Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Gabrielino Trail... and Return

Here are some photos from my 43-mile, 21-day circumnavigation of Mount Wilson: the long way around.
This was my "shakedown cruise," final preparation for my trip up the Pacific Crest Trail: Mexico to Canada.
Leaving Chantry Flat

Here I am at Chantry Flat with an insanely overweight pack, ready to hit the trail. The Gabrielino Trail begins with a mile-long plunge deep into Big Santa Anita Canyon, where it follows the creek past dozens of cabins accessible only by foot or by pack animal.
And here is the general store allied with southern California's only remaining pack station. The pack station hauls supplies into the residents of the 30-some cabins in Big Santa Anita Canyon and to Sturtevant Camp.

The first public campground is Spruce Grove, neat and well-maintained. There was a bit of hiker traffic on this first day of the new year, most of them taking a loop route or headed for the summit of Mount Wilson.
I shared the campground that night with one couple. The overnight low was a temperate 30 degrees.
Just uptrail from Spruce Grove is Sturtevant Camp, the last hike-in resort still operating since the Great Hiking Era of 1895-1935. It is now owned by the Presbyterian Church, which maintains a website for the camp and accepts reservations. They have their own water system and are supplied by pack train.

After two nights at Spruce Grove I left with a mostly full pack, and was faced with the climb over Newcomb Pass. I arrived at my destination at 5:00 pm, and had to set up camp and cook dinner in the dark of the evening.
Some might call Devore a primitive camp, for although it has picnic tables and fire rings, there is no toilet, so you must come prepared to dig your own latrine. I was here two nights, and shared the camp one night with a couple who were planning to ascend Mount Wilson and to stay overnight at another camp. As I was leaving, I met J.C., a young man who had camped at Devore for over two weeks and had to be rescued because he was starving to death. He had come back to collect his stuff--that is, the little that the critters had not chewed into.
Most nights I had been sleeping with my food in the vestibule of the tent, but here at the relatively isolated Devore it seemed advisable to hang my food from a tree.
The next campground upriver was West Fork, in much better shape because it was accessible for maintenance via the Red Box-Rincon Fire Road. I had two days of hard, cold rain here, my first full test of my new Big Agnes Seedhouse one-man tent. It held up well and I stayed dry and warm.

West Fork is also the junction with the Silver Moccasin National Recreation Trail, which leads up to the mountaintop campgrounds at Chilao, and connects with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. I should pass the other end of Silver Moccasin when I hike through the Angeles on the Pacific Crest Trail.
And then there is Valley Forge, also accessible from the Fire Road, and very well appointed.
And what should I find here but - - SNOW!

This is what it looked like outside my tent door the next morning. Morning temperature was 30 degrees, and on the second morning it warmed up to 40 degrees.
By this time I was thoroughly enjoying myself, in spite of the heavy pack.
On the 9-mile hike to Switzer I took a side trip to check out Hi-Hill, a former trail resort. It had been operated since 1948 by the Long Beach School District, but is now mothballed and boarded up. The extra time for this side trip was not a good idea, as it put me after dark for my arrival at Switzer.
I also crossed "Red Box," the junction of the Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2) and the Mount Wilson Road. Although closed most weekdays, I did have a chance to look inside the cultural center at the junction and see some of the artifacts.
At Switzer my maps failed me. I thought the Trail Camp was just past the picnic area, but it was yet a mile further. I spent some time flailing around in the dark looking for it. There is no sign for the Trail Camp; it's just three USFS stoves on the site of the cabin of the old Switzer trail resort. The big draw for day hikers here is Switzer Falls (below) which I found less than spectacular.

And next comes Bear Canyon: awesome to behold, but a "bear" to hike.
Gabrielino Trail is closed at the Bear Canyon junction due to rock slides, so the only way to get back to my car is to go back the way I came in, or to forge on up through this canyon. I had done some day hiking in here without a pack to prepare for this, and now the time had come.
I had previously left a GPS waypoint marker at this sign to guide me in, and as the light of day was fading, I reached within 830 feet of it. BUT I ran out of trail, needed to find a way to cross the creek, needed to navigate around the nastiest tangle of 20-foot-long downed trees you can imagine, then cross the creek again in the dark to find the camp. It took me over an hour to travel that final 830 feet. The floods that followed the famed "Station Fire" had devastated the portions of the traill that followed the canyon-bottom.
The Bear Canyon Trail Camp is not that bad: all it lacks is a pit toilet. But having learned my lesson, I knew I wasn't going to get up out of this canyon with a heavy pack in a single day's hike, so I planned to stop an extra night at the Stone Shed, (shown below) only 3/4 of a mile ahead.

I was correct: it took me 6 hours to negotiate that 3/4 of a mile to my next GPS waypoint. But that placed me at the launch point where the trail leaves the canyon floor and would be much better hiking.

The following day's hike put me in more familiar territory: Mount Lowe Trail Camp, one of my favorite haunts. This is the site of the former Alpine Tavern, served by the Incline funicular and the Mount Lowe Railway operated by Pacific Electric Rail from the end of the 19th century through 1938. 
Shortly after I arrived I was joined by three young men who were circumnavigating Mount Wilson as I was, but they had come up to Mount Lowe directly from Valley Forge, bypassing Red Box, Switzer, and Bear Canyon.

It was fun to swap stories, compare equipment, and generally chew the fat with these 3 intrepid men. They left for Idle Hour the next day while I stuck with my plan to stay two nights at each campground, testing out the longevity of my food supply.
As a short day trip, I visited Inspiration Point, which has been rehabilitated to appear as it did
when the Alpine Tavern was still in business. Here I had Verizon signal and could check my email.

No campground on my route can match the atmosphere of the Idle Hour Trail Camp. What it lacks in amenities it makes up for with its dappled sunshine, grassy meadows, and babbling brook. Here you just feel like relaxing.

Henninger Flats campgrounds, run by the county fire department, is the Cadillac of camps, with piped water to each campsite, running water in the restrooms, flush toilets, and free firewood, already cut.
Add to that the weather, which had warmed considerably. The nights were too nice to huddle inside an enclosure: I left the rainfly off of the tent.
Here to my surprise I met Eric from Saint James Anglican, leading a large contingent of Boy Scouts. I joined them for dinner.

Hoegee's campground was almost as much a disappointment as Henninger was a joy. With another pair of hikers I agreed that Hoegee's was way too close to the parking lot for anything like a wilderness experience. Swarms of children chasing about the camp and hikers barging through our campsites were not what we had expected.
But I had used up an unplanned day at Stone Shed, so I was only going to stay here one night.

The only thing left to find out was if my car was still parked where I left it 21 days ago at Chantry Flat.

It was.

Good trip.