Out of focus photographs are provided in the links at the bottom of this page. The camera was set to "Macro" rather than "Normal" so things are out of focus a bit. As other volunteers who took photographs send them to this web site, I will add their better photographs to this web page. So keep checking this web page every so often.
When I woke up this morning, it was with a smile on my face for today was the first day of the annual National Trails Day, an opportunity to gather with forest working volunteers, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, High School groups, church groups, outdoor equipment company reps, and whoever else shows up for these efforts, some of whom I only see once a year here in Southern California.
And what a wonderful morning it was, too! Opening my window curtain and looking out at the brightening day I found a typically cool June morning with some light overcast that I hoped would stay with us, helping to keep today's volunteers free from heat exhaustion and heat stroke -- since today I knew we would be moving many thousands of tons of boulder, rock, gravel, sand, and dirt. (Or at least it would feel like we had moved that much material by the end of the day when some of us limped on home, I was certain.)
Dropping the curtain back into place I turned around and stepped on a cat, eliciting an outraged and annoyed, "Me-whurl?" from it as it scurried away from my stupid feet in the dark. As I fell face forward, my startled arms came out and I politely called, "Falling" on my way down to the carpet, this time with my left hand coming down on the other cat who voiced his own opinion with a "Huff!" as all the air left him followed by a "Yeee-owl!" when he managed to draw the next breath.
As I lay on my back on the floor in the dark thinking about how much fun today was going to be, somewhere in the house a clock ticked while two confused and angry cats lurked out of reach. From the living room my wife's voice drifted in, "Stepped on the cats again, huh?"
In to my ratty old canvas back sack (repaired many times with thread, twine, wire, and prayer) I shoved a box of Oreo® cookies, Tabasco Sauce®, bottle of stale tap water, camera, iPod® Shuffle,and a few other odds and ends I wouldn't need: can opener, library card, Tylenol®, Ben's old radio microphone I keep forgetting to return to either him or the Forest Service.
I managed to remember to grab my old dead cowskin hat before carefully working my way past all the remaining obstacles on my way to the front door. Once outside I checked out my borrowed bicycle (back tire tight, front tire limp and bouncy but workable, front breaks missing, back breaks likewise) and I shouldered my pack, screwed my dead cow on to my head, and hit the road heading generally West.
Ben, Lou, Bernie, and Mike were waiting at the rendezvous point when I rolled up (a buck worth of coffee in one hand that I'd picked up along the way) followed by Bill, Janette, Wayne, Alan, Tom, and (eventually) about fifty or sixty Boy Scouts (did I forget anyone?) Some of the volunteers -- such as Bron and other Scouts -- had already headed up into the mountains.
In addition to today being National Trails Day, an Eagle Scout candidate would be organizing a rock bridge effort along Golden Cup Nature Trail. The amount of work that needed to be done certainly required the large number of Scouts and others that gathered since Golden Cup has two fairly badly flood-damaged sections. The section that was going to get a new bridge would fill in the missing section of the loop that had been washed away.
When the time came to pack it up and head up in to the Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriel River Ranger District at the Crystal Lake Recreation Area, Ben asked if anyone would like to ride up with Fred (that's me.) Since I was on my bicycle everyone kind of wondered how we would do that -- more so with my spongy front tire and lack of breaks.
Eventually my bicycle got tossed into the back of Tom's pickup and the rest of me got carried up in Janette's vehicle. We headed North up into the mountains for 11 miles until we reached Rincon Station. There we pretty much emptied all of the hand tools out of our big tool bin up there - picks, McLeod, shovels, Polaskis , about thirty or forty buckets, gloves, ropes, a pair of grip hoists complete with chain, cable, and assorted maintenance tools. Gloves donated by the REI company, hammers, rock bars, fire extinguisher, case of bottled water, loppers, and just about anything else we thought we might need were dragged out and carted off by helpful boys.
Oh: As we left the highway and turned right to enter into Rincon Station, a deer jumped down from the hillside and crossed in front of Janettes' car. With the way the heat has been and with virtually no rain fall yet this season, the deer have been coming further South to drink and they're ending up in locations dangerous to their health. It's easy for deer to be poached around here and to wind up seasoned, folded, and served with vegetables and cheese inside of tacos.
We left Rincon and headed further North for another five or six miles or so, passing through the Forest Service gate that's locked up at the Valley of the Moon around mile marker 32.23 right above Coldbrook Campground (altitude only about 3200 feet, by the way.)
As we drove past, Janette and I got a good look at some of the pine tree saplings that have been planted by volunteers around the area in years past, and all of them that we saw were healthy and green -- which was a bit of a surprise but I found out later today that Kevin (who volunteers with Lois P. (USFS) and John S. (USFS also)) comes up once a month or so and manually waters the saplings when he (and I believe he said his wife) has the time to do so.
Wow! What a tremendous effort! Kevin and his fellow volunteers (if he has some) who perform that effort are truly exceptional since hauling water and making sure that the plants that have had so much time and effort invested in them don't die during this annoying lack of rain helps make all of the effort remain worthwhile.
You know, there are a number of volunteers who come out and pick up garbage either every weekend or every other weekend, and that's not only a difficult and endless job, it's not exactly an enjoyable one. Alan and Wayne, just to name two such volunteers, do that and I personally find litter clean up to be a lot of unfun. I've talked with two forest visitors who also pick up trash from time to time, and I know that many hikers and campers will police the trails they walk on.
Good on all the lovely people who clean up other people's garbage, including the people of the U. S. Forest Service, many of whom do it every day of the week. Thank you!
We got to the Visitor Center up at the Recreation Area and had a bit of a discussion about how to proceed. Eventually the volunteers got things sorted out and wound up at the Golden Cup Nature Trail where Mike, Tom, Janette, Bill, Lou, Bernie, and others had already started working. Further up the trail Bron and some Scouts were already working on the section where the rock bridge was to go in. They had marked the proposed path out with bright orange spray paint every few feet or so.
A safety meeting was held with the Eagle candidate trying to make sure that all of the volunteers paid attention to the briefing.
Safety is a major aspect of what the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuiders, Bron, and the U. S. Forest Service concern themselves with on these types of projects, and touching upon how the various sharp, pointy, and at times dangerous tools are safely used is part of the before-work ritual, even when the volunteers are old hands who have been doing this work for years.
The heavy equipment -- the chains, cables, and grip hoists -- were to be used by the young volunteers and some effort was suggested to make sure that anyone who wanted time on the equipment be afforded the opportunity. Because the equipment is used to move heavy boulders, Bron talked briefly about the "zone of death" around the cable and other parts that could conceivably move quickly if the equipment were to fail for any unusual reason.
Three work efforts settled out in the mix today. Many of the younger volunteers worked with shovels and buckets to collect all of the rocks, gravel, and sand that would be used to start rebuilding the trailhead, filling in dips and creating solid water barriers. A crew of volunteers worked to spread the gravel around and establish the water barriers. The larger group of young volunteers worked on the rock bridge.
I like to get photographs of these things before work begins, while the work is progressing, and final photographs after all the work is done and everyone else has headed back down the mountain. I usually have my old yellow backpack and sleeping bag with me so I can spend the night and bicycle down in the morning yet somehow I must have decided I wouldn't spend the night as usual since I didn't bring what I needed. Ah, well. Next time.
While I was filling buckets and helping to carry them to the trail, the pins in one of the grip hoists broke so Ben stopped the gravel-and-bucket he was doing and headed toward the rock bridge effort. Since I wanted to get more photographs I went with him.
A Scout held the new aluminum pins for the hoist while Ban tapped them gently into place with a sledge hammer and -- saying loudly so that all of the kids gathered around the repair job could hear -- I cautioned Ben about the last time he had someone hold something while he pounded them in.
Ben asked me -- also loud so that the kids could hear -- "You mean ole' Flat Thumb?"
I agreed and added -- this time while nodding to the kids gathered around -- that the guy hadn't stopped screaming for nearly three hours.
By this time the Scout who had been holding the short metal pins had moved his hands out of the way while Ben continued to tap them in to place. A Scout asked me if that had happened up here in the lake area and I admitted that Ben and I were just joking. The looks Ben and I got from most of the younger kids... Well I don't think that any of them believed that Ben and I had been joking about smashing someone's thumb and the guy screaming for hours afterward. I think when Ben and I left, they still believed we'd maimed someone.
I should add that this wasn't the first time that Ben had been naughty and filling young boy's heads with images of injury and dismemberment. I can't recall what trail it had been but we had been talking about not drinking the water because giardia and other microbes and stuff would make people sick and cause all kinds of serious medical problems.
Ben turned around with his right eye blinking really heavily and said to the crowd of kids nearby, "You mean like ‘Blinking Eye?'" I barked out laughter which kind of ruined the joke for the older volunteers but I saw with even more amusement some of the younger kids stand there, mouths open, gloves on their hands, rooted in place while they stared at Ben's face.
With the sound of tools ringing against rocks and the noise of rambunctious and hard working boys also ringing among the trees, I picked up a tool and hiked the length of Golden Cup. The San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders had done a very good job restoring the nature trail with a set of volunteers last year and the only major new problem on the trail was the mountain of pine tree bark that had accumulated on the trail around a huge dead pine tree.
I cleared that off and scraped off pine needles from three places along the trail where everything had kind of gathered together into deep piles, then I laid down my tools, grabbed a bottle of cold orange juice from someone's ice chest (that wasn't being guarded at the time) and I headed cross country toward Soldier Creek Trail.
Soldier Creek Trail is in really bad, dangerous shape. Parts of the trail had burned during the Curve Fire and there are sections where it would be smart to use ropes for safety belays for when the trail gets rebuilt.
Along the bottom of the trail is Soldier Creek which had always, up until now, had a good volume of water running in it. Today there was no water at all for the first one hundred yards or so but further on down along the creek bed the water started coming up to the surface in little drips.
This is the driest it's even been and I think I've been walking these canyons and visiting this place for twenty years. Right there at the start of where Pinyon Ridge Trail and Soldier Creek Trail split off, just past the wood bridge, that's where I used to take my baths most Summers when the campgrounds are closed and there is nobody else around.
Last National Trails Day there was plenty of water and I was able to throw off my clothes and climb under a cold waterfall to scrub with the sand that collects under the plunge pools. Today there was a small trickle of water, something that a deer might be able to lick from the rocks but certainly not enough for me to cool off in.
While I walked back to the work site I took a look at the work that the Chumo Construction company and the Golden Land Engineering and Construction company had done up here so far. A lot of the flood damage has been fixed and several camping sites have been repaired or are currently being repaired but there's still a lot of work to be done.
Lunch was Oreo cookies and when the Boy Scouts broke for lunch I helped myself to their hot-dogs -- except that since I don't eat meat I had bread covered in mustard and things.
Curiously, I have to say that I was a bit surprised when I saw a Boy Scout or two drop their trash on the ground during lunch and a pile of trash that had been dragged out of the dumpster by a bear some three or four weeks ago had been walked past without any of the Scouts collecting it up. Everyone was exhausted, of course, and had their lunch going, and when I started to pick things up some of the boys jumped up and helped. Loved it! (Thanks, kids.)
After lunch it was back to hauling gravel. Ben commented about how the prison term was either "ten years or ten thousand buckets" and I had to laugh since everyone was pretty tired by then.
Since about ten or fifteen really young Scouts were working in the hot sun diggin up gravel, filling buckets, and hauling them to the trail where they were dumped, Ben called a brief break and had all the kids pause a moment, telling them that some of the more experienced volunteers are able to carry eight buckets of gravel at a time. I had my camera out so I managed to get a photograph.
The kids watched while Ben demonstrated how a bucket can be carried one on each shoulder, one on each knee, one on each foot, one carried in each hand, one on top of his head, and number eight? The most amusing answer, I would expect, would have been to hang it on something amusing but I think Ben said that number eight bucket's handle was carried in the volunteer's mouth -- I didn't hear where number eight went. Come to think of it, I can't count. Maybe Ben didn't use his knees.
What was amusing was that none of the kids believed him. Some asked Ben to do it so they could see whether he was telling the truth.
I said that Ben was tired now but that he could have done it this morning -- and Ben allowed that this was so, adding something about his sore back. Any who continued to doubt that an experienced volunteer can carry eight buckets of gravel would have to wait for a demonstration of how it's done after Ben rested some.
Some of us packed it in and left an hour early, including me, alas. I regret that I didn't bring my camping gear this time since the rock bridge wouldn't be completed today but most likely will be tomorrow -- and I wouldn't get to see it or get photographs of it.
A great deal of work got done today and the Golden Cup Nature Trail has never looked better (well, not so as I've ever seen it, any way.)
Mike and I headed down to take a quick look at the North Fork access trail that the SGMTBs had done which connects the road with the newly installed toilet down along the San Gabriel River. There we found that Janette had been picking up litter for some time so we joined her in cleaning up a bit -- and Mike took photographs of the trail since my camera was full. The access trail looks great!
Back down at Rincon Mike and I disassembled my borrowed bicycle a bit so that we could get it into the back seat of his car. We saw two large foxes walking among the recyclable trash bins, and other volunteers have spotted bobcats this past month. Maybe four or five weeks ago while I had my tent parked behind the Station outside of the fence I had a bear pounding on a trash dumpster inside the fence keeping me awake.
After dropping off a tool or two we headed back down the mountain.
And a fun time was had by all!
In two weeks I'll be returning with the SGMTBs to take a look at what the Eagle candidate managed to complete with Bron and the other volunteers. I'll post photographs of the final product when I got them.
If you would like to join us to volunteer on the 16'th (that's a Saturday) contact the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders for details on where and when to meet. Also check the "Scheduled Events" section of the Crystal Lake web site for events that will be taking place in the future. http://www.crystallake.name/twork/07jun07/02jun07.htm