A cleared section of trail

Today was Fourth of July Weekend and to celebrate the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders returned to the Tototngna Nature Trail (North 34 degrees, 19.538 by West 117 degrees, 49.767 at 5929 feet) to resume work on rebuilding the trail. The previous adventure basically re-examined the lay of the trail whereas today the trail was re-discovered, flagged, and grubbed out[1].

Being July 4th just about everybody expected that the recreation sites within the canyons would be crammed packed with people hiking, cooling off in the river and streams, cooking, camping, hiking, climbing, doing bad things with fireworks, all that stuff. Because of that, Bryan, myself, and our equipment were dropped off at the Coldbrook Campgrounds to do smoke and fire watch.

The day started when Ben from the Trailbuilders picked Bryan and I up and away we went to the Gateway Information Center at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains where the Trailbuilders meet every 1st, 3rd and 5th Saturday of every month, and exactly at 8 O'clock we packed in to our vehicles and headed up the mountain.

At the Rincon Fire Station we collected the tools and equipment we would use today, and since a chainsaw would be used, the equipment included Kevlar safety chaps, a pair of fire extinguishers, helmets, ear protectors, face masks, medical kits, all the usual stuff that comes with the chainsaws including repair kit, fuel, and oil.

I got on to the radio to inform our Angeles Dispatch Overlords that we would be working within the Coldbrook Campgrounds, Valley of the Moon, Upper Bear Creek Trail, and that another group would be working at Crystal Lake, and once Dispatch confirmed having made a record of where we could be located, we climbed back in to our vehicles and headed further North.

When we drove in to Coldbrook Campgrounds we found that the place was completely unoccupied and that there were only two vehicles at the Valley of the Moon parking lot. Expecting it to become crowded fairly early, Bryan and I stayed to do smoke and fire watch while the rest of the Trailbuilders resumed the drive up in to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

Another cleared section of trail

We set up a tent, medical kit, fire shovel, ice chest, all the stuff we would need to spend the day patrolling the region, then we walked through all 25 camp sites and confirmed that nobody was there. After grabbing some water we hiked down the road a ways to the Valley of the Moon parking lot, saw one vehicle, then set our boots on to Upper Bear Creek Trail to see what we could see.

While hiking up we encountered three hikers all of whom had come from the singlr car down below. They were from the Saint George area of Utah and they also wondered where everybody was. They had set out fairly early to try to get ahead of the crowds only to find the entire parking lot empty and the trail unoccupied.

Hiking up the trail it was fairly hot, and the start of the trail for the first mile or so is fairly steep so I called a pause frequently to drink some water and pull out the binoculars to take a look around for smoke. We had hiked far enough up to get a fairly good look across the valleys all the way to Highway 39 around mile marker 29 or so however mile marker 28 and lower (where most people were packed in along the river) were blocked by a mountain ridge.

Bryan thought he might have seen smoke through his binoculars however it's fairly difficult to tell if there was smoke through the distant haze that was quickly clearing with the growing heat. We stayed a long time to examine everything within sight and then stored the binoculars away and then pressed onward.

The Upper Bear Creek Trail was in pretty good condition though there are plants growing on the trail which will need to be uprooted eventually when the weather turns cool once again. The trail is in good condition for the first 4 miles or so but still could use a little work.

The very friable granite which comprises so much of the San Gabriel Mountains keeps growing about 2 inches a year which is maybe why granite is constantly breaking up and falling down on to the trail.

Grubbing out the trail

After slinging a dozen shove-fulls of gravel and dirt off the trail, I decided that I had done enough work in the direct heat of the Sun and instead leaned on the shovel for support.

We started back down the mountain and the group from Saint George passed us. Back at the Valley of the Moon we found one car and three motorcycles; still the expected crowds of people had not shown up yet. After chugging another container of water we walked up the road back to Coldbrook and still found that we had it all to ourselves.

Pausing to rest at one of the tables, I found myself inundated with large red ants climbing up my pants, socks, and legs. I thought about doing my Screaming Ant Dance that I'm famous for but it was just too damn hot to jump around swatting myself and screaming so I just wiped them off quietly.

Ha! Well, one thing that Trailbuilders never do is waste time standing around so I managed to get a relay to the Trailbuilders working on Tototngna and asked that someone come down and collect us. We got the word back that someone would so we packed up our stuff and waited. Checking Valley of the Moon one last time we again found the parking lot had only the one parked car and another temporary vehicle whose driver was using the rest room facility.

So much for doing fire patrol in an an unoccupied campground! Ben drove up just as I was walking back from Valley of the Moon for the last time today and we loaded our equipment in and headed up the mountain after I informed our Dispatch Overlords via radio that we were relocating. I also advised Dispatch that the campgrounds were unoccupied at the time so that they could make a note and so that people listening might not send assets to patrol the campgrounds when there was no need to do so.

Ben coming back and getting us was going way beyond the call of duty since it took him off of useful work for an hour, and we were very grateful that we were re-vectored off of unneeded spoke spotting and fire patrol work and got taken up to where we could lend a hand doing something useful for the day.

By the time we got to the Tototngna work site, it was 12 Noon and time for lunch! We had water, crackers, water, Pop Tarts, and water for lunch. Tom had already packed away the chainsaw and equipment and commented about how much hotter the new safety clothing was. The new clothes are 10 layers of Kevlar instead of the usual 7 layers that we're used to, and the new chaps wrap around the leg rather than just protect the front of one's legs.

Trailbuilder volunteers!

During lunch break Bryan and I got to see how much work had been accomplished on the trail in the morning. The previous week's effort managed to only ascertain where the trail was located, mostly, but by Noon today large sections of the trail had been worked so that the location of the trail was no longer in doubt. Also, two weeks previously there was a great deal more flowers in bloom than today, but then it was a whole lot hotter now than it was two weeks ago.

The Trailbuilders had already cleared out the largest of the downed trees and brush across the trail, getting it done way ahead of the 1 O'clock deadline imposed for gasoline powered tools according to the Day's Project Activity Level (PDF File) and all the safety equipment -- fire extinguisher, safety clothes and all that -- had already been packed away for the day.

Bryan and I took the left fork of the trail and started climbing the hillside to see all of the work that had been done. Upon reaching the apex of the trail we could see Tom way off in the distance below yelling about something and waving his arms.

Was he being dragged off by a bear? Was he being attacked by bees? Did he spot a flying saucer? Was he doing the Screaming Ant Dance? It was difficult to make out what he was yelling about but eventually we were able to make out that he was looking for a Pulaski and a McLeod as well as two volunteers to use them, so Bryan and I picked up a shovel and a Pulaski and headed overland down the hillside to meet up with Tom.

The area of the trail that Tom was surveying was overgrown with dense brush and was located in a fairly moist area with numerous dead trees that were in various states of slowly returning to the Earth, including a number of trees that are still leaning over and constitute something of a safety hazard. Eventually some of those trees should be dropped, I think, but for now Tom laid flagging to show where the trail goes so Bryan and I got to work with the long tools.

Basically the initial effort through the heavily overgrown area was to flag the path along where the previous "interpretive nature signs" had been located and then the ground needed to be grubbed out, the brush cut back or removed, downed tree limbs and bark hauled away, rocks and boulders dug up and relocated, all with an eye on the flagging to ensure we never went off course.

Ben carries at least 3 tools with him at all times

While that was going on, the rest of the volunteers continued to work on establishing the trail in the higher elevations, scraping off the growth down to dirt so that the trail could be seen and hiked with certainty of where the trail is actually located.

My back pack had been parked on a tree branch laying on the ground while I was busy pulling up elderberry bush (made famous by Elton John and Monty Python) and when I picked up my pack and slung it over my shoulders and immediately started getting bitten by hundreds of large black ants this time. I dropped my pack and again thought about doing my famous Screaming Ant Dance but the only people in the area who would enjoy it was Tom and Bryan, both of whom had seen the comedy act many times before. I got most of them off of me but it would not surprise me if I've still got some on me right now, there were so many of them.

Around about 3:30 O'clock or so we started to wrap things up. Nearly all of the Trailbuilders -- 11 of us -- met at the area where the heavy growth had been and where the path had been carved through the jumble of dead trees. I had brought cold water up and offered some to whoever might have run low, and then we were ready to head back to our vehicles.

Everyone looked hot, tired, but happy -- and everyone should be proud of the work that got accomplished today. Walking back along the lower loop of the trail we could see that some 90% or so of the trail had been re-established. Another day's effort should see the entire trail completely restored, starting from a trail which only had hints of where it used to be, two solid days should see the entire trail restored.

It was a good crew, from what I saw of the people working together, everything went smoothly and the effort went rocking along! When the Crystal Lake Campgrounds re-opens (hopefully this year!) this trail should be a fairly popular one since it forms a loop, it's not too long, and walks through a number of micro environments. From its apex one can look across the basin and see the open air amphitheater off in the distance.

On the way back down the mountain in our cars we slowed down and took another look at Coldbrook Campground once again. From what we could see there was still nobody in there camping or cooking though now there was a family sitting on the ground or standing at the entrance of the campgrounds. For some reason the Coldbrook Campgrounds did not get used today by anybody, at least by 4:30 O'clock when we drove post.

Driving up to the Valley of the Moon parking lot, there were four cars now, still an overwhelming lack of people utilizing the campgrounds or the hiking trail which remains something of a mystery.

From there we drove back to the Rincon Fire Station, inspected our tools and packed them away and we were done for the day. After informing Angeles Dispatch that we were ending the day, we were officially done.

And what fun it was, too! I think I drank just over one gallon of water but still was a bit dehydrated toward the end. Bryan and I had missed the daily safety meeting and run-down which certainly included the need to drink plenty of water, but though we missed the meeting we still managed to remember to drink plenty of water -- only it would have helped to be reminded about avoiding ants!

When we return to Tototngna, I believe that the entire trail from end to end, the entire loop of the nature trail will be completed. The Trailbuilder's engineers may look at some of the ravine crossings and might consider establishing foot bridges with boulders, but another day's effort should see the entire trail restored.

[1] Grubbing: To dig in or under the ground, generally for an object that is difficult to reach or extricate; to be occupied in digging. [1913 Webster]

* Smoke and fire watch equipment is not complete without a bicycle
* Coldbrook Campgrounds is at mile post 32.50 where much water flows
* Water on the far side of Highway 39 runs through culverts
* The drainage out of Coldbrook is worked with concrete to reduce erosion
* With fire watch a bust, I join the trail effort at Crystal Lake
* The lower sections of the trail have already been rebuilt!
* Mike working with a McLeod in the background, Ben in the foreground
* Bryan gets a lunch of crackers
* Mike still working while we're having lunch
* Another section of the reworked trail
* A section of the trail before I start working on it
* Half of the work done on this section so far
* What happened to my gloves? Some how I ended up doing some work without them
* By golly, I really am ruggedly handsom, aren't I?
* This section of the trail still needs some work
* Another section of trail that has been reworked
* Volunteers workong on the apex of the trail loop
* Volunteers workong on the apex of the trail loop
* Flagging gets added to the heavy growth area to mark where the trail goes
* The trail needs to go through this area with the heavy green plants are
* More flagging shows the route of the trail
* Bryan grubs out the trail through the heavy growth area
* Tom continues to lay flagging while wiping off the sweat
* The trail gets carved out of the bush down to the bare dirt
* Now take a look at how much has been done through the heavy growth
* We now have a good trail past this heavy growth section
* The trail beyond the heavy growth area is also well defined now
* Flagging through this area shows where more work is needed
* A shovel works fairly well for removing the top layers of plant growth
* Bryan kicks up a lot of dirt and dist when he works in the hos sun! LOL!
* Trailbuilders start bringing the tools down after working hard
* I ask Ben if he coul dtry to be manly enough for a manly photograph
* Ben demonstrates the tools that all well-dressed volunteers are wearing this year
* One final look at some of the volunteers before we finish the day

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.

E-Mail Crystal Lake Camp Ground