The Wawona trailhead

"Time is nature's way to keep everything from happening all at once," according to John Archibald Wheeler, however last Saturday it was almost as if Nature decided to take a vacation and everything happened at once.

Because of the Bark Beetle Infestation (PDF) problem in the Angeles National Forest followed by the Curve Fire (see also Curve Fire 10 Years Remembered, dead and dying pine trees and Oak trees continue to fall down across the many hiking trails which the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders are responsible for keeping clear of obstructions and for performing maintenance of the hiking trails as schedules and conditions permit.

So many trees have been killed in the past 20 years or so that it is a fairly difficult effort to keep the trails clear, and Emailed reports of obstructions along some of the trails within the Crystal Lake Recreation Area prompted an early-morning effort to see whether every single dead tree obstructing the hiking trails from Little Jimmy Trail Camp (L.A.Times) across Islip Trail and then down Wawona a.k.a. Islip to the lake's parking lot could be bucked up with chainsaws and get removed in a single day.

The morning began before 5:00 a.m. for some of the volunteers since there was a need to collect at and then leave the Rincon fire station by 7:00 a.m. Normally the Trailbuilders collect at the Gateway Visitor Center above Azusa and leave there at 8:00 a.m. however there was enough work that needed to be done that five volunteers wanted to get an early jump on the day.

Carrying the chainsaw

Carl, Bob, Ben, Joshua, Fred, and Bryan headed up Highway 39, stopped by the Rincon Fire Station to check in with our Dispatch office and to acquire our tools and equipment needed for the day. Any time there is gasoline-powered equipment used in the forest, fire suppression equipment must accompany the crews that use them, along with a fire shovel, an ax, radios, medical kit, and Personal protective equipment and while it took a fairly long time to get everything sorted and ready to go, we pretty much met our 7:00 a.m. departure time.

We continued up Highway 39 all the way to Angeles Crest Highway going slowly through the section of Highway 39 that is closed due to much of the highway sliding off in to the canyons below back in 1978. At the junction we worked slowly through the growing crowed which were gathering to watch the athletes competing in the annual 100 mile long run from Wrightwood all the way to Pasadena, I believe the destination is.

Once we got to Little Jimmy, the volunteers were dumped out except for me which stayed to drive the vehicle back down to the lake parking lot where (it was hoped) the other volunteers would come down and meet back up at the end of the day. Before everybody set their boots on the trail, however, there was a Job Hazard Analysis which covered the day's proposed tasks, safety issues around the flora and fauna that would be encountered, and to address other safety issues such as evacuation plans, meeting-place plans, and everything else which is part of the Trailbuilder's daily morning rituals.

Even as we got an early start, the problems for the day started just as early. On the drive up to Little Jimmy the vehicle was overheating, and when returning to the junction where the race participants were checking in and being weighed, I found the route to Highway 39 and the fire escape blocked by ten vehicles, one of which was literally up against the gate with the sign reading "NO PARKING."

Rather than call Dispatch to get the vehicles towed (that ruins everyone' s day) I had to go in search of the owner and discovered that many of the people watching the race were in favor of pushing the vehicle out of the way so that the owner would not get it towed. Eventually someone found the vehicle was unlocked and as it was about to be pushed out of the way, the owner came and drove it aside, not giving one good damn about how close she came to losing her vehicle or caring that she had blocked a fire exit for evacuations of points south.

Still, it was good that I was able to get the race coordinators' assistance in hunting for the owner, the race people walked around yelling for the owner to move their vehicle, so nobody got towed which, as I noted, nobody wants. While that was going on, my vehicle continued to run inexplicably hot yet as soon as the gate was cleared, I got through it and headed down to Crystal Lake to see about doing something useful.

During the next two hours, the Forest Service had to deal with (1) A man with a shotgun down below along the San Gabriel River, (2) a possible dislocated shoulder along the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, (3) a motorcycle crash with injuries that nobody, not even Air 5 Rescue (see also Helmet Cam) could locate, (4) a missing hiker which was apparently located the next morning, and various issues regarding policy when campers have disputes.

Hiking down the mountain

That set the tone for the whole day, with law enforcement chasing after one thing or another, the Forest Service kept hopping working on one issue after another, all of which came out on the radios the volunteers carry for safety, fire mitigation, and coordinating our activities.

Toward the end of the day we offered to assist another overdue hiker search for a man who had been dropped off at the West Fork of the San Gabriel River which leads to Cogswell Dam, with the wife of the man who was overdue reporting him after some 7 hours of searching for him herself. (I never did find out whether they found the man.)

So for a while there this morning, it seemed like everything was happening at once, that's why John Wheeler's famous quote about how nature parses out time seemed so appropriate. From my lofty perspective far above the turmoil below, I paused to reflect how fortunate it was that as a volunteer I got to pick-and-choose what tasks to undertake while the Forest Service, Caltrans, California Highway Patrol, Azusa police, and San Dimas Police all had to scramble and run "hither and yon " from one difficult task to another. It was a very busy day! for all the various agencies down below, and listening over the radio I had to smile and count myself fortunate to never have to work that hard.

The saw crews working their way down the mountain managed to cut and remove 14 obstructions however they reported that brush (Ceanothus) and other growth along Wawona was fairly serious in places which means that the Trailbuilders need to schedule maintenance there. While the saw crews were coming down, other Trailbuilders volunteers worked their way up the mountain along Big Cienega removing growth from the trail and trimming back brush. The team working up the mountain also noted a dead tree obstruction which needs to be removed, adding to the "to do" list which includes an annoying obstruction along Windy Gap Trail which gets reported via Email pretty much once or twice a week since Windy Gap is a well-loved, much-used trail.

To make myself useful while remaining close to my vehicle in case we needed quick evacuation for the saw team, I did fire mitigation within the campgrounds, extinguished one unattended fire (USFS Video) and checked every unoccupied fire ring. When that was done I returned to the lake parking lot and answered people's questions about pretty much every topic one might expect to be asked by people who have come to Crystal Lake for the first time.

Can I get my baby stroller down the stairs?

Sure, no problem, push your stroller to the edge of the stairs and shove.

Where is the lake?

Sir, that is the lake right there. (Pointing.)

That's the lake? Where did the water go?

Much of it is missing due to evaporation but a lot of the water is missing because deer and bears and other animal drink and then urinate the water all over the forest, they don't put it back in to the lake.

Can you see the stars from up here?

Yes, ma'am, but only at night.

Is there a place to eat around here?

Yes, sir, across the parking lot from the Visitor Center, I recommend the chili beans.

Across from the Visitor Center? Are you sure? All I saw was a cafe.

A convoluted tree to remove

Today was an excellent opportunity for me to work with and assist the general public which I swear is always enjoyable, I have never, not once had a bad experience helping people out in the forest, answering questions, standing guard for people at bathroom doors which have broken locks, helping people find drinking water, helping to resolve minor disputes among campers, informing exhausted hikers that they still have 4 miles to go (even when they're really just 30 feet or so from the trailhead) and everything else.

Edward Abbey also found it enjoyable answering people's questions and trying to help where he could, and while I'm no Edward Abbey (ain't nobody could ever be) I always found his stories about being in the woods or the desert and lending a hand highly amusing as well as informative. He got some truly interesting questions over his career, yet about the only most interesting question I was ever asked was

How can I cross this river without getting wet?

After checking the toilet at the lake parking lot I set my feet on the Wawona Trail and headed up the mountain to meet up with the saw team coming down. Along the way I found that the trail's condition is excellent, whoever maintains these trails do an excellent job!

Around 1.5 miles up I attained a stand of pine trees with wonderful shade there at 6139 feet, North 34 degrees 19.013 by West 117 degrees, 61.229 I laid down, rested up against my backpack, and slept for an hour while cooling off from the day's efforts so far. Over the radio there continued to be effort after effort being coordinated by law enforcement and the Forest Service, but I dozed and monitored what was going on around me and down below.

About an hour or so in to my much-deserved nap, three young kids maybe 12 or 13 years old came walking down the mountain past me, the young girl whispering to one of the other two boys about asking me for drinking water. When I took off my Sunglasses and looked up, I found the three young kids, no hats, no packs, no food or water, and I assumed that a parent or another adult was somewhere behind them, but they were by themselves.

They got half of my drinking water though I always carry much more than I need so I was not inconvenienced at all. It was a hot day though the cool breezes in among the shady trees was perfect, so I was left wondering how far the three kids had hiked without water.

Eventually the saw crews started to accumulate under the shade where I was parked, and for them it was a very strenuous day. Carrying chainsaws, fuel, oil, fire extinguishers, fire shovels, various axes and other tools, wedges, medical kits, tool kits for the saw, and their food and water for the day was a fairly heavy load to carry, so as they stopped to rest in the shade, it was a welcome break from the hike down.

Some of the weight got re-distributed so I could assist in carrying things down, and eventually I was given a chainsaw to carry it down some of the way so I was able to do some useful work today. We got down to the lake parking lot where we piled in to my vehicle (after getting its radiator filled with water) and we checked out the Crystal Lake Cafe (Yelp) to grab some of that chili, dump some water over our heads, and return to Rincon where we met the other volunteers who were finishing up a rather difficult day all around.

Yet even hard, hot, sweaty, difficult days are outrageously fun, they are opportunities to get out of the city, get away from the cars, police, concrete, pollution, and turmoil, to rise above it all and exercise, get dirty, and enjoy everything about working and playing in the forest.

* The chainsaw team gazaing across the mountains from up on Islip
* Chainsaw team turns around to get their photograph taken
* Trailbuilder Carl carrying the chainsaw
* One of the convoluted dead trees down across the trail
* Trailbuilder Joshua takes a nap
* One of the many dead trees down across the trail
* Trailbuilder Bryan bucks up one of the large trail obstructions
* A Google Earth screen capture with a yellow pin showing where I took a nap
* At Little Jimmy Trail Camp
* Trailbuilder Joshua with chainsaw pack and tools
* Equipment sorting at Little Jimmy Trail Camp
* A look at Little Jimmy Trail Camp
* A look at some of the vehicles at the Highway 39 and Highway 2 junction
* More cars at the Highway 39 and Highway 2 junction
* Vehicle blocking the exit. Notice the NO PARKING sign?
* Unattended fire gets extinguished
* Ash got dumped from the fire ring on to the concrete apron which got cleaned
* The trail sign at the Wawona trailhead
* Trailbuilder Fred's feet as he relaxes in the forest
* Trailbuilder Bryan joins the rest-up area in the pines
* The view from Wawona under the pine tree rest area
* Wake up, Fred! Good grief, always sleeping while others work. :)
* Adventure! Trailbuilder Joshua hikes past carrying a heavy load
* Joshua sets down the saw and rests a while
* We resume hiking down the mountain at the end of the day
* We resume hiking down the mountain at the end of the day

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map

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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