Chantry Flats Hiking Trails Updated Map

Posted on December 31, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

If you spend time on the trails above Arcadia and Sierra Madre, here’s the Chantry Flats hiking trails updated map that covers the area between Chantry Flats & Mt. Wilson.    It’s comes in either paper form with free shipping or as a downloadable pdf image through www.canyoncartography.com.  Completely hand-drawn.   This two-sided map is also available at the Adams Pack Station General Store  www.adamspackstation.com     When you’re up at the Chantry Flats trailhead, just head over to the Pack Station, located on the other side of the picnic area from the upper parking lot.

A grouping of baby blue eyes as seen in the cool, late afternoon light. Stream side trail between Roberts’ Camp and Fern Lodge Junction, Big Santa Anita Canyon.

The same map area is still depicted on the front page as the earlier versions.  Just flip the map over and continue on your trip to Mt. Wilson.  The entire Mt. Wilson Loop is found on this map, front and back.  Just go to the Hikes Page at www.canyoncartography.com/chantry-flats/hikes-page/ for detailed directions on taking six hikes out of Chantry Flats.  The Hikes Page goes together seamlessly with the map! Besides the coverage area now being nearly twice as large, index contour lines (200′ intervals) have been added to depict shape and steepness of slope.  Contours have been added at 50% opacity to prevent their competing visually with trail, stream and print detail. The Spring wildflowers are out in abundance.   Go to www.simpsoncity.com/hiking/plants/ for excellent photos with descriptions of flowering plants in the San Gabriel mountains.  You’ll see the lavender clusters of wild lilac on the Gabrielino Trail once you’re above Fern Lodge Junction.  Baby blue eyes are making their presence down alongside some of the stream banks and other moist, shaded areas.   Look for edible miners lettuce on the upslope side of the trails that are near the stream.  Dark blue and delicate larkspur can be seen on the outer edge of the steep road as you climb out of Roberts’ Camp, just before the first bench.  It’s also seen along the Upper Falls Trail in the area where you can look down at Sturtevant Falls.   With yet another year of little rain, it seems that most of the blossoming is going on about a month early this year.

updated map of Chantry Flats hiking trails, www.canyoncartography.com

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.

Recent Rains Bring Blessings to Canyon Streams of the Angeles National Forest

Posted on March 5, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Last weekend’s double storm system brought much needed moisture to the Big Santa Anita Canyon.  The San Gabriel mountains, along with most of Southern California, received a brief reprieve from the lengthy drought.  Multitudes of canyons received enough rain (little snow) to thoroughly scour out the stream beds.  The black organic mat which had affixed itself to all the rocky and sandy bottoms of streams and pools the last couple of years was washed away in just a few days.

White and tan sands have once again come into view.  Pools that had decreased in depth have deepened.  This is good news, not only from the standpoint of esthetics, but for wildlife.  Fish and other creatures will benefit from this natural cleansing.  Spawning will now become possible.  Water temperatures will decrease and available oxygen will increase.  This change is good for everyone.

Our rain gauge near Fern Lodge Junction, not far from Chantry Flats, received over 7.36″ of combined rain from the two storms.  The sounds of a tumbling mountain stream have returned and the myriad of organic scents are throughout the Big Santa Anita and Winter Creeks.  Especially noticeable is the staccato call of the Canyon Wren, with the descending notes reminiscent of laughter followed by a quick little question….   The dust is gone for now and everything gleams clean and green.  

The attached photo was taken last Sunday just above Sturtevant Falls on the Upper Falls Trail.  Notice that the water has been colored by the tannins of fallen leaves and abundant organics from the mountain soils.  A hopeful big leaf canyon maple puts out her fresh leaves and catkins.

Polypody Fern Beds Are Prevalent & Lush In The Front Country Canyons of Mount Wilson

Posted on February 7, 2014 – Written by Chris Kasten

Despite the lack of rain and snow as of early February, the shady north-facing  canyon slopes of the Mt. Wilson area still appear damp and green.  Regardless of the steepness of the mountainsides, if there’s enough shade and crevices in the rocks to set roots, then it’s likely you’ll happen upon some fern beds. These nearly vertical meadows of ferny green are native to the southern california coastal and inland mountains.   By summer when the rains are long over and the temperatures climb, California polypody  (Polypodium californicum) withers to dry, light brown stalks that would give little clue to their winter time fullness.

Polypody fern bed on damp slope in East Fork of Big Santa Anita Canyon. It just takes a little rain to bring these ferns back!
A wooden footbridge graces the tumbling waters of the Big Santa Anita Creek at Fern Lodge junction. This photo, taken during the Great Hiking Era, quite likely dates back to the teens or early 1920’s.

So, watch for this beautiful, native perennial on your next hike out of Chantry Flats or any of the front country trailheads.  Both of these photos were taken in the Fern Lodge area of Big Santa Anita Canyon, about 1 1/2 miles in from the Chantry Flats trailhead.  Fern Lodge was once a thriving mountain resort during the “Great Hiking Era.”  True to its’ name, ferns of several varieties still abound.  Today, there is still a beautiful little community of private cabins here, set among the wooded stream side ledges.  Many hikers know this area also as the place where the Upper Falls and Gabrielino trails meet at Fern Lodge Junction.