Sturtevant Falls is Flowing at it’s peak level for Spring

Sturtevant Falls as seen from the Upper Falls Trail on Sunday. Despite the fairly dry winter season, recent rains brought us nearly three more inches of rain, bringing up the levels of the stream.

Sturtevant Falls is flowing at it’s peak level for Spring.  This photo was taken while hiking on the Upper Falls Trail this last Sunday.  The rain gauge at our cabin in the Fern Lodge area recorded 2.92″ from the recent storm.  The stream’s nice and full, it’s song filling the canyon from wall to wall.   Many of the pools in the canyon have received a cleansing scouring.  Dark organics that build up over the year on the stream bed have finally been washed clean out of the sand.   This is a great time to take a hike at Chantry Flats in the Big Santa Anita Canyon!   Fern beds on the steep slopes and cliffs are growing in their thick greenery.  Sturtevant Falls is definitely one of the most sought after places to visit during the spring hiking season.  If at all possible, try to get in a hike to the falls during the week days due to the parking congestion at the trailhead.

The hike in is less than two miles one way, rated as “easy” in John W. Robinson’s Trails of the Angeles.  Begin your hike at the Gabrielino trailhead, located adjacent to the lower parking lot at Chantry Flats.  Descend over 400′ to the canyon bottom in less than 3/4 of a mile.  Cross the foot bridge at Roberts’ Camp, then follow the dirt road upstream, passing by the little cabins built over a hundred years ago.  The road soon peters out, your route becoming single-track off and on until you reach the base of the falls.  Return the way you came.

 

 

Sturtevant Falls Hike

Posted on January 29, 2017 – Written by Chris Kasten


Big Santa Anita Creek is coming back after years of drought. Here’s a trailside view of the bubbling mountain stream midway between Roberts’ Camp and Sturtevant Falls. Notice the light, tea-like coloring of the water created by the leaching of tannins from last year’s fallen leaves.

This is a great time for your Sturtevant Falls hike!   The recent storms to visit Southern California have brought abundant rain and snow to the drought parched San Gabriel Mountains.  26.60″ of rain has fallen at Chantry Flats as of this writing.  Measuring of the rain season begins on October 1st and concludes on September 30th of the following year, so we’re off to a good start for our winter season.  All the trails radiating out of Chantry Flats lead to canyons filled with stream song.  Bright green thickets of Bracken ferns grow profusely among the ledges of rocky cliffs.


The Pagoda Tree with her outstretched arms, as seen here high atop Clamshell Ridge. Look for it when dropping down the road (Gabrielino Trail) from Chantry Flats to Roberts’ Camp. The watershed directly below it is McKinley Canyon, also the source of the falls photographed here in this same article.

Looking down from the road that drops down from Chantry into the canyon, you can make out the gray, smokey canopy of the leafless alders hugging the boisterous mountain creek.  Looking straight out (east) from San Olene Canyon, about half way down to Roberts’ Camp, the Pagoda Tree welcomes you back to the canyon.  This big cone spruce stretches out its’ shaggy arms from high atop Clamshell Ridge, with a backdrop of open sky.


Sturtevant Falls as seen from the Upper Falls Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon. A recent triple-round of storms to visit Southern California brought much needed rain and snow to the San Gabriel Mountains. The Falls haven’t looked this good in over six to seven years!

Right now the Big Santa Anita Canyon and Winter Creek carry, too, the scent of winter.  Last autumn’s leaves mulch down into the myriad of sand and soil along the stream beds. This earthy, organic loam creates an invigorating damp scent that helps to bookmark your memories of the canyon trails and where you were all those years ago.  So, when you return to Chantry for your next hike, that good wintery scent brings you back to your old haunts and all those thoughts that went along for the ride.


McKinley Canyon Falls as seen from the road that descends from Chantry Flats to Roberts’ Camp. Seldom does this cliff become a waterfall. It’s been nearly seven years since this scene last occurred! McKinley Canyon is visible directly across from San Olene Canyon. Wild, steep and narrow, it drains the Clamshell Ridge watershed.

When on the green footbridge at Roberts’ Camp, you cross the boisterous tumbling Winter Creek and its’ trout pools that were created by Lynn Roberts back around 1912 during the Great Hiking Era.  This little creek flows down from Mt. Wilson, twisting and turning for miles, dropping approx. 4,000′ to the confluence of the Big Santa Anita’s main canyon.  After leaving Roberts’ Camp, head up the main canyon, passing by the Lincoln Log style check dams.  Big Santa Anita Canyon, like the Winter Creek, also begins at Mt. Wilson’s summit.  Little cabins, many built over a century ago, are perched on small flats along your hike.  The canopy of alder, canyon live oak and bay shade much of your way.  Along with stream song, listen for the descending fluid notes of the canyon wren, a year-round resident of this watery place.  In less than a couple of miles you arrive at the base of  55′ high Sturtevant Falls.  The canyon big-leaf maples grace the open bowl around the plunge pool at the bottom of the falls.   Leafless, their silent, bare branches seem to reach out over you, stretching and awaiting Spring.


Joanie Kasten walks around a freshly fallen slide in San Olene Canyon on her way down to Roberts’ Camp. The Chantry Flats area, like all the front country of the San Gabriels have benefited greatly from the recent series of storms. While the high country is blanketed with snow, front country hiking is graced by stream song, green grasses and the flute-like song of the native canyon wrens.

Sturtevant Falls Trail Hike – A Good Time Time to Be There

Posted on January 17, 2016 – Written by Chris Kasten

55′ high Sturtevant Falls as it appears from the Upper Falls Trail,  just days after the first significant storm of the new year. We received 6.61″ of rain at our gauge just downstream from the falls in the Fern Lodge area of Big Santa Anita Canyon. This is hopefully just the beginning in a series of winter storms in our current El Nino weather situation!

Next time you’re considering spending a little time in the front-country of the Angeles National Forest, the Sturtevant Falls trail hike is a good one, especially since our recent rains earlier this month.  Over 6 1/2″ of rain fell throughout the first week of the new year in Big Santa Anita Canyon.  Ferns and mosses have sprung back to life, creating varied depths and textures of green across cliffy faces and hillsides.  The song of the stream has come back, too.   As you begin your descent down into the canyon, the gentle rush of the stream can be made out if it’s still and quiet, such as in the early evening.  Owls and stream song mix with the cool, soft canyon breezes that make their way amongst the thickets of white alders and overarching oaks.  The mild and sweet fragrance of flowering laurel bay is just around the next bend, most likely in just the next couple of weeks.

When you get up next to the stream, say somewhere between Roberts’ Camp and Fern Lodge, take a moment to notice how for the first time in several years, the stream finally received enough “push” to clean out some of that dark black organic mat that’s been concealing the light colored gravel and rocks.  Such a great, hopeful thing.  If we get into a pattern of storms with this forecasted El Nino, then watch more and more of the dark mat wash away, exposing ever more bright sand and banded rocks.  Fallen limbs and tree trunks will be washed out of the way.  Pools will deepen and the sounds will once, again, change; reverberating between the rocks and cliffs of not only the Big Santa Anita, but the Winter Creek, too.    The canyon wrens have already begun their bright chirping songs, mixing amongst the watery spray of our tumbling mountain brook.  California newts are making their eternal slow crawl up and away from the stream, often to be found along the Gabrielino and Lower Winter Creek trails.   Seems like a good time for me, too,  to make my slow crawl up along the streams of our beautiful canyons.

Ascending Rush Creek, Mt. Wilson, CA

Posted on December 31, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Rush Creek, Mt. Wilson, CA.  On the first day of Winter, I ascended Rush Creek, a steep and deep canyon on Mt. Wilson’s north side.  After spending the night at a completely unpeopled, chilly, yet peaceful DeVore Trail Camp, I went up upstream to West Fork Campground under steel gray skies.  That day really felt like winter, not so much in

Here’s a detail of Rush Creek, which I ascended from West Fork Campground to Mt. Wilson.

temps and winds, but in that flat gray light that’s such a part of our days in the canyons of the San Gabriels.  Lots of alders and oaks have come down across the one and a half miles of the Gabrielino Trail that crosses and re-crosses the West Fork of the San Gabriel River between these two campgrounds.  In many places, white alders seem to have broken mid way up their trunks, leaving behind shattered snags by the dozens.  Oaks have laid down, too.  Over and over, I kept on seeing the fresh, black carbon scars on the bases of trees from the Station fire of 2009.  Dams of driftwood had piled up high across the stream here and there, yet the old West Fork meandered under and through, not seeming to care at all about these very temporary nuisances in the life of a river.

West Fork of the San Gabriel River. View is looking upstream toward West Fork Campground.

My feet were already damp from all the crossings by the time I arrived at West Fork campground.  A few folks were camping here as I wandered over to the site of the first ranger station in California.  Now only a 1950′s era Daughters of the American Revolution monument marks the place where Louis Newcomb hewed his ranger cabin back in 1900.  You can still see the reassembled cabin at its’ relocated spot adjacent to the Chilao Visitor Center up Highway 2, not far from Newcomb’s Ranch.

Now the work was to begin….  Rush Creek joins the West Fork just to the east of the campground.  Wet blackberry bushes, stinging nettles and thickets of young alders marked the beginning of the canyon.  The elevation gain to the top of Mt. Wilson is close to 2,700′ in less than two miles of bouldering.

Lower Rush Creek is slow-going. Here the stream’s choked with fallen alders and berry bushes.

Rush Creek is true to its’ name!  The stream fell rapidly over a myriad of small waterfalls and cascades, punctuated occasionally by a few yards of calm and gentle descent.  The canyon bottom, like most in this part of the front country, was mostly narrow and fringed in mosses and ferns.  It seemed that most of the rock surfaces were damp and slick, which added an ice-like slickness to my challenges.  However, if you take your time carefully choosing your route up and around the small waterfalls and cascades, there’s no need for ropes or any climbing hardware.  Just take your time, which is what I did.


Tumbling Rush Creek Falls. It’s about thirty-five feet high. I climbed to the left of it.

Water falling through a slot about half way up Rush Creek.

A little better than half way up, I had to choose a canyon for my final route to the top of Mt. Wilson’s eastern end, not far from the 100” telescope dome.  Eventually I chose a fork toward the left which turned out to work out fine.  Like all x-country approaches to Mt. Wilson, the semblance of a canyon soon morphs into sandy, steep slopes pocked with rock outcrops and exposed tree roots which are great for hand holds at times.  It took from about 9:40 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to make the trip between the mouth of the canyon to the top.  It was both exhausting and exhilarating, with grand views out toward Twin Peaks and Mt. Waterman in the back country.   The flat, gray wintery light filled me with thoughts of past Christmas-time hikes and those who I had shared them with.  Here and there in the shadows, amongst the towering Big Cone Spruce, incense cedars and sugar pines, memories of my brother Nick kept following me up Rush Creek.  At one point earlier in the day, along the West Fork between DeVore and West Fork Camp, I saw the spot where he and I had been hiking one autumn years ago and had stopped for a photo in the fallen maple leaves.  I could still see him leaning against a scraggly tree in his relaxed lean, pack still on.  Nick passed away last January 9th from complications of chronic kidney disease.  He’s a couple of years younger than me, which on a number of levels has made his early passing even harder to bear.  Somehow this canyon had become the place, so late in the year, with her peaceful greens and grays, which allowed me images of my brother, thoughts of him, to flow quietly through my being.  A calm healing had been seeping into me throughout the ascent of Rush Creek, one like I had not experienced until now.

This thought kept tumbling through my head, “our time here on this earth is brief under the best of circumstances.”   Just keep on climbing and you’ll be at the summit and so will he.  So, the rest of my ascent had become a pattern of short scrambles, searching for stable footholds, letting my heartbeat slow down and starting, again.

Peering out at Twin Peaks from upper Rush Creek. Here the forest is lush, green and healthy.

Eventually I topped out into a forest of scrub oaks, following a gentle ridge to a lonesome picnic table along the Rim Trail.  My eyes were damp.  Like most of my x-country hikes, I found myself wondering where this canyon had been all my life.  Soon, my soaked shirt had begun to turn to chill, so I changed into a dry top, had a little cheese and pita bread sandwich and kept on walking in the dimming light.

The return back to the little cabin in the Big Santa Anita was by way of the superbly scenic Rim Trail which parallels the ridge dividing the watersheds of the West Fork of the San Gabriel and the upper Big Santa Anita Canyon.   The distance from Mt. Wilson to Newcomb Pass is a relaxing descent of 3 1/2 miles if you take this route back toward Chantry Flats.  The sunset was stunning and soon I had the

flashlight out for the rest of the trip back to Fern Lodge in the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  Soon I began to pick up the pace, trying to beat the impending darkness.  A calm peace ran through my bones as I headed toward Newcomb Pass and then down toward Sturtevant’s Camp.  You know, the fantastic way you feel when you’ve gotten in miles and miles of canyons and ridge tops, before you arrive where you can take off your boots and stay awhile.  My old friend Bohdan greeted me in the dark near Falling Sign Junction and we hiked together back to Joanie and the warm, lit cabin with dinner on the stove.  This day was more than good.

Sunset from the Rim Trail between Mt. Wilson and Newcomb Pass.

Trail Work Takes Place in Big Santa Anita Canyon

Posted on December 18, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

A group of white alder trees blew down across the trail in last week’s storm between Roberts’ Camp and Fern Lodge, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

The Pacific storm that rolled in late last week brought much needed rain to the Big Santa Anita Canyon and the rest of the San Gabriel mountains.   Along with the rain came high winds that raked canyons and ridge tops, blowing down lots of drought stressed trees.  My wife and I were hiking in this last Friday evening when we stumbled across five fallen alders, all parallel to one another and completely blocking the trail.  The location is the stream side wide spot of the Gabrielino Trail between Roberts’ Camp and Fern Lodge Junction, right where the dirt road ends at cabin#26.

All the hiking trails that radiate out of Chantry Flats are for the most part maintained by volunteers, with the exception of the occasional U.S. Forest Service fire crew.   These trees were cut out of the way by local cabin owners and Forest Service volunteers.    Hopefully, more storms are on their way.  We received 2.78″ of rain at Fern Lodge, bringing the canyon up to nearly 6 inches of rain for December.

The Gabrielino Trail between Roberts’ Camp and Fern Lodge Junction has just been cleared of fallen white alders.

Water’s Up A Little in the Big Santa Anita Canyon Creek

Posted on November 22, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Big Leaf Canyon Maple leaves blaze in this vertical view of tree canopy. Winter Creek, between Fern Lodge and Hoegees Campground.

We received nearly an inch of much-needed rain on Halloween in our parched Big Santa Anita Canyon and Winter Creek.   Yet, it didn’t really do much to increase the Big Santa Anita Canyon creek flow.  To date, it’s been rainless for all of November, yet the autumn beauty is as good as about any year.  Poison oak has been reddening for months and the Big Leaf Canyon maples have been gradually changing color.  Yellows and golds abound in many of the tree canopies as well as fallen leaves on boulders, slopes and in the stream beds.  The scent of leaves and damp soils is really noticeable right now, especially right along the streams.  Crickets chirp throughout the day in many of the shadowy pockets to be found along the hiking trails.  With the sun dropping so far to the south on these shortening days,  the light is angled to the point that perpetual shade can be found along the north and east facing slopes of the canyons.  The days are so short now, many of us find ourselves hiking the last couple of miles back out to the trailhead in the dark.

Big Leaf Maple leaves have come to rest in Winter Creek pool.

Another trait one might notice is the slight increase in the Big Santa Anita Canyon creek flow.  Despite no real precipitation to speak of since the end of October, there’s this phenomenon that takes place throughout much of the southern and central California canyons.   With the leaves falling from so many of the white alders and maples that grow along the canyon stream courses, these trees have nearly stopped transpiring moisture into the atmosphere.  They’re dormancy has begun and water that would have been drawn up through the roots is continuing to stay in the streams.   This really gives you an idea

Big Santa Anita Canyon’s stream has come up, albeit slightly. Photo taken between Roberts’ Camp and Fern Lodge.

of how much water it takes to sustain these deciduous trees.  So, even with out the rain, there’s now just a bit more stream sound than a couple of weeks ago.   What a great time to get out for a hike and take in the beauty and peace of our San Gabriel mountains.

Big Santa Anita Creek Is Dry, Dry, Dry…

Posted on August 14, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Three years in a row of sub-normal precipitation has taken its’ toll on the Big Santa Anita Creek throughout the canyon as well as the entire Angeles National Forest.   Plants and animals throughout the San Gabriels are feeling the impact.  Big Santa Anita Canyon’s stream is now running underground in many places where in years past you might have seen and heard water flowing in even the hottest months.  Sturtevant Falls is just a trickle.  It’s magnificent plunge pool reduced to just a stagnant little puddle in the glaring mid-day sunlight.  What little water that makes its’ tumbling way down the 55′ high rock face sounds little better than a half-flowing garden hose placed up at the top followed by a slap, slap, slapping broken chorus of wet.  Once tumultuous, cool pools are now fringed with dead mosses and algae.

Big Santa Anita Canyon’s stream bed has turned dry. This scene, looking up canyon, is midway between Roberts’ Camp and Fern Lodge.

Vast stretches of white sands are mixed with the black pieces of muddy organic deposits that settled in like the bottom of a still and quiet lake.  You can see this as you make your way down along the Big Santa Anita Creek on the Hermit Falls trail between Roberts’ Camp and First Water.  Check out these dry, flat and pungent stream bed crossings that once had swimming fish and the flotsam of countless water striders on peaceful waters.  The mexican quick weed, seemingly immune to these endless hot days of dryness, fringe these once wet spaces and in places are glade-like, blocking your view of the ground.  Suddenly, the air lifts the pungent scent of dried out plant and animal life, filling your senses in a way that leave the words out of your thoughts. Our common organic connection, constant and everlasting.  I’m reminded of an ancient past that was never handed down to me through the pastels of words.  Haunted and somehow led back toward home – in a good and kind sort of way.

Poison oak leaves reddening early in the season amidst manzanita. Upper Falls Trail.

Yet, like everything we and this old earth go through, it will come to pass away.  Drought is a familiar visitor in these steep, deep canyons.  A new winter will come with its’ fulfilled promises of rain and life.  The sound of tumbling waters and the staccato call of canyon wrens will bounce back off the ancient rocky walls of the canyons, again.   Once, again, if you miss that jump across the creek, your boots and socks will be soaked.  The glance between you and the hidden trout will happen once more.  It will happen to you.  The seasons go round and round.

Chantry Flats Hike – Mt. Zion Trail for Vistas & Solitude

Posted on July 28, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Looking north and east toward Newcomb Pass from the Mt. Zion Trail. A small portion of the Gabrielino Trail is barely visible across the canyon.

This is one of the quietest of the Chantry Flats hikes to be had.  While out repairing the Big Santa Anita Canyon’s crank telephone line,  I decided to hike over the Mt. Zion Trail from Sturtevant Camp to Hoegees, down in the Winter Creek.  Although the day was hot and muggy, the views were sharp and clear.  Passing along this north side of Mt. Zion, I’m always amazed at how big the trees are.  Canyon live oak, laurel bay and big cone spruce abound in these quiet side canyons.  As you climb up toward Mt Zion’s saddle, at an elevation of 3,500′, views toward the back country begin to open up.  The San Gabriel Wilderness’ labyrinth of twisting canyons is visible to the north and east, with the horizon bounded by the summits of Mt. Waterman and Twin Peaks.

Some kind soul has placed hand holds and steps to help hikers & mountain bikers get across this fallen big cone spruce.

Here and there, you can still make out the remnants of a long-abandoned crank telephone line that once spanned Mt. Zion.  This line connected Sturtevant’s and Hoegee’s Camps back during the Great Hiking Era, circa: 1890′s – 1920′s.  The oxidized copper wire that you may have noticed on your Chantry Flats hike is still in use today.  Crank telephones connect the Adams Pack Station with emergency call boxes dotted here and there along the trails.  There’s more on this antique phone system and how it works in another one of my earlier blogs.

Ceramic split insulator remains attached to a dead big cone spruce. The phone wire running through it has been abandoned since the early 1950′s.

Continuing up the trail toward the Mt. Zion saddle, at 3,500′ elevation, the foliage turns to chaparral plants.   Manzanita, sumac, chamise and buck brush (wild lilac) begin to make their presence.   Shade becomes less and less frequent as the descent toward the Winter Creek begins.  Switchbacks steeply descend down the south side of the mountain, with constant views out toward Monrovia Peak, the San Gabriel Valley, Chantry Flats, Manzanita Ridge and even Mt. Harvard with its’ boxy, metallic communications building straddling the summit.

Mt. Zion Trail’s approach near the Lower Winter Creek Trail junction.

Near the bottom of the descent, oaks and even white alders begin to grace the trail. The shade and damp coolness make a comeback, the heat letting up.  Heart breaking gold light gathers under the canopy as I approach the Lower Winter Creektrail junction.  Good times.

Looking up into a grand canyon live oak. Note the bit of remnant phone line running across the bark.

This Gopher Snake Is Doing Her Part in Keeping Down the Rodents

Posted on June 24, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

This gopher snake is doing her part in keeping down the rodents.  This photo was taken recently in the Fern Lodge area of Big Santa Anita Canyon.  Snakes of all kinds abound, mostly non-venemous.  All snakes are by nature, secretive, preferring to not be seen.  Unfortunately, gopher snakes are occasionally mistaken for rattlesnakes.  However, this snake, like most, is harmless to people.  Gopher snakes seek out mice, rats, frogs  and occasionally ground squirrels.   This snake is also a mortal enemy to rattlesnakes.

Gopher Snake in rock wall. Big Santa Anita Canyon, Fern Lodge area.

Like king snakes, gopher snakes  take their prey through constriction, swallowing their catch whole.  This is done by the snake purposely dislocating its’ jaws, allowing larger prey to pass on through to the esophagus and stomach.  Gopher snakes can grown upwards of 4′ in length, climbing through rocks and even occasionally up a tree!   My wife and I once watched a 3 footer climb up the side of a mature canyon live oak at the trail junction of the Upper Falls and Gabrielino trails.  It was amazing to watch it slowly and carefully work it’s way up the steeply sloping trunk.  These are patient creatures to say the least!  If you are lucky enough to spot one, give him or her a little space.

Rattlesnakes Have Woken Up in the Winter Creek!

Posted on May 9, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

While out hiking, keep your eyes open for rattlesnakes.  Rattlesnakes have woken up in the Winter Creek, as well as in other canyons around Chantry Flats.   As the spring days continue to lengthen and temperatures rise, reptiles of all kinds are coming out of their seasonal slumber. From subterranean dens to sun bathed rocky hillsides and canyon bottoms, these creatures are back among the mammals, birds, insects and fish.

I encountered this Southern Pacific rattlesnake (crotalus helleri) while out on the Lower Winter Creek Trail this last Saturday.  Rattlesnakes are naturally secretive and will avoid human encounters if given the chance.  They are good mousers, helping to keep the rodent population at a tolerable level.  Like all living creatures, they need to be respected and protected from harm.  The creature in this photo had just signaled her alarm, giving me a quick wake-up to give some distance.  This is one reason why it’s a good idea to not have ear-buds in your ears while hiking or running, drowning out nature’s communications.