The hike in

Laurel Gulch: North 34 degrees, 15.536 by West 117 degrees, 44.801 at 2313 feet.

Happy happy joy joy, today was a great day out with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, complete with a warm gentle rain, video footage of the existing Laurel Gulch bridge, and a swift water river rescue conducted by the intrepid and always handy Wayne!

My morning began much like most mornings with an orange tabby polydactyl cat stepping on my face and calmly and politely informing me that breakfast time has arrived and that I should "get up and feed me before I get violent." (I know exactly what my cats say when they meow and it's often not very polite.)

After the cat was fed I crammed cold weather gear, batteries, a borrowed video camera, medical kit, water, and an old box of crackers (only two years past their expiration date!) in to my rugged and very manly mouse-chewed tool backpack, climbed aboard my borrowed bicycle, and started pedaling my way toward the Gateway Information Center just at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains along Highway 39.

This was the first time I had bicycled along Sierra Madre above Azusa in the daylight since the multi-million dollar residential home building started up there several years ago. Today as I worked my way along the road I got to wonder in amazement at all the empty houses that nobody can afford, many of them unfinished and kind of open to the morning's rain.

First look at the bridge

In fact I was so busy watching the houses that I accidentally climbed a curb at high speed and lost control of the bicycle for a few seconds, my mind already plotting the avenue of my trajectory and planning to roll on my left shoulder this time since, well, last time I crashed really badly I mangled my right side and a left-handed mangle would even me up -- or so I hoped.

Instead I got control, swerved in to the middle of the street, turned around in the saddle and gave that curb my middle finger! The rest of the trip to the Gateway Center was uneventful, and there I met Ben, Wayne, and Tom and together we headed up the mountain, along East Fork Road, past the Forest Service gate, and on in to Heaton Flats where we parked.

Busy! Lots of people were hiking on East Fork Trail today, many of them heading for the Bridge To No Where to do some bungee jumping but most people spending the day either hiking in to the back country or heading to the river to do some gold mining. Even though it was early there were a lot of hikers who had been in the back country before daylight and were already hiking back to the trailhead.

We hiked from Heaton Flats to Laurel Gulch, taking a look at river crossings and the general lay of the trail and the river, trying to get a feel for difficulties that horses and mules might have during the days when we would need their help carrying in the materials and equipment we would need to establish the bridge footings and then build a new bridge at Laurel Gulch.

Sheep Mountain Wilderness

And of course when we hike a trail we look at the condition of the trail and get a running assessment on what the effort would be to fix spots that might be more dangerous than is reasonable in the wilderness. In fact we crossed cliff faces where toe-holds are common when we could have waded along the river, and in truth I didn't see any part of the trail that absolutely was required to be open and passable since people can walk along the river if they must.

Still, there are a lot of places that could use some basic trail work -- cutting back brush, yucca plants, removing rocks from the trail, moving downed tree limbs, the usual very basic things. Though we only went so far as Laurel Gulch this time out we did not encounter anything major -- no large snarls of impassable tree limbs, no difficult rock or mud slides, nothing that would need emergency maintenance.

When we got to the bridge I had to look at it and laugh a bit since the platform is two ax-felled telephone poles with good solid wood planks laid across and nailed down, all drunkenly twisted and leaning on one side. The bridge belongs in an Indiana Jones movie where the hero and heroine are being chased by the bad guys and the only bridge to safety is -- well, the one at Laurel Gulch.

We got photographs and video of the surrounding area where we will be staging up materials and equipment for the bridge building project, making notes of where the helicopter can land things, where horse team members can unload things, where volunteers can sleep at night, and where water could be pulled up from the river for the concrete, washing, and other needs.

The bridge from below

Tom and Ben took a careful look at the ground on either side of the Gulch where the concrete footings will be built, trying to estimate how much dirt and granite must be excavated and trying to get an estimate at how friable the granite that must be removed is to get a feel for how many hours of volunteer effort are needed to clear the ground for the concrete.

The actual work itself should not be all that difficult. Hauling the water up might be the hardest part of the job, perhaps, since the river is at the bottom of a 30 foot cliff and though we might be able to find a gasoline powered water pump that can lift water that high in a pump package that can be hauled in by a horse, it seems far more likely that all the water will have to be brought up in buckets conveyed on a rope.

Still, however we actually do each task for the project I doubt that there will be anything that's actually difficult. We may have to tie back the overhanging tree limbs so afford the helicopter a better look at the gap across the Gulch, or we may actually have to trim some of the tree limbs back -- which nobody wants to do. But all of the technical aspects of the project should not be difficult, just requiring a certain number of hours for volunteers to complete at their own pace.

The camping area for volunteers will probably have to be down along the river bed since the open areas around the bridge is going to be used for equipment and materials, probably. There are plenty of camping areas near the work site in the Designated Wilderness which begins just about 40 feet from the Gulch. We will get a fire permit for the nights needed and hopefully there will not be any fire bans in effect since it would be nice to have a hot meal with sliced avocado at night after a day of hard work.

The river

Measurements were made, drawings were drawn, plans were laid (all while I laid out on the broken asphalt roadbed and used my old leather hat to doze under while the rain came down and everyone else worked) and then we packed up and headed back toward the trailhead.

The old existing bridge, it was decided, can stay in place while the footings are being built, allowing hikers to continue to use the bridge. The helicopter can lower the new bridge right on top of the footings and the existing bridge and once the new bridge is reassembled and securely fixed to its footings, the old bridge can be removed from under the new bridge, that way hiking across the gulch will not be disrupted.

The rain came and went though unfortunately it was mostly went. I tend to like a lot of cold rain when I hike and had been putting in my vote for a lot of it this morning but alas we didn't get much, certainly not enough to make any of us cold and miserable -- which I enjoy. Still, the weather was simply awesome for the day, not too cold, not hot at all, and a really good day for a hike.

On the way back we took GPS readings of possible horse crossings where the river is wide, shallow, and with fairly even rock footing that perhaps horses and mules would not find too troublesome. People must cross the river a number of times to hike East Fork though I suppose if one wanted to make a hazardous trip, they could climb the embankment and avoid the water.

Measure and design

Toward the end of the trail at the first river crossing someone had set down a long narrow tree limb across the water and while most everyone ignored it and walked across the river, occasionally someone would try to cross along the tree limb -- which didn't look very safe to me. The Trailbuilders waded across and then paused to rest awhile -- and I got good video of a guy using the narrow tree to cross, hoping I might be able to film a cold dunking.

I know, hippie types like me are supposed to be crammed packed with love and peace and well-wish for my fellow human begins, hugging trees, kissing little fury forest creatures (when we can catch them) and not at all the type to harbor hope of video taping some poor fellow loose his footing, twisting around acrobatically in the air before falling face first in to the river but, well, in my defense I claim to have been raised by wolves so I gleefully waited for the final and inevitable cold ending.

What actually happened was that Wayne and Ben walked over to where the tree crossing was taking place (someone on the camera is heard to say, "Nudge him in!") and Wayne lent a hand to the crosser who made it safely to the other side, shoes and socks presumably still dry.

The Trailbuilders packed up and headed to the Rincon Fire Station, home of Engine 22 where we moved some tools around, got something to drink, and then called it a day.

Heaton Flats campgrounds: North 34 degrees, 14.514 by West 117 degrees, 45.674 at 2002 feet.

First river crossing suitable for horses: North 34 degrees, 15.113 by West 117 degrees, 45.581 at 2104 feet.

Rock face the Trailbuilders might want to establish a path along: North 34 degrees, 15.388 by West 117 degrees, 45.375 at 2078 feet.

Second possible horse crossing: North 34 degrees, 15.453 by West 117 degrees, 45.015 at 2233 feet.

Laurel Gulch: North 34 degrees, 15.536 by West 117 degrees, 44.801 at 2313 feet.

Another possible horse crossing, this one on the way back down: North 34 degrees, 15.492 by West 117 degrees, 44.846 at 2407 feet.

Wayne's GPS Stuff:
* Wayne's GPS and Topo Mapping

* Wayne's elevation mapping

* The start of the hike in to Laurel Gulch
* Most of the hike is along the river
* We get cool cloud coverage, rain, and fog
* Many people are mining in the river and hiking
* Lots of people are swimming in the river
* We spread out along the trail
* More people having an early lunch down by the river
* Swimming in the cold water appears to be fun for a lot of people
* We continue to hike in
* Lots of trees that survived the 1939 flood
* At one of the river crossings, this one hopefully can be used by horses
* Lots of downed trees along the riverbed
* Many trees have falled during the last big winds that came through
* The riverbed looks a lot like this -- rocks and tree limbs
* A view of the river from the trail
* A view of the river from the trail
* A view of the river from the trail
* To stay out of the river we walk along the rock face of cliffs
* Some trail maintenance has been done before, note the loppered branch
* Another section where we walk along the rock face
* There are not many living trees remaining
* Here is a tree with lots of mistletoe hanging on it
* A lot of the rock continues to clive off of the mountain and tumble down
* We take a look at the newly fallen boulders
* Many trees that still live are denuded for the Winter
* The hike in continues
* Aother look atthe river where we must cross
* Our first look at the existing bridge
* A closer look at the bridge
* Sheep Mountain Wilderness sign not far from the bridge
* This is an area where we can store our materials
* We take a look at the surrounding area
* Looking from the bridge down in to the river below
* There are lots of large and healthy yucca all through the canyon
* Further on down the trail the cliff face trail kind of ends
* Looking up at the staging area from near the bottom of the canyon
* There are good camping areas for the overnight volunteers
* We drink some water when we get to the work site
* Another look at the general area
* Looking up at the work site from the riverbed below
* Standing in the river and looking down river
* Looking at the bridge from the middle of the river
* A closer look at the bridge from down below
* Standing in the river and looking up river
* Lots of water is flowing through the river and at places the stream is strong
* There is water flowing through Laurel Gulch right now
* A view of the bridge from across the river on the other embankment
* The staging-up area from across the river
* We hike further during lunch to take a look at Swan Rock
* It doesn't look much like a swan to me
* One final look at Swan Rock before we get back to work
* The rock and boulder field at the riverbed is not that difficult to walk
* Downed trees clutter the riverbed from end to end
* Some down trees have broken off recently within the past few months
* Part of the trail, this rock face is where people hike across
* Back at the bridge the measurements continue
* Tom, Ben, and Wayne look at how the new footings will be placed
* A look at one end of the bridge from below down in the gulch
* And a look at the other end of the bridge from below
* I hike up Laurel Gulch to look at the water that's available
* Some of the wood on the bridge was replaced in 2003
* I hike further up in to Laurel Gulch
* Water goes underground and then comes back up
* Very nice plunge pool where maybe we can get water during the Summer
* Some final measurements at the bridge before my camera is full

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map

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