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.

Big Santa Anita Canyon Crank Telephone System

Posted on August 16, 2013 – Written by Chris Kasten

The Big Santa Anita Canyon crank telephone system is coming back to life!  While hiking or biking the Chantry Flats hiking trails, you’ll see the old wooden call boxes in various places such as Fern Lodge Junction, located near Sturtevant Falls.  There’s a working crank telephone in each of the nine boxes.  Earlier this year, I was invited by the Permittees Association to provide a survey of the existing phone system that had been in disrepair for several years. Following the survey, I estimated what it would cost to bring it back to full operation.

The line puller securely pulls the two ends of the phone line together before splicing.

The decision was made for me to give it a try. So, back in April, the rebuilding began by driving a single 8 foot long ground rod at call box #1 down at First Water, below Roberts’ Camp. Since then, each week I spend a day re-connecting broken stretches of phone line, reattaching insulators to tree trunks, re-establishing grounding and basically getting the line back up off the earth and plants. Everything goes back to nature, especially six miles of wire under a forest canopy.

A description of the phone system, its’ origin and how it works can be found on a previous blog of mine, “What’s That Copper Wire? Chantry Flats’ Crank Telephone System” – dated Sept.14, 2012, page 2 on this website. Much of the work that’s been accomplished so far has been getting the phones working between the Pack Station at Chantry Flats down through First Water and then up canyon to Sturtevant’s Camp. Also, repairing the line up through the Winter Creek to its’ terminus just upstream from Hoegees’ Campground. A number of private cabins and public call boxes are now connected to the phone system as well.

Re splicing the phone line using a line puller.

These accompanying photos show in detail how the phone line is connected using sleeves and a crimper, as well as how to hold two pieces of wire together using a line puller. You’ll notice that there’s only one wire here. The return wire is the old earth herself. So, each phone location must be grounded for the circuit to be complete.

Crimping a splicing sleeve.

The way to get up to the wire is to either make a cut where you can reach it from the ground, removing its’ tension and letting it lower down through the split ceramic insulators, or to climb up a tree or pole using an extension ladder. I often carry an extension ladder when out working on the line. On one level it’s a bit cumbersome, yet it’s easier on the tree than using climbing spikes. Also, I make a point to remove wire that’s been wrapped around tree trunks for attaching insulators, thus liberating them from this stranglehold. Small eyebolts are used instead of wire, allowing the tree to grow as she will.

Next time you’re out and about in either the Winter Creek or the Big Santa Anita Canyon, see if you can find the blue-green copper wire running from tree to tree. If you should encounter an emergency, i.e. medical, fire or someone’s lost, use one of the nine call boxes located along the trails. The directions on how to use these crank telephones can be found on the inside of each call box. You never know who you might just be helping.

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   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.   This rural phone system is truly a last remnant of an earlier time in Southern California’s San Gabriel mountains.