Volunteers at work

Usually my mornings begin with Zorro The Cat stepping on my face and demanding, "Me-yowl?" (which is Zorro's word for "breakfast") however this particular morning was a volunteer day with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders so for once I was up before the cat, shoving things in to my new mouse-chewed backpack and slipping out of the house before anybody knew I was gone.

This particular Saturday morning would mark my return to the volunteer effort after a seven-month hiatus during which I worked on my tan, biked up and down the mountain a lot, crashed a few times and acquired some awesome new scars, and fed the cats generally on time every morning.

Ben rolled up in his new (and as yet uncrashed) pickup truck and together we drove through the city to the Gateway Information Center at the bottom of the mountain overlooking the City of Azusa. The Gateway Center is located along Highway 39 (a.k.a. Azusa Boulevard a.k.a. San Gabriel Canyon Road a.k.a. a whole lot of other names) across from mile post 17.00, a wonderful new U. S. Forest Service building which contains a unique artistic rock wall and is surrounded by equally unique rock-and-basket fences.

Bernie from the Trailbuilders was already there waiting, and while other volunteers accumulated I stayed in the warmth of the pickup truck reading (in the dark, no less) through the user manual on some new safety equipment the Trailbuilders had recently acquired, intrinsically safe radios that would allow groups of workers buried deep along the trails in canyons and ridges to stay in contact with each other as well as allowing emergency access to our radio Dispatch Overlords.

Safety has always been the top priority with the Trailbuilders, it's one of the reasons why they're so successful and one of the reasons why their safety record is nearly perfect. The new equipment adds another layer of safety back-up to the existing safety procedures, clothing, and equipment the Trailbuilders employ, and since this is the Angeles National Forest, anything can happen so added safety is always nice to have just in case.

Volunteers at work

The radios even have an S.O.S. mode which broadcast the radio's position when activated, even if an operator slips in to unconsciousness or is being dragged off in to the wilderness by her arm by a bear. Awesome technology, coupled to the Geosynchronous Positioning Satellite system means we now have first-eyes report capability on fires, avalanches, and medical emergencies, but we also now have the means to stay in touch when we break up in to groups.

At least that should be the case once the equipment actually arrives, then we will see just how well it works in the field. While reading the user manual I saw that Trailbuilder Alan would be joining the effort today, a break from the litter collection volunteering that he performs along the highway every day.

Around 7:00 O'clock most of the volunteers loaded up their vehicles and started heading North, up towards East Fork Road. Since Bron from the Trailbuilders already had the trail working tools and equipment that would be needed for the day's effort, the volunteers did not need to go to the Rincon Fire Station to collect the tools, and that saved us about one hour of stage-up time that would normally have been needed, giving us an additional hour of shovels-on-the-ground time.

Jeanette from the Trailbuilders stayed at the Gateway Center to coordinate and collect the late-comers who would be volunteering today, and once 8:00 O'clock arrived, she and the other volunteers gathered below also headed North toward East Fork Road and to Heaton Flats, the trail-head closest to where the volunteers would be working today.

Volunteers at work

At Heaton Flats a safety run-down was stepped trough along with some final instructions offered by the Eagle Scout candidate who would be coordinating much of the trail building effort. Breakfast was then offered, and when I approached the card tables that had been set up I couldn't help but ask the adult volunteer "me-yowl?" like Zorro always does at breakfast time. Since I got a confused look, I translated to English, asking if there was any enchiladas with avocado. There wasn't so I grabbed the next best thing, bagels, fruit, and orange juice.

Bron and the Eagle candidate had already gone on ahead so after grabbing a few more things from the card table and shoving them in to my pack, I hiked off to see what the work site looked like.

The work site was a mostly smooth granite outcrop over which people must hike to avoid wading through the river on the way to the infamous "Bridge To No Where" about 4 miles or so further down the trail. Laurel Gulch and the John Seales Bridge project that the Trailbuilders coordinated is about one mile further from the outcrop of rock that would be worked on today.

It's always irritating to see other people crapping-up the outdoors, either when they drop litter on the ground, spray paint rocks and trees, or commit illegal mining in the river. In an act that makes me very angry, four miners started to resume digging up the far embankment right across from the trail maintenance work site, digging a deep ditch in to the embankment after asking me if I was a Ranger, knowing that what they were doing is illegal and wondering if they had been caught.

As of last year, all dredge and sluice-box mining has been banned with less destructive gold panning still permitted. The devastation of literally thousands of people mining every year is horrible, ugly, and unsightly, as is the untreated biological waste that floats down river. Three or four grain specks of gold can be acquired after washing out five or six hundred pounds of dirt, and while that translates to a thousandths of a penny per hour worked, the unsightly ecological damage is profound and lasts for decades.

Volunteers at work

When most of the volunteers had arrived on site, the Eagle candidate went through his printed lists, assigning people to specific tasks which included safety monitoring, boulder retrieval, rock collection, gravel and dirt collection, drinking water dispersement during the day, and the variety of jobs that would be performed. Additionally another run-down on safety was offered with the identification of qualified First Aid people with medical kits.

The next three hours saw lots of boulders extracted from hillsides, along the river bank, and along the trail, boulders that were dragged, rolled, or carried to a staging point near the large granite outcrop that would form one of the two primary work points. While that was going on, thousands of bucket-fulls of rock, gravel, sand and dirt was dug up from a slope, carried by brigade down the trail, and dumped in sections to smooth out the trail along the river.

At the granite outcrop, Trailbuilders Wayne and Tom at times used chisels and hammers to remove some of the more obvious stumbling points along the top of the outcrop while on both sides of the outcrop boulders and rocks were dragged in to place, fit together, and then cemented in to place with gravel.

Lunch was provided by adult volunteers who had on hand a number of different sandwiches as well as the makings for sandwiches if one of the pre-made ones was not to one's liking. I looked for enchiladas again, asked "me-yowl?" and then grabbed bread and things and slapped something together, grabbed some cookies, potato chips, and orange, then grabbed some more cookies when it looked like nobody was looking (in all I got eight of them! I would have grabbed the whole container then gone off somewhere and quietly eat them by myself but that might possibly have been rude.)

Volunteers at work

After lunch work continued at the same pace as before, maybe even stepped up to some degree. The bucket brigade split in half, the slope we were pulling rock and dirt from getting fed in to buckets which went both up and down the trail, material being used to fill in the West slope up against the granite outcrop, and material being used to add rocks and gravel to the trail along the river.

Eventually the bucket brigade split in to two, the section that had been working against the granite being asked to climb over and form the brigade again on the other side. Material was collected on that side to fill in the gaps between the huge boulders that had been painstakingly fitted in to a jigsaw of shelves that afforded a stairway which now allows hikers to step easily up, across, over, and down the granite outcrop.

While that was going on, the other half of the bucket brigade continued to work the original slope of material, filling, hauling, and dumping thousands of pounds of rock, gravel, sand, and dirt to fill in the depressions along the trail that followed the river.

Today worked out well, all of the tasks for the projects which took place were completed successfully, and there were no injuries, plenty of drinking water, and everyone had a good time out in the forest.

Today's effort was another weekend in an on-going series of projects designed to greatly improve the East Fork Hiking Trail all the way from Heaton Flats toward the "Bridge To No Where." The San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders provide the coordination, tools, equipment, knowledge, experience, safety oversight, and shovels-on-the-ground work, relying upon youth groups, college students, hiking groups, and other groups to provide willing volunteers, materials, instruction on the projects, and additional safety oversight.

For a number of years East Fork Trail had been set as a lower priority than other trails in the San Gabriel River Ranger District of the Angeles National Forest since there are a great many well-loved trails and only so many weekends in a year where volunteer work can be performed. Today's volunteer effort is one of many that have been performed on East Fork which improves hiker safety while still leaving a rugged hiking experience.

Volunteers at work

At the end of the day when everything had been accomplished, the equipment was packed up in to the cargo carrying backpacks, tools were collected, one last look around was performed to make sure we did not leave any tools or Boy Scouts behind, and then almost everyone started heading toward Heaton Flats.

I shouldered one of the grip-hoist tools in a heavily bungeed cargo pack after getting the end-of-work photographs and, after the first dozen steps or so, thought that maybe I should have let someone with a much younger back carry the thing back to the trail-head. Some as-yet-uneaten cookies gave me the strength to continue on and I managed to drop my load (with Trailbuilder Lou's help!) on to the back of Bron's pick-up truck.

About an hour later, Bron, a Boy Scout, and an adult volunteer returned from surveying another proposed work site and we all headed to the Rincon Fire Station to examine the tools (broken tools get repaired or replaced, dulled tools get sharpened or painted) and restored them to the storage shed.

There are still a number of fairly dangerous places along East Fork Trail that need to be worked on to reduce hazards to hikers. There are some places where a ledge of some four inches wide is used to walk along rock faces that have 20-foot drops, for example, and on the East side of Laurel Gulch and the John Seales Bridge that was built there is another rock face that would benefit from having rugged steps carved to greatly improve safety.

East Fork Trail is hiked in the dark of night by some people, and since it's a canyon there are only a few hours when moonlight manages to illuminate the trail, cactus, rocks, and other hazards. In the daylight, hundreds of people hike the trail, a great many of them bungee jumpers who leap from the "Bridge To No Where." (Note to self: I should ask the bungee jumping company for a donation to help maintain the Trailbuilders' tools.)

Volunteers at work

After the tools were secured, after the Scouts and adults headed down the mountain and the college students were doing the same, the Trailbuilders remained at Rincon, sorting through the mountain of discarded and recyclable metal, wood, and plastic garbage that the USFS and other volunteers collect from the surrounding canyons.

There is treasure in that garbage. Broken and rusted tools are hauled out of the stack, new handles turned on lathes, dulled or broken edges and tips are sanded and ground back in to usefulness, and over the years such treasures have become valuable assets to the Trailbuilder toolkit.

Today there were four small wheels mounted to a broken metal frame that were salvaged, cooking equipment was salvaged, and I managed to find a perfectly good set of bearings with caster that will fit the front fork of my bicycle in the event I manage to crash hard enough some day to pummel my existing bearings out of round.

After collecting what treasures as we could find we all headed down the mountain. Ben dropped me off where I live and as I stepped in to the door I was asked, "me-yowl?" Looking at the clock I found that it was indeed dinner time.

* Gathering equipment at Heaton Flats
* Some of the tools and equipment to be carried in today
* Some time is spent standing around waiting for everything to come together
* Breakfast is provided!
* This is previous trail work that was done
* Large sections of East Fork Trail have been reworked like this already
* Bron and the Eagle candidate look at the work site
* Alan and Lou arrive at the work site
* Lou takes a look at the granite outcrop that people hike over
* Some of the boulders that are tagged for being used for the steps
* A look at this section of the trail and the San Gabriel River
* Volunteers arrive for a first look at the work site
* Across the river, illegal mining is taking place
* Across the river, illegal mining is taking place
* The slope to be used for rock and gravel fill gets a bucket brigade started
* Volunteers start filling buckets
* Some of the large boulders and rocks that have been collected and hauled so far
* Trail safety monitors were posted at both ends of the work effort
* Buckets of fill are passed down the line while empty buckets get passed back
* Bernie hauls large rocks to line the river-side trail with
* Bernie examines the rock work so far
* Ben works with volunteers on extracting a boulder and chaining it up
* Ben shows how the dragging equipment is usually used
* One of the younger volunteers watches Ben demonstrating how chains are attached
* Cotter pins are reshaped and reworked with pliers
* Meanwhile a large boulder is shoved and dragged inch by inch up the trail
* On the other side of the outcrop, stair steps are being fitted
* Bron tries to create perfection with shaped rocks
* Looking along the trail work taking place
* Ben and Ben, chipping away at the rock, claiming it's hard work
* Ben about to smash his thumb with a very heavy hammer
* Boulder still getting dragged up the trail
* Bucket brigade shifts position a bit while hikers pass through
* Across the river I take a look at the work effort going on
* Across the river I take a look at the work effort going on
* Across the river I take a look at the work effort going on
* Across the river I take a look at the work effort going on
* A brip-hoist is slung and then used to haul the large boulder further along
* The grip-hoist is tied using a non-destructive padded sling
* The handle on the grip-hoist is pulled in slow steps
* The Western approach gets rocks and gravel
* The Western approach gets rocks and gravel
* Four Trailbuilders and two other adults on the Eastern approach
* I join the start of the second stage bucket brigade
* It's about time for lunch!
* Gravel is accumulated from the river, hauled in buckets, and dumped
* The Western approach has been pretty much completed!
* Tools start to get accumulated and equipment starts getting staged
* This is what the Eastern approach now looks like -- stair steps!
* While some volunteers were collecting tools ready to leave, others worked on
* A closer look at the Eastern stair step approach to the granite outcrop
* Work continues on the river trail even while most volunteers are cleaning up
* The rock and dirt slope that we started with is looking smaller and smaller
* Some volunteers continue to work on the trail
* A look at the section of trail that was filled in by volunteers today
* The Heaton Flats trail sign
* Since I never get in photographs, I thought I would take a photo of myself
* Most of the volunteers have returned to Heaton and are sorting through tools
* Tools and equipment continue to be collected at the end of the day
* A group of volunteers pause for a photograph or two
* Closer photograph of the group
* Many of the volunteers have gone on to the Rincon Fire Station or back home
* Meanwhile, the volunteers don't seem to be suffering from all the hard work!
* Tools accumulating in the pick-up truck
* More than one hat
* A test of the long distance mode on the camera fails badly
* College student volunteers pause for a group photograph or two
* College student volunteers pause for a group photograph or two
* The last photograph of the day as we say good bye to the East Fork Trail

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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