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Horses and mules working at Crystal Lake

Oh man, what a day! Most Summer days volunteering to perform hiking trail maintenance in the Angeles National Forest of the San Gabriel Mountains is a busy, hot, wonderful day but today being July 4th was an extraordinarily busy day for hikers, bikers, swimmers, picnickers, and everyone else who took to the mountains to escape the heat of the cities below.

Being a Trailbuilder is always an adventure, always something new to see and experience, but today was even more so. Fire fighters, paramedics, police officers, Forest Service, search and rescue, and even fellow hikers and swimmers along the river were kept pretty busy going from one excitement to the next, and listening to the turmoil that was twice the usual Summer day in the Angeles National Forest was informative and interesting.

The volunteers gathered at the Gateway Information Center along Highway 39 above Azusa across from mile post 17 at the base of the mountain and promptly at 8:00 a.m. we headed North on Highway 39 to the Rincon Fire Station where we gathered our tools and equipment then radioed in to our Dispatch Overlords to let them know where we would be working, then we headed North up to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

Many people were on the highway riding their bicycle up and down, jogging along the road, and many people were parked along North Fork and East Fork, staking out a spot for cooking lunch and dinner and enjoying the coolness of the San Gabriel River. On days such as today the volunteers were on smoke and fire watch so we sniffed for telltale smoke on the way up and made sure our radios were fully charged and the volumes turned up since we could see that it was going to be very busy.

Bucking downed tree across the trail

At Rincon we pulled two chainsaws from stores with enough gasoline and chain oil to get us through the day. We had checked the Project Activity Level and confirmed that we could operate the saws safely up until 13:00 at which time we would have to set the saws aside, so that meant we would carry only half the fuel and oil we normally would.

While we were at Rincon we also pulled out McLeod trail-working tools, metal rock bars, loppers and other tools we would be needed to clear obstructions and brush from Lost Ridge Trail.

Up at Crystal Lake we saw breakfast being prepared in many camp sites, lots of people getting ready for a day of hiking and fishing, and a lot of other activity. Horses and mule volunteers were working at the lake along with their human colleagues, the Forest Service was already sweating in the growing heat, and someone had managed to cut his way through a safety gate's lock and put himself on a closed road, putting himself and others at risk. Ah well.

Up at the Deer Flats Group Campground trailhead for Lost Ridge we gathered our tools and Ben offered the day's John Hazard Analysis which covered the tools we would be using, the hazards of local flora and fauna, and confirmed that today's PAL would have us set our saws aside at 13:00.

The trail sign was laying on the ground in the Deer Flats parking lot and really should be fixed since the trailhead itself is somewhat difficult to find. The trail is lined with rocks but if you're not familiar with the location it can get hard to find.

The two chainsaw teams leap-frogged from obstruction to obstruction, removing dead trees that had fallen across or along the trail. At the same time the tread was worked to remove the endless Yerba Santa (Saint Weed) from the trail which likes to grow in burn areas.

This section of the trail had burned during the 2002 Curve Fire and while many pines and oaks were killed, it was nice seeing the forest making a come-back -- with the assistance from the Forest Service and volunteers. Still, trees that had been weakened by Bark Beetle and particulate pollutants and then by the fire have been falling, placing about 24 obstructions along this one mile length of trail.

Major obstruction before work begins

Though there were many minor obstructions that needed to be bucked up and removed, the first major obstruction occurred along a section of trail that was completely overgrown with Ceanothus and Yerba Santa. The tree had fallen along the trail at a switchback which took one of the teams more than an hour to buck up and remove. While the sawers were doing that I uprooted Yerba Santa, ripping open my pants, destroying one shoe, and putting holes in my glov es.

There was a Forest Service intern with the Trailbuiulders and I had hoped that she would get up close to the technical aspects of the clearing of that downfall since it consisted of about 50 feet of some 3 foot diameter tree, a dense rootball on one end, laying on the ground at some points and elevated off of the ground at other points. It was a good opportunity to observe how experienced chainsaw use attacks a moderately complex series of top, bottom, and twist bind on the same tree yet the intern was, I think, too polite to push people out of the way and see close-up how Tom and Bryan used wedges and saw to cut it up.

(Incidentally the Trailbuilders tend to return interns in slightly bruised, often dirty, and occasionally slightly bleeding condition after hot and difficult days like today, but I'm happy to say today's intern ended the day in as good a condition as she started. Me, I ended up with torn pants, a destroyed shoe, ripped gloves, and oozing blood slightly in two places. Ah well.)

There was a fire at mile marker 25.1 on Highway 39 that broke out prompting the closing of the highway for 3 hours, adding to about 2 miles of cars getting backed-up and prompting the Chippies to start turning people away down below at the mouth of the canyon. As soon as the fire was reported over the radio the suppression response was massive and fast with many vehicles, water tenders, crew, traffic control police, and logistics crew getting fielded on the jump to knock it down cold.

Also during the day there were a number of medical call-outs with heat-related problems, including a 4-year-old that sounded like it might have been fatal. To make things worse, while the fire suppression efforts were taking place and cars were being stopped to afford access to fire vehicles and crews, someone ran through the police blockade and had to be chased down and stopped before reaching the fire crews -- who already have a hard enough job risking their lives without having to dodge cars on the highway!

Major obstruction as work continues

The rest of the effort continued just like that, going from one obstruction to the next, working the trail with McLeod and loppers, moving boulders and rocks back in to place, checking the stair steps we had put in along the steep sections, and making note of the dense points of Ceanothus and counting how many obstructions remained after we stopped using the saws.

We're left with half of the trail cleared of obstructions with 8 more downfalls to be removed. Also we must bring in a gasoline powered hedge trimmer to cut back and eliminate the Ceanothus. Only one more major obstruction among the 8 will be technically challenging, it looks like, though that one obstruction also needs to have all of the brush around it cleared out before the downed tree can be removed.

At the end of the day we had another project we needed to perform. A rather hideously dangerous fire hazard was built at the lake itself when someone built a shelter out of dry tree limbs and branches. People had been sending me photographs of the hazard, often with a note asking that someone with the proper safety equipment come in and remove it so we set out to search for it and remove it.

The fire hazard was even worse than I expected once we located it. A candle, lantern, or a fire inside would have been a disaster but also the hut made of dry branches was also a falling hazard; more so since dried grass and moss had been used to plug chinks in the branches.

I shudder to think of people actually sleeping in it. As it was we told the people who were using it to store their coolers that we had the job to dismantle the thing, and it took about 20 minutes to pull it apart and fling the branches away. Now when on spray paint and safety patrols we'll have to check to make sure it does not get rebuilt. Yikes!

Finally we headed back down to Rincon, examined our tools and equipment and put them away and we were finished for the day! We headed back down the mountain and most of us made it down okay. Being in the last vehicle we were bringing up the rear but got flagged down by a man standing by the side of the highway. We pulled over and was informed that a man was down about 100 feet further along the highway, laying up against the hillside.

We drove another 100 feet to mile marker 19.21 and sure enough, what looked like a bundle of rags was laying on the side of the busy highway, and a careful look showed it really was a man laying there. No food, water, hat, no car or bicycle, the man was laying there in direct sunlight and considering the number of people on the highway and the number of slower vehicles that turn out to let faster vehicles pass, it was only a matter of time before he would have been run over, it seemed to me.

We checked to see if he was breathing or otherwise in distress, offered water, but didn't get any response. Since there appeared to be no immediate medical emergency I got on the radio to ask for a police officer who could professionally evaluate whether medical assistance would be good to ask for or whether the unresponsive man might be transported down the mountain and out of the path of cars.

Since paramedics and police were kept fielded and busy all day it did not take long for people with training and experience to arrive to take over. We called our Dispatch Overlords to let them know that we were clear of the action at mile marker 19.21 and continued on down the mountain about 90 minutes behind the rest of the volunteers.

What fun! Exercise, excitement, exhaustion, adventure! Volunteering in the San Gabriel Mountains with a population of 22.4 million surrounding the forest can be difficult but it is always rewarding. The work that is done is greatly appreciated by hikers, bikers, campers, and climbers, many of whom often wonder how the trails they're on are built and maintained. It's a good way to enjoy the mountains while lending a hand for the benefit of countless others, most of whom will thank you for your efforts silently as they hike along.

Next work day is the 16th when the remaining obstructions will be removed and perhaps all of the Ceanothus will get cut back.

* Modern fire station being built at Rincon
* Horses and mules volunteering at Crystal Lake
* At Deer Flats Group Campground we sort the chainsaw team equipment
* Lost Ridge Trail sign is on the ground -- note to self! Must fix this
* Bucking downfall across the trail -- note all the safety equipment and clothes
* After a downfall is removed the ground gets cleared of obstructions as well
* Bush gets cut back and removed while swampers work with the sawer
* At times the brush and downfalls conspirect to obliterate the trail entirely
* Here is a section of downfalls mixed in among brush that will be cleared
* This downfall is laying along the trail at a switchback
* The sawyer and swampers examine the technical aspects of the downfall
* A look at the downfall from the far side. There's a trail under that!
* A hundred Yerba Santa plants removed and most of the downfall removed
* We're finished with that major job. Notice that it's a switchback
* The next two obstructions and dense Ceanothus
* This downfall is also along the trail so we vector the trail by 2 feet or so
* We head for the shade for a quick lunch after the 13:00 saw cut-off time
* My $2 goves did not hold up very well
* This downfall was cleaned up and made passible 2 weeks ago yet left as is
* Trailbuilder Lou pauses to catch his breath for a moment
* The junction of Lake Trail and Lost Ridge Trail at the lower trailhead
* After over 9 years of fire and flood, people have returned to camp
* After over 9 years of fire and flood, people have returned to camp
* After over 9 years of fire and flood, people have returned to camp
* The fire hazard shelter pulled carefully down and dismantled

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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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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