Windy Gap Trailhead

Today was a hot, sweaty, difficult day of volunteering in the Angeles National Forest, complete with sunburn, sore backs, and lots of fun! The only thing that would have made the day's efforts more fun-packed and exciting would be a healthy case of poison oak which, one can hope, will make itself known in the next couple of days.

The day began with Ben from the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders pulling up in front of where I live with an offer I couldn't refuse: Twice my usual pay for a day of high altitude, high temperature chainsaw running to clear trees along Windy Gap with the possibility of joining a road crew to remove rocks and gravel from from Deer Flats Road.

Twice the pay! I'm there! It wasn't until Bryan and I had been driven a couple of miles toward the base of the mountains before we were informed that twice nothing is still nothing that I realized I should have demanded at least doughnuts but it was too late, we shortly pulled in to the parking lot of the U. S. Forest Service Gateway Information Center to await the other volunteers.

Several professional Trailbuilders showed up, Victor, Lou, Wayne, and there was Bryan and myself to be later joined by another Ben and another long-time Trailbuilders whom we had not seen for a number of years. The Scouts started showing up (Troop 1210 and Troop 777 ) and when everyone was ready, we sorted out the vehicles and headed North to the Rincon Fire Station.

Lots of things were in bloom as we headed up the mountain including Lupin, Poison Oak, California Snow Flower and dozens of plants whose names I'll never remember.

Once at Rincon we collected our tools and equipment, got everyone signed up on the volunteer sheets, got the first safety review of the day, counted everybody, and signed us all in to service with our Dispatch Overlords, then we climbed aboard our vehicles and headed further North, past Coldbrook Campground, past Falling Springs, and in to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

Large bucked trunk gets shoved off of the trail

The Crystal Lake area's main campgrounds has a road that leads up to the Deer Flats Group Campground which is the road that most of today's volunteers would be working on to clear of rocks, boulders, tree limbs, gravel, sand, and dirt using shovels, McLeods, Pulaskis, rock bars, and other tools.

We parked at the Windy Gap Trailhead and the volunteers unpacked their equipment and tools, breaking in to two groups. The volunteers working on the road were given a second safety review with more attention being paid to the safe use of the tools while the other group of volunteers headed further up the road to Mount Saint Hawkins Road and the Upper Windy Gap / Big Cienega trail heads.

While the volunteers were starting work on the road, the rest of the volunteers unpacked their tools and equipment on the Windy Gap trailhead (fire extinguishers, medical kits, shovels, safety chaps, helmets, goggles, all that fun stuff) that can be reached from Saint Hawkins Road. There three chainsaws and all of the safety equipment required for their use was unpacked and inspected, and volunteers grabbed long tools and a whole lot of other equipment that would be needed to clear the one-mile length of trail of all downed tree trunks and limbs.

Almost all of the volunteers started down the trail, leaving Bryan, myself, Bron, and Ben behind to sort out the chainsaws which we spent a lot of effort getting running at the high altitude. Bryan started installing a new chain on to one of the saws however it looked like some of the links had been removed to shorten the chain so a new one was selected from the plastic bag of used but sharpened chains, and while Ben installed that, Bryan and I kept trying to convince the saws to run.

We had three fully qualified, trained, and certified sawers from the Trailbuilders with us today, Ben, myself, and Bron, and we had three saws, only two of which would run at the high altitude with the current fuel-to-air mix, but as the day progressed it was a good thing that we had two saws and three sawers since it quickly became a very hot, very exhausting, very difficult day, a day that required frequent rests, lots of drinking water, and the need to stay cool, slow, and safe.

Ben bucks up the last jumbled trunk

Before a volunteer -- or a professional fire fighter, Forest Service worker et al. -- can utilize a chainsaw in the National Forest, he or she must undergo fairly rigorous training, testing, and safety instruction and they must keep proficient in their training through periodic formal instruction. Today we had three volunteers who had received such periodic trining though what we really needed was perhaps four or five people trading off on the two saws to ensure that nobody got too tired, hot, and sweaty.

It's a safety versus productivity issue in some ways. When our sawers get tired, the work stops while the sawer rests, drinks waters, unstraps safety clothing and equipment, cools off, and gets refreshed enough to put everything back on and get back to sawing. If the Trailbuilders can get more sawers trained and fully qualified, the more experienced Trailbuilders can buddy-up with the new sawers recently trained, trading off.

Still, despite the extensive heat and the frequent rests, all of the downed trees across the lower Windy Gap Trail was removed successfully, a full mile which required the use of hand saws, chainsaws, rock bars, and a whole lot of sweat, some mild cussing, and hard work.

The first major jumble of trees laying across the trail was tackled using hand saws and rock bars. Because tree trunks were suspended by other tree trunks, the volunteers examined things carefully and decided upon a plan of where they would cut to remove limbs and where they would place bars. While that was going on, the first chainsaw and crews went forward leapfrogging over that jumble to the first trunk that would require the chainsaw.

A volunteer after the day's efforts have ended

While the first chainsaw was running, the second one came down and all three loosely-coupled teams worked their ways down from the Saint Hawkins Road trailhead down to the Crystal Lake Campgrounds trailhead. Eventually everyone working the trail met at the last large jumble of tree trunks, fully seven trunks of various diameters locked together in a jumble.

Because we had until only 1:00 p.m. to use the saws (we check the Project Activity Levels (PDF) and Know Before You Go before we start work) we made longer cuts than we normally would on the last jumble of trunks on the trail. We needed to make fewer cuts since time was running out which would mean longer bucked sections which would mean more work for the swampers, but since we had a large quantity of volunteers (though tired) it worked just fine.

When the last large bucked section was rolled off of the trail, we were pretty much done. We must return to the trail and clean the first mile up a whole lot more since there are short sections of broken tree limbs on the trail, and in one moist region the trail is somewhat obscured by growth, and there is some erosion that needs to be addressed, all of which is more work than we could accomplish today, more so given the heat and how tired we all were.

Once down at the bottom of the trail we met with the other group of volunteers who had managed to clear the road to the point where it looked like it had been swept of dirt and gravel by brooms. The road crews had done a great job clearing the road and making it safe to drive, much safer for people's tires and for hikers taking the road to access the many hiking trails in the area.

Bron got a hand count on how many adult volunteers had vehicles parked above and everyone driving a car packed in to Ben's vehicle and they headed up the mountain to where much equipment was staged and to where their personal vehicles were.

Another volunteer after the day's efforts have ended

The volunteers down below sought shade to relax in while waiting for the vehicles -- and water on ice! -- to return. While we waited, Lou talked about his days in the military serving on a war ship under combat, most of the younger volunteers listening while a few dozed.

It was fun! After a hard day of volunteering, it was nice to sit and relax in the shade, look at our scratches and scrapes, and cool off, telling stories and enjoying the wide open wilderness.

The San Gabriel Mountains are awesome any day you pause to look around you, march up and down the mountain sides, everything is in bloom, deer roam looking for food or just playing, it's always been a Rocky Mountain High for me every time I've hiked, biked, camped, climbed, and recently volunteered in the San Gabriel Mountains, and even exhaustion can't detract from the majesty of our mountains.

Finally the vehicles rolled on down and the tools, packs, and equipment got loaded up, the ice-water passed out, and the day came to an end. We got everything loaded and headed South to the Rincon Fire Station where the tools were inspected and returned to their proper storage.

While that was going on, I called our Dispatch Overlords on the radio to check us all out of service but stopped when I heard that they were working a medical incident with Engine 21, Engine 22, an ambulance crew, several police patrols, and eventually Air 5 helicopter rescue for another motorcycle down on the highway, something that occurs about once every other day or so, mostly due to people who race motorcycles illegally at high speeds without any regard for other people's health of safety, and certainly without regard for their own.

Another volunteer after the day's efforts have ended

Because rescue has high priority, I held us off from checking out of service but got all of the volunteers vacating Rincon so that we could get below the road closure that had been asked for so that the helicopter could land at the Elmer Pen if there weren't parked cars in the way.

So we cut things short at Rincon, got in to our vehicles, and managed to get below East Fork Road and the motorcycle incident before the road was closed, returning to the cities far below.

And what a fun day it was, too! One of our professional long-time volunteers drank water too quickly and threw it up, deciding to sip the next bottle slowly rather than chug it in the heat, but I managed to chug about 2.5 gallons of water in the five hours we were working on the trail, keeping it down without problem. Next time we do this with this kind of heat, I believe we should have a volunteer with a pack whose job it is to ensure everyone has water and to pass out water along the whole project.

Ben drove Bryan and I to where we live and we managed to stumble out of the vehicle some how. I got a shower then crawled to my sleeping bag and slept for 12 hours. What fun!

* Volunteers gathering at trailhead ready to do difficult volunteer work
* Ryan takes charge of the inter-group safety radios and maintains contact
* Road-working tools are being selected prior to the day's effort
* Ben (far left) tries to make sure everybody has at least one long tool
* The road-working crews are about ready to start
* Ben covers the day's second safety rundown
* Volunteers pay close attention to safety hazards and instrutions in tool use
* This young volunteer has the proper sunburn head covering for this kind of work
* Another vbolunteer paying attention to the safety rundown
* Ben, the San Gabrbiel Mountains Trailbuilders' President
* This volunteer has a wide hat which is also good for keeping sunburn off
* Closer look at the wide-brim hat. Note the area of shade that it offers
* The trail-working team select their tools up on Mount Saint Hawkins Road
* Bryan examines saw while Ben installs a new chain on to a saw
* Wayne and a young volunteer with a heavy rock bar
* A volunteer working the trail with a shovel while Bron listens
* One of the first downed trees gets lifted and shoved off of the trail
* A section with three or four downed trees get hand saws and hard work applied
* A closer look at the previous jumble on the trail
* After the trail is cleared we get a look at the newly-opened section
* After the trail is cleared we get a look at the newly-opened section
* The trail at this point starts to get jumbled. More tread clearing is needed
* The last major downed tree blockage is about one forth cleared before lunch
* Volunteers use rock bars to move bucked tree sections off of the trail
* The jumble of downed trees gets taken care of slowly and one by one
* Ben straps on the safety equipment once again while Bryan's ready with wedges
* Bryan examines his gloves while Ben continues to strap on safety equipment
* The last major down fall continues to get bucked up slowly
* While the last jumble of downed trees is cleared, we rest in the heat
* Meanwhile Ben gets wedges hammered in by Wayne who steps back out of frame
* After the last downed tree is cleared we return to the road still being worked
* The trail working crews drop their tools and equipment on the side of the road
* Some of the adults find shade, sit down, and wipe of the sweat
* Bron asaks how many people have vehicles parks above on Mount Saint Hawkins
* One young volunteer returns to meeting point after the day's road-clearing
* Another volunteer can still smile after a difficult and hot day's effort
* Adult volunteer carries tools back to the meeting place
* Two more volunteers returning from after working on the road
* A young volunteer appears about as exhausted as the adults are
* Adults find a good spot of shade to escape the heat
* A long-time volunteer that we have not seen in several years joins the effort
* Some of the other volunteers after work as ended for the day
* The yucca is currently in bloom all through the mountains
* Looking South in to the Crystal Lake Campgrounds from the Windy Gap trailhead
* At the Windy Gap Trailhead with Crystal Lake Campground .4 miles off
* More volunteers join the group waiting under the shade trees
* A volunteer waiting in the shade
* Other volunteers find things to do further down the trail while we wait
* Volunteers listen while Trailbuilder Lou tells war stories
* Volunteers listen while Trailbuilder Lou tells war stories
* While waiting, volunteers also drink water if they have it
* Volunteers listen while Trailbuilder Lou tells war stories
* Volunteers listen while Trailbuilder Lou tells war stories
* Volunteers listen while Trailbuilder Lou tells war stories
* Lou talks about his days aboard ship as a radioman
* Volunteers listen while Trailbuilder Lou tells war stories
* Volunteers listen while Trailbuilder Lou tells war stories
* Examining rocks while we wait for the vehicles to come down the mountain
* Some volunteers just stand and wait
* If hard-worked volunteers can still smile at the end, that's a good sign!
* A young volunteer takes the opportunity to rest in the shade
* Volunteers listen while Trailbuilder Lou tells war stories
* Volunteers listen while Trailbuilder Lou tells war stories
* The vehicles have finally arrived! Volunteers pack up and start leaving
* Horrible motorcycle accident gets volunteers to leave the region quickly

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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