three volunteers so we kind of split once we reached the trailhead. Wayne, Bill, and Jannett started the day's efforts working on the trail, reshaping the ground, moving branches, brush, pine cones, and rocks to make the trail useable and to try to keep water (if it ever rains again!) from causing damage to the trail in the future.

Since it was hot hot hot, I joined the easier work in the chainsaw crew. We walked the length of the lower trail section without finding any trees to remove, then walked from the upper section down to where we had parked our cars, removing downed trees along the way.

Since the fire danger is EXTREME, we worked with the chainsaw only until around 12:30 and then stopped since there are regulations which prohibit the use of gasoline powered chainsaws past 13:00. (You'll notice that we follow all the rules religiously. In the photographs you'll notice that we wear our safety gear when using the chainsaw. We're GOOD volunteers!)

We still managed to get everything removed from the trail however one very long burned tree that had started to fall was hung up in other living trees which overhang the trail and the next time we go out we will want to attach ropes, pull that puppy down, and buck up that dead tree to remove that safety hazard.

It was exhausting work if only due to the heat. Mike did almost all of the cutting though I was afforded a rare opportunity to make three cuts! My own chainsaw (that I bought used for $25) still needs to be repaired so I didn't bring it (tie it on to my borrowed bicycle's handle bars?) I want the USFS to fix it for me for free, in fact.

Chainsaw work

Since the next day (Sunday) was going to be even hotter, I decided I would not spend the night in the forest, biking down in the morning through the oppressive heat. Instead I came down the mountain with the rest of the volunteers, passing what was left of the huge throngs of forest visitors parked along the highway (photographs below.)

Sunday and Monday the U. S. Forest Service should see about 20,000 visitors to these canyons. The trash and sewage is a phenomena and a sight you just have to see and experience, if you haven't already.

During today's efforts I heard on the radio:

o Four brush fires with fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters responding, complete with eyes on the ground having to hike in with their equipment to stomp, monitor, and smother any remaining flames not extinguished by the water and retardant drops.

o One false alarm fire called in which was actually thunderstorm clouds boiling over a mountain top. False alarms also have to have resources jump on to them.

o At least two heat exhaustion medical callouts, at least one of which required a helicopter evacuate after rescue crews hiked in to locate and stabilize the victim, call in their location, and coordinate the helicopter landing.

o One female bee sting victim who was transported to Rincon Station, presumably for prompt evaluation since she had some how been stung on the tong.

o And endless parade of requests for law enforcement efforts to address dangerous behavior up and down the canyons, the most frequent one being illegal cooking and camping fires -- this despite the fact that no fire signs exist in Spanish damn near every 20 frocking feet or so along the popular camping areas.

Chainsaw work

The United States Forest Service people who work up here do one hell of a difficult, demanding job, I always like to mention. They're at times doing work like cops, medics, marriage therapists, sanitation engineers, biologists, geologists... The USFS people up here at times have to be everything imaginable as they work in a forest which gets a great many visitors and not enough actual police officers patrolling these canyons.

A great many forest visitors think that the rules and laws of civilized society no longer exist once they start heading up into the mountains, and the USFS people have to deal with them while trying their best to keep everyone -- all 20,000 of them! -- safe while trying to protect what's left of the forest.

Oh! And the USFS also works with crazy volunteers! Pray for them.


* Climbing into the back of the pickup for a short trip of about 100 feet
* Golden Land Construction continues to restore the camping grounds
* We stage up on the road heading up to Deer Flats Group Campground
* Some tools get hand carried down, others get strapped to people's backs
* The first set of downed trees that need to be removed from the trail
* We like to remove all branches and limbs first for safety
* Mike does top bucking mixed with under bucking while the rest stand aside
* We use tree bark under some downed trees to keep the saw out of the dirt
* First section removed and we like to discuss each cut before it's made
* The third cut on this downed tree begins
* And we'll remove wider sections if they might slide down hill in the future
* Here is the cleared section. Ben cleaned up the ground a few minutes later
* The next set of downed three downed trees along a switchback
* Some trees we can remove without cutting -- we only cut when we must
* Ben and Mike list, roll, and struggle while I relax and laugh in the shade
* Hey! That's me! I do actually do real work; I don't just take photos
* I got to make only three cuts. I'd like more time on the saw
* Some downed trees form dense snags which can be pulled apart
* We're at another downed tree, this one fairly small
* This tree is a safety hazard so we professionally and safely remove it
* After getting the hanging hazard down, Mike gets ready to buck it up
* Half way removed. We will want to remove all falling hazards in here
* We are about done here. Ben cleans up bark and branches left on the trail
* We get a set of three downed trees toward the end of the trail
* And immediately after those three we have a difficult hanging safety hazard
* Hanging trees like this one can be made safe by carefully walking it up
* Mike carefully watches the tree, checks his cut, returns to watching the tree
* As each section is removed, the strain on holding branches are less
* The next section is removed while Mike keeps watching the hung up tree
* Branches and limbs are sequentially removed as each trunk section is removed
* Each cut gets discussed while the rest of us monitor the hanging branches
* Jannett watches this effort. Notice the other safety hazard in front of her
* Also notice that Jannett stays well clean of that falling hazard above
* Probably the last cut on the previous hanging tree before we pull it down
* We're about ready to pull the remaining tree section down
* Another careful look at the tree before it's pulled down
* That tree has been bucked and pulled down. Now it gets bucked up
* It's about 12:30 and time to stop using the chainsaw so we pack it up
* Ben, Bill, Wayne. Bill and Wayne continue to work on the trail
* I get back down to where the vehicles are stored
* Unfortunately this section of the forest was burned in the Curve Fire
* Oak trees did better than pine trees in this area during the fire
* While we're having lunch, we get a visitor

To give some idea on what some week ends are like up in the canyons, I include the following photographs. This is Saturday -- tomorrow and the next day for Labor Day week end will be three or four times this dense with people parked side by side and actually parked on the highway in some areas.

You can get some indication as to how much work the USFS does to try to ensure that everyone is safe, have places to put their trash, and have useable toilets.

* The first section of parked cars for visitors after the closed USFS gate
* 2: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District
* 3: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District
* 4: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District
* 5: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District
* 6: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District
* 7: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District
* 8: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District
* 9: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District
* 10: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District
* 11: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District
* 11: Parked visitors to the San Gabriel River Ranger District

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map

This web site is not operated or maintained by the US Forest Service, and the USFS does not have any responsibility for the contents of any page provided on the http://CrystalLake.Name/ web site. Also this web site is not connected in any way with any of the volunteer organizations that are mentioned in various web pages, including the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders (SGMTBs) or the Angeles Volunteers Association (AVA.) This web site is privately owned and operated. Please note that information on this web page may be inaccurate.

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