Windy Gap Trailhead

Today was an explosion of flowers of all kinds in a variety of shapes, scents, and colors, blooms competing with every eye to be noticed, flowers covering the mountain in a riot of reproductive competition screaming out for insects to come take their perfumed pollen and spread it far and wide.

The rock group R.E.M. said it best, "Me my thoughts are flower-strewn with ocean storm, bayberry moon," and while bergamot and vetiver run through my head and far away, ginger, lemon, coriander stem and rose of hay run through my head and stayed. Every step was a delight.

Such is a day volunteering in the San Gabriel Mountains as Summer is poised on the trembling edge of breaking out all over the place. Blue, red, pink, white, yellow, orange, green, purple and shades of blue so dark they begin to verge upon black, it's always a privilege to be able to hike our local mountains and enjoy Mother Nature in all Her glory.

Working Windy Gap

Today the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders returned to lower Windy Gap Trail located within the Crystal Lake Recreation Area to work on clearing blockages to the nature trail and to examine the condition of the trail.

The Trailbuilder volunteers teemed up with the Fisheries Resource Volunteer Corps, gathering at the U.S. Forest Service visitor center at the bottom of the mountains, across from mile post 17 on Highway 39 above Azusa, California. Promptly at 8:00 in the morning we sorted through the vehicles, climbed aboard, and headed North up in to the mountains all the way to the Rincon Fire Station where we got the tools we would be using today, I contacted our Dispatch Overlords using a radio to check us all in to service and to let them know where we would be working today, and then we headed further North in to the Crystal Lake basin.

The drive up in to the canyons was a blur of native plants growing along side of non-native plants whose names I'll never remember but which Trailbuilders Lou and Ben seem to recall with seeming ease. On the drive up I couldn't help but wonder what names the flowers had for themselves which led me to contemplate the language of bees and whether they also had names for the plants and flowers that they visit.

Part of the trail reworked

Climbing through the 3000 foot elevation level, yucca blooms started appearing in large numbers, a virtual army of commanding yellow-white stalks marching up and down each sunlit mountain side as far as the eye could see.

We turned left at the Crystal Lake Recreation Area entrance (North 34 degrees, 18.81 by West 117 degrees, 50.212 at 5087 feet) and drove through the campgrounds, seeing lots of deer along the way to the Windy Gap trailhead. Once there we parked, unpacked some of our tools, and then had the daily safety rundown.

The morning safety review is a good way to get one's head out of the jumble and stinking filth of the cities below and get focused on the wilderness and the job at hand. Safety is the primary job of the Trailbuilder volunteers, and even when there's nobody but long-time volunteers turned out for the day, the safety run-down affords an opportunity to focus and tune one's brain to discard the travails of every-day life below in favor of an appreciation and awareness of the wilderness around us for the day.

Ben walked us through the various tools that we would be using today, demonstrating how each should be used safely and commenting upon various unsafe behavior which should be avoided. We also got a review of the flora and fauna that could be expected in these mountains, from rattle snakes to scorpions and from poodle-dog to poison oak (my favorite.)

After the safety run-down we grabbed our long tools and split up in to groups, one team driving to the lower trailhead to hike up to survey the condition of the trail, another team to work the trail from the upper trailhead down toward the lower reaches, and another team to drive toward the lake to examine Lake Trail and assess its condition.

Ben pauses to rest while working with the chainsaw

The trailhead signs were also in good condition all along the trail. Here where we were there are two, one on each side of the paved road. Below there is another sign that is in good condition and up above along Mount Saint Hawkins road there is another sign that points the way to Upper Windy Gap that is in good condition.

The lower section of Windy Gap Trail was in remarkably good condition with only one significant large tree trunk down across the trail which was handled by volunteers lifting it up and hauling it off of the trail. By far the majority of the work was performed on the tread at the upper level where the trail definition required plants to be removed using McLeods, Pulaskis, shovels, and loppers though we quickly discovered that we did not bring nearly enough McLeods to go around. D'Oh!

Next time we count volunteers and then count McLeod tools, we're going to multiply everything by two to ensure that we have enough McLeod tools to go around. By far that tool is the best to use for the type of work that needs to be done on trails which only need maintenance rather than actual building, and using a shovel is less suitable than using the side of one's shoe for scraping off rocks, drifts of dirt, pine cones, and tree branches off of the trail when a McLeod can't be had.

There were six water bars created using large rocks which had been established in years past, and without exception every one of them worked wonderfully, the trail section had no significant water-caused erosion. There were accumulations of dirt heaped up against the business end of the rock water drainage, but that was easily taken care of with whatever tool one had at hand.

Toward the lower section of the trail many plants were uprooted and removed from the trail using hand gloves and occasionally a McLeod until very quickly we were finished with the trail.

Tototngna trailhead sign is in good shape

It was a great team today! Totally awesome. Everyone worked very well together, spread out along the trail, did what they wanted to do, and the trail work looked very good. Now the lower section of Windy Gap can be used by young hikers without tripping over anything, and they can do so in shade and sunshine with their parents in relative ease. Today's volunteers were awesome, knowing what needed to be done and knowing how to do it. It was a good crew.

We gathered our tools and returned to our vehicles, then we drove off to look at Lake Trail. Once again we split in to three teams, one of which started working on the trail from the trailhead which starts at the rock bridge along the campground's main road and works its way toward Lake Road, another team which worked from the Lake Road trailhead, and a third team which headed to the Lake Trail trailhead that is located at the lake's large parking lot.

The third team consisted of Ben and myself who would be looking at a tree down across the trail about 50 feet from the parking lot. A chainsaw would be needed for that effort and Ben's vehicle had all of the tools, equipment, and safety devices that are needed for that kind of work. We had to tackle the downed tree early in the day since the day's Project Activity Level (PDF file) required that we stop using gasoline powered tools at 1:00 p.m. Today.

The trailhead signs for the entire length of Lake Trail are missing or are so badly damaged that they can no longer be used. A total of four signs are needed, one at the stone bridge trailhead, two more at the trailheads along Lake Road (on either side of the road,) and the last one at the lake parking lot trailhead.

Ben strapped on the Kevlar safety chaps, the safety hard hat, ear protectors, gloves, face mask, and I carried over the First Aid kit, fire extinguisher, shovel, and Pulaski. While Ben sectioned up the tree limbs I worked behind him dragging out each section and tossed it off of the trail. Ben took his time and rested (with the chainsaw turned off) and then resumed cutting until the whole thing was finally removed from the trail. Some McLeod and Pulaski work later we were done!

Tom surveying Tototngna Nature Trail

Someone the previous day had emailed me about a Google Earth photograph of the sidewalk and railing that comprise the steps that lead from the lake's parking lot down to the lake below, and the photograph showed what looked to be significant damage to the stairs, enough so that I sent a copy to Ben and suggested that we we check to see if the stairs are really damaged or whether the photograph shadows and perspective were fooling viewers.

After storing our tools we walked to the stairs and examined them up and down and did not see anything significant other than that the stairs need to be cleaned off, something the Trailbuilders could do in an hour or so once we schedule it. Joyness! No problem. A broken and lifted cement slab landing would have taken considerable time and effort to repair, so we were happy to see that the stairs were fine.

Meanwhile the other two teams had been working on Lake Trail, mostly clearing the trails of accumulated dirt, leaves, rocks, pine cones, tree bark, cutting back brush, and most performing maintenance on the trail. The lower section of Lake Trail had been worked on previously and despite the heavy rains that have come since then, the Trailbuilder volunteers reported that the trail was in good condition.

Ben and I met up with the upper Lake Trail team and joined the effort widening the trail as it follows the road. I took loppers and worked on opening up some of the brush that either impeded upon the trail or overhung it. Since I try to plan ahead I also cut back brush that would eventually start growing on to the trail, cutting back dead brush as well as living brush.

We broke for lunch so I found myself some shade and laid down in the middle of the road, covering my face with my black Mojave Desert bandanna after soaking my arms in insect repellant and took a nap dreaming of my misspent High School days while The Doors' "L. A. Woman" song ran through my head for some reason. (Driving down your freeways, midnight alleys roam, cops in cars, the topless bars, my brain loves taking vacations when the rest of me is on vacation, such as today, and I'm often amused by where it takes me.)

Ampitheature seen off in the distance

The sounds of rocks rolling down the hillside and dropping on to Lake Road awoke me. Leaping to my feet I carefully brushed off the ants, grabbed my loppers and joined in the fun. Eventually the first team that had worked the lower section of Lake Trail met up with the other volunteers and joined that effort until finally the whole length of that trail was cleared, widened, redefined, and opened up. We were done!

Since it was still fairly early and we had time, we all decided we would get our vehicles and equipment together and meet at the USFS Visitor Center in the main campground parking lot across from the newly-rebuilt Crystal Lake Grill and Trading Post (or whatever it will be called when it opens) and once everyone was there, we headed to the Tototngna Nature Trail (North 34 degrees, 19.538 by West 117 degrees, 49.767 at 5929 feet.)

Tototngna means "place of the stones" in the Gabrielino tongue, and looking at the trail, the name fits. The last time that the Trailbuilders had worked on the trail was 15/July/2006, and I recall that a tractor had been driven across the lower section of the trail, obscuring it and causing considerable damage.

At the main trailhead, the volunteers split up in to two groups, examining the condition of the lower section which is still in fairly bad condition but could be fixed reasonably easily enough. There are downed trees across the trail and in many places the trail is obscured.

At the point where the trail splits and forms a loop, a trailhead sign needs to be created which points the way and informs hikers that the trail is a loop.

Tom and myself and the Fisheries Corps took off to walk the left hand of the loop, climbing altitude while we crossed rock-filled ravine and damp meadow while other volunteers walked the right hand section of the loop which also climbed generally North East .

The flowers! At the base of trees, across the broad meadows, pressed up against boulders, here again we were treated to a wide variety of flowers in a confusion of colors, Awesome! It would be awesome to lay down in the damp meadow among the flowers and poison oak, shove my backpack under me for a pillow, and either read Larry Niven's Ringworld or break out my MP3 player and listen to some truly evil heavy metal, maybe something from Coven or perhaps from Nirvana. Or maybe Wind In The Willows would be a more logical choice. Ah well, no time today.

Some of the flowers on Tototngna

The trail is not in good condition, it is obscured and difficult to locate in regions where rock slides have covered it, and difficult to locate where growth has completely eliminated the trail. Clues about where the trail used to exist was provided by missing nature interpretative signs in that the deeply-seated steel posts where they used to be mounted still exists -- at least 16 of them, by my count.

Tototngna needs some serious work. Trailbuilder Tom suggested that the trail could be restored with a crew of about a dozen in a day, enough so that the trail could be used once it's defined and the hazards are removed. There is a hanging tree that should be removed, trail blockages, and other problems, enough so that I don't think it can be done in a single day. Perhaps two or maybe even three.

Tototngna is a trail that should have priority, I think, since it's a special one, it crosses meadows that have a wide diversity of species. We encountered numerous piles of fresh bear shit, (can I say "shit?") some of it with fresh squirrel fur, it looked like (and no hiker or Boy Scout remains that I could see, any way.) If it could be re-established in a day or two, it would be very worthwhile.

Some of the ravine crossings might even conceivably benefit from having rock bridges established. It's a shame that the Trailbuilders do not have a way to manufacture trail signs, in retrospect, since we would if we could acquire the equipment -- and the permissions needed.

The two teams hiking up the loop from either end met somewhere in the middle. Tom and I had managed to miss finding the trail where it loops back and heads down so we continued generally East until we saw the other team, then we walked over and looked across the wide valley and the Crystal Lake basin. Far across the way we could see the open air amphitheater which was shimmering in the heat and distance.

So the surveying of Tototngna had been accomplished, and two sections of much-loved hiking trails had been reworked until they glowed. In all it was an awesome day of accomplishment for the volunteers.

We returned to our vehicles and drove back down to the Rincon Fire Station, there to examine our tools and put them away. I informed our Dispatch Overlords that the volunteers had finished working for the day and then we got in to our cars and one by one headed back down the mountain and to the cities below.

It was an awesome day with enough exercise to cause serious pain as I clawed my way out of Ben's vehicle and tried to stand erect, but it was worth it. It's always a privilege to work with people who are dedicated to volunteering and who love the wilderness as much as I do, and the wilderness right now is busting out and screaming "life!"

I crawled in to a shower then crawled off to my sleeping bag, flower-strewn thoughts of the day running through my head summed-up by R.E.M. who informed me that "Strength and courage overrides the privileged and weary eyes of river poet search naivete." While I'm no poet, I was certainly weary and certainly privileged to have enjoyed such a day as this.

* Smoe flowers whose name I do not know
* The trailhead sign showing where the trails are and how long they are
* The other Windy Gap trail sign
* Ben starts to cover the day's safety run-down
* Working on the lower Windy Gap trail
* Lower Windy Gap is in pretty good condition
* Tree branches are removed from downed trees to remove safety hazards
* Tom examines his McLeod
* Trailbuilder Vincent with his McLeod
* Trailbuilder Choo (pardon my spelling!) with his trail shovel
* Trailbuilders talking about, um, well, who knows?
* A part of Windy Gap that has been reworked so far
* Another section of Windy Gap that has been reworked
* Trailbuilders working to remove plants from the trail
* A fresh new volunteer!
* Trailbuilder pauses to take a look at the work done so far
* Some of the flowers at the base of this old tree
* Ben and I take a first look at the downed tree across Lake Trail
* Ben pauses to rest in the middle of all that chainsawing
* After removing the downed tree I take a look at the lake water level
* A section of Lake Trail that has been reworked
* Another section of Lake Trail completed
* Lake Trail gets reworked along the entire section
* A tree trunk gets lifted and shoved off of the trail
* Four trail volunteers lift the trunk and throw it on to the road below. LOL!
* One of the many deer that we saw today
* The same deer after it crossed the campsite road
* Volunteer pauses to have picture taken at the Tototngna trailhead
* At the Tototngna trailhead we pause before surveying the trail
* The start of Tototngna is boulders and rocks and not too well defined
* Further up Tototngna Tom attempts to locate where the trail is located
* Notice the steel sign post that helps show where the trail should be
* Tom examines the lay of the land still checking where the trail should be
* Lots of flowers in the damp meadow that the trail goes through
* Looking across the basin from the trail
* Another sign post helps us locate where the trail should be located
* Looking South from the trail across the miles in to San Gabriel Valley
* The meadow is a confusion of flowers and yucca
* Another look at the flowers in the meadow
* Lots of burned trees from the Curve Fire
* Volunteers closely examine a white lilly growing alone among other flowers
* Purple and yellow flowers. Trailbuilders don't step on them
* A close photograph of a white lilly
* Looking across the Crystal Lake basin toward the ampitheature
* Zooming in on the ampitheature way off ni the distance. Looks neat!
* Volunteers in a field of light red flowers
* Close up of light red flowers
* Another close-up of the many light red flowers in the meadow

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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