Matt contemplate's today's volunteer project

Blisters! Ouch! Ah, well, that should teach me to shovel ten thousand tons of rock and dirt without gloves, maybe.

Today the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders returned to Upper Bear Creek Trail, removing dirt and rock slides from the trail, cutting back brush, and cutting tread across the blasted gap ( see Blasting Work Report for the blasting work report with videos.)

The morning started like most mornings for me: denying that it's time to wake up. But with the Sun already on the rise and the clock ticking, I packed up by bag, nudged my wife awake gently with a kick or two, and together we were off for the Gateway Information Center, the welcome center that the United States Forest Service maintains at mile marker 17 along Highway 39.

We have horses today! We have mules! Oh man, it's always great seeing the High Country Riders lend a hoof! In addition to the High Country Riders and the intrepid Trailbuilders, we had (and forgive my uneducated sp3ll1ng) Wy, Emilio, Matt, and two or three others I never did catch the name for.

While the High Country Riders and Ben packed up their non-human volunteers down below, the rest of us headed up the trail, most of the crews hiking straight to the blasted gap to work on the tread, Jeanette cutting back brush along the first 2 miles of trail, and Mike and I clearing rock and dirt falls across the first mile of the trail.

Mike and I getting ready to clear this rock slide

If you pick up a shovel or a McLeod and get working on a dirt slid up here it's not exactly an exercise in futility, no, but what you get is more rock and dirt coming down the hillside for every shovel full of dirt that you lift and toss over off the trail.

Most of the trail is stable and only at various points along the trail is the geology such that spots are a never-ending battle to keep clear.

It becomes almost hypnotic to the point of exhaustion, the syncopated grind of shovel digging in to the dirt, lifting the dirt, the sound of the gravel sliding off of the metal pan as it's dumped over the side, swinging back in to position to drive the shovel back in the dirt, U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" ringing loudly through my head, the drum beat matching my shovel's crunch, slide, pause, crunch slide pause.

Mike went up the trail and worked his way back down while I worked my way up, pulling rocks, dirt, and gravel down off of the hillside, accumulating large piles of fill on the trail and then leaning in with our shovels to remove it all, Mike digging with gloves but me stupidly accumulating blisters until the ouch finally convinced me to dig my old dead-cow-skin gloves out of my pack and put them on.

I'm what's known a strong back (with a ruggedly handsome face) not actually too bright and often unwilling to think, that's me. Because of that when someone points at tons of dirt to be moved, I can do that, sure, but when it comes to actually finishing off the tread, applying the technical aspects of trailbuilding that keeps water flowing properly off of the trail, I let others do that chore so after we were about done I packed my things up and continued working up the trail while Mike stayed below and finished putting down the tread.

We are almost finished clearing this slide

The High Country Riders passed us on the trail, allowing me to get some really excellent photographs and video, and from there on Jeanette, Mike and I leap-frogged each other while eight working on the trail or hiking up to the next work site.

Then tragedy struck!

I don't know what the hell happened but suddenly my hard hat leaped off of my head and tried to escape. The stupid thing of course leaped off down the canyon, rolling over and over further and further down the mountain, hour after hour until finally it came to rest seven thousand feet below from where I stood watching the helmet dwindling off in to the distance with my mouth open in disbelief.

Groan! I was already exhausted and now I had to get out my rope, find a sturdy yucca to tie off on, then work my way down, cussing my clumsy stupidity all one hundred feet down. I got my hard hat screwed tightly back in to place and climbed the rope back up to the trail, looking totally rugged and manly, I'm quite sure.

By now I was really tired and since I wanted to get up to the main work site, I abandoned my tools and hiked my way up to the blast site without doing any more trail work from that point on.

Working on restoring the tread across the blasted gap

When I got to the blast site I found that Mike was already there trying to start the gasoline powered rock drill while Bron held the heavy machine. It's funny. Mike has scientifically proven through endless clinical field studies that there is no machine so stubborn, so adverse to running that loud and abusing cussing will always eventually convince the machine to run.

What's also funny is that Mike got past me some how without me noticing. I wonder if he ducked under the rope I was tied off on earlier and whether he briefly contemplated, while he did so, taking out his knife and cutting my rope. I've insulted his cooking too many times to be entirely safe, some times I think.

The horses and mules were waiting for their volunteer day to end and while I walked past them from behind I told them all that I was behind them and to not be startled and kick me because, I explained to them, there's a seven thousand foot drop behind them. Nobody kicked me.

I was amazed at the amount of progress that the rest of the team had made. The gap -- all 68 feet of the work site -- was walkable already, and the large rock fall on the far side of the trail had been removed. While I was showing everyone my blisters (to prove I was actually working today and not just goofing off up here) I took photographs and video.

Building a rock walkway

It was great! It's always fun watching a trail come together, more so after a catastrophic geological failure on the trail. Matt (the kid with the red hair,) the rugged High Country Rider, and I think Matt's father traded off working with a railroad pick swung over their heads, getting down with it and chipping and chopping up the San Gabriel granite. Oh man, the movie "Cool Hand Luke" sprang to mind and I yelled out, "Taking the shirt off, boss!" (LOL! Hard work. I could probably watch it for hours.)

You know, looking at the first three miles of Upper Bear Creek Trail, it's really in good condition. There are a lot of small rocks down on the trail and from around mile 2.5 on up to Smith Mountain Saddle and beyond there is brush that still needs to be cut back, but with the amount of progress that the crews accomplished today at the gap, I don't see why the trail from the trailhead all the way to the Saddle should not be re-opened.

Eventually the tools and equipment were cleaned off and staged up for packing out. The High Country Riders loaded up their pack animals, the human volunteers grabbed their packs and tools and then we all headed back down to the Valley of the Moon 2.25 miles below.

We met again at the Rincon Fire Station to put tools away and for Mike and I to gather some chainsaw oil since we would be heading up to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area to see if we could take care of a problem up there.

Wayne! SGMTBs volunteer

Passing through Caltran's gate, though, we noticed military activity around mile post 19.25 so while I got on the radio to check ourselves out of service I also reported to our Dispatch to be advised that military activity was taking place. I report unusual activity, lightening strikes, unusual road conditions and other untypical happenings that take place since our Dispatch is the Deity that watches over us all and, while omnipotent surely, likes Its mortals to keep It informed.

Mike and I grabbed our oil, bid a farewell to the rest of the volunteers, then we headed back up the highway up to Crystal Lake, climbing slowly and carefully up to the timber line, across the snow line, on to the plowed roadway all the way to the USFS Visitor Center, arriving in the pristine wilderness buried in three feet of snow.

Quiet, it was very quiet with the car's engine stopped and no wind to disturb the stillness of the frozen white pine forest. We stood there looking while the gathering darkness closed in and the cold seeped past my thermal clothing. True, it's a shame that hoards, virtual throngs of people could not be up here to share the wonder of this place yet for now all was quiet -- until the cat walked over to talk with us.

"Hello, Bitch!" I yelled, getting on my knees to speak with the all-black cat that helps the caretaker up there eat mice. Though the cat is almost feral at times, Black Bitch still likes to be around humans though she doesn't trust any of us, not really. She circled around me, talking and staying just out of reach. "You really are a damn cat covered in fur, huh?" I asked it.

Crystal Lake Visitor Center in the snow

We gathered some things from out of the car and walked up off the plowed parking lot, climbed up the snow embankment and plunging two feet in to the snow with each step toward the caretaker cabin we would be spending the night in.

Upon getting to the cabin Mike and I considered the impossibility of walking a mile through this deep snow all the way to the blocked stone drainage culvert that we had come up here to clear out. The culvert follows the rock stairs that lead down to Crystal Lake itself yet because Lake Road had not been plowed, we found that the snow was too much for the clothes and equipment we had brought so we decided the morning's hoped-for work on the culvert was a bust.

Dinner for me was a can of vegetarian chili beans with sliced jalapeno chilies, and desert was another can of vegetarian chili beans with TWO jalapeno chilies and half a can of black olives.

Dinner for Mike was Soylent Yellow (it's people!) with black beans and granulated chili pepper with dried cheese! Yummy! ‘Course he set fire to his meal and then had to sit for 20 minutes while the whole mess soaked up water to rehydrate. After the amount of work he had done today I was amazed he could sit and stare at his meal soaking for 20 minutes without grabbing it and bolting it down without tasting it like I had done with my own meal.

Crystal Lake Recreation Area in the snow

Night time sleep was an off-and-on-again kind of thing despite being warm in the cabin. Declan Galbraith singing "Carrickfergus" kept rolling through my head while the aches and pains of the day's shoveling settled in to my bones, lying there on the floor trying to sleep, wondering if Black Bitch was curled up some place warm tonight. (See the link below to download a music video of Declan, he's an amazing phenomena.)

Around about midnight Mike opened a door and slipped out of the cabin and quietly disappeared. In my muddled mind dozing on the floor I thought he might be going out to rescue the cat and bring it in here where it was warm.

In the morning we packed up our stuff and while Mike made himself some breakfast I carried my gear across the snow to his car. Hiking up the plowed highway I looked to make sure that Lake Road had indeed not been plowed lately and that yeah, we would not be able to rescue that drainage culvert until the snow melted.

I got a lot of photographs, got video of the area, and sang as I walked. "But the snow is wide, and I can not get over, nor have I the wings to fly," I yelled walking up the road past the still snowed-in Lake Road toward Deer Flats. Carrickfurgus was still in my head but interestingly enough it all fit some how.

Mike cleaned up, we locked up, packed up, and headed back down the mountain, stopping to take a look at the North Fork Access Trail that the Trailbuilders had built from the highway down to the San Gabriel River.

Crystal Lake Recreation in the snow again

Aw Hell, the trail was in bad shape, the first leg of which being totally trashed due to rain and people walking across, cutting the trail. The second leg of the trail was badly damaged by water but half of it was in pretty good shape. The third leg of the trail was basically intact because it's mostly carved and split rock.

Part of the problem is we needed to put in a rock wall along parts of the first and second legs of the trail to retain the soil we had used to carve out a shelf to walk on. But much of the problem was the lack of signs on the highway to show people where a legitimate (and safe) access trail existed so that they might (always hopeful) use it.

Then we were done for the day, the major effort (Upper Bear Creek Trail) a massive success, the hoped-for effort (clearing the drainage culvert) a bust.

Ah well, there's always next week.

Photographs! We have them!

* We meet at the Gateway Information Center at mile post 17 along Highway 39
* Make (SGMTBs) has left the forst up North to come join us for today's effort
* My wife, Matt, and father
* We gather at the new Center to make sure all who want to go are here
* A close up of Matt while I change settings on the new camera to try things out
* Matt again with a new configuration setting on the camera that didn't work
* At the Valley of the Moon the horses and mules are getting ready to go
* One of the High Country Riders and a pack animal
* I talked with this pack volunteer and asked if I could share its breakfast
* The snow level is around 4000 feet so we will not be working in the snow
* A close up of I believe Mount Saint Hawkins, perhaps
* The volunteers get situated and packed up for the morning trail work
* Before: Mike and I tackle a rock and dirt slide at the start of the trail
* About one fourth of the way done working on that slide
* Almost done with the slide, Mike cleans up the final tread
* After: The newly cleaned up trail section looks great!
* Mike and I work on smaller rock slides further up the trail
* There are patches of snow along the trail! Good to sample and cool off with
* At the blast site finally we look at the tremendous work already done
* The entire 68 feet of the work site can be walked across fairly safely
* Bron attempts to get the rock hammer drill running
* A wider look at the work site and the progress made so far
* A wider look at the work site and the progress made so far
* A close look (zoom lense) at the middle section of the work site
* The start of the trail is getting a new rock footing
* One wrong step means a nasty tumble in to the canyon 7000 feet below }:-}
* And we are finished for the day so the pack animals get repacked
* Snow on the way back down the trail after the horses have passed
* Back down at the Valley of the Moon we sort through our equipment and tools
* Mike and Tom come down off the trail
* Meanwhile the other volunteers continue to sort through our gear
* Matt ends up looking pretty much the way he looked before all the hard work
* Emilio also doesn't look too badly damaged from working hard today
* Wy, however, looks as exhausted as I was. LOL! Good exercise
* Matt's father at the end of the day
* Wayne never looks tired no matter how hard he works

Up at Crystal Lake Recreation Area

* The caretaker asked me to take photographs of his cabins up there
* The large working caretaker barn
* One of the caretaker cabins and another working barn
* Caretaker cabin number 3
* Caretaker cabin number 2
* Out of focus: Caretaker cabin number 2
* The Crystal Lake Recreation Area snack bar and grill in the snow
* The caretaker main residence in the snow
* The Crystal Lake Recreation Area Visitor Center in snow
* A close up view of the Crystal Lake Visitor Center in snow

Walking up the road surveying Lake Road

* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 1
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 2
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 3, nice background of the mountains
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 4, nice background of the mountains
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 5, nice background of the mountains
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 6, Golden Cup Nature Trail
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 7, A wide look at Golden Cup Nature Trail
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 8, nice background of the mountains
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 9
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 10, campsites 41 through 43
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 11, campsites 41 through 43 a wider view
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 12
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 13, the road to Deer Flats in the snow
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 14
* Crystal Lake in the snow -- 15, new road signs have been installed everywhere

Checking Highway 39 Condition Above Crystal Lake

* Highway 39 above Crystal Lake -- 1
* Highway 39 above Crystal Lake -- 2
* Highway 39 above Crystal Lake -- 3
* Highway 39 above Crystal Lake -- 4
* Highway 39 above Crystal Lake -- 5, cold, cold Twin Peaks
* Highway 39 above Crystal Lake -- 6

North Fork Access Trail (what's left of it)

* North Fork Access Trail leg 1 is in very poor shape
* A view of the first leg of the trail
* Tread is completely missing on the first leg of the trail
* Tread needs work on the start of the second leg of the trail
* The rest of the second leg of the trail is in pretty good shape
* Mike and I examine the third leg of the trail
* Wonder rock retaining wall!
* Looking at the third leg of the trail from below

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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