Impressive Regrowth Throughout Shortcut Canyon

Shortly after Angeles Crest Highway re-opened about 18 months after the Station Fire of 2009, I went on my first hike of the Silver Moccasin Trail through Shortcut Canyon. At the time, some regrowth was already visible largely due to the presence of water through the canyon. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I hiked this trail for the fifth time and found the changes so impressive that I continually felt hopeful that the burn areas would significantly recover much sooner than I had previously thought possible.

Shortcut Canyon near the San Gabriel River, November 22, 2015.

Shortcut Canyon near the San Gabriel River, November 22, 2015.

I was so surprised by the degree of change that I began looking through photos I’d taken on past hikes. For example, in some spots where there was no vegetation above ankle height, there are now trees that are at least eight feet tall. Fortunately, I’d unintentionally taken some photos from similar spots which allowed me to make comparisons tangible. There are three areas that I think are good enough to be worth sharing 1.

View down Shortcut Canyon on June 29, 2011

View down Shortcut Canyon on June 29, 2011

First, is a vista looking down Shortcut Canyon toward Mt. Wilson. In June of 2011, the mostly dry stream bed was visible with patches of regrowth intermixed throughout the wetter parts of the rocky bed.

View down Shortcut Canyon on April 29, 2012. Note the slight pan to the left to capture Oak tree regrowth.

View down Shortcut Canyon on April 29, 2012. Note the slight pan to the left to capture Oak tree regrowth.

In April of 2012, passing by the same area I was interested in the Oak trees beginning to show signs of regrowth taking place. While nice to see, this didn’t feel to me to be a major change yet.

View down Shortcut Canyon from November 22, 2015.

View down Shortcut Canyon from November 22, 2015.

Now, there are fairly tall trees displaying some nice fall color and blocking any view of the stream bed. I look forward to returning after this coming year’s El Nino season to see what it feels like to walk through here with water flowing through at a level comparable to or hopefully higher than I experienced in 2011.

No trees by the stream on August 10, 2011.

No trees by the stream on August 10, 2011.

The second set is from an area next to a rock wall along the stream. In 2011, there’s no evidence of trees next to the water with vegetation being ankle high at best.

A wall of trees now dividing the canyon on November 22, 2015.

A wall of trees now dividing the canyon on November 22, 2015.

Now, trees are typically over eight feet tall and block the view across the stream bed. In many places, with essentially a wall of trees dividing Shortcut Canyon, the canyon feels much narrower with newly constrained views.

Compared to 2011 when the stream was essentially vegetation free, this photo from March 30, 2014 shows significant change.

Compared to 2011 when the stream was essentially vegetation free, this photo from March 30, 2014, shows significant change.

It isn’t just the change from 2011 to now that I find so impressive. I hiked through here at the end of March in 2014. I almost wrote a similar post back then, but just didn’t have the time. The change is more dramatic now as illustrated by the photo above and below. While they are from somewhat different angles, there are a couple of trees (indicated by orange arrows on the photos) that provide a helpful yardstick to the growth between then and now. In 2011, one could easily look over the tops of the trees, now one cannot.

By November of 2015, the regrowth now forms a wall of trees in several areas visually dividing the canyon.

By November of 2015, the regrowth now forms a wall of trees in several areas visually dividing the canyon.

 

There are numerous other changes. Particularly noteworthy is the almost complete elimination of poodle dog bush. Pretty much everywhere one travels once making it down to the stream is dramatically denser with vegetation. I wouldn’t characterize it as overgrown (a group of four mountain bikers made it through when I was there), it could easily become overgrown soon without maintenance. The Station Fire’s impact is still keenly felt. There are currently a few fallen trees to negotiate around, over, or under to make it through. If you haven’t been in a while, it’s worth another trip to experience the changes. If you’ve never been, be sure to bring extra water for the trek back up to Angeles Crest Highway 2

Significantly more vegetation most everywhere along the stream in November 2015.

Significantly more vegetation most everywhere along the stream in November 2015.

Notes:

 


  1. For more photos showing similar transformations, see my photo page for this segment of trail. I’ve now organized the photos into separate galleries by year. 
  2. For step by step instructions for this hike, see my Silver Moccasin Trail from Angeles Crest Highway to West Fork Trail Camp page. For a map of the hike, scroll down to hike #46 on my 2015 hikes page. 

A Pleasurable Trek To Winston Peak Ends Another Hiatus

My absence from hiking mercifully came to an end last Sunday (11-1). I’ve been away for a variety of reasons. However, being tethered to the city was mostly a result of the process of selling our house and moving into a fixer which my wife and I are finally somewhat settled into. My long hiatus was in many ways an emotional roller coaster that thankfully ended in a place my wife and I want to be in. For my first trip back into the forest, I wanted to go alone, proceed at my own pace, stop to look at whatever caught my eye for however long I wanted to, and just enjoy being in nature without any other agenda. I also wanted the hike to be one I’d find easy to do and to have a midpoint at a great spot where I could comfortably have a long lunch break, enjoy great views, and relax alone in the woods.

One of many pauses to take a moment and enjoy viewing elements in the landscape. I like looking at the interplay between light and shade when looking at a tree's canopy from below.

One of many pauses to take a moment and enjoy viewing elements in the landscape. I like looking at the interplay between light and shade when looking at a tree’s canopy from below.

It would be easy to select a hike with those requirements on a weekday. However, for a Sunday hike I needed to really think through where to go to get the experience I wanted. Between Three Points and Cloudburst Summit (around mile marker 54.10 on Angeles Crest Highway), there’s a large parking area with picnic tables and toilets. Passing by often and rarely seeing any cars parked there, I decided to make that my starting point.

View toward parking area near mile marker 54.10 on Angeles Crest Highway from the Pacific Crest Trail. Mt. Waterman is in the background.

View toward parking area near mile marker 54.10 on Angeles Crest Highway from the Pacific Crest Trail. Mt. Waterman is in the background.

Near the parking lot (in the direction toward Three Points) is a little-used access point to the Pacific Crest Trail. There’s actually one of those thin brown signs marking the trail that is easily missed when driving by. I never noticed it until I hiked from Three Points to Winston Peak last year. 1 After a very short initial portion of mild gain, the trail has a gentle slope. A portion of it is a still driveable dirt road leading to Camp Glenwood. From Camp Glenwood, the trail contracts and widens in width due to it being a former road that is no longer maintained. 2

The current state of the former road (that is now part of the PCT) between mile marker 54.10 and the next crossing of Angeles Crest Highway typically feels more like a nice trail than a road.

The current state of the former road (that is now part of the PCT) between mile marker 54.10 and the next crossing of Angeles Crest Highway typically feels more like a nice trail than a road.

Normally, I wouldn’t be enticed to go on a hike that requires much walking on a dirt road. However, in this case, there are great long views down Cloudburst Canyon and toward Mt. Pacifico, Winston Ridge, Winston Peak, and Pleasant View Ridge that are mostly blocked from view when driving along Angeles Crest Highway. In most places, the terrain feels more like a trail than a road, the pines and cedars provide a lot of shade, and there are a few spots with some nice rock outcrops.

First view toward Winston Peak heading toward Cloudburst Summit from mile marker 54.10.

First view toward Winston Peak heading toward Cloudburst Summit from mile marker 54.10.

Most of the way to Cloudburst Summit is gentle enough in slope that my out of shape cardio wasn’t anything I was conscious of. I enjoyed the easy stroll stopping numerous times to glance up at a tree, take in a view, or to sit on a rock and have a snack. After crossing Angeles Crest Highway to continue on the PCT, the views of Mt. Waterman and across toward Strawberry Peak become dominant.

View toward Mt. Waterman from the PCT near Cloudburst Summit.

View toward Mt. Waterman from the PCT near Cloudburst Summit.

I felt energized when I reached Cloudburst Summit and the trek up to Winston Peak went easier than I expected. When I reached the peak, it felt like I was there too soon. I wasn’t ready to be halfway done and have lunch. Fortunately, this peak is one of my favorites 3. It is heavily wooded with an abundance of rock outcrops connected to reasonably flat spots that could make great campsites. Since my first summit, I’ve wanted to explore these areas below and around the peak. It was wonderful to finally have the time to do so. I probably spent about an hour and a half exploring some of these areas and having lunch.

One of my favorite views from one of the hilly areas off trail near Winston Peak.

One of my favorite views from one of the hilly areas with boulders and potential campsites off the trail near Winston Peak.

The trek back went quickly. The views coming down from the peak directly toward Mt. Waterman or further out toward Mt. Baldy are among my favorites. I like the spacing of the trees, the long views, and the almost continuous presence of boulders as the trail alternates between being somewhat steep and merely hilly. The hilly parts of the terrain hint at places to explore in the future and yield a sculptural quality especially when combined with the many boulder formations. I wasn’t very tired when I reached my car. What a relief to know I’m not as out of shape as I feared. I also got my wish and didn’t see anyone. I look forward to taking it up a notch this Sunday.

My lunch spot where I enjoyed the view toward Mt. Baldy

My lunch spot where I enjoyed the view toward Mt. Baldy

Notes:


  1. I haven’t had a chance to make my step by step instructions for this hike. However, if you look at these instructions from last year’s longer hike starting from Three Points, you’ll find all the information you need to do this. Just skip the first segment. 
  2. This part of the Pacific Crest Trail would make an excellent choice for snowshoeing. The trail is wide enough throughout that it should present less of those narrow icy portions of many of the other options in Angeles National Forest. 
  3. I think Winston Peak would be more popular if more people knew longer routes to get there like the one I took instead of the short 1.2-mile round trip path from Cloudburst Summit or the loop with Winston Ridge that makes it a stop along the way instead of a worthy destination. 

Finding Shade And Magnificent Views On Copter Ridge

Earlier this month, I drove up Angeles Crest Highway planning to go on a hike I will probably end up doing later this week.  It was one of those days when I felt like hiking somewhere different than I planned the night before but I didn’t have any concrete ideas of what I wanted to do. After passing Clear Creek Junction, I noticed the open/closed information sign indicated that Angeles Crest Highway was now open to Wrightwood. This was the inspiration I was looking for. I love hiking from Dawson Saddle and I was definitely in the mood to take in the scenery between Dawson Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell.

View of the north face of Throop Peak from the Dawson Saddle Trail.

View of the north face of Throop Peak from the Dawson Saddle Trail.

That began my “change in plans” theme of the day. By the time I parked my car at Dawson Saddle I had seen enough snow on the north face of Throop Peak that I started thinking about what I would do if there was icy snow further up on the trail. In the past, I’ve found the short stretch of trail that crosses Throop Peak to be tough going and potentially dangerous depending on snow conditions. While the trail itself is gentle, the north face of Throop Peak is very steep. A slip could easily result in a long fall. I’ve turned back before, I’ve seen several groups of people turn back before, and I’ve crossed uncomfortably in microspikes only to return by going over Throop Peak instead. I left the parking lot already thinking there was about a fifty percent chance I would end up altering plans and hiking up the ridge to Throop Peak instead of following the main trial.

Following the ridge up to Throop Peak with its western and southern exposures meant I could avoid trying to hike through the icy snow along the north face.

Following the ridge up to Throop Peak with its western and southern exposures meant I could avoid trying to hike through the icy snow along Throop Peak’s north face.

Sure enough, I found the snow to be dangerously icy (especially without microspikes). Fortunately, doubling back to the junction that leads up the ridge was only about a hundred yards. The ridge was snow free to traverse and filled with nice views of snowy mountain faces. On the summit, having a snack and enjoying the view, I decided to head toward South Mt. Hawkins instead of Mt. Baden-Powell. I had only hiked to Middle and South Mt. Hawkins once before and I knew the north facing portions of the way up to Mt. Baden-Powell could also be icy since this was the case for Throop Peak. I decided I would also take the short spur trail up to Mt. Hawkins along the way.

View toward Copter Ridge from the Pacific Crest Trail.

View toward Copter Ridge from the Pacific Crest Trail.

While hiking along the Pacific Crest Trail, I became pre-occupied with a ridge running down east from Mt. Hawkins. It looked like something I’d really enjoy walking on and the potential for interesting views was calling me to traverse it. From several vantage points high above the ridge, I could see that it split off into two directions both leading to a flat area that could make a nice stopping point. I also saw that the top of the ridge looked pretty wide and something reasonable for me to attempt to hike. Although not named on the Harrison Map I use, it is named Copter Ridge on the 2013 US Forest Map.1 Upon reaching Mt. Hawkins, I decided to head down Copter Ridge prepared to turn back if it was more difficult than it appeared.

View looking down Copter Ridge near Mt. Hawkins.

View looking down Copter Ridge near Mt. Hawkins.

The way down this eastern running ridge begins with a mix of fallen trees that were clearly burned in a past fire (perhaps the Curve Fire of 2002) as the terrain following the ridge down from Mt. Hawkins initially resembles the burn areas of its western face. Fortunately, the way over and around these fallen trees isn’t too difficult and doesn’t last that long. Periodically the presence of a faint trail emerges and then disappears only to re-emerge further down the ridge.

One of several flat areas of Copter Ridge.

One of several flat areas of Copter Ridge.

After making it through the old burn area, the way becomes shaded and initially less steep. The ridge becomes densely wooded yielding a plethora of spots to stop in the shade and openings through the trees provide diverse magnificent views from each small bump or subtle change in direction.  At times, the ridge becomes relatively flat and wide before becoming steep.

View down one of the steepest parts of Copter Ridge before reaching the last significant bump.

View down one of the steepest parts of Copter Ridge before reaching the last significant bump.

At the bottom of the steep part , the ridge flattens again and then gently gains and loses altitude until it reaches a relative high point that forms the last significant bump on the ridge before it heads down toward the San Gabriel River. Along this stretch, the remnants of a past trail are in better shape. The trail appears to continue past the last bump, but I didn’t have time to continue on. The bump is a good stopping place and I enjoyed staying there while I ate my lunch. The views from this spot were refreshingly new for me.

View toward Mt. Baldy and the last significant bump on Copter Ridge.

View toward Mt. Baldy and the last significant bump on Copter Ridge.

On my way back up the ridge, I made a slight adjustment to my path so I could see the point where Copter Ridge splits into two. It turned out that I had taken the southern path because I followed what looked like a trail around the bump that formed the fork where I could have made it a choice. This other ridge also looks enjoyable and reasonable to traverse. I now intend to someday both hike past the last bump on Copter Ridge and to traverse this other ridge that leads to what looks like a very interesting spot just below Ross Mountain. The views back up the ridge provided me with many perspectives of peaks I’ve been on and peaks (like Ross Mountain) that I want to get to at some point in the future. This turned out to be a great ridge to hike and I look forward to hiking it again sometime soon.

View looking up toward Mt. Hawkins (L) and Throop Peak (R) from Copter Ridge just below the last significant bump.

View looking up toward Mt. Hawkins (L) and Throop Peak (R) from Copter Ridge just below the last significant bump.

Notes:


  1. I now use the Backcountry Navigator Application to track my hikes.The included 2013 US Forest Map is excellent and only one of several options.You can view the track for this hike on my 2015 Hikes Page. Just scroll down to hike #028. 

New Additions in March 2015

Below is a list of new and updated pages for this blog during March of 2015.

My favorite Angeles National Forest hike this month (#21) was the Manzanita Trail between South Fork and Vincent Gap.

My favorite Angeles National Forest hike this month (#21) was the Manzanita Trail between South Fork and Vincent Gap.

Clicking on links below will open the page in a new tab so that it will be easier to follow links on those pages and still get back to this one.

Hiking Journal

New Peaks (also updated on My Peak Bagging Resume Page):

Updated Peaks (also updated on My Peak Bagging Resume Page):

Updated trail photo galleries:

The Newly Manicured Forest Below San Gabriel Peak

I first hiked the San Gabriel Peak Trail in December of 2011. At the trailhead was the standard yellow sign indicating that the trail went through a burn area. Given the condition of other burn areas in the forest I had hiked in prior to that day, I was pleasantly surprised by how green and shady the trail was before reaching the road leading to Mt. Disappointment. Between the last time I hiked this trail in February of 2013 and my hike last week, a lot has changed.

One of my first glimpses of significant tree cutting, pruning, and trimming of the forest below San Gabriel Peak.

One of my first glimpses of significant tree cutting, pruning and trimming of the forest below San Gabriel Peak.

I came to this portion of the trail once again at the end of my hike that brought me to San Gabriel Peak by way of Mt. Wilson 1. When I reached the saddle between San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment I was surprised to see that all the burned trees along the road were removed. Surprise turned to astonishment as I hiked down the lower San Gabriel Peak Trail and found a remarkable amount of tree cutting, pruning and trimming of the forest whose remains formed a groundcover of dead vegetation as far as I could see.

The remains of the "landscaping" yielded a ground cover of dead vegetation as far as I could see as I moved down the trail.

The remains of the “landscaping” yielded a ground cover of dead vegetation as far as I could see as I moved down the trail.

Each new turn in the trail provided another vista of this manicuring of the forest. I didn’t see anything dead that was left standing. As I looked closer, I noticed that no trees left standing had branches remaining below approximately ten feet in height. So, I believe a fair amount was trimmed that wasn’t dead. I was stunned by the scale of effort required to achieve this new reality in a forest so woefully underfunded that trail maintenance relies heavily on volunteer efforts. The resulting landscape feels out of place on many levels. I’ve never been in a forest “landscaped” like this before. I don’t have any information regarding why it was done and guessing does a disservice to the significant effort involved. As a result, I have no opinion regarding whether or not the forest should have been thinned out in this way.

With all branches cut below about ten feet in height, the trees feel manicured to a point more in line with being in a park or garden than a forest.

With all branches cut below about ten feet in height, the trees feel manicured to a point more in line with being in a park or garden than a forest.

I share this simply because this trail is now a unique one (at least within Angeles National Forest) to walk through. It offers a trek between extremes of natural and man-made. The trimming and pruning make it feel more like a neighborhood park or garden than a forest, but the overall context and views feel like a forest. Views aren’t blocked by dense vegetation nor are they as open as the burn areas that were scorched to a point where virtually no leaves remain on any trees. There is a unique mixture of shade and view. The burned and/or dead vegetation forms a ground cover that is oddly uniform. The approximately ten-foot separation between the lowest branches and the forest floor feels somewhat architectural as if this space was built for humans, yet the spacing of the trees doesn’t feel that way. In short, this landscape is presently a mixture of odd juxtapositions with interesting characteristics.

A rare combination of shade and view created by the cutting of the lower limbs of all the trees still standing and the cutting down of the dead ones.

A rare combination of shade and view created by the cutting of the lower limbs of all the trees still standing and the cutting down of the dead ones.

This experience highlighted for me the idea that those of us who are sharing our experiences in nature are also documenting the changes and developments that occur. With the current devastating California drought and the likelihood that climate change may forever change these places, I’ve decided to be more diligent in documenting the changes I’m noticing. I’ve added numerous additional photos to the existing photo gallery I have for this trail and I’ve added dates to the photos so anyone looking at them can track the changes. Over time, I’ll update all the photo galleries to this format and I’ll be more focused on adding new photos to existing galleries than I’ve been in the past.

NOTES:


  1. I followed the Gabrieleno Trail from Red Box to the Kenyon-Devore Trail which I took to Mt. Wilson. From Mt. Wilson, I followed the Kenyon-Devore Trail back to it’s lower crossing of Mt. Wilson Road and followed the road to Eaton Saddle. From Eaton Saddle, I followed Mt. Lowe Road through Mueller Tunnel and took the South San Gabriel Peak Trail to San Gabriel Peak. From San Gabriel Peak, I took the San Gabriel Peak Trail down to Mt. Wilson Road and followed that the short distance back to Red Box. A more direct and much shorter route would be to hike the San Gabriel Peak Trail to San Gabriel Peak or a shuttle hike from the San Gabriel Peak Trailhead to Eaton Saddle