Toolbox recovery in Angeles National Forest
The effort to re-open the Crystal Lake Recreation Area and surrounding areas in the aftermath of the Williams and Curve Fires continues.
Photographs will be posted later.
Saturday was a work day for the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders yet
since it was scheduled to rain and snow we decided we would avoid working
in the freezing mud and instead hike up along Bear Creek trail up to the
Smith Mountain saddle. From there we would hike down for another mile or
so into the designated wilderness area to survey the condition of the
trail and to check on the condition of the big metal tool box that had
been left up there since about 2001 -- before the Curve Fire and Williams
Fire had swept through the area.
Bear Creek Trail (Highway trailhead) -- North 34 degrees, 17.249 by West
117 degrees, 50.565 at 3273 feet.
Ben, Braun (sp?), Jannet, Mike, Tom, Aaron, and myself hazarded the rain
and snow after Mike checked in with Angeles Dispatch on the radio first in
the event we all disappeared for some reason (land slides are possible
even when it's not raining though I supposed it would be pointless to try
to locate our unsightly remains if that ever happened.)
Mike brought the Forest radio, Global Positioning Satellite receiver,
digital camera, FAX machine, microwave oven, and who knows what all else.
(Mike was assimilated by the Borg decades ago.) I left all of my
electronics behind since I didn't want them getting wet.
We found that one of the radios was in some strange configuration or
possibly broken so it had to be left behind.
The hike up was done with only a little bit of rain and we got a good look
at the trail work that the contractor had put in. The contractor crews
(Marvin and his crew who were in the area for about ten months) installed
numerous retaining walls along the 3 miles or so up to the saddle, even
installing nice wood-and-metal walls in places where they weren't maybe
exactly needed while widening the foot trail in some places to about six
feet -- suitable for people to pitch their tents on the trail if they
The work Marvin and his crews did looks great! There are berms along much
of the trail that will need to be knocked off by volunteers, and Mike
noted the start of some water-related gullies already beginning in areas
where the berms needs to be graded off of the trail. The retaining walls
will last for decades, though, and they look like good work.
From the saddle we hiked down hill over the hump and into the wilderness
area to where the metal box was.
Smith Mountain Saddle at the crest of Bear Creek Trail -- North 34
degrees, 17.180 by West 117 degrees, 51.726 at 4296 feet.
Since we had different speeds of hikers and different chores to do along
the way, we broke up into three groups with myself, Mike, and Aaron
catching up to and passing Braun who had left the parking lot ahead of us.
Since we had to clear fallen trees along the way, eventually Tom and I
were all that was left of the forward team that reached the tool box for
the first ten minutes or so with the rest of the Trailbuilders cutting up
and moving downed trees at various points along the trail above us.
The tool box is about six feet long, three feet deep, and about three feet
wide. We got to pound the locks with pliers for awhile before they would
open (there were four good strong locks) and then we got to reposition the
chains that held the box to a burned out tree so that we could drag the
box from the teetering edge of the ravine and back up to the trail without
dropping it down onto the canyon floor some 200 feet or so below.
Mike and Braun arrived (the muscle of the team) and I (the brains) stood
on the burned out trees to shove while the rest pulled and then I unlocked
the chain from the tree and they dragged it the rest of the way up the lip
of the ravine and back on to firm ground. Safe after six years of hanging
over a sheer drop over a cliff!
We found a few tools in the box. Some of the plastic handles on the tools
that were left inside had melted during the Curve Fire, and since the box
wasn't entirely water tight, some tools -- like the two small folding hand
saws -- were rusted into trash. The box itself was in surprisingly good
shape though its back that had been pressed up to the burning trees was
The tools were inventoried while Mike kept a tally on his notepad of
paper, making note of the general condition of the tools and what could be
cleaned up and what had to be thrown into the trash.
Mike, Tom, Braun, Aaron, and myself carried the individual tools and other
materials from the box up the trail a short distance to a moderately wide
spot where it is hoped that horses might be able to turn around in, then
the rest of us got to supervise and offer helpful opinions while Mike and
Braun lugged the heavy box up the trail to join the tools -- while Aaron
and I kicked wet and slippery oak leaves off the trail in a vain attempt
to reduce the slipping hazard.
Lunch was had at the newly relocated tool box. Mike got to use one of the
burned up lopper tools to open his can of sardines and to slice his bread;
I had jalapeno bread and water -- Aaron had carted all of my water up for
me in his back pack, leaving my hands free for the whole hike up! (Thanks,
Along the hike back up to the saddle we came across Ben and Jannet who
were examining a large water sluice that bisects the trail. The canyon
that crosses the trail is wide and looks like it carries a lot of water
when it rains though the trail itself at that point looked to be able to
survive the heavy rains that cross it.
On the remaining hike back up to the saddle it started to rain more
heavily but we all had fairly good clothes for it. By the time Ben,
Jannet, Mike, Aaron, and I had reached the saddle, it was rain mixed with
sleet â€" which seemed like a good reason to pause for a photograph or two.
Ben had suggested we "record our misery" but everyone was actually
enjoying the cold rain.
Aaron told Ben that now he knew why the San Gabriel Mountains
Trailbuilders so rarely gets rained out. Ben suggested we stand around
and watch my bottle of water freeze in the blowing sleet but three of us
-- Mike, Aaron, and I -- decided we wouldn't wait and headed back down the
trail toward the trailhead.
I suppose I could have been warmer since I had left my thermal clothing in
my backpack down at the trailhead. Thing was I didn't expect to need it
and anyway my thermals are not in the best of condition. My thermal pants
are pretty badly ripped up after six or seven years of camping in cold
weather but despite being full of holes, it still helps keep things mostly
My wife had offered me the use of hers but her thermal pants are white
with pink fluffy flowers and one thing I didn't want was to fall down the
mountain, have some paramedic cut my pants off of me, and then comment
over the radio to Dispatch about how this guy he's working on is wearing
ladies underwear. I'd have to regain consciousness long enough to croak
out some unconvincing explanation before passing out again, and in the
event of such an accident I didn't want the added embarrassment.
The hike back down was a cold and somewhat wet one -- it looked to me as
though everyone had dry jackets but our pants had become soaked. My old
cow skin hat gets washed only when it rains, so dirty brown water rolled
off of it while I walked, head down and using my hat to block the cold
In all it was just a bit more than a nine mile hike through the Angeles
National Forest and everyone had a good time. We got the job done that we
set out to do. We'll have to return with proper hand tools to cut and
remove the remaining burned and fallen trees from the path, and we'll have
to work some of the trail in the designated wilderness area in order to
make the path safe for loaded horses to use.
Eventually the rest of the trail which extends from mile marker number 4
down to Bear Creek and then down to West Fork Road will have to be
surveyed and it's possible that perhaps one or two Trailbuilders crew will
be willing to do an overnight effort to remove any remaining trees from
the trail and to level the worse of the more dangerous parts of the trail
on the way down to West Fork.
When the weather is warmer, the Bear Creek Trail will be a good one for
hikers to use since it's also expected that the locked gate at mile marker
28.76 will be opened and the new gate currently installed at the Bear
Creek trailhead will be closed, allowing people to park their vehicles at
the rebuilt trailhead.
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