Brush before being trimmed

Heaton Flats Trail has not seen very much organized trail maintenance work done on it for quite a while and since the San Gabriel River is flowing hard and fast, the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders decided to take a look at Heaton Trail and do some tread work, clearing rockfalls and trimming back brush.

And what a good day it was for trail volunteering, too! Cold in the morning, warm in the Sunlight, not too windy, a bit of cloud cover from time to time, and perfect for trail working!

I was all in favor of wading across the rain-swollen, raging river, losing a volunteer or two perhaps as they're swept down stream all the way to the San Gabriel Reservoir, but that plan was voted down in favor of staying dry and alive and working along Heaton Trail.

My son Bryan and I belted backpacks on, his a new synthetic plastic pack with busted zippers that dripped gloves, water bottles, GPS receiver, and no end of stuff on to the ground, mine an old U. S. Army rucksack that's been crewed upon by field mice up at Windygap Trail (and then mostly repaired) and then we climbed aboard bicycles and headed toward the USFS Gateway Information Center along Highway 39 across from mile post 17 at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains in the Angeles National Forest.

Brush after being trimmed

It was just reaching 8:00 a.m. when we arrived, making it to the rendezvous just in time to catch a ride up the mountain. We parked our bikes at the Gateway Center, stepped in long enough to say "hello" to Lois and the other Forest Service worker (and to turn down the welcome offer of a cup of coffee before we go) then we joined the caravan of cars on the way toward East Fork.

Trail-working tools were collected at the Rincon Fire Station and then we drove to the head of Heaton Flats Trail.

Ben offered a detailed safety run down, covering the various tools that would be used today and commenting upon the local flora and fauna which might be of interest: poison oak,the famous Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, and (my favorite) the lovely scorpions that can be found in the San Gabriel Mountains.

My son and I took loppers and a saw and left the main group behind after verifying that the radios we had brought along were working so that we could stay in contact. The main group consisted of Girl Scouts, Trailbuilders, and other volunteers who had come out today, a total of 14 volunteers working the trail from the trailhead and heading generally up the mountain.

Brush before being trimmed

What I wanted to do today was clear any significant impediment to hiking or remove any significant safety hazard, cutting back brush and trimming tree limbs along the way as we went up to the first Saddle some 3 miles or so up the trail.

Fron the trailhead up to the first Saddle there were not any trail problems which would slow down or stop hiking, and there were only minor safety hazards which hikers would expect to encounter along the way.

While a lot of brush was cut back by Bryan while we surveyed, only one tree limb needed to be cut to remove an overhang on to the trail. Far more frequent, once we left the enclosing brush and hiked in to open Sunlight, was the endless removal of plants from the trail, (the name of the plant sounds something like "sierranosis" and it often grows on trails after a fire.)

We killed a battalion of these plants on the way up, yanking them out of the path and throwing them over the side of the hill before we decided that if we paused to remove them all, we would never make it to the top of the Saddle we were aiming for. Instead we suspended trail work after a couple of miles and focused upon surveying safety hazards up to the Saddle.

Upon reaching the first Saddle, we had counted five yucca plants that need to be either trimmed back from the trail else need to be removed, one of which has sharp spines which impact the trail at eye level.

Brush after being trimmed

Along the way we tested the new safety radios and found that we could stay in touch loudly and clearly! Some places the radios don't work well, other places they're perfect. At minimum they're always good for calling for medical assistance if we come across hikers that have been injured.

Also on the radio we listened to the recreation, traffic, and police efforts taking place up at Mount San Antonio (a.k.a Old Mount Baldy a.k.a. Mount Baldy a.k.a. Saint Tony's Mountain) where the snow was heavy and the number of people skiing, sledding, and throwing snow balls was enormous!

Southern California mountains, beaches, and deserts afford fantastic recreation opportunities, and on days like today, tens of thousands of people packed lunches, warm clothes, and got in their cars and headed toward the snow. Though I could not see any of it, obviously, just listening to the safety effort by the Forest Service, police, and medical agencies up on Mount Baldy, it was a seething, energetic, motion-filled cauldron of activity up on the mountain.

Here on Heaton Trail, it was quiet and serene, cold and warm by turns as the clouds covered and uncovered the Sun, everything slow and easy. Up there on Mount Baldy, police counted cars and worked with the Forest Service to see how many more might fit safely before having to start turning people back, Forest Service people traveling from place to place stocking and restocking the toilets asking over the radio for more bathroom tissue, organizing trash hauling runs over the radio, calling in medical injuries, just a whole lot of great noisy fun!

Volunteering is quieter, much less chaotic, and while it can be very difficult, often exhausting, always rewarding, volunteering on hiking trails like Heaton is never as hard or as difficult as the work that the Forest Service, cops, and paramedics do on days as wonderful for recreation as today was.

Listening to tens of thousands of cars trying to find places to park for the day, tens of thousands of people running around, laughing, screaming, exercising in the snow, my respect for what the Forest Service, police, and medical workers do here in Southern California was renewed.

After reaching the first Saddle we turned around and headed back down the mountain quickly, much faster than when we headed up, rejoining the rest of the volunteers.

The volunteers had made a whole lot of progress on the beginning three quarters of a mile or so, reworking or establishing water drainage points along the trail, cutting back encroaching brush, and opening up the trail a bit.

Trail after maintenance

This time out not enough long tools had been collected at Rincon to provide every volunteer with a trail-working tool. The McLeod tool that is very useful for this type of work was in short supply though back at Rincon in the tool shed there were maybe 30 more. Next time maybe we'll do a count of how many volunteers there are and make sure that we carry up a surplus.

Bryan and I walked down to the river to take a look at the volume of water flowing down. Yep! It was a whole lot of water moving swiftly. We talked with people who had crossed without any problems, and some of them noted that the water was either waist high where the water flowed swiftly, or chest high where the water was slow enough to safely cross.

After a week of fairly heavy rains, lightning, hail storms, and piles of snow, the river is wide and swift, perfect fun for swimming!

Not long after checking out the river it was time to collect the tools and head back to Rincon and then down the mountain. Ben G. offered my son and I a ride down the mountain back to the Gateway Center where we got back on our bikes and headed home.

The trail work that was accomplished was good, a lot more than I had expected got done. Some times a crew of volunteers hit a level of "flow" and they work well together and things just kind of synchronize, resulting in quality trail work and lots of it.

Hopefully the first-time volunteers who came out today will be back with us again next week when more work will be done on Heaton Trail. I hope to see if there are enough volunteers that a fast-attack team can be assembled to take McLeods quickly up the trail, clearing rock and mud slides all the way to the first Saddle and doing nothing else, clearing them all before the end of the day.

But for today, it was great fun, very successful, very rewarding. There are a number of ways to get exercise and working on trails in the mountains seems to me to be a whole lot better than paying companies to allow exercise equipment to be used inside of buildings. I enjoy the exercise and I think my son does as well, and the fact that it's free is good, too!

* Before: A section of the trail with brush that needs to be trimmed back
* After: The trail after the brush has been trimmed and removed
* Before: Brush along the trail and growing on the trail needs to be removed
* After: The trail after much of the brush has been trimmed and removed
* Looking across the way in the distance, the East Fork from above
* Lots of dense brush cover the hillsides along the entire length of the hike
* To do: This section of the trail should be leveled with a water drain added
* Mount San Antonio / Mount Baldy off in the distance
* Looking back toward East Fork and the San Gabriel River
* A very nice waterfall and plunge pool along the hike
* Trail maintenance done by the volunteers today
* Trail maintenance done by the volunteers today
* Trail maintenance done by the volunteers today
* Trail maintenance done by the volunteers today
* Trail maintenance done by the volunteers today
* Trail maintenance done by the volunteers today
* Trail maintenance done by the volunteers today
* Trail maintenance done by the volunteers today

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