California Black Bear

Today the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders returned once again to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area with the Forest Service and Boy Scout volunteers to clear the remaining downed trees off of Cedar Canyon Trail and Soldier Creek Trail, and to cut back the brush and remove plants growing on the trails.

The Trailbuilders always check the day's Project Activity Level (PDF file) before work begins, and though today's level was between levels "C" and "D" and technically permitted the use of chainsaws after 1 p.m., we planned to complete all chainsaw work as early as possible so that we could set the saw aside before 1 p.m. (It's always best to err on the side of caution and safety!)

The day began early with some of the Trailbuilder crew getting up before daylight to gather together their PPE, personal tools and equipment together before driving the distance to the Gateway Information Center maintained by the Forest Service at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains in the City of Azusa across from survey mile marker 17 along Highway 39.

First blockage to clear

Even though we arrived early at the Visitor Center, the office was fairly busy since today was the first week end in June and a great many hikers, bikers, climbers, swimmers, fishers, picnickers and other people seeking a day's exercise and recreation in the mountains had come out in numbers. While many people already had annual parking passes, a great many came in to inquire about hiking trails and road conditions, river water levels, and to ask questions about pretty much everything one might want to know about what's going on in the canyons.

While waiting for our 8:00 a.m. departure time we could see a great many people riding along the San Gabriel River Bicycle Path (a.k.a. SGRT) across the highway. This bicycle trail goes all the way from this point at the base of the mountains to Seal Beach which makes taking the trail a very nice bit of exercise!

Promptly at 8:00 a.m. we sorted through our vehicles, climbed aboard and headed North some 8 or 9 miles to the Rincon Fire Station. There we picked up our tools and equipment, including many McLeods, shovels, metal rock bars, a heavy duty Grip Hoist Puller and several lengths of wire rope, among other bits and pieces, then we headed further North in to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

Along the way we paused a moment to photograph and video tape a California Black Bear who was mostly brown with light markings. Awesome! He or she was perhaps 2 years old, standing along the side of the road watching the cars come and go though getting a bit nervous after we had slowed.

Newly-cleared trail

When we reached the parking area created specifically for safe access to Cedar Canyon Trail we parked, piled up our tools and then Ben from the Trailbuilders offer the daily safety run down, covering the tools we would be using today, describing what the trail should look like after being worked, and also covering the local flora and fauna that volunteers might want to avoid including Southern California rattlers (my favorite!) scorpions (these make my knees go all wobbly just thinking about them!) ants, poison oak, all the plants and animals that we might encounter during the day.

As soon as work began on Cedar Canyon I headed toward Winnona Trail which is located at the lowest parking lot at the lake itself (GPS coordinates North 34 degrees, 19.109 by West 117 degrees 50.689 at 5555 feet) since the trail sign there had spray paint on it. While at Rincon the Forest Service had provided brown paint and a brush to clean the sign, so taking about an hour of careful effort, the sign was fixed which will make a lot of people happy! (The Trailbuilders totally stole the extra unused paint and the brush!)

After a quick survey to make sure that the other signs in the area were still free from spray paint I headed back toward the main work site, pausing to wave to the Forest Service district's new Recreation Officer who was sweating with a crew shoveling out, raking up, and getting ready Loops A and B of the campgrounds so they can be used this Summer with fire safety in mind.

Grip hoist wire rope

Back at the main work site I saw that the first major blockage had been pulled down a few feet using the grip hoist but that a lot of work was still needed to get it all pulled down. That effort required using the wire rope and a choke fixture that was really neat, it allowed a loop of the wire cable to be attached to the massive tree trunks and after a safety zone was established on both ends of the work site, the grip hoist took up the slack and every crank of the hoist dragged the massive trunks 2 inches closer to the edge of the trail.

A number of hikers and bicycle riders coming down the trail were escorted through the safety zone during pauses in activity and then work resumed, and though hikers had to wait several minutes some times, they all were thankful of the effort and didn't mind the rest.

Since that work site was busy, I hiked up the trail to join the effort clearing the trail of Yerba Santa, (Saint Weed) a plant that likes to grow in burn areas and in direct sunlight. The main group was also cutting back brush and working the tread, improving water drainage and doing very nice trail work, at the end of the day.

While that was going on, two chainsaw teams had gone forward to buck the other obstructions remaining on Cedar Canyon and Soldier Creek, successfully clearing all downed trees off of the trail except for one which needs the grip hoist for final removal.

While uprooting plants from the trail I noticed that one of the younger Boy Scouts was listening to an MP3 player so I asked what he was listening to. Steve Earle's Copperhead Road which made me bark out a laugh and tell him "awesome!" I approved! LOL. (The bagpipes fusion really makes the song awesome.)

Toward the end of the day's main effort four volunteers remained working the trail on the upper section of Soldier Creek so I went up to see about heading them back down to the work rally point below. Instead we decided to continue to the end of the trail to where Pinyon Ridge Trail and Soldier Creek Trail has its start at the open air amphitheater. What we found was that the trail is open and clear of plants from end to end. Aside from some minor tread work needed, Soldier Creek is good again.

Last obstruction has been cleared

With the day's primary efforts concluded we met back at our vehicles, checked to make sure we were not leaving anyone behind, then most of the day's volunteers headed home again.

The Trailbuilders, however, headed toward the Visitor Center to get a look at the next task that might be accomplished next week: two minor safety hazard trees that will need to be safely and slowly dropped to proactively improve general safety conditions. Another effort for next week will be to repair the stone retaining wall at the Visitor Center which appears to have been struck by a car before the 2002 Curve Fire and now needs perhaps 4 hours of serious attention.

Another task the Trailbuilders will be scheduling is a refurbishment of the hand rails and bench seats at the Visitor Center. The railings are a bit lose yet the major effort will be to sand the wood smooth, fill in any cracks with wood putty, and repaint everything with the same color paint as the rest of the Visitor Center so that things look a bit more neat and tidy.

The Forest Service was also working on cleaning up the large closeable information board at Crystal Lake, scrubbing off the old paint, sanding off the rough wood, and getting it ready for fresh paint.

After taking photographs of the hand rail task we headed back to Rincon to examine our tools and store them away again for the next time. While at Rincon Trailbuilder Bryan stopped to examine a mechanical problem with the high pressure washer machine. After replacing a battery cable lug and finding a quarter inch nut to tighten it down with, he tested the newly-installed solenoid and got nary a click from the thing.

Humm... What we need to do is return with a multimeter to test the wiring, connectivity, power switch, and eventually the starter motor to see where exactly the problem is, then to fix it if nobody else manages to get the time to fix first.

It was a fun day, too! We had shade, cool water to soak in, and excellent exercise! It's really nice seeing so many people enjoying the mountains and getting exercise, working to stay healthy both physically and mentally, and it's always great seeing the Forest Service working hard to try to stay ahead of the trash, toilets, spray paint, traffic accidents, safety hazards, all the effort needed to administer our public lands so that 22.4 million Southern California citizens can have some respite from the hectic turmoil of the cities below.

Our Angeles National Forest is a special place, it's a "pocket forest" surrounded on all sides by tens of millions of people which affords unique challenges but also keeps millions of us sane and able to return back to work on Monday. The people on foot, out on bike, driving up for the day to take a deep breath of pine-scented air love our mountains and I have always found it to be a privilege to be allowed to lend a hand maintaining the hiking trails and doing whatever I have the skills and training for.

If you would like to come out some day and see what trail work is like, please drop off an email to this web site or merely show up at Gateway on one of our scheduled work days and join us! You can be proud of the lasting work you'll do and almost certainly enjoy the day.

* California Black Bear on the way to Crystal Lake!
* Gathering at Rincon Fire Station to collect tools and equipment
* A quick check of the new modern consolidated Fire Station at Rincon
* The daily Job Hazard and safety meeting offered by Trailbuilder Ben White
* Today Boy Scouts and parents lend a hand with the trail work
* Scouts pay attention to the safety meeting covering tools, flora, and fauna
* Isn't this an awesome place to have our daily safety review?
* A look at Cedar Creek as it meets the road to Crystal Lake
* The first obstruction takes most of the day to pull down using a griphoist
* The other end of the griphoist gets tied to trees down the hillside in there
* A Trailbuilders is dispatched to clean off this spray paint at Winnona
* The trail sign at Winnona after the sign has been cleaned up
* Trailbuilder Lou resumes building the massive retaining wall
* Bicycle riders coming down Soldier Creek escorted through safety zone
* Meanwhile the majority of today's volunteers work on removing plants from trail
* The first blockage gets slowly pulled down the hillside to where we can cut it
* Some of today's adult volunteers in the shade
* Down slope on the griphoist end of the effort, a Scout assist the wire rope
* The working end of the wire rope is attached to the root ball
* Considerable lengths of the trail have had brush cut back, plants up-rooted
* Soldier Creek almost from end to end new has almost all Yerba Santa removed
* Volunteers have widened some sections of the trail -- looks great!
* Upper section of Soldier Creek with volunteers working Northward
* The last remaining stumble still needs griphoist to be removed
* The jumbled obstruction at the Gabian Basket has been cleared
* To do: Sign at trail head has been damaged
* To do: Railing at Visitor Center will be referbished
* To do: Railing at Visitor Center will be referbished
* To do: Bench seating at Visitor Center will be referbished
* To do: Hand railing will be secured better

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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