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Before work begins

Today was another fun day in the National Forest getting plenty of exercise, fresh air, exercise, sunlight, and exercise! In addition to a few new faces on the trail we had a very active Buddhist Youth Group come out with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders once again to resume doing work along Lower Bear Creek Trail in the Angeles National Forest, part of the San Gabriel River Ranger District of the U. S. Forest Service.

And what fun it was, too! Today in addition to the usual work of cutting back brush, reworking the tread of the trail, moving rocks and boulders, playing in poison oak, and talking with hikers along the trail, we got to use the griphoist which always adds fun and excitement to a volunteer's day out in the woods!

Things started out rather slow this morning and, alas, got slower while the volunteers -- 33 of us! -- and two USFS people waited for everyone to show up at the new meeting place, the USFS "Gateway Visitor Center" located at the base of the mountain at the same location of the old one-room wooden "temporary" Information Center that was eventually broken up and carted away.

Since it's a new meeting place for us I made sure to get photographs to post on web sites to show people the facility where we meet, and while doing that I got a good look at the absolutely fantastic rock-and-wire basket wall in the back of the new Center. (Photographs provided in links below.) That new wall is awesome! Five or six feet high and only about 7 or 8 inches thick, comprised of a wire metal basket filled with rounded smooth rocks to create a long wall, the new wall looks fantastic, and the gaps between the rocks merely add to the uniqueness.

Climbing to attach chain

So we waited around for everyone to show up, the old timers of the Trailbuilders standing around getting older by the minute and chomping at the bit, straining at our leashes to get going, the young volunteers for the day standing around chatting among themselves.

At last the final car full of volunteers drove up and we were off heading up the mountain to the Rincon Fire Station where tools and equipment were sorted through and packed into one of the pickup trucks for transport to the work site.

Lower Bear Creek Trail has one trailhead located one mile down West Fork Road, a paved road that is used by the water authority to access Cogswell Dam and as such usually has very little vehicle traffic on it. Since the road follows Bear Creek, lots of fishers, hikers, and bikers use the road, but since regular cars are not allowed on the road it's a wonderful hike for families since it's 8 miles long and safe from the usual drunken bumper-car madhouse of cars on the main highway.

The trailhead itself (North 34 degrees, 14.399 by West 117 degrees, 53.050 at 1763 feet) is located right under the 1 mile marker along West Fork. We drove to the trailhead from Rincon, parked out of the way along the road and volunteers selected the various tools that they wanted to start the day with.

Hung up tree trunk

The fairly large group of volunteers split off a small team for the griphoist which was tasked with looking at a broken tree trunk that was hung up along the trail that constituted a safety hazard, looking at the thing and deciding whether the griphoist could be used to pull it to the ground safely and, if so, to pull it down.

While the volunteers strung out along the trail and resumed cutting back brush and working the tread, a third small group formed to take care of a spot where we had chainsawed and removed a blockage on our previous outing which still needed some rework.

Since I like sawing, digging, moving rocks and such more than I like removing dirt birms and doing tread work, I joined the griphoist team which was comprised of three young volunteers who, I have to admit, did all of the difficult work while I, um, well, "supervised." I tell ya, I really do like seeing other people work hard and sweating while I sit back with a cold can of soda and tell them how Iwould do it if it were me.

We looked at the tree trunk and right away we could see it was a job for a chainsaw first to remove the branches, followed up with a griphoist to pull the trunk off of its stump. Thing is, today was a limited tool use day where any gasoline powered tools were forbidden.

The hang-up is pulled down

That's actually not a problem since hand saws can be used even though it would have taken ten times longer, but looking at the thing I thought we might loop the griphoist chain on the far upper end of the hanging tree and use the griphoist to pull that end toward another tree we could anchor the griphoist to. If we could pull it about three feet or so, the hang-up resting on the stump would pull free and it would all drop to the ground.

Truth is, I wanted the other volunteers to look at it and see how they would decide to use the available tools to drop the trunk but instead we did it the way I said we would do it without asking for better or safer suggestions.

So while one volunteer looped the chain around the upper trunk and another volunteer attached the griphoist to the anchor tree and another volunteer ran out the long griphoist cable, I went back down the trail looking for the damn jack handle for the griphoist which nobody thought to bring along! Arrgh!

Fortunately we did not leave the handle at Rincon like I had feared. It turned out that Lou from the Trailbuilders had it with his team working on the spot where the chainsawing had been done the last time out. He told me that he figured we would need it and that once we discovered we didn't have it we would send someone to come look for it. LOL! Thanks, Lou! Thanks for the assist, buddy!

I'll be sure to return the favor at my earliest opportunity.

Lower Bear Creek Trail

Back at the griphoist project I handed the jack handle over and two of the young volunteers got cranking. Man, it sure looked like hard work, those two pumping that machine with all four hands, straining for every half inch of cable through the hoist. After a while every stroke caused the hung tree to move a bit until eventually we got loud cracking noise and watched wood splinter.

The upper part of the hung tree eventually got moved a whopping three feet or so, by my calculation, which was good progress done with a lot of hard work. I asked if we should reposition the chain on the stump end to pull the tree of the stump, but since limbs were cracking, the pumping on the handle had become much easier so we continued as it was.

Eventually we decided to back off the cable and reposition the chain. Since it would be fairly hazardous to work near the hung tree -- which may or may not have settled in to a static state -- I decided I would move the chain since, well, I have a lot more experience and, in any event, if I were injured nobody would care.

I got the second chance out of the tote bag that one of the volunteers had carried up, and I went to unhook the original chain. The volunteers backed off the slack and eventually with the help of a hammer I got the chain links separated from the hoist cable, worked my way carefully along the hillside and threw the two coupled chain lengths around the lower part of the trunk.

Once the chain was in place the volunteers resumed using the griphoist and it didn't take very long for them to pull the rest of the tree off its stump and on to the ground -- Joy! We were awesome! Not only did we do it safe and slow but when hikers worked through our immediate area of influence we stopped work and waited until the hikers were well clear before resuming the job.

the first creek crossing

Amusing as it may or may not be, I think that the entire griphoist team tromped, stomped, fell in to, and rolled around in a lot of poison oak while pulling down the tree so I hope everyone took precautions and treated any exposed skin with the foaming jell that Ben from the Trailbuilders brought which supposedly mitigates the effects of such exposure. And I hope everyone washed their clothes immediately upon getting home again.

Since we had a job well done under our belts already we headed for the trailhead after packing up the griphoist and associated tools. Eventually the rest of the volunteers came in from the trail and we had lunch! Hot soup (two different kinds) and sandwiches, all without any trace of animal meat which really made me happy! I had two helpings of everything and, when no one was looking, snuck a third helping. And then I added chips and salsa to my lunch.

The after-lunch time was spent surveying the general area so that the volunteers who had not previously seen the area could get a look at what the recreation area offered. After the hike up and down the road, we returned to Rincon, put away the tools, and people headed home.

On the way down four of us paused a moment around mile marker 19.5 to examine a Dumpster that had been picked up and rolled over the edge of the canyon. The Dumpster had come to rest about 100 feet below, coming to rest on its side and generally looking kind of no worse the wear for having taken a tumble.

Some times late at night when the drunks have finished their last can of beer and there's nothing left to do, some times one of them will get the great idea of rolling a trash Dumpster down the mountain because when you're a drunk idiot, every idea is a good one! After the deed is done they can then climb behind the wheel, drunkenly laughing as they swerve from shoulder to shoulder on down the highway.

Sounds like great fun! But recovering them Dumpsters is more fun, I would expect. (Don't know because I never snorted crystal meth and molested trash Dumpsters before so I wouldn't really know how fun that is, would I? But I have helped recover Dumpsters like this before which has been loads of fun.)

In a couple of weeks we will use the griphoist to pull that puppy back up the canyon wall, back to where it belongs. If we don't manage to drag our vehicles over the edge of the cliff one by one trying to recover that Dumpster we should be able to get it back up to where it belongs in a couple of hours or so.

The next time we work on Lower Bear Creek Trail we really need more experienced volunteers to attack what's waiting past the second creek crossing, and we need to have a day when we can use chainsaws. Wind and rain have conspired to make the trail somewhat difficult to use and past the second creek crossing is where the trail really starts to get technically challenging so far as restoration is concerned.

But for today, despite being fielded for a short period of time I see that we got a lot of work done and the extra goal of pulling down the hanging tree trunk was accomplished so it was a very good day.

* The Gateway Information Center (North 34, 09.560 by West 117, 54.554 754 feet)
* A look at Gateway Center from across the highway
* The side of the Gateway Center
* Wonderful wire basket and rock wall behind the Gateway Center
* Closeup look at the rock wall
* At Rincon we gather for a safety meeting before work begins
* At the trailhead a large gaggle of Cub Scouts hike past us
* Befre work begins the volunteers pause for a group photograph
* On the trail
* The brush and plants growing at the griphoist project is very deep and dense
* A volunteer works up the hillside to attach the griphoist chain
* The hung-up tree
* The griphoist is ahcnored to a large tree
* A view of the hung tree from the griphoist side of things
* The griphoist team of volunteers
* The hung tree was successfully and safely pulled to the ground
* Lunchtime! Hot soup and other tasty things! I get THREE helpings!
* We spread out along the road for lunch
* After lunch another group photograph is taken. Most everyone survived
* I climb up the cliff face a bit for a photograph
* I return to the trail to check for tools that might have left behind
* Most of the trees are denuded a bit due to Winter and heavy winds
* A look at the water company road -- West Fork Road
* A look at the water company road -- West Fork Road
* Along the trail again as I look for left tools. Trail looks great!
* Chainsaw area from last time got reworked and it looks good also
* Nice dense green ferns along the trail
* A look at Bear Creek -- not really good for drinking
* I wanted to take a closer look at the hung tree's trunk fracture
* Back at Rincon we get the tools put away
* The volunteers unload the pickup truck by forming a bucket brigade
* The volunteers unload the pickup truck by forming a bucket brigade
* The trash Dumpster lower center of the photograph down the canyon

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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