Our Stream is Well and Alive, Big Santa Anita Creek

Posted on October 27, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten
Coast Range Newt, Fern Lodge, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

“I’m digging this place!  Look at me and you’re looking back, way back.”

This Coast Range Newt (Taricha torosa torosa), also commonly known as a salamander, is loving the moisture from our recent rains this last weekend.  Look for these fascinating creatures along the streams during the wet months of the year, October through April.  Try to keep an eye out while hiking and biking just after storms, since they’ll often be crossing the trails and tend to blend in with the soils around them.

On Your Next Hike Out of Chantry Flats, Think About This….Adapting to Our Biology – The 2000% Rule and How Hiking Helps

Posted on October 19, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Following mountain paths at the speed of walking or running is not only good for your head and your overall health, but may also be a way of reconnecting you to your natural pace and view of the world.  As I mentioned in the last blog, I had read “In Praise of Slowness – Challenging the Cult of Speed” by Carl Honore.  Not long after this reading, it dawned on me during one of my “commute hikes” to Sturtevant Camp, just how frequently we travel in our cars at 60 to 70 miles per hour without thinking a thing about it.  After arriving at Chantry Flats and heading into the Canyon, we’ve now dropped our speed down to a safe and sane 2 to 3 miles per hour.  If you’re running, then double or or even triple the speed.  In any case, the difference in percentage terms between driving and getting yourself around on foot is startling.  I chose 3 mph as an average walking speed for most of the trails that cover our front country canyons of the San Gabriel mountains.  If I’m driving a conservative 60 mph or so (better be in the slow lane), then I’ve increased my travel speed 2000% or greater!  Now, I’m not even talking about the speed of flying in airplanes or jets, which would bump this percentage increase to 10,000% or greater….  All this change is just land-based travel.

A Coral Mountain King snake makes her way along the Upper Falls Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon. Those reddish fallen leaves are poison oak.

We’ve been driving mass-produced cars for just over a century now.  Henry Ford came out with his Model T for the masses in 1908 which isn’t all that long ago – really.   And the freeway / highway system as we understand it today in the United States didn’t exist until the Interstate Highway Act of 1956.  Prior to that, many good roads existed under their own numbering system, yet did not connect to any grand scheme for the cross-country traveler.  So, driving 60 mph or greater, was not a long distance assumption that could be made in the lower 48 states.  Even though I use the 60 mph speed as a benchmark of what we do all the time without really thinking.

Looking back over the development of humans as a species (Homo sapiens), the best we have to go on as of this writing is that our species evolved into “anatomical modernity approximately” 200,000 years ago.  This “Out of Africa” theory is widely supported and dates back to Charles Darwin’s book, “Descent of Man” from 1871.  DNA analysis now corroborates this theory.  Looking at our “behavioral modernity”, the current take on this is approximately 50,000 years ago.  See Stephen Oppenheimer’s “Out of Eden” for an elaboration on the development of music, religion and other human developments.  Wikipedia is a good place to start on both these themes of human origin.

Let’s say we take the 50,000 B.C. benchmark as the beginning of human development and social tradition.  That’s a good long time to discover and develop our view of the planet’s surface with all its’ variations in terrain and climate.  It’s also a good period of time for the development of certain forms of muscle development, navigational skills and memory for covering different landscapes and all the textures that come with it.  You could say that our collective DNA, a redundancy in definition, has compiled all these traits and skills as they relate to our relationship within the context of walking, climbing, running and swimming.  This is a collective conscience that we all carry and continue to develop.

Finally, all this takes us to another facet of the 2000% rule…..  Most humans, in developed nations, such as the United States – live approximately 72-78 years on average.  Pushing that number to 80 years, there are about 625 human lifetimes, back-to-back, in 50,000 years of time.  On average, human generations are about 20-22 years ion length (see:  Strauss & Howe’s “Generations – the Generational Diagonal”)  if you look at American generational theory for the last 500 years.  Therefore, in numbers of generations, that figure jumps to nearly 2,500 generations experiencing this earth and its’ myriad opportunities and challenges in 50,000 years.  For nearly all this time, we’ve been living at 2 to 3 mph on land, with the exception of running.

That said, we’ve increased our daily speed 2000% in 0.2% (1/500th) of the time we’ve developed into modernity!  There is no curve, just straight up.

This increase in daily speed is beyond striking, perhaps even challenging to the biology of a person.  Not that we can’t adapt, most of the time we have, however, it isn’t without its’ shadow.  It’s hard to stay present to the earth as our ancestral selves remember it when we’re ramping up our speeds routinely and our biology lagging far behind in the grand scheme of things.  We’re not even considering the effects of instantaneous forms of communication that we take for granted!   Hiking, walking or running, however you do it, pulls us back to the rhythm and pace that we’ve adapted to over the tens of thousands of years.  Spend part of your day on the trails up and down our canyons to reconnect to the expansive part of you that these modern times have yet to earn.  As the adage goes:  A person sees more in a mile of walking than 100 miles of driving.  You might just remember and enjoy more of it, too!

Autumn Splendor at First Water and the Winter Creek, Chantry Flats’ Trails

Posted on October 11, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Autumn is a great time to get out and hike the trails out of Chantry Flats.  With the recent cooling temperatures and even a little rain on the way, this coming week should feel refreshingly fall-like.   The dust of the trails should be laying down and the spicy scent of fallen bay leaves will awaken you.  This last week I photographed a couple of the accompany scenes that evoked a sense of returning to my favorite time of year.

Looking skyward through a canopy of Big Leaf Canyon maples. Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Big leaf canyon maples, once referred to as “water maples” (see “The Southern Sierra”, Charles Francis Saunders)  are plentiful along stream courses in most of the front country canyons of the Angeles.  Occasionally, if you look high up the slopes, well above any stream bed, you might spot one of these trees that’s gotten a toe hold in a fold or shady nook that provides just enough water to eke out its’ existence.  Maples are deciduous, meaning that they drop their leaves and remain dormant until spring makes her return.  The maples you’ll see in the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek canyons are all of the same species (Acer macrophyllum), are capable of producing really large leaves and produce shade throughout most of the year.  In the fall, their leaves begin to produce tinges of yellow in the margins, gradually becoming mostly yellow-gold by the time we’re approaching late October to early November.  By mid-December, most of their leaves have fallen to the ground, their smooth gray trunks often contrasting vividly against the dark green-blues of canyon slopes.

Big Leaf Canyon maple is backlit in the Winter Creek. Big Santa Anita Canyon.

One of the memorable sides to fall in our canyons is the wonderful, earthy scent of the maple leaves mingling with the damp soils.  Like so many of our long-term memories, scent is a trigger for reliving events and places.  There’s this eternal aspect to every year’s return to autumn.  Over the years, I’m drawn back to some place deep inside.  It’s as if hiking back to the same haunts that I visited when still a child continue to call me with the same longing, yet at a later time in life.  Is there any way of merging with this scene?  Will I ever consummate this relationship, dissolving once and for all the illusion of the duality of myself and the outdoor world?  Traveling throughout our canyons in the fall, regardless of how you do it, may be some kind of a timeless redux at wholeness and merging with this earth.  However, it takes time.  For things to stick, it may take both time and stillness.  A chance to absorb what’s going on between us and the scene.   A time to come home.

This makes me think of a book that I picked up years ago at Christmas time that I’ve continued to return to, again and again.  It’s entitled “In Praise of Slowness – Challenging the Cult of Speed, by Carl Honore.  Here there are great insights into the habit of occasionally slowing down our fast-paced lives in favor of becoming present to what is right around us, right now.  The fall season may be just that, a reminder to not only go inside ourselves, but to be present to this moment before us.  That somehow, being present to all this day is miracle enough.

Fall Is On Her Way In the Big Santa Anita Canyon

Posted on October 3, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Dried flower stalks of Chamise, a fire indicator species found throughout much of the chaparral plant community.

We’re only about two weeks into the autumn season and the Big Santa Anita Canyon is giving us all kinds of hints of change.  When you hike by cabin #23, just above Roberts’ Camp, you’ll see an expanse of yellow-tan bay leaves all around the place.  If it’s later in the day, the scene seems to create a warm glow of its’ own.  Many maple leaves are on the ground as well, due especially to the extreme dryness of the soils.  Many of the plants here are members of the chaparral plant community, drought tolerant to say the least.  Just go a short distance upslope from any stream bottom and you’re quickly in a world of prolonged heat and dryness, especially on south and west facing slopes.  Pictured here are three examples of plants commonly found along our trails that radiate out of Chantry Flats.  Chamise, poison oak and buckwheat have been transitioning into their fall colors for a month or more.  If you’re bouldering down among the lower reaches of Big Santa Anita’s East Fork, the stream channel is choked with the delicate, crisp leaves where water hasn’t ran in months.  When a tree squirrel runs and jumps through this scene, it can startle you with thoughts of bears and deer ambling along.

The water flowing over Slider Rock is a narrow, slick thread of stream.  The creeks that still flow are only a whisper of their former selves.  Hiking along, even in the evenings, there’s hardly any stream sound at all.  Once in awhile you’ll hear a deep gurgling of water in nocturnal hollows, reminding you that our stream’s well and alive.  That this has happened before, perhaps thousands and thousands of autumns past.

Poison oak leaves turning crimson in the fall.
Buckwheat flower stalks. Soon, these flowers will turn to a rusty red color for the duration of autumn and winter.

In the weekend mornings, as droves of hikers and mountain bikers make their way up and down the main canyon, watch the talc-like dust hang in the sunlit air above and about the trail.  Motes of thick gold light illuminate and hold still in your mind the hanging dust particles that surround the hikers moving past.  Ivy leaves and blackberry bushes are covered in the dull patina of trail dust.  There’s only one solution for this scene…. and it’s coming soon I hope.  I gave up long ago forecasting the likelihood of a dry or wet winter on its’ way.  Big acorns, little acorns or no acorns at all make no difference to me.  So, no guesses here.  Yet, I can hope for the quenching drink of early winter rains.   There’s even room for the dreams of thick snows blanketing the dark, hidden slopes of the upper reaches of the Winter Creek and Big Santa Anita Canyons.

There are no Santa Ana winds gusting quite, yet….  They’re on their way.  For now, we’ll live in the still hush, the holding pattern, until the winds and rains come.

 

Chantry Flats Crank Telephone System

Posted on September 14, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Phone line and insulator detail of crank telephone system. This location is at the top of Sturtevant Falls on the Upper Falls Trail.

Have you ever wondered what that green wire is running from tree to tree along the trails at Chantry Flats?  That green wire is part of the Chantry Flats crank telephone system over six miles in length.  This remnant phone system goes back to a much earlier time in the Angeles National Forest’s history; a time when the Angeles Crest Highway had yet to be built and trail resorts were thriving during the “Great Hiking Era.”  It was a time when much of southern California was still agricultural and hikers often took the Pacific Electric red cars (trolleys) to trailheads before embarking upon the multitude of paths in the San Gabriel mountains.

The crank telephone system connected most of the old trail resorts, such as Hoegees, Sturtevant’s, Roberts’, Fern Lodge and First Water Camps in the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  Many of the private cabins were also connected to the phone system, not to mention Guard Stations manned by the U.S. Forest Service.  The phone line also ran into the “backcountry” to places like the West Fork of the San Gabriel River and Coldwater Canyon near Strawberry Peak.  It went to Mts. Wilson and Lowe, up and down the Arroyo Seco Canyon and other canyons too numerous to include here.  In short, the crank telephone system was a vibrant, reliable form of communication for a time gone by.

Split ceramic insulator carrying the 12 gauge phone line. Upper Falls Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Nowadays, in canyons other than the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek,  you’d never know where to look for evidence of this historical technology in the Angeles’ early days.  If you’re hiking up the Sturtevant Trail toward Mt. Wilson, look for a number of remnant split ceramic insulators still dangling on rusted wire from the oak trees not far up canyon from Sturtevant’s Camp.  In some cases, you can see where the white, round insulators that used to be nailed directly into tree trunks are now being consumed by the still growing trees.  Just a nubbin of an insulator still protrudes from trunks of oak and spruce, sort of appearing the way a white spool of thread might appear if you looked  at it “on end.”  It’s center attachment nail long corroded and missing.

The phone line in the Big Santa Anita currently travels between the Adams Pack Station at Chantry Flats down to First Water and  then up stream to Sturtevant’s Camp four miles north and west of there.  Another section of line branches off from Roberts’ Camp, which is where the hikers’ footbridge is located.  From there, the line goes up the Winter Creek to a spot just up stream from Hoegees Campground.  The line travels from tree to tree, supported by ceramic insulators.  The line itself is 12 gauge and uninsulated, its’ core being made of steel for strength with a surrounding jacket of copper for conductivity.  Connections between sections of wire are made with “butt-in” style connectors made of brass which are crimped into place.  These connectors look like narrow little barrels that the line slides into before it’s crimped half way in.  The next section of line is slid into the other half of the barrel and crimped as well for an airtight and, hopefully corrosion-free seal.

Crank telephone and battery in call box #8, Upper Falls Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

There are currently nine call boxes located alongside the trails with crank telephones and batteries in them.  These call boxes are for emergency use, such as the reporting of fires or medical emergencies.  The locations of these call boxes appear on the Big Santa Anita Canyon Trails Map by canyon cartography.com.   A fair number of the cabins that you see along the trail also have crank telephones as well.  You might be wondering just how one makes a call from one of these antique phones.  Since there’s no dial at any phone, what you do is send a pattern of “rings” from your location that will tell the recipient of your call if the message is for them or not.  For example, the Pack Station is “one ring”, Sturtevant Camp is “two rings” and any private cabin would be “three rings.”  This is known as a party line and was quite common in rural areas of the United States up until the 1950′s and early 60′s.  A ring is created when the crank handle located on the phone is turned rapidly as possible to generate voltage.  (the crank handle is connected to a 2, 3, 4 or 5 bar magneto)  So, say you’re calling a private cabin owner, you’d crank the handle vigorously several turns, pause…., then crank several turns, pause…, then several more turns.  Now, stop cranking and just listen.  Be patient.  Chill out and wait a good minute for your party to pick up on the other end.

Call box #8, Upper Falls Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

On a crank telephone, your voice is carried by battery power.   There’s no need to keep cranking a phone when speaking – only to ring someone.  Each phone is protected by a carbon block lightning protector.  You’ll notice that the call boxes along the trail also have a 6 volt lantern battery attached to the phone.  Originally, the phones were intended to operate on 3 volts, not 6.  The batteries were cylindrical, dry cell 1 volt types in series.   It seems that for decades now, we’ve been using the lantern batteries without damage to the phones.   Also another detail in regard to this type of system is that there’s only one wire traveling from tree to tree.  All phone systems have a circuit that must be completed, thus the wire pair we’re all so used to seeing.  So, where’s the other half of the wire pair?  It’s the earth.  Each phone or call box must be grounded some how.  Sometimes there’s a ground rod driven into the earth for this purpose, other times there’s a bare wire going into the stream or a ground wire’s attached to a cold water pipe.  Good grounding’s important if you’re going to have a clear pathway for your phone to work and to be easily heard.

The call boxes that you see along the trails were built by the U.S. Forest Service back in the 1940′s, just after World War II.  Each call box not only had a phone, but a water pump with a suction strainer and fire hose.  There were also McClouds, shovels and other fire fighting tools.  Back in the 40′s, 50′s and 60′s, it was expected that members of the recreating public be willing and able to fight wildfire if the need arose.  The Forest Service also maintained the phones and phone line, climbing trees and restringing wire as necessary.  Unfortunately, with budget cutbacks constantly hacking away at the Angeles’ operating costs, phone repair fell by the wayside.

Operating instructions for the Chantry Flats crank telephone system. Call box #8.

Fortunately, the Big Santa Anita Canyon Permittees Association, comprised of concerned cabin owners, took over the maintenance of the crank telephone system.  Because the system’s maintained by volunteers of varying skills and limited availability, the entire phone system being up and operating in its’ entirety is becoming more and more unlikely.  The future of the crank phones is uncertain.  As of this writing, only isolated sections are operating.  If you are ever interested in maintaining the line and perhaps the crank phones as well, please contact the Big Santa Anita Canyon Permittees Association at www.bigsantaanitacanyon.com to help.  Our organization has maintenance parts to supply, we’re just very short on skilled volunteers to keep this historical phone system operating.

Chantry Flats Night Hike – Scorpion Sighting

Posted on September 13, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Just last Friday evening, my wife and I were hiking between Chantry Flats and Roberts’ Camp when we encountered a healthy-looking scorpion crossing the pavement in San Olene Canyon.  It had been a long time since last seeing one of these fascinating creatures.  Also, I had forgotten just how fast they can run!  Fortunately, he/she stopped just long enough for me to take this picture.

A nocturnal photo of a scorpion in San Olene Canyon near Chantry Flats.

As a kid, I remember seeing an occasional scorpion out on the Lower Winter Creek trail during warm summer evenings back in the 1970′s.   Back then, it was usually our custom to sleep out under the stars on a tarp in our sleeping  bags.  Although I never had a scorpion get into my sleeping bag, I did once have one get into my bed up at Colby Ranch in the middle of the Angeles National Forest.  It was 1981 and I had just been hired as one of the summer staff at Camp Colby.  I lived alone in an old house on a hill above the camp’s swimming pool.  The walls were of knotty pine and the view out the large living room windows looked out across both Coldwater and Upper Big Tujunga Canyons toward Mt. Gleason and Mt. Pacifico.  No one had lived in that old house in a long time.  One day we moved a refrigerator than had been sitting in another building for some time up into my place.  Now I was really living!  Keep in mind, I was 19 years old and feeling VERY independent that summer…

The next morning after the fridge had been delivered, I was laying in bed and had been awoken to the raspy calls of Stellar Jays making a racket on the eves above my bedroom.  My “just awoken” vision was blurry as I lay there on my back and threw aside a single bed sheet that I had slept under.  Fortunately, I looked down and saw what appeared to be a potato bug resting between my legs…. My eyes said potato bug – my brain said scorpion!  Somehow I jumped out of bed instantly without getting stung.  As I stood there on the carpet, looking down at the bed, the scorpion spun around and ran off the side of the bed and onto the floor.  I managed to quickly run over to my little kitchen and grab a drinking water glass which I trapped him in.  For awhile I made a pet out of him before his release back out into the chaparral.  We must have inadvertently brought him into the house in the under carriage of that old fridge the day before.  I’ll never know.  I was so affected by my evening with the scorpion that to this day when we’re in the Big Santa Anita Canyon, the sheets are always pulled way back for a cursory inspection for companions before crawling under the covers for the night.  Some adventures stay with us for a long, long time.  As a side note, the house that I had this experience in was called the Hill House.  It burned to the ground in the 2009 Station Fire.  My zodiac sign is  scorpio.

Monkey Flowers in Bloom along the Upper Winter Creek

Posted on August 30, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten
Scarlet Monkey Flower, Upper Winter Creek.
Monkey Flower as seen between Hoegees and Mt. Wilson in the Winter Creek.

These two photos were taken recently along the Winter Creek, between cabin #139 and Mt. Wilson’s summit.  Scarlet monkey flower (Mimulus cardinalis) and Common monkey flower (Mimulus guttatus) can be seen growing in moist sands along the stream bed, especially above 3,000′ in elevation.  These colorful flowers add a splashy beauty to the speckled granite boulders and light sandy stream sands.

 

Plastics in Paradise – Chantry Flats’ New Generation of Litterbugs

Posted on August 23, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

While out on a hike on the Upper Falls Trail just this last week, I happened upon more plastic refuse than usual.  Plastic water bottles and food packaging seem to be on the increase in and around the pools just above Sturtevant Falls.  It’s really getting crazy.  Sadly crazy.  What amazes me is that we’re not talking about the immediate trailhead and turnouts up and down the Chantry Road, this area is nearly two miles in from Chantry Flats.  To be a litterbug  this far in takes motivation.  Where is the disconnect in some people’s  thoughts to leave trash like this?

Trash along the Upper Winter Creek Trail, Big Santa Anita Canyon. This scene is just above Sturtevant Falls.

The Angeles National Forest’ annual operating budget continues to diminish as the years go by.  The entire U.S. Forest Service, an agency within the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, is feeling the budget crunch across the country.  Essentially, the Angeles is a recreational forest, with no timber harvesting and very little mining going on.  The majority of funding received by this forest goes to fire suppression.  I recently saw a statistic up at the Big Pines Visitor Center that cited 96% of all fires that start on the Angeles are in some way caused by people.  I’m assuming that the remaining 4% is started by lightning, which primarily strikes in the high country areas of the San Gabriel mountains.  So, with that, the administrative emphasis will continue to be centered on reducing fire risks (hazard reduction) and responding to fire starts.

Plastic bottles floating in a pool just above Sturtevant Falls.

What’s left of budget, then,  is a thin slice of funding for recreation.  USFS staff assigned to maintaining and developing recreation sites are few and far between.  In fact, it would be fair to say that those staff continue to have larger and larger territories of the Angeles to maintain.  Taking care of campgrounds, picnic areas and trailheads has become daunting in the last couple of decades.  And while budgets for paid staff continue to fall, forest users continue to increase in number.  Day use in the Chantry Flat Recreation Area continues to climb and climb.  Five years back or more, one could more or less predict that a mid-week visit to Chantry might be rather quiet and unpeopled.  Now, especially since the Station Fire of 2009 and the ever expanding advent of the internet, any day of the week can find the parking areas at the Gabrielino and Upper Winter Creek trailheads filled with cars.  There might even be cars parked in turnouts a short distance down the road.  I’m talking about Tuesdays or Wednesdays!

Volunteers continue to help throughout the Angeles in the maintenance of trails, cleaning up trash, eradicating graffiti, taking care of campsites / picnic areas,  cleaning public toilets and much, much more.  Fortunately, much of the Angeles, including the Big Santa Anita Canyon, has had its’ hard working volunteers to fill in the wide gaps over the years.  However, there’s only so much volunteering can accomplish in the operation of any national forest.  We need more paid staff out on the trails around busy places like Chantry.  Some tasks, such as routinely cleaning restrooms and outhouses, should be paid.  Period.  Having a law enforcement presence in high-use areas on the forest is also necessary and requires funding.  There needs to be a Forest Service presence on the trails to help educate and model responsible outdoor practices for forest visitors and,ultimately, for the protection of the land.

If the wear and tear on our canyon and the rest of the Angeles’ front country is getting to you, pick up the phone, send a letter or e-mail your Forest Service.  Go to the Angeles National Forest website for contact information.  If you’re not satisfied with your progress within the Angeles N.F. bureaucracy, contact your local congress person and let them know your concerns.  In the end, Forest Service budgets are decided upon in Washington, DC.  On a much more local level, the Chantry Flats Recreation area is administered by the Los Angeles River Ranger District of the Angeles.  The phone number for the LARRD is:  (818) 899-1900.  While volunteering on our national forests will always be necessary, getting rangers hired and back out on the trails is imperative if we’re going to keep up with the influx of visitors to our mountains.  It’s all about priorities.

Chantry Flats to Mt Wilson X-Country via the Winter Creek

Posted on August 15, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Chantry Flats to Mt. Wilson via the Winter Creek. Looking off a steep piece of granite from a ledge along the way.

Here’s another way to do Chantry Flats to Mt Wilson.    X-country via the Winter Creek Canyon is a seldom trod route.  You see, I’ve got this habit which will seem quite normal to some and quite unconventional to most.  I like to follow stream beds, canyon bottoms, in an upwards sort of way.  Never down canyon, oh no, just up – which seems to be a less clumsy way for me to do these things.  This way of hiking without the aid of trails or footpaths is often described as traveling x-country through the mountains.   It’s very leveling and calming for my mind.  Carefully stepping and watching for every detail makes me slow way down and find myself present to the world around me.  Some of my favorite x-country haunts are places like Bear Creek and Devils Canyon in the San Gabriel Wilderness.  The following describes a jaunt that I took four years ago from our little cabin at Fern Lodge to Mt. Wilson and back.  I have just gone through and updated this blog today on 10/17/2016.  A significant chunk of the day was spent traveling x-country up the Winter Creek to its’ farthest reaches.  These are my notes.

I said goodbye to my wife and left our little cabin at 10:20 a.m. on a warm summer morning this last Sunday.  Motes of light filled with the talc-like dust from hikers boots filled the air along the Gabrielino Trail to Roberts’ Camp.  From there my route followed the Lower Winter Creek Trail up past Hoegees Trail Camp.  Eventually, I got onto the trail that leads on to Manzanita Ridge and Sierra Madre.  Just near cabins 137-139 was where I cut down to the stream and then climbed up and over the last check dam in the Winter Creek.  I followed a precarious game trail along a loose, crumbly and nearly vertical slope to get around this man-made obstacle.

Looking up the Winter Creek stream bed about half-way between Hoegees and Mt. Wilson’s summit. This x-country route is basically non-technical, yet challenging on some of the steeper, narrower pitches.

Walking on older fallen logs (Big Cone Spruce) is a good way to make your way up the Winter Creek stream bed. Notice the moisture found here even in the month of August.

Once above the dam, my x-country experience began.  The steam bed was choked in places with log jams made up of Big Cone Spruce from way up high.  Found remnants of someone’s abandoned campsite not far above the last cabins.  Lots of stinging nettles grew lazily amongst the speckled gray boulders.  Scarlet and yellow monkey flowers began to make their appearance in damp sands.  At one point I stopped to take off my boots and soak my bare feet in a sparkling pool as electric blue dragon flies flew low along the water.  Further up a short distance I startled a rust colored hawk with a snake dangling from its’ talons.  The hawk then dropped the dangling narrow serpent about 8′ down into a bush where it wiggled off to safety.  Happy snake – bummed out bird.  Occasionally I climbed low cascades that had both wet and recently dried algal coatings on them.  Careful attention was needed for finding the right purchase for my feet and hand holds that would stay put.  At one point I reach for a hand hold while all my weight rests on my left foot.  Pretty soon I get that sewing machine action going in my calf muscle and the sweat pores down my forehead, stinging my eyes.  I got a bit dizzy.  Yes, Chris, you’ve got yourself into this predicament before.  Gently and nimbly I back out of my route alongside a dry waterfall as canyon wrens sing in their descending tones, laughing at this foolish human and his shock of white hair.  I climbed with an internal frame pack and was set up for overnight.  I was once, again reminded how much upper body strength it takes to climb up and over some of the rock pitches!  For the most part, the stream bed stayed narrow as its’ volume diminished with elevation gain.  There were seeps along the way that created damp, dark areas of soils and rock, often framed in ferns or grasses.  Gradually the stream gave out, the rocks and boulders became house size and the steepness increased.  Still, the angled sun-baked spruce logs lay lodged in the dry sand, sometimes creating a board walk of sorts.  The sun shifted gradually, putting me in welcome shade for a lot of my climbing.  The rocks, however, had retained the day’s heat and my mind was occasionally filled with the thoughts of basking serpents of all temperaments…

A smallish dry waterfall along the route to Mt. Wilson in the bottom of the deep and steep Winter Creek. I was able to climb up and over this choke point without too much challenge, with the exception of a lot of upper body workout!

I passed a mountain lion track in a pocket of damp sand.  Broke through occasional thickets of alder and willow, while lizards flitted about on the speckled boulders and polished cliff surfaces.  I finally passed my last forlorn pocket of seedy dampness.  The standing water too shallow for my backpacking filter intake to take advantage of.  Yellow jackets covered every bit of muddy dampness they could.  The wing beat of seemingly hundreds of flying insects filled the hot, still air.  There were no flat spots to pitch my little one man tent and I was now working on my last liter of water.  Onward I climbed on pitches of loose soils and crumbling bedrock.  The view back down the canyon was startling.  My route was as steep as a ladder, yet without good rungs.  An antique cable of braided wire that I had been following for some time became my line to hold onto for some of the steepest, loosest slopes.  Broken glass, ceramic insulator fragments and sections of rusted steel frame work, even water pipes, made their appearance as I approached the summit.  Man’s trash always goes way downhill.

A view back down the Upper Winter Creek from a peaceful, grassy ledge. Photo taken in the shade of Mt. Harvard while heading toward Mt. Wilson.

Finally, I reached the top of the mountain at an old building that used to house some kind of electrical switching gear.  There were hundreds of pieces of welding rod laying about the place.  Soon I wandered into a sadly neglected house with its’ door swung wide open, just as it had appeared earlier on in the summer when I was last up on the mountain poking around.  Wandering into the fly infested kitchen I said out loud, “Honey, I’m home!”  Just silence, punctuated by the swarming of flies and golden streams of light angled down into the rooms.  A sadness began to flow through me as I fell deeper into a tired funk.  I’ve gotta get out of here and get some much needed water.  Wandering over to the Larry Cotter memorial drinking fountain, I plop down on the adjacent picnic table.  It’s hard to get enough water into this tired, middle-aged body of mine.  I even drink down an apple juice in record time and then onto more water.  About six liters have been absorbed, most of it leaving my body in the form of profuse sweat and breath.  I’ve barely peed all day, and when I do, it’s dark yellow and not a whole lot, either.  The day is still so hot and muggy, even at 5,700′ up.  Since I’m now safely out of the grasp of the Winter Creek, why even camp out now?  I ponder sleeping out on top of my down sleeping bag, eating a P&J sandwich (my third) and swatting mosquitos and no-see-ums all night long on some dry ridge top.  The hell with that!  I’m heading back to the bliss of Joanie and the cabin – Yeah!

A cheerful cluster of California fuscia in the stream bed of the Winter Creek’s main fork. We are now very close to Mt. Wilson’s summit.

Looking across the upper Winter Creek from the Mt. Wilson Toll Road on my return back to our family cabin in the Big Santa Anita Canyon. That steep, wooded draw that you can see in Mt. Wilson’s cliff face is the route I took at the very end of the x-country adventure. Looking here at Mt. Wilson’s broad ridge top summit on the horizon, the historic astronomer’s “monastery” is near the tip to the right of the draw. Mt. Wilson’s 60″ and 100″ reflector telescopes are off to the left of the draw.

Eventually I drop down and down off the mountain to the David F. Drinkle memorial bench on Manzanita Ridge.  Our friend Bohdan built that bench years ago and did a beautiful  job on it.  It is solid and lasting.   I’m going to sit down on it as red ants swarm in their feverish way across the sun-baked sterile earth around me.  I make up some instant coffee with cold water in a tin cup, eat another tangerine, part of a P&J, cheese,nuts and soon I’m down the trail to the cabin in the gathering dusk.  In a bit of a happier, lighter way, I make up lyrics and sing songs that start me laughing.  I come up with the craziest lyrics and feel a bit drunk from the summer sun beating down on me earlier.  My voice spooks up a bear that crashes off the side of the mountain through thickets of God knows what.  At 9:20 p.m. I return home to Joanie in candle light.  She looks really clean!  Or I look…   I have a delicious tossed salad and wash it down with a high ball on the rocks.  My day begins to blur and I’m serenaded to sleep within minutes to the chorus of crickets.  A great day in the upper Winter Creek!

Chantry Flats Trails Lead to Sacred Places – Be Gentle On The Land…

Posted on August 10, 2012 – Written by Chris Kasten

Chances are that if you’re braving the parking up at Chantry or anywhere along the road, you’re hoping the trail that you pick will lead you to unblemished natural beauty.   Perhaps you’re even looking for some much needed solitude from the busyness that engulfs most of our lives.  The choice of natural environments that can be found on the Upper Winter Creek, Gabrielino, First Water, Upper Falls or Mt. Zion trails are close at hand.   One minute you can be in oak woodland, then out in the chaparral and only moments later be resting along a white alder tree in the riparian environment along the stream.  It seems that ever since the Station Fire of 2009, hundreds of hikers and mountain bikers who formerly spent their outdoor time in places like the Arroyo Seco, Big Tujunga, Mt. Gleason, the West Fork of the San Gabriel River or Charlton Flats to name a few – have now discovered the enchanting beauty of the Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Another source of the population increase in and around Chantry Flats is the internet.  Scores of people have discovered the YouTube video postings of people cliff jumping at Hermit Falls and on social media sites such as FaceBook and Twitter.  This, of course, does not even include some of the rating sites such as Yelp!

Mariposa Lillies.

Plainly put, the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creek canyons are beginning to show the scars of all the different types of visitors.  Just visit Hermit Falls and you’ll see a beautiful set of  plunge pools set in polished granite.  Mixed in with this scene are piles of garbage strewn down hillsides.  Graffiti is <marring the once pristine granite surfaces of boulders and cliff faces.  Trees are carved into as well.

Just last week I was down at Hermit Falls and it seemed to me that the human impact had actually gotten worse than the previous month of July.  The garbage that’s left behind consists primarily of plastic water bottles (the new litter of our time), cigarette packs, empty cans of cheap, mass-produced beer, various items of clothing covered with shit, toilet paper, human shit… and I’m saving the best for last.  Disposable baby diapers with a gift wrapped inside….  It is beyond appalling what people will leave behind.

If you happen to be on your way to Sturtevant Falls, don’t be surprised by the recent rash of colorful dog poop bags left along side the trail.  Of course, the owners of the dogs were halfway there in doing the right thing…  Yet, they didn’t want to carry their dog’s poop to the next trash can – so they left behind the little gift for someone else to deal with.  What are they thinking?  Yes, I get it, there’s the “poop police” waiting just around the corner to deal with the transport issue.  Yeah, that’s it!  On hot days when the sun is hitting these bags, their contents begin to cook and the resultant fumes inflate these bags the way a hot air balloon would fill up.  Lovely.

Indian paintbrush.

Last but not least, let’s not forget the garbage that some campers have left behind at Hoegees and Spruce Grove.  If the transgressor is really shy, he or she will just wait til no one is watching and throw their garbage into one of the pit toilets.   Last week I found four 13 gallon size bags of garbage stacked alongside one of the outhouses at Hoegees Campground.  Again, the attitude seems to be that someone else will deal with my mess.  I find this so sad that these types of habits are continuing to spoil our sacred spaces.

So, to put all this into perspective, it’s essential to believe -and- know that the vast majority of people who love our mountains are not part of this irresponsible and disconnected percentage doing the damage.  People are out in the canyon much of the time picking up someone else’s trash or doing their best to eradicate graffiti.  There is so much more care than there is harm.  The glass really is half full !   The earth’s soul is our soul.  When we’re gentle on the land, we’re nurturing our own soul.  Really.

Today, may I remind myself, that there’s the possibility our urban culture will continue to become more caring of the land.  That the health of the land is an indicator of the health within ourselves, or lack of it…    That I continue to grow and model myself as a steward of these sacred places.  That I gently encourage others to love this land.  That you and I heal as these canyons return to health.  Amen.