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Crossing the river

Saturday, and it's shaping up to be a warm sunny day -- which is perfect for going to the mountains! I had been peacefully asleep until the telephone rang this morning by someone looking for Monty's Mortuary, asking if I was Monty. Not really being awake I mistakenly assured him that I was and some how ended up being responsible for some unsightly remains named Hector before I managed to wake up fully.

I'm sure that will all get sorted out eventually, but for now I was busy hunting up my backpack, water, and old dead cow-hide hat and climbing in to the Jeep to head for the Gateway Information Center at the bottom of the San Gabriel Mountains along Highway 39, getting ready to see what else the day would bring.

Today the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders would be walking along East Fork Trail toward the general direction of the Bridge To Nowhere, digging out the footings for the very large, very heavy, totally awesome foot bridge we would hopefully be installing across Laurel Gulch some time this month.

But first we stopped off at the Rincon Fire Station (home of the equally awesome Engine 22 crews and equipment) to sort through the tools and other equipment we would be bringing up to Laurel Gulch. After collecting what we would be using today and checking in via radio with our Dispatch overlords, we climbed back in to our vehicles and headed toward Heaton Flats and the start of the trailhead.

Digging out the foundations

A whole lot of trail improvement has been done so far by a crew of young Conservation Corps people who were hired using infrastructure money provided under some kind of stimulus funding. This was perfect!

The Conservation crews are able to get out of the city for a while (which is always good since it shows young people that there is more to the world than concrete, cars, smog, and crime) and they had carved out excellent safe steps in the smooth granite that hundreds of people climb up and down on week ends.

Improved safety in the forest means less medical call-outs, less emergency response, fewer hospital visits (assuming people can limp out on their own) and less trouble and expense for everyone. As the Trailbuilders stepped across the first granite rock face using the newly carved steps, I was amazed at the improved safety over the unimproved granite.

In order to hurt oneself going over that section, one really has to work hard at it now, and to be sure the quality of the hike isn't adversely impacted any, there are still plenty of wonderfully difficult rocks and boulders to break a leg on! What fun!

It seems to me that this is an excellent use of infrastructure funding on the nation's trails. Though the young kids who did all that work got paid minimum wage and had been stood over with a whip cracking over their backs as they worked (free discipline comes with the job) it's at least a job, an honest and very difficult job, to be sure, but work that benefits everyone who uses the trail on in to the future.

Upon reaching the work site I had discovered that my iPod was missing. Arrgh! I had clipped it to my web belt and I had started to take it off but I had been distracted by some hikers along the way who had asked me how much further it was to the Bridge. Somewhere along the way I had lost my iPod and my screaming could he heard all the way back to Heaton Flats!

Barry Manilow, we shall miss you!

So while the Trailbuilders set up shop and started digging out the new footings for the bridge, I headed back down the trail scanning every inch of the way looking for my lost iPod. No luck, after reaching the place where I had last had it I turned around and scanned once again all the way back to Laurel Gulch but it was gone for good.

So now there is a coyote out here listening to Barry Manilow singing about Rico who wears a diamond at the Copacabana. Ah well, it's back to my 8-track tapes once again.

There were eight of us working on the project though there was really only room enough for four of us to actually do any meaningful work. At times the volunteers had to swing a pick to chop up some of the rock in to which the new footing will be built, and four volunteers crammed in to such a small space with a pick swinging meant that half of us needed to stay out of the way.

Across the river there was a blue something that we had been squinting at for months, trying to figure out what it was from a distance, and since we had some free time on our hands Freddie and I hiked across the river and climbed up to where the blue something was.

(By now the coyote who had my iPod would be listening to "Lola" by The Kinks, if he hadn't skipped listening to anything in between.)

Still digging out the foundations

It turned out to be a blue plastic bin with trash in it, a bucket, some plastic hoses, other bits of garbage. Freddie slid that down to me and then he went and collected some more of the garbage strewn around the area.

There was also a 20 foot long plastic hose about 8 inches in diameter which Freddie dragged out back to the work site while I carried the blue bin back across the river and to the trail. Presumably there is still more of this garbage somewhere above where we had collected it, washed down with the rain and wind, but we couldn't immediately see where it had been coming from.

Our good deed for the day! "Keep Our Forests Clean," and all that as the motto goes, as well as less well known mottoes such as "Help Smokey Prevent Teen Pregnancies" (or something. I never fully understood what Smokey had been up to lately after he'd been laid off from the Forest Service, the poor bear, after Edward Abbey and his Gang had for many years been humorously altering Smokey's wooden image all across the Southwestern United States, maligning his reputation as something of a pervert.

Where was I? Oh, Laurel Gulch! Right.

Lots and lots of people crossed the old Laurel Gulch foot bridge that day -- at least one hundred or more crossed the bridge before noon with more coming across in small groups while we worked, crossing their fingers as they crossed the badly warped old foot bridge.

Amusingly a couple of hikers commented about our "gold mining" at the far end of the foot bridge. Also rather strangely about half who commented on the work we were doing could not see that we were working on the bridge and asked us what we were up to, this despite the drunken Indiana Jones tilt to the old foot bridge that just screams "FIX ME!"

Backpack with three hammers

One guy hiking back the other way heading home stopped to ask us who had carved the steps out of the granite rock face further up the trail and he was told about the youth group that had done that work. He pointed at his knees and said something about how his legs was thankful.

Amusingly when he was told that Freddie had helped to coordinate the work effort the hiker asked if he could take Freddie's photograph. So while the coyote no doubt listened to Nirvana screaming something about Teen Spirit on my poor lost iPod, Freddie stood there for his adoring public to have his photograph taken, the beginnings of the new "Freddie the Forest Freddie Fan Club" -- of which membership dues and background checks will be required.

Poison Oak? We got that! I hiked up Laurel Gulch as far as I could, dangerously clawing my way up a few waterfalls and wading across a few plunge pools, crashing through the bright green poison oak growing damn well everywhere in the side canyon along the stream, and only stopping when faced with a tight stand of trees and brush.

Stagnant pools of brown water with methane bubbles of rotting vegetable mats soaked through my boots, through my Spongebob Squarepants socks, and across my blistered toes while I made my way back down the Gulch to the work site. Hopefully the hideous biological infestations I walked through will kill and eat the poison oak oils also soaking my feet.

Back at the foot bridge I stood around a bit more, lamenting my lost iPod, checking my watch and noting that about now Mr. Coyote would certainly be listening to Abba, wanting to know What's the Name of the Game, soon to be followed by Aerosmith singing about Janie's new handgun. Big sigh.

Tomorrow the battery should be exhausted and Mr. Coyote will remove the headset and drop my iPod once again, lost somewhere out in the vast San Gabriel Mountains wilderness, never to be heard from again. Big sigh again. But for now, I've got to buck up! Get those Teen Spirits up again! We've got work to do and a long hike back! Sigh.

While the bridge footing was still being worked on by most of the Trailbuilders, three of us decided we might as well head back down to Heaton Flats and call it a day though it was a bit early to be packing it in. On the way down we carried out the big blue plastic bin and all the trash in it, collecting bits of garbage to add to the pile along the way.

Also we got to take a look at more of the work that the Conservation group had done, moving many large rocks up against a cliff face to provide one less area where hikers must step in to the river. That work was probably much cooler than the previous rock carving, but it still must have been hard difficult work. What fun!

Heaton Flats crammed with people enjoying the day

Everyone was out in the mountains now, pretty near all 22 million of us from Southern California, all 22 million from Orange County, Riverside County, San Bernardino County, and Los Angeles County, all of us were up in the mountains by now enjoying the day, working the river for small flecks of gold, splashing in the cold river, having lunches, running around screaming, out on bicycle, hiking just all over the place, and really enjoying the day up in the mountains.

Back at Heaton Flats one of the Trailbuilders took care of the big blue bin full of trash that we had hauled out of the canyons, breaking it up and stuffing it in to a trash bin for later collection. Heaton Flats was hopping with thousands of people and hundreds of cars, some people trying to listen to the Dodgers baseball game on the radio, most people walking around the river getting sunburned and roasted.

At the bottom of the mountain I eventually called our Dispatch overlords on the radio to let them know that the Trailbuilders had gone out of service, the presumption being that everybody we had abandoned up there at Laurel Gulch eventually made it safely back down the mountain -- which they did, covered in poison oak and sunburned, maybe, but down safely none-the-less.

When I got home my wife told me that someone called for Monty and wanted to know when he could come pick up Hector.

So next week end we will return to Laurel Gulch and we will get the footing completed so that the helicopter can gently drop -- wham! -- the new bridge in to place, then we can stand aside a listen to hikers comment about how wonderful our new bridge is and how awesome are the men and women who worked on building it.

That will be a lot of fun -- even without my iPod!

Photographs! We have them!

* I get to carry up three hammers, some chisles, radios, all that happy stuff!
* Lou and Bernia packing up the pickup with tools
* We get to cross the river many times
* A wide variety of flowers are blooming right now, and poison oak is heavy!
* Down below the trail in the river a man works on finding flakes of gold
* A very large group of hikers crossed the bridge -- about 50 people or so
* Digging out the new bridge's foundation
* Digging out the new bridge's foundation
* Digging out the new bridge's foundation
* A view of the old bridge from inside of Laurel Gulch
* Still working on the new bridge footings
* Some of the many vehicles parked along East Fork
* Some of the many vehicles parked along East Fork

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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