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Sign at the Islip Ridge Trailhead

Today was another awesome day volunteering in the Angeles National Forest. Though it got to be pretty hot and though the work was difficult, it was no where near as hot and difficult as it had been two weeks previously when the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders came up with a number of other volunteers for Day #1 of this month-long trail-clearing effort.

Today the Trailbuilders returned for Day #2 of the Islip Ridge Trail maintenance effort, a day which is fortunately at least 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the first day. Day #1 had been gruesomely hot with dried-out Trailbuilders dropping like flies from the heat, a bucket of fun that I had some how managed to escape participating in, alas.

The history of the Islip Ridge Trail has its start with the Trailbuilders, details of which can be found here on the Los Angeles Times article which shows a completion date of 23/Sep/1990. The trail itself is awesome, it walks through micro climates from desert to meadow, and offers vistas looking South and East far off in to the distance.

The day began early in an effort to avoid some of the heat. Bron and Johnathan left the San Gabriel Mountains Gateway Information Center before 6:30 in the morning and headed up the canyons to the Rincon Fire Station where tools and equipment were collected, after which they headed up in to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area and the trailhead of Islip Ridge.

Ben from the Trailbuilders came to pick Bryan and myself up, tossing our packs and equipment in to the back of the pickup and then heading off to the Gateway. We got there in time to wait in the shade and tell improbable lies about ourselves for about 40 minutes before our 8:00 a.m. departure time arrived. Promptly at 8:00 we climbed in to our vehicles and followed Bron and Johnathan up the mountain.

Bucked tree on the trail

There were 11 volunteers, all together though I counted badly and only informed our Angeles Dispatch Overlords over the radio that there were 8 of us, a count that got even more inaccurate when Scott, one of Johnathan' s friends, joined us at the trailhead. D'Oh! (Please don't tell Angeles Dispatch otherwise I'll get a much-deserved, very stern talking to.)

I need to be more careful in my counts since an accurate count is a safety issue in the event of a land slide or other problem which makes a search and retrieval effort less strenuous for the rescue workers and avalanche rescue dogs which have to reassemble and count the widely dispersed parts to see if they've got them all.

We stopped by Rincon, picked up what few tools that Bron and Johnathan did not get yet (they left us a note!) and then after we got what we needed for the day we loaded back in to our vehicles and headed up to the trailhead. The trailhead is actually at the Crystal Lake parking lot, one of 5 lots just above the actual lake.

At the trailhead we got our daily safety run-down which included a review of the flora and fauna that constitute a safety or health hazard, covering what we could expect to encounter while volunteering. At the same time we had a quick review of the day's Project Activity Level (PDF file) which included the need to stop all chainsaw activity promptly at 13:00 today.

One of the hazardous plants that we would encounter today included Poodle-dog bush which Bron had managed to get involved with on Day #1 of this month-long adventure. Yikes! And as I type this up I see I managed to get some on my left knee. Bother!

We then collected our equipment, clothes, and tools and set our boots on the trail. Fortunately the really heavy equipment -- three chainsaws -- had already gone on ahead which left us late arrivals to carry less heavy things like safety chaps, helmets, wedges, medical kits, fire extinguishers, rope, McLeod tools, shovel, a couple of loppers, and perhaps a Pulaski.

The sign at the trailhead needs to be repaired. It's very annoying but literally everything gets spray painted up there eventually, rocks, trees, the ground, buildings, signs, everything winds up getting spray painted, and the awesome trailhead sign (photograph offered below) needs to be cleaned up again. The Trailbuilder's email address should be added to the sign, actually. Johnthan decked out in the proper safety equipment

While hiking up we spread out along the trail. I'm the only one with a radio certified safe to contact our Dispatch Overlords however the rest of the team had personal short-range radios which helps considerably to keep the Trailbuilders safe and secure in the knowledge that we can call each other for assistance if needed. Eventually every long-time Trailbuilder needs a radio and needs formal training, but for now it's good to know that relays can be set up to call for help!

Along the way we crossed a large number of already bucked trees, downed trees across the trail which had been sectioned up and are awaiting a fairly large number of young volunteers expected on Day #4 of this effort when the bucked sections will be removed from the trail and the trail generally cleared and re-opened.

We must have crossed at least 30 bucked trees by the time we joined up with Bron and Johnathan and the start of our chainsaw effort for the day, about one and a half mile up the trail.

Johnathan! It was great seeing Johnathan on the trail again, he's looking more rugged and physically fit than ever before, wearing safety fire clothes that can be seen from helicopters for rescue or identification, if needed. Trailbuilder Johnathan has been volunteering with horses and mules for years and has extensive experience doing this kind of heavy and difficult volunteer work so it was great seeing Johnathan again and wonderful having another highly trained and qualified sawyer in the team. It meant that all three saws had fully trained and safety qualified operators that could get a lot of trees bucked by the 13:00 PAL quitting time.

After joining up with the lead crews, some of the volunteers spread out below and started clearing the worse of the trail sections that are overgrown with brush, cutting back brush and tree limbs and removing plants from the trail. Other volunteers headed up the trail and leap-frogged from downed tree to downed tree, removing limbs from trees, clearing out safe standing areas for sawyers, assisting with pounding wedges, swamping out from under and around the sawers, and keeping an eye out for hazards.

Wedge in half-bucked tree

With each work site a fire extinguisher, medical kit, and at least one shovel was stationed along with the usual repair tool box, safety chaps, helmet, goggles, ear protectors, and face mask. The Trailbuilders take safety very seriously, and the safety clothes and equipment that get carried up are well maintained and inspected and I think that the Trailbuilders go way beyond the minimal safety requirements and protocols -- which is good since we work hard in heat, and exhaustion can cause poor judgment.

Come to think of it, if you look at the Trailbuilder gasoline and oil containers, they're all safety containers as well, complete with "child resistant" and "spill resistant" caps and such. Ever since I've been volunteering I've been struck with how professional the organization is, and the fact speaks-up with all the little safety things as well as the major safety things. In-the-field training in the use of tools and such is also offered with an eye toward safety first, and if one steps back and takes a look at the Trailbuilders, one gets a renewed sense of just exactly how professional the organization is.

As we climbed past the carved wooden two mile marker along the trail, I noted a number of wood-and-metal retaining walls that were built by a contractor crew under the lead of a man named Martin about five years ago. If you look at the walls (photographs offered in the list below) these retaining walls are pretty neat, treated wood set in to metal frames with rebar and such, enough that large sections of the trail will not need to be rebuilt for decades to come.

Around 11:30 or so we heard over the radio that a fire had broken out on Glendora Mountain Road (also see this web page for more background on GMR) so we looked generally East and South and watched smoke climb up over Glendora Mountain and start to settle in to the San Gabriel Valley, slowly filling the canyons with smoke.

From what we could hear, a vehicle crash and ejection "over the side" started the fire with the vehicle occupants climbing out of the vehicle and making it to the road once again on their own without assistance. The fire effort launched off in one Hell of a quick, from what I could hear, and as the day wore on we could see the smoke stop billowing up after the fire was stopped while the smoke continued to spread out, all the way from Walnut, Californ ia to the ridge-line of Angeles Crest Highway.

Field chainsaw repair and maintenance

Yikes! White smoke so we knew the fire was being dropped on, but it still gets one's attention when smoke starts heading toward you no matter how far off the source is.

We continued to work on bucking downed trees until Johnathan and Scott finished bucking the last tree just a couple of minutes before the 13:00 ending time. The heat of the day was still climbing so it was a welcome relief to set down our tools and start packing things away. By that time I had drunk 6 containers of water with only 2 containers remaining and was still looking at two and a quarter miles of trail ahead of me, but fortunately almost all of that was down hill so I wasn't unduly concerned about running out of water.

The volunteer crews in the higher altitudes started working our way down the trail, stopping at a place with shade for a quick lunch. I walked a bit further down the trail and collected Trailbuilder Mike and another volunteer who had managed to clear and re-work a long section of trail just below where we stopped for lunch, and they brought up their long tools and joined us for a break.

Right below that point there's a wooden bench that was created by Bron's son in years past, and the bench itself is still in good condition, affording a nice place to rest while gazing far off in to the Southern canyons and valleys. It must have been twice awesome before the Curve Fire when the trees were thick and covered in leaves and needles and there was extensive shade all along the trail.

After a brief lunch we picked up our stuff and continued on down the mountain, spreading out once again along the trail. Horribly I found that my radio battery had become as exhausted as I was so I turned the radio off and held what small charge that remained in abeyance against an emergency when I might conceivably eek out a low-power cry for help just in case a bear leaped out of the brush and seized me by the already-torn britches (happens all the time.)

On the way down we passed the 1 mile marker which consists of a short piece of tree limb (about 7 inches long) nailed to a dead tree vertically so that the small piece of wood looked a bit like the number 1. That right there is a high technology mile marker! One could stare at the thing and have no idea why someone would nail that piece of wood there, and I admit that I was wondering until one of the volunteers informed me that that was the 1 mile marker.

Extensive trail repair along a number of trail sections

Many of us looked at the mile marker and maybe some of us were amused as much as I was. Regardless Tom started heading down the mountain at a good pace, and Bron and Eddie were already at the trailhead parking lot so I started heading down at a fairly good rate, hoping to get to some water on ice before it could all melt in the still-growing heat of the afternoon.

The remaining mile hike down the trail went quickly since it's all down hill. I drank off the last of my water along the way and, upon stumbling off of the trail and on to the asphalt parking lot, I dropped my pack and tools and headed straight for the ice chest.

After messily chugging two more bottles like a starving wolf devouring a kitten, I thought about throwing it all up but managed to convince my guts to hang on to it all long enough to down a third bottle. A few questionable hick-ups later one of the volunteers offered me another bottle of cold water which I took and, sitting down in the shade, slowly sipped in an effort to look at least a little civilized.

Just about everybody was back down off of the trail by then, and ice cold watermelon was cut up and handed out by Bron who had brought the treat as a welcome reward for a long, hot, difficult day which saw a great many trees bucked. I used an empty water bottle as a pillow and laid out flat on the asphalt and had a nap. Bron threatened everyone with a long knife and demanded to know if anyone wanted another slice of watermelon so I had to mutter, "You call that a knife?" in my heat-stroke delirium from there on the pavement.

After all of the volunteers had made it to the Crystal Lake parking lot and the trailhead, we rested and drank water and watermelon, told more outrageous and improbable lies about ourselves, congratulated each other on how awesome we are (and we are) then we got in to our vehicles and most of us headed down the mountain.

Ben, Lou, Bryan and I headed toward the Visitor Center to return a chainsaw that Bryan had fully repaired, rebuilt, cleaned up, and tuned up, and while Ben and I talked with the Nameless Orange Kitty, Bryan tested the saw before returning it, a good job completed in over 7 hours of unpaid volunteer chainsaw repair work. Great job!

Another section of reworked trail

We said "good bye" to the Nameless Orange Kitty and headed down the mountain, driving past a fairly large crowd of forest visitors parked along Highway 39 where large numbers of people were camping, cooking dinner, getting cool in the San Gabriel River, and availing themselves of all the hiking opportunities and other recreation available in the canyon.

The narrow section of Highway 39 where a Caltrans worker had been lost over the side had seen some extensive and awesome repair work, and I had asked Ben if we might stop long enough to examine the engineering. When we reached the work site we pulled over and parked then got out to examine the work. It was very interesting, at least for me, but soon enough we packed back in to the pickup and continued on down the mountain.

Stopping off at the Rincon Fire Station, we put away the tools and equipment we had carried down and I attempting to inform our Dispatch Overlords that we were finished for the day however our Overlords never responded. Strange. After several attempts I decided I would call them via telephone so we piled in to Ben's pickup and drove to the base of the mountain back to the Gateway Visitor Center.

Once again I attempted to contact Dispatch via radio and did not get a response. Well, my battery had been complaining about being low on power so I again returned the radio to my holster and decided I would wait until getting to a phone.

Abandoning Trailbuilder Lou at the Gateway Center to fend for himself the rest of us drove along Sierra Madre toward where the Glendora Mountain Road fire was, located somewhere above Big Dalton and the Monroe Truck Trail. By that time (approaching 18:00 O'clock) there was no more visible smoke which made us all happy.

While driving East our Dispatch Overlords gave me two calls wanting to know what our status was. Since it was approaching 18:00 they wanted to know whether we had made it down the mountain safely. Twice more I attempted to contact them and failed which worried me some since I didn't want Angeles to break out the San Dimas Mountains Rescue Team which would have been expensive.

Repaired section of Highway 39

Upon reaching home I again got on the radio and this time was able to get our Dispatch Overlords to respond, letting them know we were finished for the day, "all 8 of us." (I again lied about how many we were since I did not want Angeles to know we had picked up three more volunteers some how along the way today.)

Joyness! After Dispatch confirmed checking us off his list I informed Dispatch that I was very appreciative of the fact that Angeles Dispatch watches over us volunteers and keeps us safe to which Angeles confirmed that he was happy to do so. That's a fact, the police, fire crews, U. S. Forest Service, and all the volunteers have a quality, professional team of people at Dispatch which provides a solid safety net which surrounds us all.

Adventure! Excitement! Exercise! Sunburn, blusters, scrapes, Poodle-dog and the occasional bruise, all good stuff on a Saturday! It sure beats sitting in an office like I do most of the week writing extremely complicated telecommunications and robotics embedded software for a heartless mega-multinational conglomerate which does not appreciate my obvious genius.

The trail work that volunteers do lasts for generations, and though we're often anonymous, hikers and the Forest Service greatly appreciate the work that volunteers do which makes awesome days like today "awesome times twelve", as they call it these days.

Day #3 is coming up on the 7th of August and that day will be an effort much like today's with more downed trees across the trail getting bucked up and left for later removal. Day #4 is coming up on the 21st of August which will see younger volunteers join the effort and the already-bucked sections will be strong-armed off of the trail while the trail itself will have brush cut back and plants removed.

By the time the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders are done, the entire length of the trail from Crystal Lake's parking lot all the way to Islip Ridge should be clean and re-open, a totally awesome trail.

Come join us! Email me if you have any questions about volunteering with us and I will get back to you as quickly as I can.

* Fixed wing aircraft drops Foscheck on Glendora Mountain Road fire
* Burning brush at the Glendora Mountain Road fire
* L. A. County Fire Helicopter water drops on Glendora Mountain Road fire
* Another helicopter water drops on Glendora Mountain Road fire
* Burn line sweeps generally West on the Glendora Mountain Road fire
* About 15 acres burned patch of the Glendora Mountain Road fire
* Awesome fixed wing in a controled right bank fighting Glendora Mountain Road fire
* Line of fire crews and vehicles attacking Glendora Mountain Road fire
* More fire crews catching smoke on the Glendora Mountain Road fire
* Volunteers staging up with the morning's safety run-down
* Getting tools and equipment ready for the day's advenutures
* One of the Trailbuilder's most handsom, rugged, intelligent volunteers
* Islip Ridge Trail -- Trailhead sign parts missing with spray paint
* A section of the trail that has been worked on so far
* One of the many bucked trees left on the trail for later removal
* The trail is in fairly good condition where it's actually open
* Looking East from the trail across the burn area where vegetation regrows
* Another bucked tree down across the trail awaits removal
* This hanging tree should be dropped fully down to the ground eventually
* Another bucked tree down across the trail awaits removal
* Another bucked tree down across the trail awaits removal
* Looking generally West again through the burned area at the growing vegetation
* This tree was bypassed for some reason but needs to be bucked
* Another bucked tree down across the trail awaits removal
* Sections of the trail are needing to be cut back like this point
* Some of the trail has awesome wood-and-metal retaining walls
* There are granite escarpments of very friable rock along the way
* Looking South from one of the many saddles along the trail
* Trailbuilder Lou is seen off in the distance hiking to the next work site
* Another bucked tree down across the trail awaits removal
* Trailbuilder Bryan shoveling debris off of the trail
* Trailbuilder bryan wearing a hard hat -- smart in this burn area environment
* More of the awesome wood-and-metal retaining wall along the trail
* Trailbuilder Mike, I believe, off in the far distance
* The 36-inch saw blade sticks out of the back pack, making things uncomfortable
* Another bucked tree down across the trail awaits removal
* Still more of the wood-and-metal retaining wall a bit closer
* Lots of branches like these are down across the trail
* Another bucked tree down across the trail awaits removal
* Volunteers working on the ridge line above me
* Another bucked tree down across the trail awaits removal
* Dodder is growing everywhere in the San Gabriel Mountains, choking plants
* Some sections of the trail are like this, open to Sunlight
* Looking generally East across areas that did not burn in the 2002 fire
* Looking generally South East through the unburned region
* Another bucked tree down across the trail awaits removal
* Another bucked tree down across the trail awaits removal
* Tree limbs and brush hide the trail in a few places like this
* Bron works with the next tree down across the trail
* AWESOME: Trailbuilder Johnathan looks very rugged and ready for anything
* Trailbuilder Tom shoulders a chainsaw and starts hiking up to the next site
* Boy Scout volunteer Eddie also with radio communication and web belting
* The next downed trees are a complex mix, each taken slowly and carefully
* A bench made by the son of Trailbuilder Bron still in great shape
* Taking a look generally East and South before the smoke fills the canyons
* Trailbuilder Tom works past heavy growth that still needs to be cut back
* Trailbuilders Bryan and Ben. Working on one of the chainsaws in the field
* Trailbuilder Tom removes the safety cover from his saw before the next buck
* More light weight tree trunks are bypassed in favor of larger sections
* Most tree fragments have been removed from this spot but more are left
* Trailbuilder Johnathan sizes up a series of downed trees and bucks them all
* Trailbuilder Bron sizes up hazardous leaning tree
* Tom and the other volunteers discuss the safest way to drop the hazard
* The next downed tree must be limmed before it can be bucked
* Volunteers kicking up a little dust while they drop the hazard
* A closer look at the next hazard tree -- it's why we wear hard hats
* A tree down across the trail was not bucked for some reason -- missed I guess
* The next set of downed trees -- there are something like 5 in this set
* Basically a repeat of the previous photograph
* The Masked Trailbuilders checks the chainsaw hand break before resuming work
* SGMTBs wedge just before it gets butched by the chainsaw. Bye, wedge!
* Bryan and Lou
* Trailbuilder Bron dons the safety equipment once again and tackles the next
* Notice how many downed trees there are -- this is a whole lot of work!
* Tom bucks up trunk after trunk, going slowly and carefully
* Bryan opens up a saw that is balking to check the clutch and sprocket
* Looking East again through the distant canyons
* Eddie works on the trail clearing brush and re-opening the trail
* Johnathan off in the distance still bucking
* Setting some tools down to rest in the growing heat. 36-inch blade, tool box
* Above us the burn area resumes
* Trailbuilder Johnathan takes a break in the growing heat of the day
* Laying right along the trail, this tree needs to be de-limbed and bucked
* I threaten to roll a log down on Scott and Ben down below. LOL!
* Tom and Bryan take a break as the heat of the day continues to climb
* While some of us rest, Johnathan continues to buck further up the trail
* Smoke starts to come in to the San Gabriel Canyon and accumulate
* HINT: Notice the placement of this wedge. Johnathan placed a holding wedge
* More downed tree trunks that are awaiting bucking
* Further up the trail from where we ended at 13:00 O'Clock, more trees
* Far across the way, smoke has filled in the San Gabriel Canyon
* The last downed tree is still being bucked. Hurry before 13:00!
* Meanwhile, other volunters start collecting tools and equipment
* Checking the safety equipment toward the end of the work effort
* Another unfished bucking about 10 minutes before ending time of 13:00
* The more difficult bucking have Scott and Johnathan lookig it over
* A repeat of the previous photograph, basically
* After walking further up the trail, looking back down at the last effort
* On the way back down the mountain I take a look at the retaining walls again
* Trailbuilder Mike and another volunteer have reworked this trail!
* Take a look at how much the volunteers accomplished. Notice it's in the shade
* Trailbuilder Mike sneaks up on a McLeod. LOL! Or something
* Trailbuilder Mike climbs the hillside and looks for a place to hide
* We take a quick lunch in the shade before heading back down again
* Ben drinking in the shade -- we needed a lot of water today
* Someone really should drop that hazard tree, now that I look at it
* Seen from the trail, one can catch glipses of Crystal Lake
* Another section of the trail that volubnteers have cleared today. Awesome
* bryan carries extra chain oil back down the mountain
* Looking at Crystal Lake from the trail
* Looking back at the trail from the edge of Crystal Lake
* The new safety rail at the narrow section of Highway 39
* The new retaining wall is very heavy
* One last look at the new retaining wall and safety railing

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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This web site is not operated or maintained by the US Forest Service, and the USFS does not have any responsibility for the contents of any page provided on the http://CrystalLake.Name/ web site. Also this web site is not connected in any way with any of the volunteer organizations that are mentioned in various web pages, including the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders (SGMTBs) or the Angeles Volunteers Association (AVA.) This web site is privately owned and operated. Please note that information on this web page may be inaccurate.

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