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The rock ledge before work begins

Today was overcast, windy, and a bit cold -- perfect for volunteer hiking trail maintenance in the Angeles National Forest! Bryan and I were dropped off at the Forest Service's Gateway Information Center where we met up with Ben, Wayne, Tom, Jeanette, Bron, a number of Fisheries volunteers, a Boy Scout and parent, and, well, enough volunteers to lend a serious hand in the day's efforts. (Alas, I didn't think to ask the names of everyone who came out today.)

And what fun! We headed up to the Rincon Fire Station to gather tools and equipment and then most of us headed toward Heaton Flats along East Fork Road, leaving Bryan behind to spend the day repairing and maintaining six or seven small engine machines at Rincon air blowers, weed trimmers and such.

The area to be worked on today was a narrow ledge of rock set into a cliff face with a 10 or 12 foot drop on one side, the narrow ledge forming part of the East Fork Trail which leads from Heaton Flats all the way to the famous "Bridge To No Where" (a.k.a. "Bridge Of Nowhere" as one youth called it while hiking past, a better name for the bridge, I think.)

Take a look at the photograph on the right. Though the photograph is rather out of focus, that photograph shows a four-foot-long section of the ledge. The entire section of ledge to be worked today was about 14 feet from end to end with packed dirt on top of rock comprising the approaches to this section of trail.

This ledge actually gets a bit wider over the years from the feet of many hikers who scramble across the ledge and scrape against the footing. It used to be that one would need to use one's hands to hold on to the rock face while crossing but watching hikers cross before work began, most hikers step along the ledge slowly and carefully without clinging to the rock.

Children at times stepped across holding the rock, or they looked at the ledge and had to be encouraged to walk across. Some hikers looked at the ledge and decided to climb down and in to the river then climb back up to the trail to avoid the ledge.

The volunteers were awesome. Let's see, three women (rugged and awesome swinging pick ax and sledge hammers in the cool morning air) and about 9 men (clinging to the rock and chipping away with spikes and wedges) started in on the rock face at about 9:30 in the morning, showing hikers a path above us they could use so that the hikers could get around us safely.

Every time a hiker passed, much of the work would be suspended for a bit since chipping away at the stone produced rock chips that could fly. Some of the volunteers also offered hand-held assistance for younger hikers who climbed above us and back on to the trail. Joy!

Lots of hikers went above us and thanks us for the work we do, some of them saying they had always wondered how the trail was maintained. (The younger hikers who were given a hand stepping back down on to the trail might even remember the day's hike including the helpful person holding the pick ax.)

9:30 is kind of a late start for the volunteers, they usually get shovels-on-the-ground earlier however the morning safety run-through took some time, and then there was another 10 or 15 minutes where we waited for a huge crowd of bungee jumpers (on the way to the "Bridge Of Nowhere") to pass across the narrow ledge before work could begin. (There must have been 50 or more bungee jumpers, it seems to me though I didn't count. East Fork was lined with their cars.)

Using medium sized rock bars, wedges, chisels, hammers, sledge hammers, pick ax, and a whole lot of effort, the rock face was peeled back (at times chip by chip, at times in hundred-pound blocks) anywhere from about 18 inches to about 30 inches, the tread which people walk along getting chipped out flat to form a wide, safe ledge.

The ledge after volunteers

There are four photographs which show the results of the day's efforts, one of which is offered to the right, all of which are offered in the list of photographs below. (The photographs below are a lot larger and show a lot more detail.)

A whole lot of work was accomplished, this was a very good team today and the Trailbuilders were surprised at just how much was done on the rock ledge. Previously gasoline powered tools has been carried in and the rock face attacked however only incremental improvements were made with the power tools.

But today's efforts successfully removed a ton of rock and carved out a wide tread which anybody can walk across safely, no need to pick up children or pets to cross, and no need to cling while shuffling across along a 12-foot drop.

There is still a knob of rock or two that still need to be chipped out if only to clean up and finish out this section of the trail. In two weeks the Trailbuilders will be returning to perform that finishing work and they will see what the expected heavy rains have done to remove the dirt and to wash the rock.

While this was going on further down the trail, Wayne, Jeanette, and other volunteers continued to work on a section of trail at another granite outcrop further up the trail, using chisels and hammers to chip away at stumbling hazards hikers encounter along the top of the granite.

That work site had a legion of Boy Scouts, college students, and Trailbuilders working on it previously, filling in depressions and building up stair steps so that the granite outcrop could be safely climbed from both approaches.

A whole lot of work was accomplished at that granite work site as well, making that section of the trail much safer to cross.

There is one remaining section of trail that is very close to the "Bridge Of Nowhere" which is dangerous to cross though not as dangerous as this primary project addressed today. The whole trail from Heaton Flats on toward the bridge has seen a tremendous amount of maintenance in the past year, including the addition of the awesome John Seales Bridge which spans across Laurel Gulch.

Today's crews were awesome and really worked well together, spelling each other when they got tired and getting their hands dirty. Everyone had protective gloves and eye goggles on since the rock really flew at times when hammers attacked stubborn granite, and the occasional hammered thumb or shin merely added to the fun.

* A look at a section of the cliff face after some rock has been removed
* An out-of-focus photograph before work begins
* At the end of the day a look at the trail from the East side
* At the end of the day a look at the trail from the East side
* At the end of the day a look at the trail from the West side
* At the end of the day a look at the trail from the West side

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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