First river crossing of the day. Adventure!

Today the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders got together with a large number of young volunteers to work on adding rock stair steps to a section of the East Fork Trail, a trail that starts at Heaton Flats, follows the San Gabriel River, and goes past the infamous Bridge To No Where.

And what fun it was, too! Being March, the day wasn't hot, allowing an easy hike in to the work site despite being loaded down with tools and equipment, and an equally easy hike back out once the day's volunteer work had been accomplished. Being at only around 2,000 feet altitude, it can get very hot along East Fork even at night, but today the weather was perfect!

The volunteers met at the United States Forest Service Gateway Information Visitor Center at the bottom of the mountain, the building next to the large water tank at the bottom of Highway 39 across from mile post 17, where we traded lies and jokes until it was time to get to work.

When 8:00 came, everyone sorted out their various rides and we all drove North to the Rincon Fire Station to collect our tools and equipment for the day, got back in to our vehicles and headed East along East Fork Road, turned left at the Glendora Mountain Road junction, and on to the end, all the way to Heaton Flats.

Because we would be working in a fairly deep canyon, I called in to our Dispatch Overlords over the radio to let them know how many volunteers would be working on the day's effort and approximately where we would be located, that way we would be kept informed about any significant issues that might crop up during the day (such as lightening, fires, floods, whatever might happen.)

It was a fairly large group of volunteers who came today, with Scouts and College students mixed in to lend a hand continuing the extensive trail maintenance work that the Trailbuilders have been coordinating for the past two years.

A great deal of trail work had already been accomplished on the first five miles or so of the trail, and all of the hazardous rock faces have been tamed, narrow ledges widened, and generally the whole trail made less hazardous. Today's effort addressed another rock face which would be turned in to a slope with stone steps, and while that took place, some additional tread work was done.

Ben gave the day's safety meeting, covering each of the tools that would be used to ensure that volunteers who used such tools would do so safely. In addition he covered the local flora and fauna, pointing out hazards such as rattle snakes, poison oak, and ways to mitigate against getting bitten, stung, scratched, or poisoned.

Staging up at the work site

This safety meeting at the beginning of each volunteer day is something that's done regardless of who comes out to volunteer, whether they have been doing such work for decades or whether it's people's first time. It' s a good way to get one's mind focused on the first priority: Safety. Volunteers don't do anything they feel uncomfortable doing, and the safety meeting is one way to examine the tools and equipment and see what one might like to use and see what one doesn't feel comfortable using.

It's also easy to get complacent and to forget to wear gloves or forget to look first where one's going to sit. A safety meeting every time covers job hazards, tool usage, medical issues, anything that might come up during the day including how to safely step off the trail to visit the toilet and not disappear forever.

In order to get to the work site we needed to cross the river twice (and twice more on the return trip) and each crossing required steady feet and some serious concentration on where one sets one's feet since the river is running high and fast now thanks to the heavy rains and snow melt that Southern California enjoyed recently.

The river crossings were awesome! I had a safety rope on myself just because I tend to like bringing a rope on these things since there have been times when we've needed one (often to pull down a hanging tree hazard) so I spent some time centered in the river with Trailbuilder Tom and handing tools along. I had found good solid footing next to Tom and we passed tools across so that volunteers could concentrate more on crossing.

It's an adventure! Some of the younger volunteers did not seem to want to cross since that much rushing water isn't something one crosses every day. There is a significant though minor safety risk involved in crossing water that's even ankle deep, and though crossing the river like today wasn't exactly hazardous, it's still frightening if it's the first time. New experiences are often worrisome.

Courage is being afraid and doing it anyway.

There was one kid who was very afraid yet he got on with it, carried his long trail-working tool safely across the rushing river right behind everyone else, only breaking in to sobs once he was on the far side after it was over. Courage! Inwardly I cheered.

At the next river crossing everyone made it across without even a whimper, and I would love to hope that for everyone who had forged the high-running river for the first time today and were afraid, they'll remember today and remember how they did something adventurous despite being afraid.

Working with the grip hoist

At the site where the steps were to be established, a grip hoist was used with long steel cables to drag boulders in to place while volunteers worked on seating them solidly, filling in the region with sand, gravel, rocks, and dirt carried in buckets. Because the hoist cable carries tension, safety people were positioned on both sides of the trail to stall hikers while boulders were being moved.

While working at the site, our Dispatch Overlords called me on the radio to ask if I was in the area which was something of a surprise since it's pretty rare for our Overlords to check on us volunteers during the day. We monitor a radio to keep informed about changes in the weather, lightening strikes, fires, a lot of things that go on in the forest we're kept informed about as a safety measure, and it's rare to be called by Dispatch.

What I was told was that there were two hikers overdue, young kids who had taken the hike to the Bridge To No Where and were overdue enough that a parent was worried enough to contact local authorities and get a preliminary search effort underway. The first step was to see if anyone was in the region who could search while maintaining radio contact, and the Trailbuilders had been reported as being in the area so we got called.

Just by coincidence I happened to remember giving the two hikers information on how much further the Bridge was earlier in the day, so Dispatch handed me off to the guy starting the preliminary search effort who asked my son and I to attempt to locate the hikers. It took a while before we got a physical description of clothing and such but eventually we worked it out.

We hiked East and managed to find the hikers and informed the building search effort that the hikers were on their way out and could be expected to reach the trailhead in about half an hour (assuming 4 miles an hour walking speeds.) We made sure that the overdue hikers made it to the trailhead where-after we dumped our equipment and tools at the trailhead, found some shade, and called it a day -- though all the other volunteers continued to work on the trail.

A whole lot of work got done at the work site though I only managed to see perhaps the first half of it. Comments by hikers who passed through where my son and I were resting told us that they had looked over the day's effort and were impressed, many have wondered how huge boulders get moved and when the grip hoist was not in use the volunteers showed them the equipment and told them what it does and how it works, I was told.

Huge boulders moved in to place

Eventually all of the volunteers started trickling back to the trailhead, bringing their tools and equipment back with them, dumping them on the ground, and either looking for water else finding shade to relax in until everyone was back.

It took a long time for everyone to return -- something like 90 minutes -- but eventually we packed up the vehicles and returned to Rincon where the tools and equipment were inspected and stored properly back where they belong.

After the noise, excitement, and exhaustion of the day is over and the many volunteers have driven away, the long-time Trailbuilders often pause to talk about how things went during the day, what worked, what went wrong, and talk about any amusing things they saw or overheard.

I mentioned that it was a feather in the Trailbuilder's cap to be asked to find overdue hikers and then to actually locate them which begged the question about how many hours a High School-age kid would have to be overdue on a hike before a parent should become legitimately concerned.

I remember being that age and disappearing for months at a time, not attending school or returning home but rather living on Newport Beach or in the Mojave Desert, and my parents never worried about it. But then I've always been a wild, uncontrollable, dirt-encrusted savage who has changed very little in the past 40 years so I'm really not surprised.

We finished up at the Fire Station, got in to our vehicles, and returned to the cities far below, our backs and legs pretty sore but it was terrific fun!

* At the Rincon Fire Stating getting tools and equipment
* At the Rincon Fire Stating getting tools and equipment
* At Heaton Flats staging the tools and equipment before the safety meeting
* We check through the back packs
* One of the volunteers workong on the stair steps today
* Ben starts going through the tools and equipment that will be used today
* The hike in to the work site
* The first river crossing. Adventure!
* The other side of the second river crossing
* At the work site the trail tools and staged and we get our first look
* One end of the grip hoist is attached to a very large boulder
* The steel cable is laid along the edge of the river
* The grip hoist gets set to move a large boulder
* Here you can see some of the large boulders that have been moved already
* Trailbuilder Lou pauses at the end of the day for a photograph
* Another good look at Trailbuilder Lou
* Trailbuilder Fred also gets his photograph taken
* Trailbuilder Bryan removes the heavy cargo pack with the grip hoist in it
* Removing the grip hoist cargo pack isn't always easy!
* Trailbuilder Tom gets his photograph taken
* Another good look at Trailbuilder Tom
* And yet another look at Trailbuilder Tom!
* And finally, a look at Trailbuilder Ben

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