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Morning safety meeting

Today is my wife's birthday and what better way to celebrate than to pack up my bicycle, shoulder my pack, screw on my rock helmet, and head for the Gateway Information Center for another exciting day of exercise and adventure volunteering in the San Gabriel Mountains?!

And what a great day it was, too. Today started out for me kicking my way out of my sleeping bag promptly at 7:00 a.m., collecting my gloves, goggles, radio, rope, safety vest, and drinking water and shoving it all in to my old mouse-chewed Army rucksack, checking the pressure of my bicycle tires, and rolling generally North West to Highway 39, turning right, and stopping at “mile" marker 17 at the base of the mountain, stopping at the Gateway Information Center with maybe 20 minutes to spare!

At Gateway Mister or Missus Homeless Kitty greeted me with some friendly meows and hoped-for attention so I parked my bicycle and sat down to talk with Homeless Kitty to hear what his/her day had been like so far.

Homeless Kitty has been hanging out at Gateway for about 2 weeks and is hoping for a real home. Homeless Kitty is healthy and apparently well fed (so far as I could tell from grabbing all four feet and plopping Kitty down in what I consider a fair and friendly cat-vs-hand fight!)

Stepping in to the U. S. Forest Service building there, I found most of the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders inside keeping warm and talking among themselves, waiting for 8:00, the time we would all pack ourselves in to vehicles and head up the mountain.

Almost exactly at 8:00 a.m., the young volunteers from the Webb Schools arrived, checked in with the Ranger at the Station, then we all kind of stood around for a while which gave me time to say "good bye" to Homeless Kitty after tossing my bicycle in to Trailbuilder Tom's pickup-truck.

Working on the first mile

From there we headed some 12 miles up in to the mountains to the Rincon Fire Station where we collected our tools and equipment for the day, called in to our Angeles Dispatch safety overlords to let them know where we would be working, then we headed another 4 or 5 miles North to mile post 32.5, (or there-abouts) and the "Valley of the Moon" parking lot where Caltrans has the road closed and where the USFS have planted the Upper Bear Creek Trail trailhead.

At the trailhead Tom gave a safety rundown which included a brief introduction to some of the tools we would be using today, including the ever-popular McLeod, some shovels, and a pickaxe. Since there were 20 volunteers working the trail today, and because safety is the Trailbuilder's #1 priority we made sure that only 18 long-handled tools went up the trail which meant that at least 2 adults could be unburdened by work to provide safety oversight.

Also rather important before setting foot on the trail was a safety run-down of poison oak, unsavory arachnids, not to mention the ever-popular Southern Pacific Rattler, and other less-savory flora and fauna that we might encounter in the mountains today.

Armed with medical kits, drinking water, bug spray, and a cool morning breeze, staging-up at Valley of the Moon was awesome. One gets to look Northward at the steeply-rising San Gabriel Mountains to the North, turn around and gaze out in to the far distance in to the San Gabriel Valley and the choking, stinking cities below, happy to be above the turmoil within.

To the West is the big pile of friable granite we were about to climb, and to the East out in the distance, the Sheep Mountain Designated Wilderness shimmered in the haze, a Wilderness where a great deal of the water that some 22 million citizens in those distant cities drink each and every day.

Volunteers spread across a wide area of trail

Finally we hit the trail, stringing out somewhat since there was work that needed to be done across the first two miles or so. Two weeks ago a great deal of work was done to clear blockages and leg-breakers from the trailhead all the way to Smith Mountain Saddle so the trail was in good shape. Today we would be removing rock falls and widening the trail in places which had to be bypassed two weeks previously so that the major obstructions could be removed.

The rest of the day consisted of scraping off dirt and rocks, filling in gullies caused by flowing water on the trail during the recent rains, scraping temporary trenches to assist water to leave the trail, and cutting back encroaching brush.

Trailbuilder Mike continued the hike up the trail all the way to Smith Mountain Saddle to ensure that there were no recent blockages that are still coming down thanks to the heavy rains of December and fortunately he reported toward the end of the day that nothing major is on the trail though there remains some work that could be done to improve trail conditions.

The work day ended early though a great deal of work got done. During the day hikers passed the volunteers and many commented upon the terrific work that the volunteers were doing.

Back at the trailhead at the Valley of the Moon we dumped our tools in to Tom's pickup-truck and drank water until everyone was back down the mountain. One of the Trailbuilder volunteers dropped off her tools and then headed back up the mountain, jogging up the steep incline seemingly without effort -- after working hard on the trails all morning!

The rest of us returned to Rincon, checked our tools and put them away and we were finished for the day. We kept Angeles Dispatch informed that we were done then headed down the mountain.

Driving past the Gateway Information Station, I looked for Mister or Missus Homeless Kitty but saw neither whiskers nor tail of the cat.

It was great fun and even better exercise.

* Tom offers the morning safety review
* We have 20 volunteers working the trail today
* The hike up to the first work area
* The first spot is where people have been cutting the trail
* The youngest volunteer shovels dirt and rock over the side
* Shovels and McLeods are used to clear the day's rock falls
* Since this is a fairly small fall, most volunteers kept wearing their packs
* Distant volunteer works on rocks on the far side of the Setter Wall
* The volunteers spread out over a fairly wide area to work the trail
* Some of the worse spots are where walls have been put in
* Another distant look at the volunteers across the canyon
* We take a look at a section of retaining wall
* After working the first major area, the volunteers continued up the trail
* Here is a look at a newly-widened and cleared-off section of trail
* Here is a look at a newly-widened and cleared-off section of trail
* Here is a look at a newly-widened and cleared-off section of trail
* Just short of the 2 mile post I find some shade and drinking water
* While resting there, I widened the trail and had lunch
* From the 2 mile marker the volunteers start working the trail on the way down
* Lots of hikers were using the trail today
* A look at volunteers off in the distance again
* The Webb Schools volunteers working the trail
* The Webb Schools volunteers working the trail
* One final look at a completed section of trail -- awesome!

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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