Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fish Canyon Falls Hike - April 7, 2012

Fish Canyon Falls See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages

Springtime means Fish Canyon! I love this hike in my backyard. Since 2005, Vulcan Materials has been providing free shuttle access through the quarry on select Saturdays in the spring and beyond. For years volunteers from the City of Duarte maintained the trail. But last year Duarte got upset with Vulcan over the proposed changes in the mining operation, so Duarte threw a tantrum and stopped maintaining the trail. The irony is, it doesn’t hurt Vulcan; it just impacts the thousands who will hike to the falls this season.

So with the first access day for this year scheduled for this next Saturday, April 14, I knew that trail should at least have someone look at it to make sure it’s safe for the crowds. My main concern was poison oak, which grows profusely along the trail, and without some mitigation, would certainly attack many a bare leg. But I also know that it’s possible that a trail can experience catastrophic failures such as a landslide either burying it or causing it to fall off the steep canyon wall, or from fallen trees which can render a trail virtually impassable.

I made arrangements with Vulcan to meet the security guard at 9 a.m. That’s a lot later than I would normally hit the trail, but my wife had the car for the weekend, so I was on foot and public transportation.

Vulcan MaterialsI arise Saturday morning greeted by beautiful spring weather. I take the seven-minute walk from my home in Azusa to the bus stop on Foothill Blvd. to catch a Foothill Transit 187 westbound. Get off at Las Lomas, walk the block back east and proceed to walk north on Encanto Parkway. It’s breezy and a little cool. After walking about 1.75 miles I arrive at the locked gate for Vulcan Materials. The guard is expecting me and drives over to let me in. I sign the log book and the guard drives me through the quarry to the beginning of the trail. Another car is there. It belongs to a Vulcan employee who is hiking the trail with a couple friends.

Fish Canyon TrailI thank the guard, cross the bridge, and begin sauntering up the trail. The creek is flowing briskly. I love the greenness of this season. Poison oak abounds and I have to use vigilance in dodging it. Soon I meet Mike from Vulcan and his two friends coming back from the falls. We chat for a few minutes. My pace is leisurely as I soak in the beauty of the canyon and push debris off the trial. Weedy grasses hug the trail for much of the route.

Blue dicksI take time to photograph flowers along the way. We have not had much rain this year, so the flower show is less than usual. Plants in bloom today include sunflower, mustard, blue dicks, everlasting, thistle, wishbone bush, wallflower, vinca, eupatory, morning glory, bush monkeyflower, spreading larkspur, golden yarrow, meadow monkeyflower (one occurrence at the creek crossing), Pacific pea, purple nightshade, lupine, chamise, and tree tobacco.

A young couple and dog pass me heading to the falls. They came the hard way over Van Tassel Ridge.

Fish Canyon TrailAs I near the site of Old Cheezer’s Mine, I pass under a large tree that has fallen across the trail. In less then 50 yards, another large tree completely blocks the trail with a sprawl of branches. What a mess! Thankfully it’s in the clearing of Old Cheezer’s so I am able to climb over the wide trunk near the base of the tree. Unless someone attacks this thing with chainsaws this week, it’s going pose a logjam of traffic for next week’s access day where potentially 500 to 600 hikers will have to climb over this tree.

Fish CanyonThe solitude of the canyon is peaceful without the crowds. A group of five young adults and a dog pass me as they are coming back from the falls. They also took the hard way over the top of Van Tassel Ridge.

The canyon is in the full light of the sun and warming up. I take a side jaunt to visit Darlin’ Donna Falls. It’s flowing ok but not as a showy as when we have good rain. As I reach the creek another couple and their dog pass me heading to the falls. They took the long way too. It’s warm now as I climb the exposed canyon wall.

Fish CanyonFish Canyon Falls. This is one of those rare occasions where it's not crowded with hordes of people. The young couple is across the pool. I relax and enjoy the setting. The falls are flowing but not as showy as in years with good rainfall. About the time the couple is leaving, a group of four young adults arrive. Their boisterous voices ruin the peaceful environment. I don’t know if it is that they are just inconsiderate and rude or woefully ignorant of how to behave in a wilderness place. I didn’t bother to confront them because by that time I was across the creek and picking up trash. I filled an entire garbage bag! I won’t say what I think of people who trash the forest like this.

With the bag of trash in hand, I begin my stroll back. It’s quite warm now. I enjoy solitude for the entire trip. It’s later in the day than my usual hikes here, so it’s interesting to experience the trail and canyon in different lighting. I take my time, photograph flowers, and soak in the beauty of my beloved canyon.

SunflowerBack at the bridge, the gate is locked. No one answers the two contact numbers I have, so I climb around the chain link fence and have a nice walk through the quarry. As I arrive at the quarry office the guard pulls up. We chat for a few minutes. He unlocks the gate and I begin my journey home by foot and bus. A Slurpee at 7-Eleven really hits the spot!

Epilog - I love Fish Canyon. It’s one of my favorite hikes. On the access days, I really enjoy meeting people and watching so many enjoy the canyon. But sometimes it’s nice to enjoy its solitude. icon

See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages

Plants See Fish Canyon Trail Plant Guide (April 2011) (PDF)

Plants See Plants and Wildflowers in the San Gabriel Mountains at Dan's Hiking Pages

NEXT > Fish Canyon Falls Hike - May 5, 2012
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  1. Nice day of hiking. I'm surprised so many people took the long way. When I've done that, I've generally not seen more than one or two people on the trail.

    The last time I did the long way, the other couple I saw got a Vulcan ride. I deduced this later, because when I was heading back, I heard the van honking its horn, calling for the couple. I was tempted to head over and ask the driver if he wouldn't be willing to take me back, instead!

  2. Dan, do you ever make it to the Los Padres? I am going up to Matilija this weekend with my son and was wondering if you knew if there was a legit place to camp by the falls. According to the map, the camp sites are all along another trail, to far from the falls.

    Check out my blog. I'm on a mission to Hike 1000 Trails in 1000 Days and I am more than 500 days into it:

    I love getting out of the office and into the forest!

    Take care,