One of the rock slides gets cleared

Today the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders returned to Windy Gap Trail in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area to resume clearing dead trees from across the trail, trying to get everything cleared before the first heavy snows of the season settle in which makes tree removal and rock slide clearing somewhat difficult!

Today we had kind of planned to work on Upper Bear Creek Trail past the Smith Mountain saddle so that we could resume fixing the trail in the San Gabriel San Gabriel Designated Wilderness but with the Winter snows holding off we thought we had better take advantage of the weather and continue Windy Gap!

The Trailbuilders met at the United States Forest Service's Gateway Information Center above Azusa along Highway 39 just across from the mile post marker 17, and promptly at 8:00 a.m. we packed ourselves in to our vehicles and headed North in to the mountains.

At the Rincon Fire Station we acquired the tools and equipment we would need to operate two chainsaws and perform tread work to improve water drainage and to clear rock slides from the trail.

For the two chainsaw teams we collected Kevlar safety chaps, fire extinguishers, fire shovels, medical kits, tool boxes for the saws, fuel, chain oil, spare chains, wedges, and single bit axes to drive the wedges with and to remove limbs as needed. For the trail working effort we grabbed McLeods, shovels, heavy metal rock bars, and loppers to trim bush back.

Major twisted dead fall takes a lot of work

As always before setting out we checked the Project Activity Level to ensure that the environmental conditions allowed for the use of gasoline powered tools in the Angeles National Forest, and we confirmed that the PAL indicated we would need to set the saws aside at 13:00. When conditions don't allow for chainsaws to be used, we fall back to those awesome Crosscut Saws that sing. Such saws when properly sharpened and tuned can be just as fast and efficient as chainsaws though of course they require more effort on dry wood.

After acquiring what we would need for the day, we checked in to service with our Los Angeles Dispatch safety Overlords to let them know where we would be working and how many of us there were in the event we needed evacuation or in the event our assistance would be needed for emergencies in our region of influence. We then headed further North to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area.

The easiest way to get to the section of Windy Gap that needs repairs is to drive on the South Mount Hawkins Road to the Windy Gap and Big Cienega> junction however since the fire watch tower burned down the road has been abandoned which meant that the first thing we needed to do was walk ahead of the vehicles to clear dead trees, rocks, and boulders from the dirt road until finally reaching the junction.

Two weeks previously we had worked the gravel in the wash at the base of the dirt road so that we could fill in gullies and get the vehicles across. Today we found our repairs to the road were still in place so we had less work to do to get our tools and equipment to the trailhead. What fun!

At the trailhead junction we held our daily JHA safert meeting covering the flora and fauna that we could expect to encounter during the day and also covering the safe use of the tools we would be using. When we were ready we split up in to groups and hit the trail.

Some of the remaining obstructions to remove

The hike up with all the chainsaw equipment was pretty difficult since saw is heavy and all the other equipment was crammed in to my Army rucksack, but pausing at the major rock slides to rest allowed me to catch my breath and press onward.

At every deadfall across the trail the sawyer examined the problem while I cleared safe footing and dragged what tree limbs, rocks, and bark off of the trail around the obstruction so that the sawyer would have safe footing and a reasonable escape route. After the sawyer described what he was going to do step by step I stood ready with wedge and ax to drive them while also pulling out limbs as they were cut.

Things went very smoothly. As each tree was bucked and wrestled off of the trail, the trail under and around the newly-removed tree was cleaned up and then we pressed onward and upward, pausing to examine a few Sutter Walls that had been damaged by major rock slides.

When 13:00 arrived the sawyers were finished for the day, leaving 7 more trees that need to be removed from the very upper section of Windy Gap, all of which are in the upper one eight mile of the trail. At the Windy Gap itself it was very, very cold! And very windy! When I stepped up off of the trail on to the saddle I nearly got knocked flat by the high winds going through the gap, and I saw that there was snow on the North face of the hillside. Drinking water!

The saw teams headed back down the mountain to join the trail working crews who were busy sweating clearing one of the major rock slides that had inundated one of the Sutter Walls. That kind of work basically requires using one's hands and a shovel to remove the moulders, rocks, gravel, sand, dirt, and ash from the trail and shoving it over the side down the canyon below. Because there is so much rock involved in 3 major slides, clearing then entirely would take another 2 days of full effort, I think.

Eventually we had enough work for the day and we all headed down the mountain, myself in the lead because I had managed to totally destroy my pants along the way so my ass was hanging out in the breeze and I thought I'd make sure everybody had to look at it. LOL! Along the way we saw the awesome rock retaining wall that Trailbuilder Lou had been establishing toward the other end of the trail.

In all it was another awesome day volunteering in the mountains. A whole lot of work got accomplished and there is perhaps 1 more day to clear downfalls, 2 days to clear the major rock slides, and maybe 2 more days removing rock from the trail in other areas.

* Trailbuilder Fred clears rocks from one of the major slides
* The rock slide gets cleared maybe half way, we must return for the rest
* The rock slide gets cleared maybe half way, we must return for the rest
* Trailbuilder Tom moving rocks
* A pine growing along the trail will need to be relocated
* One of the first obstructions along the way
* The next obstruction is a bit more difficult
* The other side of the obstruction
* Trailbuilder tom gets the heavy saw running
* After the obstruction is removed, a Trailbuilder clears the debris
* One of the Sutter Walls inundated with rock from a slid
* Another Sutter Wall has a lot of rock in it that must be removed
* The approach to a Sutter Wall. All of the rock must be removed
* The next obstruiction across the trail getting ready to be removed
* I pause to get my photograph taken. I'm already very dirty!
* The next intrustion of dead trees along the trail
* The next obstruction to get removed can be stepped over
* And the next can also be stepped over. We remove them anyway
* The trail after the obstruction has been removed and we hike to the next
* Some sections of the trail have rock and dirt intrusions that need removing
* Trailbuilder pauses to take stock of a major problem sliding head first down
* Three trees, all intruding upon the trail must be removed
* Tom bucks up the last in the line of three in this section
* Trailbuilder Tom takes a long look at a very difficult jumble
* Trailbuilder Johnathan starts on the two obstructions behind the jumble
* Trailbuilder Johnathan starts on the two obstructions behind the jumble
* After a lot of difficult cutting and shoving, the trail is clear
* We blocked off the use trail and we start moving rocks to restablish the trail
* On the way up we look at another minor damage to a Sutter Wall
* We did not get these cleared since the chainsaw restriction was in effect now
* Two more obstructions we could not clear today
* Three more obstructions we were not able to get to today
* Rootballs intruding on the trail need to be cleared
* Two more that will need to be removed
* Back down the mountain at the rock slide crews are removing
* After half of the debris has been removed from the major rock slide
* A look at Lou's rock retaining wall

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map

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