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A Boy Scout will be looking at the area for another project

This past Saturday and Sunday was filled with adventure with hiking, horses, mules, and hard work, lacking only helicopters to make the weekend complete! Alas I had awaken Saturday morning with the expectation of being able to watch the helicopter delivery of materials and supplies for the Laurel Gulch project yet the delivery had been made the day before so I missed it! Arrgh!

I was told that when the helicopter came in with the cargo nets of materials, there was a guy hanging from a long line flying through the canyons below the helicopter, arms out and living up to his amusing nickname "Dope on a Rope." Hopefully someone got photographs of that and will send them in to the Crystal Lake web site so that they can be included here and get passed around.

What fun! And I missed it! Arrgh, again!

This volunteer day was an early one since so much work was needed to be done over the weekend. I had just managed to get my sleeping bag and tent roped up and tied to the bottom on my poor abused backpack when another volunteer with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders drove up and collected me, and away we went up Highway 39, turning right on to East Fork Bridge, and on to the trailhead at Heaton Flats.

At Heaton Flats the San Gabriel Valley Conservation Corps were already there, waiting for the volunteer San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders and everybody else who would be working on the new bridge. The SGVCC is an organization that employs younger people from the cities to perform infrastructure work at minimum wage, currently assigned through funding provided by a Federal economic stimulus plan. The group had been written up in the Pasadena Star News and they had already been working along the East Fork Trail this month.

After the first river crossing we pause to dry off a bit

We got things somewhat coordinated at the trailhead, and Janette from the Trailbuilders stayed at Heaton Flats to stage up the trailhead efforts with the High Country Riders (who would be assisting the furry volunteers with delivering water, materials and equipment to Laurel Gulch after which they would haul out some of the garbage that volunteers had collected from the area round Laurel Gulch.

Since we were heading in to the canyons to do fairly strenuous work, I tried to get our Dispatch overlords on the radio to let them know where we were going to be in the event of any emergency that would require our evacuation. Unfortunately there are only radio "sweet spots" along the trail which the Forest Service and other professionals know about but which I could not find. So we leaped off in to the wilderness without first being able to contact our Dispatch.

The hike in to Laurel Gulch in the morning was fairly uneventful though the team managed to spread out along a half mile of the trail. At the first river crossing it's easy to lose track of other team members since there are a hundred paths one can take, most of which lead to where people want to go.

Since I wear a hard hat lately (under the mistaken assumption that there's anything left under it worth saving) I got asked all kinds of interesting questions along the way. Are there campgrounds ahead? Will there be showers available at the campgrounds? What should I do if it starts raining? Why are there parts of a paved road along the trail? Where's a Coke machine? Where should I cross the river?

The rock hammer in use at Laurel Gulch

The sign back at Heaton Flats says that Laurel Gulch is only 1.2 miles away however it's actually more than 2 miles or so, and literally hundreds of people are in the canyons, many of them heading towards Laurel Gulch and the Bridge To Nowhere - so I got a lot of questions asked of me along the way.

Campgrounds? Yes, always. If you continue to hike until you find campgrounds, you'll always find them. It may be four hundred miles away, it may be two miles away, but you'll eventually find one. The trick is to stop walking once you get there. Showers? Yes, always. If after walking four hundred miles you haven't found a campgrounds with showers, walk another four hundred miles until you do. So I always answer yes.

Some of the other answers take me more time to think about but in the spirit of being helpful, I always eventually come up with good ones.

What should you do if it starts raining? You should get wet. Where should you cross the river? Anyplace there's water. And the Coke machine? Like the campgrounds ahead, just keep walking until you get to one, it's always just up ahead a ways.

Maybe not so amusing was a rather belligerent hiker who stopped me to ask about all the litter and garbage accumulating along the river, wanting to know why the U. S. Forest Service "sit in their trucks all day" not cleaning it up while citizens have to pay five dollars to park in the local recreation areas.

That's a Damn Good Question! Let's see, the sale of about 3,328 Adventure Pass parking permits will pay minimum wage salary for a single paid employee who can collect and haul out about 26,000 pounds of garbage in a year. So we'll need about 1,153.8 Forest Service employees a year to collect and haul out the thirty million pounds of garbage that people dump in to our canyons every year. So all we have to do is sell 3,840,000 parking permits a year and we're done! Easy!

The upper bridge footing still needs to be excavated

"Because they're no good lazy bastards," I informed the guy. I also informed him that I'm a volunteer and that unpaid volunteers like me are constantly out in the canyons and along trails collecting and hauling out garbage on our backs, even people just like him who see garbage, collect it, and haul it out just because they're good citizens.

"What do we need volunteers for, then, if Forest Service people just sit on their asses?" I was asked.

Showing remarkable restraint, I did not pick up a rock and throw it, did not suggest that he call up the Forest Service and ask to volunteer to collect garbage personally, did not do anything but hitch up my backpack, point my feet generally East again, and resumed walking.

Still, I walked Eastward angry, grinding my teeth. The amount of garbage that the Forest Service collects and hauls out is staggering. The amount of spray paint that they scrub from rocks, trees, signs, toilets, and ground is equally staggering, and they do it year after year, "Toilets and Trash," is the refrain that sums up much of the hard work they do.

As I walked on I got even angrier. Show me a U. S. Forest Service employee who is really a lazy bastard and it won't be any of the men and women out here in the nitty gritty getting their gloves dirty sweating in the Sun doing hard work that few Americans are willing to do for what I think is maybe half the pay they deserve.

Happy thoughts! Must think happy thoughts! Bunnies. Kittens. Tamales with jalapeno peppers on saltine crackers. Happy thoughts! By the time I got to the bridge project, all was right with the world once again, and the SGVCC had long since arrived and we were ready to get to work.

Meanwhile the rock drill continues to be used on the upper footing

The first thing to do was to see what the first thing to do was. The lower side of the new bridge footing was perfect, the ground had been leveled until rock was found and that side was good to go. The upper side of the bridge footing still needed about a thousand pounds of rock and dirt to be excavated.

The SGVCC got busy with the Pionjar rock drill an awesome piece of equipment that is pretty heavy but breaks up rock easily enough. I have carried the drill from place to place but it's heavy enough that I have never packed it in to a work site before, nor have I ever used it to drill rocks. The SGVCC crews picked it up and worked the drill like it weighed nothing! Oh man, to be young again.

The High Country Riders showed up with much appreciated drinking water and other goodies, but equally important they brought a large and comfortable camping chair for Trailbuilder Bron to rest in. Since we had collected garbage from around the forest, we wanted to see if the Riders might cart some of it out of the canyons - which they did after I took a hack saw to the 30-foot long, 8-inch hose that Freddie had hauled out of the river the week before.

The hose sections were placed in to a wheelbarrow and then taken down to where the horses and mules were stationed, prompting one of the newer mule volunteers to stomp and shy away from the startling noise. I agree! If I didn't know what all that noise was before hand and heard that thing coming down the trail, I would have been startled also.

The lower footing form is set in to position

Since I'm a vegetarian hippie I just had to hike down and talk with my furry colleagues, rubbing my shirt up against a nose or two while asking the animals questions which they ignored, taking photographs and video. Since I'm a vegetarian hippie I did not attempt to eat any of them though I did wish them well on their trip back down to Heaton Flats.

While that was going on the Trailbuilders worked on placing the wooden forms at the lower end of the bridge where the first footing would be built.

Exacting measurements were made, anchor holes were drilled, measurements were made, rebar was inserted and glued in to place, measurements were made, the internal rebar basket was lowered in to place, measurements were made, everything was wired together, and then exacting measurements were made again before the concrete was mixed up in a wheelbarrow and then shoveled in to the wood form.

Damn if we didn't end up putting 19 bags of concrete in to the lower footing, each bag weighing 90 pounds. As each batch of concrete was being mixed up, volunteers spread the previous batch around the inside of the wood form, making sure there were no cavities by rapping the wood with hammers and manually filling up all the spaces.

It's so beautiful! When we were done there were tears in our eyes, it was so beautiful. Only now we had a problem. We had 1,700 pounds of wet concrete and hundreds of people who would be crossing the bridge on the way home, and wet concrete is a temptation that few - if any! - of us can resist!

While the focus of the day's efforts changed to the upper bridge footing, Freddie and Fred tried to think of solutions to keep people from stepping in the concrete or otherwise messing it up while it set. In the end wood was nailed over the top of the forms and a board from the old bridge was placed along the top. Problem solved!

There is a lot of tasty grass and seeds in the area to eat

As the afternoon became the evening, the awesome SGVCC packed up their gear and headed back out of the canyons, leaving the SGMTBs and associated volunteers to what was left of the day's work.

And then there were only four of us, Bron, Mark, George, and myself, off duty, tired, sore, bleeding maybe just a bit, and done for the day. As darkness swallowed up the canyon we were joined by a dozen bottles of cold beer donated to the cause by a hiker who had come through, though we were tired enough that only one bottle each managed to be used before we climbed in to our sleeping bags.

I had set my huge tent up along the trail, a tent big enough for four or five people since I need a lot of room at night. (Don't ask.) Though I had brought a book it was too dark to read, and the echoing space within the vast tent was awash in the noise and tumble of the river about 40 feet behind me.

Across the trail Mark had set up his one-person tent, both of us being mostly off the trail enough that hikers still making their way in to and out of the canyon in the dark would not stumble over us. And yeah, they continued to hike in and out all night, some times fairly large groups with flashlights working their way across the boulder fields and foot paths, past our tents.

Amusingly we had a group of what sounded to me to be emos dressed and talking Goth come through, but I was asleep and allegedly snoring, but I was told about the group in the morning. Speaking emo Internet memes in the dark canyon floor, intent upon all manor of mischief, I hope.

Sunday morning and I had been reading peacefully in my tent when Bron started yelling down the canyon, claiming it was time to get back to work. There was a lot of yelling that morning about how time was being wasted, about how the Sun was nearly up, something about crows and early worms, all of which I ignored as best I could.

Mark collects a measuring tape from the pile of supplies

Eventually I rolled up my sleeping bag, packed up my backpack, took down my tent, and hauled it all up to the work site. I was pretty stiff that morning but got loosened up by sorting through the tools and equipment we would need for the day, thereafter the second bridge footing was lowered in to place and things started going again.

Vincent and Ben from the Trailbuilders showed up and the business of making measurements was resumed. The upper footing was pretty much a repeat of the lower footing only this time we had about 11 bags worth of concrete to use instead of around 19. But that was no problem since the upper footing was smaller and contained less volume.

The wood footing was placed, holes drilled, all that happy stuff until it was time to start mixing the concrete and laying it down shovel full by shovel full.

When we were all finished, final measurements were made and tallied all up, we were as near to perfect as our tools could allow us to be. Amazingly, 2,700 pounds of concrete, about 80 feet of rebar, an unknown number of board feet, and tons of rock and dirt came together for a measurement of deviation end-to-end less than half an inch wide. The two perfectly level footings faced each other as near to perfectly as could be wished for.

Now all that was left was cleaning up and hiking back out. Cleaning up took a fairly long time since every tool was cleaned, every stray drop of concrete was collected and bagged, and the entire site was policed to ensure that no tools or litter was unintentionally left behind.

What we were left with was a stack of trash consisting mostly of empty concrete bags which the SGVCC would come and pick up and haul out in the morning. We also left two pristine bridge footings upon which the new bridge will eventually be lowered.

And it all looks great! And was a lot of fun despite the hard work.

On the second day the upper bridge footing has also been completed

The hike out was mostly uneventful though once again I got to answer questions. "Is this the way to Rincon Station?" I was asked. I answered in the affirmative, forgetting to mention that first one passes by Heaton Flats, walks down East Fork Road, crosses the bridge, turns right, and then you'll be at Rincon Station eventually, sure.

"How can I cross the river without getting wet?" That question was harder and had me stumped for a while. Allegedly Saints can do it, and in my mind I recalled the punch lines to a number of Jesus jokes I could try, but in the end I settled on suggesting that the person "step where the water isn't" which invoked a puzzled "Thank you" from the person.

As I made my way across the river for the day's two remaining river crossings, I was again asked by a person where to cross. Since the question was yelled to me from the riverbank as I was crossing the middle of the river, I assumed it to have been a trick question. I pointed behind me and yelled back, "About thirty feet up stream!" before I continued on across. "Thank you!" floated back across the river.

Back at Heaton Flats I set down my pack and wrenched off my wet boots, checking my misused feet for additional damage, waiting for the rest of the team to come in. After everyone but George arrived (alas, we lost poor George to the Wilderness) we drove back down the mountain.

Along the way Ben and I paused to take a look at some of the illegal mining going on down in the river, and I was amazed and disgusted by what I saw. This was the first time that I had actually gotten a look at what goes on down there and it wasn't very pretty.

A closer look at the second footing

In places the river had been diverted so that people who illegally live there could mine the rock and dirt for little flakes of gold. A large pontoon-mounted motorized dredge was anchored at the end of a large pond created by the people mining that section of the river, and garbage was heaped in places where halfway hidden underground residential tarpaulins had been stretched across dirt hovels.

It's to cry for, that whole section of the river where the accumulated crap (literally and figuratively) and garbage accumulate and it's moderately dangerous (and futile) for people to go down there and clean it all up.

Then we were back in the vehicle and heading back down the mountain, in to the cities where vegetarian tamales with jalapeno chilies were waiting.

Photographs! We have them!

* A Boy Scout will be looking at the area for another project
* Boy Scout Troop 636 with SGVCC in the background
* At the first river crossing
* After the first river crossing we pause to dry off a bit
* The rock hammer in use at Laurel Gulch
* The upper bridge footing still needs to be excavated
* The rock face for another proposed project is measured and looked over
* The Boy Scout who might perform that project's coordination
* A wide view of the bridge area
* We pile our equipment up along the trail
* Lots of hikers pass through the work area on both days
* Meanwhile the rock drill continues to be used on the upper footing
* The lower footing form is set in to position
* The rock is drilled and then gets washed off of all dirt and debris
* A clean rock is best for concrete footings
* The upper bridge footing continues to need more excavation
* Some of the SGVCC crew
* The lower footing gets measured some more
* Rebar gets glued in to position
* The furry volunteers have delivered our supplies!
* There is a lot of tasty grass and seeds in the area to eat
* Some of the furry volunteers get to stand in the shade
* Some of the furry volunteers get to eat poison oak! LOL.
* Back at the bridge, the rebar basket gets lowered in to the first footing
* Then the concrete gets shoveled over the rebar
* A virtual duplicate of the previous photograph for some reason
* George takes a break
* Mark collects a measuring tape from the pile of supplies
* Bron wants to know why George is resting in Bron's chair
* Without question the team's most handsome member
* On the second day the upper bridge footing has also been completed
* A closer look at the second footing
* Another look at the lower footing and the entire old bridge
* And a final look at the two footings and the bridge all together

Mark offers us some photographs!


* The lower footing -- with me standing around doing nothing as usual
* Concrete gets dumped in to the lower footing
* Here is some of the work crew for the second day -- masked bandits!
* And Mark joins the crew photo-op!
* A last look back as we leave

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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