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First major obstruction

Hot! It was a very hot day working in the Angeles National Forest, but it was also something of an unusual day for the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders since today a team of six set out early to try to get a jump on things before things got to be too hot, and to try to get up to Islip Mountain in an effort to complete the removal of the last remaining dead tree from along Islip Ridge Trail, all the way from Little Jimmy Trail Camp to the Big Cienega Trail junction.

And what fun it was, too! Despite the heat, dust, ash, threat of lightening strikes, all that happy nonsense.

As you may have seen in previous write-ups covering the trail efforts in and around the Crystal Lake basin, the last survey of this trail had seen that there were four remaining obstructions to remove, so the Traiulbuilders were dispatched to take care of those, after which the forward team would work their way down the Wawona Cutoff toward the lake parking area, meeting up with the rest of the Trailbuilders working their way up the trail removing brush and fixing erosion, among other trail repairs.

Because of the Project Activity Level for the Angeles National Forest area where we would be working, all chainsaw activity needed to be suspended at 13:00 and, given the heat of the day, it is always a good idea to try to get out in to the field early in the Summer months compared to cooler seasons, so today the Trailbuilders split in to two teams.

The volunteers met at the Rincon Fire Station where we examined our tools and equipment, making sure we had all of the fuel and oil we would need for the chainsaws, checking the condition of our Kevlar safety chaps, hard hats, checking our chains to see which were sharp and which were trash, and then finally we climbed aboard the big red pickup and headed further North along Highway 39, all the way to Angeles Crest Highway and from there to Little Jimmy Trail Camp.

Along the way we passed a large number of people on bicycles working their way up from Azusa all the way to Angeles Crest, a trip of about 30 miles and maybe some 7000 feet or more of altitude gain, but in the canyons the bike riders could be assured of shade from time to time, and along the way there are a number of small streams to cool off in.

When we got to Little Jimmy we were somewhat surprised to see it empty, not a single camper was there. A number of people were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in that section but the entire campgrounds were empty of campers. Interesting. It takes a bit of hiking to get in to the Trail Camp, and maybe the heat of the previous day kept people away. Well, we had the place to ourselves anyway.

First major obstruction removed

We shouldered our chainsaws, hung tools from our backs and belts, picked up long tools and axes, and then finally we set our feet upon the trail, heading toward the first obstruction.

What we found was a major difficult snarl of tree roots at the end of a large obstruction on Mount Islip that was not in our inventory of work for the day, and checking the rest of the trail all the way to the peak we found two additional obstructions that were not on our list.

Ha! It is always this way, because of the Bark Beetle infestation (please check that link if you have not looked at the phenomena lately) and the Curve Fire, dead pines and the occasional dead oak trees continue to fall down upon the trails, or they continue to shed branches which obstruct the trails, and while hikers, bikers, backpackers, climbers and such climb over, under, and around them, the temporary usage trails that get forms add erosion and might not be quite as safe as specifically designed trail sections, so the Trailbuilders remove the obstructions, eliminate the temporary bypasses, and re-establish the original trail, doing so as close to the original trail as possible within inches since the U. S. Forest Service expects it, and it's the professional thing to do!

The first major obstruction had never been reported, perhaps because it had been blocking the trail for about 2 years and the temporary usage trail that bypassed it was so well defined by hikers that nobody bothered. Still, bucking up that major problem was a long, slow, careful effort that took about 2 hours.

You might think that taking over 2 hours to buck up and remove a dead tree that's about 3 feet wide is a rathyer long period of time for just one obstruction, yet if you look at the photographs you'll see why the Trailbuilders go the extra mile, take the extra time to take everything slowly, carefully, with much planning and discussion and in-field training of new volunteers to ensure that there are no crushed fingers, thrown tree fragments, all of the potential difficulties that might cause injury. So 2 hours plus was something of an impact on our hoped-for schedule for the day, but Safety First is paramount.

While that obstruction was being worked on, a second chainsaw went up Islip Mountain all the way to the peak and quickly took care of the other two obstructions, leaving most of the volunteers with little to do but wait for the large tree to be completely bucked up and get removed so that the trail could be restored back to its original condition.

When finally Mount Islip was finished and the trail looked wonderful again, the forward team headed down Islip Ridge Trail and bucked up and removed all of the remaining obstructions and found themselves with about seven minutes of available time before the 13:00 cut-off time was reached.

There was still a lot of work to do on the way down the mountain, though. Boulders to be removed, leaning trees to be examined, tree bark to be collected and shoved over the side, by the time we got to the meeting point on South Mount Hawkins road to meet up with the big red pickup again, it was rather late and the other Trailbuilders who had sweated and worked their way up some 2 miles of Wawona Trail were already on their way back down the mountain and, hopefully, cold ice tea -- or at least something to cool off with.

Another obstruction removed

The six of us still working our way down Islip Ridge Trail eventually stopped by Adam's cafe at the Visitor Center, checking out the general condition of the camp sites in the area which were moderately full but still had a few sites open, with lots of people playing games, lots of bicycle riders still coming up and going down, kids running around, everyone enjoying the cooling evening as the rather brutal Sun started westing behind the mountains.

It would have been nice to lay back right there on the asphalt of the Visitor Center parking lot somewhere in the shade and sleep for a few hours before heading back down the mountain but alas we finally all climbed aboard the big red pickup and returned to the Rincon Fire Station after which we were done for the day! And what an unusual day it was.

With some 2 miles of Wawona getting opened up, bushed back, erosion repaired, and with Islip Mountain and Islip Ridge Trail fully opened, a great deal of work was accomplished, and basically the only thing left is to complete Wawona thereafter the Trailbuilders will perhaps do another survey of all the trails to see what the new schedule should be.

Perhaps the next big thing is the repair of the Sutter Walls along Windy Gap Trail, or perhaps Sunset Ridge Trail which is just above Deer Flats Group Campground since there are a number of trees down along that short nature trail. Perhaps Islip Trail or Windy Gap will be widened some more to afford access to pack animals which will help in the trail maintaining effort.

Regardless it will be fun!

* The first major obstruction on Mount Islip
* The root ball gets bucked up
* Second obstruction Fred watches while Jonathan uses the saw
* Chainsaw half way through on far side
* Bryan works on bucking up the third major obstruction
* Fred tries to remove some of the healthy bush right in the trail
* Meanwhile three wedges, two holding wedges on the second obstruction
* After the holding wedges are removed, everything drops slowly and controlled
* Fred takes a break from trying to kill the local flora
* At the fifth major obstruction we discuss where the trail traditionally goes
* The first major obstruction and its large root ball
* The second obstruction before work gets started on it
* Hikin' Jim's daughter pauses to rest on Windy Gap Trail
* Hikin' Jim's daughter fills her drink container at Little Jimmy Spring
* The trailhead at Little Jimmy Trail Camp
* We get our equipment together at Little Jimmy
* We pause to rest a bit before starting the next effort
* The view from Mount Islip
* The first major obstruction and what it looks like from the trail
* A wider look at the first obstruction and the temporary use trail around it
* Bryan watches at the roots are removed
* A look down on the chainsaw effort from the obstruction further up the trail
* Another obstruction on Mount Islip
* Bryan removes that obstruction further up Mount Islip
* Obstruction removed but the trail still needs cleaning
* Meanwhile the first obstruction has been cut back quite a bit
* First obstruction removed, now the trail starts to get repaired
* Mostly finished, a retaining wall is established with rocks
* The trail section is finished!
* The sign where Windy Gap, Islip meet at this point
* We use almost entirely Stihl chainsaws -- for obvious reasons :)
* Back at the second major obstruction -- which is actually two trees
* This is the second obstruction right after the second one
* The trail in between gets worked, brush removed to re-establish the trail
* Tree limbs are placed under the trunk to make it slide easily
* South Mount Hawkins from where we are working
* The next obstruction is much smaller and takes 2 easy cuts
* Obstruction removed, the trail needs to be cleaned up
* The last major obstruction has obscured the trail entirely
* That major obstruction has been removed, the trail now gets worked on
* Bob removed some of the brush to re-establish where the trail goes
* Holding wedges get removed so that the bucked section drops slowly

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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