Sutter Wall along the trail

Greetings, everyone, and I must say that it's great to be back writing about our adventures once again. Though the Trailbuilders continued to work in the Angeles National Forest on scheduled days (and on many extra days) during the past two months, I have not shared our adventures very often, despite considerable drama and excitement happening to us in the field during that time span.

We just had the Fourth Of July which ended up being a week-long adventure for myself, Trailbuilder Bryan, and many other volunteers with the West Fork Conservancy, the Angeles Volunteer Association, Fisheries Volunteer Conservation Corps, and a volunteer or two from the High Country Riders, just to name some of the volunteer groups who lend a hand in the San Gabriel River Ranger District of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Mixed in with the regular forest volunteers we also had the famous San Dimas Mountain Rescue Team get called out to lend a hand in search and rescue efforts during the week, then on Sunday the SDMRT got called out again for the same wrecked vehicle over the side which they had previously searched and marked as a known wreck but kept getting calls about. That gives them good training, of course, and it's always a good excuse to run with lights and sirens all the way up to Adam's world-famous chili beans!

When Saturday and Sunday came along, some of the volunteers in the field had expressed some exhaustion (not to mention sunburn!) even before the regularly-scheduled Saturday morning efforts could launch off in to full swing, but that general tiredness from the long week was nothing compared to challenges that the surviving employees of the Forest Service experienced during the week -- which I watched from a distance and heard much about over the radio.

The USFS and the local law enforcement crews were kept hopping pretty much from Sun-up to Sun-down and beyond, responding to "cliff hangers" who had climbed up a West Fork canyon and got stuck, responding to possible firearm target practice and/or poaching, motorcycle crashes, vehicle-over-the-side calls, medical call-outs for probable heat exhaustion, vehicles blocking fire road access, and that was on top of the over-flowing trash containers and straining toilets which the USFS attempted to keep emptied (despite being buried three deep behind vehicles in some places) during the week.

Bucking up the obstruction

During the week the Trailbuilders re-painted the hand railing and rest benches along the stairs going down to the lake, removing spray paint. An endless number of illegal fire rings were busted apart and the ash scattered, vehicle assistance was offered a number of times for disabled vehicles, and a very long list of questions were answered during the week while the Trailbuilders went from task to task between Coldbrook Campground and the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

And of course there were endless numbers of unattended fires, people who had spent the night and kept their fires burning, driving away in the morning with their fires still burning.

Among one of the worse things we saw being done with fire this week was Tiki Torches set on fire and shoved in to the ground where-after campers would go to bed leaving them burning, even after they topple over and fall to the ground. Some of the Trailbuilders spent the night in the campgrounds and collected fallen torches, extinguishing them and, well, confiscating them quietly for later safe disposal.

So when our regularly-scheduled Saturday morning work effort came upon us, it was something of a relief to leave the more-populated recreation area and head toward Tototngna to survey the extent of trail work that needed to be done, and to ensure that the trail definition was solid in addition to the usual effort of removing dead tree obstructions and clipping back encroaching brush.

We had a good crew working today on Tototngna, a chainsaw team that bucked up and removed a two-foot-wide dead tree that had fallen on the upper (left hand) side of the trail loop, and other teams working with loppers and McLeod tools, working through the moist meadow areas below and the drier, exposed areas of the trail at higher elevation.

During the lunch break there was a call over the radio by a Forest Service crew who was reporting a tree limb down at Heaton Flats trail, and though the report was somewhat vague, I offered the Trailbuilder services to go and remove the obstruction how ever far it might be up the Heaton Flats Trail. At that point the Trailbuilders split up, two of us heading toward Heaton and the rest to continue on at Tototngna. Since I was the one that volunteered us to go get the obstruction removed, I went to that effort.

Getting to Heaton Flats was rather difficult, in part because the number of cars parked along East Fork Road all the way to the trailhead was staggering. Cars were parked doubled-up, and where Glendora Mountain Road meets East Fork, the cars were literally packed in illegally at the junction three deep.

Examining the tree at Heaton Flats

There are a number of Forest Service fire-access roads along the way, also, every one of which were blocked by vehicles for which the local police were ticketing, trying to find vehicle drivers, and getting towed out of there.

After navigating safely among the cars, joggers, bicycle riders, and [politely unmentionable] people racing motorcycles along the canyons, we got to the dirt road and traveled along it with our vehicle at less-than-walking pace, working to ensure we did not raise dust since there were a lot of people getting exercise around the Heaton area. It's no fun choking down dust in the heat, after all, so we took a long time to cross that quarter mile.

Well, the tree limb was found right there at the campgrounds, right next to the toilet facility, no hiking up the mountain was needed. The tree is healthy, and so was the limb, but it had broken off because the main trunk leans and the limb itself just finally got too heavy and broke, else someone was climbing on it and it broke.

Regardless it took 2.5 hours to remove the green branches and then carefully buck up the broken limb, collecting the debris and piling the pine needles and small branches out of the way while cutting the broken limb in to sections suitable for the Forest Service to send a truck to haul out the wood (since ground fires are illegal at Heaton.)

The other Trailbuilders completed the effort along Tototngna and returned to the Rincon Fire Station to finish out the day. Bryan and I lingered in the canyons a bit listening to the law enforcement officers and Forest Service working, and were glad that we don't have to work nearly so hard, being volunteers who can sit down and rest any time we want to.

The following morning Bryan and I returned to Tototngna with a metal rock bar to lever a dead tree section off of the trail, a section that was way too heavy to move just by hand. At the same time we once again checked our brown paint effort along the stairs going down to the lake and we found more unattended fires, one of which was just feet from two spots where the campers of the night previously had set illegal ground fires.

AVA member Koo who staffs the Visitor Center loaned water buckets to us so we could extinguish the fires, then Koo joined us in busting apart the illegal fire rings and scattering the extensive ash in an effort to discourage any further illegal fires in those spots. There seems to be people who think that the fire bans and safety laws don't apply to them, and volunteers and USFS employees are kept very busy cleaning up after them.

So it was an exhausting week, complete with sunburn, but it was also highly rewarding. There is no better opportunity to get exercise while enjoying the outdoors than there is volunteering with the Forest Service's Volunteer Program.

* The Tototngna trailhead sign
* The only serious obstruction along the trail gets safety inspected
* The tree limb down at Heaton Flats get safety inspected
* A better look at the tree limb down at Heaton Flats
* After Heaton Flats gets bucked up and cleaned up
* Some of the log sections can not be lifted, they are very heavy!
* Back at Tototngna the obstruction gets carefully de-limbed
* Tototngna obstruction de-limbing
* A look at one of the sections of trail -- we have grand views from here!
* Another look at the trail's condition, well defined
* There is a Sutter Wall along the trail which I had forgotten about
* Trailbuilders Carl and Steve pause to catch their breath!

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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