A River, A Bridge, And A Bighorn Sheep

My favorite hike in Angeles National Forest last month was along the San Gabriel River to the Bridge To Nowhere. In the past I hadn’t hiked this trail mostly because it wasn’t strenuous enough for the training I was doing to get ready for various trips I had planned (e.g. Mt. Whitney twice, The Grand Canyon rim to rim and back, and last year’s injury postponed  High Sierra Trail). This year I’m focused more on recovery and preventing myself from getting reinjured. Although I will go on a number of trips this year, they will be planned only a few weeks in advance and will be tied to where I’m at in my recovery. Unless I get under a certain weight, my trips will be limited to the car camping variety so I can keep pack weight down.

San Gabriel River in Lower San Gabriel Canyon

San Gabriel River in Lower San Gabriel Canyon

So, a hike along a river with not very much elevation gain sounded like a good choice for my first hike of the year covering over ten miles, and it was. San Gabriel Canyon’s combination of relatively flat terrain along the river, with a comparatively wider width, and the highest enclosing walls of any canyon in Angeles National Forest make it a unique landscape to walk through here. I still need to get between the Narrows and Vincent Gulch to view the highest walls (at the base between Mt. Baden-Powell and Mt. Baldy). The result is a kind of grand enclosed openness with dramatic long views.

One of the long views down river.

One of the long views down river.

The San Gabriel River flows with more volume here. Several canyons and gulches drain into it bringing water down from some of the highest peaks in the forest. River crossings here mean your feet are going to get wet.  Even with this extreme drought California is enduring, I found myself almost knee deep in water a few times and over ankle deep several times as I waded through the numerous crossings mandated by the flow of the river hitting alternating side walls of the canyon. Clearly, it’s a good idea to pay attention to any storms and consider the amount of precipitation released to know what level of water to expect.

One of the many steam crossings required due to the river flowing into one of the canyon walls.

One of the many steam crossings required due to the river flowing into one of the canyon walls.

As the river meanders or straightens out to follow it’s easiest path down toward East Fork, as the grade changes to alter the speed or it’s movement, and as the river channel itself widens and contracts; a variety of diverse places emerge. In some places the canyon is wide enough for the river to be less dominant. This makes a continually changing landscape which I found invigorating to traverse.

An oak tree on the continually changing path along the river.

An oak tree in the foreground on the continually changing path along the river.

The Bridge to Nowhere is located on private property that is technically not part of Angeles National Forest. There’s a sign informing visitors of a handful of reasonable rules for entry. In the past, when I’ve talked to people about this hike, their focus tended to be on the bridge and the bungee jumping opportunities that exist there. While this is a truly unique opportunity within the forest, I found reaching the bridge a little anti-climatic. Perhaps it’s because I have no interest in bungee jumping. I found the bridge to be mostly a good stopping point and a nice place to have lunch before turning back. While there, I contemplated how happy I was that the bridge doesn’t connect to any roadways. I found the river and canyon so unique for this forest that it would be a shame not to be able to walk through it as I had. Also, being there, I found that it really didn’t bother me that a commercial bungee jumping enterprise was set up. Although the location is interesting as it leads into the Narrows, it is actually fairly intimate and doesn’t (visually at least) impact much around it making it a pretty well contained activity.

The Bridge To Nowhere

The Bridge To Nowhere

On my way back I experienced one of my all time favorite interactions with wildlife in the forest. A bighorn sheep appeared on the trail directly in front of me. We both stopped and looked at each other long enough for me to get my camera out and take a picture.

Bighorn on the trail in front of me.

Bighorn on the trail in front of me.

Soon, the bighorn slowly walked toward me. I found this unexpected as I’m accustomed to animals moving away from me when they see me (or at least staying put).  After crossing about a third of the gap between us he headed up the rocky outcrop on my right.

Bighorn veering off trail and heading up the rocky outcrop.

Bighorn veering off trail and heading up the rocky outcrop.

I assumed he had disappeared out of view for good only to hear his steps getting closer. I looked up and saw him looking down on me from about mid height of the outcrop (why did I put my lens cap back on my camera?). Fortunately, he gave me enough time to turn my camera back on, take my lens cover off, and snap a somewhat shaky photo of him moving away from me to higher ground.

Bighorn just above me as he moved around me by going to higher ground.

Bighorn just above me as he moved around me by going to higher ground.

Learning from my mistake, I kept my camera out and was ready when he came down from the outcrop and began his journey up a ridge. The whole time, all I did was stay in the same spot and rotate myself to face him. He slowly made it up the ridge looking back toward me only on occasion. Soon he was far enough away that he blended into the landscape and was only visible when he moved. I found it impressive how well he blended into the landscape. That made me wonder how many bighorns I might have walked by over the years and not noticed.

Bighorn just after coming down from the rocky outcrop and heading up the ridge.

Bighorn just after coming down from the rocky outcrop and heading up the ridge.

This was definitely the highlight of my hike. Part of what made this experience great for me is that the time it took for the bighorn to make it around me felt like he moved with awareness but no fear. It felt like my presence in his home wasn’t that annoying. While I don’t imagine having another exchange like this, the river will be a guaranteed highlight for me anytime I return. I’ll be back often.

Snow Hiking In Los Angeles: Gabrieleno Trail

For awhile I’ve wanted to find more snow hikes that don’t have so much snow on the trail that snowshoes are required and aren’t so steep that microspikes or crampons are required.  We had a short snow storm last week with snow levels getting down to around 2,500 feet yielding a great opportunity for me to find another one. So, last Saturday I went to Red Box and snow hiked the Gabrieleno Trail from Red Box to Valley Forge. This trail turned out to work so well  to snow hike in just my waterproof trail runners that I snow hiked it again with a group of friends and family the following day.  The San Gabriel River also runs next to this trail and crosses it at several points.

Red Box is at about 4,600 feet in altitude and Valley Forge is at about 3,500 feet.  These elevations are important as they are high enough to receive snow several times a year and low enough for the snow to melt within around a week of clear skies with lingering patches on the north slopes a little longer. While the snow is pretty much gone right now, another storm is expected Tuesday and Wednesday with expected snow levels forecasted to once again get down into the 3,000 foot range.  This is a great introductory snow hike especially for those just wanting to experience the snow without needing special equipment.  Click on any image below to start a slideshow.

Shade and Water along the Gabrieleno Trail

The Gabrieleno National Recreation Trail is about 28 miles long in its entirety.  Importantly, a short portion of the trail is still closed due to the Station Fire from Paul Little to the junction with the Bear Canyon Trail.  For the second time I hiked a short portion of the Gabrieleno trail from Red Box to the Valley Forge Campground. This time I hiked with family and friends on a hot day and it was great to have trees blocking the sun for a large part of the trek.

Starting from the trailhead at Red Box, the trail descends until reaching the Valley Forge Campground.  Most of the way the grade isn’t very steep.

The trail essentially follows the San Gabriel River.  The river is often still visible during the brief periods when the trail leads away from it for a while.  The trail also crosses the river a number of times, but the river isn’t deep enough for that to be a problem.  Fortunately, at times when there is no shade the trail is often by the river.

There were many lizards roaming around on this April day.

Flowers were blooming and it was great to see the bees working their magic.

It’s worth checking out the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center located at the parking area for the trailhead.  There are some nice artifacts there and volunteers that can tell you about the history of the area.  They have several events planned through October including a Hike-A-Thon to raise money for the center on June 2 (National Trails Day).

Death and Continued Life Along the Silver Moccasin Trail to the San Gabriel River

Hiking the Silver Moccasin Trail from Angeles Crest Highway down to the San Gabriel River is a journey crisscrossing burn areas showing signs of forest regeneration with areas that survived the Station Fire.  Much of the time the trek feels as though one is walking through a quilted landscape with patches of burn, patches of regeneration, and patches of forest that survived in view simultaneously.  

Purple flowers on regenerating Poodle Dog Bush (which can cause a rash), burned trees and green forest in the background.

I found this tapestry simultaneously sad and hopeful.  The obvious sadness I felt while thinking about what was lost was tempered with constant exposure to what remained and what was regenerating.

When I first hiked this trail in June 2011, the flowers were in full bloom.

View near the top of Shortcut Canyon along the more exposed areas of the hike.

Up near the top of Shortcut Canyon the blooming flowers were what made the process of forest regeneration so apparent–especially in areas where it was clear that there were no shade trees in the past.  The purple flowers are from the Poodle Dog Bush and can cause a rash.  Seeds from these flowers remain dormant over long periods of time waiting for fires to wake them up.  While the Station Fire was a disaster of human origin, I find it helpful to think about the fact that fire is inevitable in the forest  and that some plants are lying around waiting for fire in order to cause their birth.

In parts where the charred remains of shade trees were dominant, what was lost became more prominent.  Without the foliage however, views were less obstructed.  Almost like finding out something you didn’t know about someone at a funeral, there were far off vistas to see that were previously blocked.  Like people, there is more to the forest than can be seen from one perspective.

View toward Mt. Wilson through the charred remains of shade trees.

Part of what makes this particular hike hopeful is that about halfway down Shortcut Canyon the trail follows a stream leading to the San Gabriel River.  Where there’s water there is usually life.  Seeing creatures living in the area helps bolster the feeling that eventually the forest will return again.  My dominant thoughts through this area of the hike were focused on what is alive and starting to flourish.  During a hike in August 2011, my brother and I saw around a hundred frogs and tadpoles along the stream.

Frog along the stream leading to the San Gabriel River

 For more photos of frogs, tadpoles, lizards and other creatures I saw along this trail, see the new Creatures Gallery.

The trail ends at the San Gabriel River (which in many spots appears unaffected by the fire).  Across the river is the West Fork Trail Camp.

The San Gabriel River where the Silver Moccasin Trail ends at the West Fork Trail Camp.

For more photos of the trail, directions, and other information, see the Silver Moccasin Trail from Angeles Crest to West Fork Trail Camp.