Major trail erosion

Note: The first two photographs that you see on this page are of the major erosion problem that was reported followed by a photograph showing the final repairs after the volunteers were finished for the day. Is that awesome work or what?!

The next two photographs show the major rock fall at around the 2.25 mile point as work on fixing the problem started, followed by a photograph showing the trail cleared and the soil retaining rock wall built.

To see the large boulder you must click on the links offered below. To see Trailbuilder volunteer Bernie lending a hand cleaning Forest Service windows, a link is also offered below (volunteers are awesome!)

Today was really the first major volunteer effort in the San Gabriel Mountains since October due to the heavy rains that we have been experiencing in Southern California, and though the morning started off mildly cool, the day shaped up to be have excellent weather for what we needed to do today!

Last week the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders received reports of difficult problems along the first 2.25 miles of Upper Bear Creek Trail, problems which included extensive erosion, rock slides, a heavy rock fall, and one very large boulder weighing about 5,000 pounds or so, all of which needed to be fixed quickly before next week when the trail needs to be accessible to horses and mules. (We also wanted to show the Forest Service how quickly and professionally the Trailbuilders leap in to action when problems are reported.)

Looking at the photographs of the major problems (offered below in the list of photographs) I had thought that we would need maybe 3 days of work before the trail could be cleared enough to use safely. The photographs did not give a good impression of the extent of the blockages, however, so my initial belief that feathers and wedges would be needed to break up rocks was mistaken.

The morning began at 7:00 a.m. with Ben from the Trailbuilders lurking in my driveway. Since he was awake at 2:30 this morning, he got an early start on the volunteer day!

After tossing water in to an old Army ruck sack, Trailbuilders Ben, Bryan and I headed to the Gateway Information Center located at the base of the mountain on Highway 39 around survey marker 17 where over the next hour or so more volunteers gathered before 8:00 came, then we headed North to the Rincon Fire Station.

At the fire station we collected McLeods, shovels, rock bars, a Pickaxe and various other tools (I brought a coil of rope just in case) then we called Los Angeles County Dispatch to let them know where we would be working.

Erosion problem fixed!

From Rincon we drove further North along Highway 39 to the trail-head. Ben, as always, offered the daily safety run-down, covering the Job Hazard Analysis for the day as well as an overview of the tools we would be using, the hazardous local flora and fauna, and other safety issues we might encounter during the day's volunteer efforts.

After the safety review we hit the trail, spreading out somewhat with six volunteers heading toward the major boulder fall about 2.25 miles up, and other volunteers heading toward the major erosion spot where a deep runnel had formed along a section of about 40 feet of trail.

Since I was in the forward group heading for the large rock falls I did not get to see how the major erosion problems would be handled. That would come later on the return trip but for now we hiked up the trail at a fairly brisk rate since we wanted to ensure that all major objectives would be achieved by the evening.

As everyone who has hiked Upper Bear Creek Trail before knows, the first mile is fairly steep but after the first mile things level off and the rising gradient is easy to hike. A number of volunteers pointed out that the first mile was a lot longer than the second mile. LOL! It certainly feels like it.

Along the way we got to look at the problems that were reported and at the major erosion problem we paused to wonder how the volunteers were going to handle it. Part of the solution is not just filling in runnels but also installing Water bars to divert running water off of the trail so that future rains do not remove the repairs that take time and effort to perform.

We finally got to the first area that the forward crews would handle. This site was the location of previous work performed by the Trailbuilders to blast a suitable trail under a granite rock face where the rock is highly fractured and was expected to continue to calve (ice calving) basically forever (since the San Gabriel Mountains rise on average some 2 inches every year.)

Some of the boulders weighed maybe 200 pound or more so maneuvering the rocks and boulders over the side took considerable effort, more so when some of the boulders we needed to keep to re-establish the retaining rock wall that had been damaged in the fall.

It is so very often the way that 90% of the work gets done within the first hour, and the last 10% goes slowly with much more effort than the rest of the work required. The volunteers spent a great deal of time picking through the rocks and boulders available, selecting rocks that would interlock on the outside edge of the trail so that soil retention of a fairly wide trail could be established, one that would last.

Rock fall being worked

It's easy enough to clear a trail of rocks, boulders, tree limbs, downed trees, standing water, choking brush and such, but the Trailbuilders spend a great deal of their efforts trying to ensure that things they fix stay fixed for a reasonable amount of time. That requires thinking about and discussing ways to do things so that they last, and today was no exception.

When we were finished with that rock fall and the retaining wall had been established and the trail raked clean, we were left with an awesome repair job -- and just in time for lunch!

Lunch for me was Ritz Crackers and about half a gallon of water. Some of the volunteers looked for cool places in the shade to have lunch, and Mike looked over and rejected a spot with poison oak which does not have leaves at this time of the year but still have stems that should be avoided. Since I like poison oak, after eating my crackers I cleaned out the nearby stream of poison oak that was encroaching on the trail, and I cleaned out the clogging so that the water would flow a bit more more quickly off the trail.

Probably tomorrow or the next day I'll break out but for now as I type this, no overt signs of poison oak poisoning are apparent.

The rock fall was a major job however further up the trail was an even bigger job though it was only three or four boulders. The biggest one, however, was easily 5,000 pounds and flat enough on all sides that it could not be rolled.

Right away we looked at possible ways to fracture the huge boulder since after having pushed it as far as it would go toward the edge of the trail, it could not be budged any further. Horses need to be able to use the trail and so we had removed large boulders along the way as we hiked but lacking our largest rock bars, chipping chunks off of this boulder was the only way to get it manageable.

This boulder was difficult. We spent over an hour chipping away at it with the tools at hand, using rock bars and a whole lot of effort to slowly nudge it inch by agonizing inch to the edge of the trail so we could dump it over.

While we were doing this, a fair number of hikers passed, and one hiker stayed and watched for about 30 minutes, offering to help (which was politely declined.)

Creating a fulcrum out of rocks was amusing because the soft friable granite kept breaking apart, and when we utilized harder granite we would lever the boulder and merely drive the rock fulcrums in to the yielding moist earth under them.

Rock fall removed and retaining wall built

Using rocks, we placed short metal rock bars across them, used the metal as a fulcrum, then used the largest metal rock bar as the lever and eventually we were able to elevate parts of the rock so that we could shove other rocks carefully under the boulder.

It is amazing what people can do with just 3 metal bars and a whole lot of sweat.

By the time we were able to literally utilize a lever to bounce the boulder generally toward the canyon edge, the hiker had given up watching and had obtained the far canyon trail, so when we finally bounced the boulder to the edge and shoved it over the side, he missed watching it go over, but the noise was awesome! Way off across the canyon the hiker stopped and looked when the noise reached him.

(The other team over a mile away and still working on the major erosion problem also heard the noise and wondered what it was. Ben thought it might have been the large boulder going over the side and it was!)

It was around 2:30 p.m. or so by the time the rubble around the big boulder was removed, the trail raked and cleaned up, the setter wall examined, and we pointed our feet East toward the trail-head. Along the way back down we got to see the work that the other volunteers did until we met up with them still working the trail at the major erosion place.

The rock slides had been cleared, boulders all along the way removed, and the major erosion problem had been repaired, and in addition to the entire length being filled in and reworked, the dirt berm along the trail section had been removed and a number of water diversions had been established to ensure that the problem would not reoccur.

All of the volunteers gathered at that point, picked up tools, and continued on down the mountain to the trail-head and back down to the Valley of the Moon parking lot just above Coldbrook Campgrounds. Once there we collapsed in the shade offered by some cars, noted that two vehicles had been ticketed for parking in clearly-marked NO PARKING zones, and then waited for all volunteers to come down off the trail.

Then it was back to Rincon where we examined the tools, put them away, informed Angeles Dispatch that we were finished for the day, and then we all headed down the mountain and to much-deserved showers (and for me some aspirin to deaden the ache a bit.)

What fun it was, too! We should do this every day!

Huge boulder work begins

* A look at the upper rock fall from across the canyon
* A second look shows the hazard better
* Another rock fall causing difficulty for hikers
* The Big Boulder and offspring
* Another look at a rock slide
* An awesome amount of erosion caused by the heavy rains that Southern Cal got
* Topological map of the major problems which were fixed today
* High quality: Major rock slide before work begins
* High quality: Another view of this major blockage from the other side
* High quality: After the blockage has been removed
* High quality: Another look at the first bloackage after being cleared
* High quality: Another section along a wall gets cleared
* High quality: A whole lot of work can be done by a single volunteer
* High quality: The blast site after the rock fall has been removed
* An High quality: Another major rock slide before work begins
* High quality: That same rock slide in the process of being removed
* High quality: The entire rock slide has been removed
* We meet at the Valley of the Moon parking lot for our safety meeting
* Personal Protection Equipment includes hard hat and visibility vest
* The forward crews hike up to the higher elevation work site
* We pause to examine the major erosion and wonder how volunteers will fix it
* Looking back on the trail we can see pine trees recovering from Curve Fire
* The first mile of the trail is fairly steep at some points
* Our first look at the large rock fall
* The nearby stream is choked closed with poison oak and leaves
* Trailbuilder Chris sits atop a boulder to examine the rock fall
* Metal rock bars and hard work get much of it over the side
* Trail work clears off smaller rubble behind the heavy boulders
* Our first look at the Big Boulder and offspring with Trailbuilder Bryan
* Tom goes over the side to position boulders in to building a new retaining wall
* Each boulder is examined, talked about, and positioned to lock in place
* All the rock fall has been cleared, wall built, time to pretty it up!
* We gather our tools and backs and find a cool place to have lunch
* Trailbuilders Johnathan and Tom shoulder their packs
* We take a look from across the way at the new rock wall and newly-cleared trail
* Taking lunch in the shade and poison oak
* It is nice and cool in the shade with water flowing nearby
* One last look at the newly fixed trail -- LOOKS AWESOME! We work hard
* Looking across again at lunch and an awesome day in the mountains
* Back at Big Boulder we take care of the first boulders
* We slowly and carefully nudge the boulder toward the edge of the ravine
* A great deal of hard work later, we only have fragments left to remove
* The last large pieces of the boulder go over the side
* A look at the newly-cleared trail. Wall slightly bent but perfectly okay!
* We take a look where volunteers have removed most of a rock slide
* The first water diversion at the major erosion work site
* This is awesome. This is the erosion point fully repaired
* Other water diversions are placed to assist in keeping the trail golden
* More of the newly-repaired trail where there was major erosion
* More of the newly-repaired trail where there was major erosion
* The final water diversion at the bottom of the reworked erosion section
* We gather our tools to head back down the trail
* At the bottom we find some shade and relax a bit
* Trailbuilder Bernie removes dirt from the Gateway Center's windows

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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