Trailbuilders in the mists

Saturday was a work day for the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders yet since it was scheduled to rain and snow we decided we would avoid working in the freezing mud and instead hike up along Bear Creek trail up to the Smith Mountain saddle. From there we would hike down for another mile or so into the designated wilderness area to survey the condition of the trail and to check on the condition of the big metal tool box that had been left up there since about 2001 -- before the Curve Fire and Williams Fire had swept through the area.

Bear Creek Trail (Highway trailhead) -- North 34 degrees, 17.249 by West 117 degrees, 50.565 at 3273 feet.

Ben, Bron, Jennet, Mike, Tom, Aaron, and myself hazarded the rain and snow after Mike checked in with Angeles Dispatch on the radio first in the event we all disappeared for some reason (land slides are possible even when it's not raining though I supposed it would be pointless to try to locate our unsightly remains if that ever happened.)

Mike brought the Forest radio, Global Positioning Satellite receiver, digital camera, FAX machine, microwave oven, and who knows what all else. (Mike was assimilated by the Borg decades ago.) I left all of my electronics behind since I didn't want them getting wet.

We found that one of the radios was in some strange configuration or possibly broken so it had to be left behind.

The hike up was done with only a little bit of rain and we got a good look at the trail work that the contractor had put in. The contractor crews (Marvin and his crew who were in the area for about ten months) installed numerous retaining walls along the 3 miles or so up to the saddle, even installing nice wood-and-metal walls in places where they weren't maybe exactly needed while widening the foot trail in some places to about six feet -- suitable for people to pitch their tents on the trail if they wanted to!

The work Marvin and his crews did looks great! There are berms along much of the trail that will need to be knocked off by volunteers, and Mike noted the start of some water-related gullies already beginning in areas where the berms needs to be graded off of the trail. The retaining walls will last for decades, though, and they look like good work.

From the saddle we hiked down hill over the hump and into the wilderness area to where the metal box was.

Smith Mountain Saddle at the crest of Bear Creek Trail -- North 34 degrees, 17.180 by West 117 degrees, 51.726 at 4296 feet.

Trailbuilders in the mists

Since we had different speeds of hikers and different chores to do along the way, we broke up into three groups with myself, Mike, and Aaron catching up to and passing Bron who had left the parking lot ahead of us. Since we had to clear fallen trees along the way, eventually Tom and I were all that was left of the forward team that reached the tool box for the first ten minutes or so with the rest of the Trailbuilders cutting up and moving downed trees at various points along the trail above us.

The tool box is about six feet long, three feet deep, and about three feet wide. We got to pound the locks with pliers for awhile before they would open (there were four good strong locks) and then we got to reposition the chains that held the box to a burned out tree so that we could drag the box from the teetering edge of the ravine and back up to the trail without dropping it down onto the canyon floor some 200 feet or so below.

Mike and Bron arrived (the muscle of the team) and I (the brains) stood on the burned out trees to shove while the rest pulled and then I unlocked the chain from the tree and they dragged it the rest of the way up the lip of the ravine and back on to firm ground. Safe after six years of hanging over a sheer drop over a cliff!

We found a few tools in the box. Some of the plastic handles on the tools that were left inside had melted during the Curve Fire, and since the box wasn't entirely water tight, some tools -- like the two small folding hand saws -- were rusted into trash. The box itself was in surprisingly good shape though its back that had been pressed up to the burning trees was burned black.

The tools were inventoried while Mike kept a tally on his notepad of paper, making note of the general condition of the tools and what could be cleaned up and what had to be thrown into the trash.

Mike, Tom, Bron, Aaron, and myself carried the individual tools and other materials from the box up the trail a short distance to a moderately wide spot where it is hoped that horses might be able to turn around in, then the rest of us got to supervise and offer helpful opinions while Mike and Bron lugged the heavy box up the trail to join the tools -- while Aaron and I kicked wet and slippery oak leaves off the trail in a vain attempt to reduce the slipping hazard.

Lunch was had at the newly relocated tool box. Mike got to use one of the burned up lopper tools to open his can of sardines and to slice his bread; I had jalapeno bread and water -- Aaron had carted all of my water up for me in his back pack, leaving my hands free for the whole hike up! (Thanks, Aaron!)

Trailbuilders in the mists

Along the hike back up to the saddle we came across Ben and Jennet who were examining a large water sluice that bisects the trail. The canyon that crosses the trail is wide and looks like it carries a lot of water when it rains though the trail itself at that point looked to be able to survive the heavy rains that cross it.

On the remaining hike back up to the saddle it started to rain more heavily but we all had fairly good clothes for it. By the time Ben, Jennet, Mike, Aaron, and I had reached the saddle, it was rain mixed with sleet -- which seemed like a good reason to pause for a photograph or two. Ben had suggested we "record our misery" but everyone was actually enjoying the cold rain.

Aaron told Ben that now he knew why the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders so rarely gets rained out. Ben suggested we stand around and watch my bottle of water freeze in the blowing sleet but three of us -- Mike, Aaron, and I -- decided we wouldn't wait and headed back down the trail toward the trailhead.

I suppose I could have been warmer since I had left my thermal clothing in my backpack down at the trailhead. Thing was I didn't expect to need it and anyway my thermals are not in the best of condition. My thermal pants are pretty badly ripped up after six or seven years of camping in cold weather but despite being full of holes, it still helps keep things mostly warm.

My wife had offered me the use of hers but her thermal pants are white with pink fluffy flowers and one thing I didn't want was to fall down the mountain, have some paramedic cut my pants off of me, and then comment over the radio to Dispatch about how this guy he's working on is wearing ladies underwear. I'd have to regain consciousness long enough to croak out some unconvincing explanation before passing out again, and in the event of such an accident I didn't want the added embarrassment.

The hike back down was a cold and somewhat wet one -- it looked to me as though everyone had dry jackets but our pants had become soaked. My old cow skin hat gets washed only when it rains, so dirty brown water rolled off of it while I walked, head down and using my hat to block the cold blowing rain.

In all it was just a bit more than a nine mile hike through the Angeles National Forest and everyone had a good time. We got the job done that we set out to do. We'll have to return with proper hand tools to cut and remove the remaining burned and fallen trees from the path, and we'll have to work some of the trail in the designated wilderness area in order to make the path safe for loaded horses to use.

Eventually the rest of the trail which extends from mile marker number 4 down to Bear Creek and then down to West Fork Road will have to be surveyed and it's possible that perhaps one or two Trailbuilders crew will be willing to do an overnight effort to remove any remaining trees from the trail and to level the worse of the more dangerous parts of the trail on the way down to West Fork.

When the weather is warmer, the Bear Creek Trail will be a good one for hikers to use since it's also expected that the locked gate at mile marker 28.76 will be opened and the new gate currently installed at the Bear Creek trailhead will be closed, allowing people to park their vehicles at the rebuilt trailhead.

* Clouds move in to the canyons on the hike up
* Lots of growth and lots of death in the mountains
* You can see Bear Creek Trail winding around the mountains=
* More of the trail far off in the cloudy distance
* Looking across numerous canyons
* Star steps created by the Trailbuilders for Ice House Canyon, I believe

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map

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