Sunday, July 15, 2012
In September 2002, the Curve Fire destroyed more than 20,000 acres of the Angeles National Forest, including much of the Crystal Lake basin. The following year I hooked up with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, who had special access to the Crystal Lake area to restore trails. For eight years until 2011 when the area was finally reopened, I worked on trails with the Trailbuilders and watched the area slowly recover. The hard part was working on trails that people didn’t have access to use. So today I get to enjoy benefits of a trail that the Trailbuilders worked so hard on for years to maintain awaiting for reopening.
I arise at 5:20 a.m. and leave my home in Azusa at 6:27. After a 40-minute drive on Highway 39 up San Gabriel Canyon, I arrive at the entrance to the Crystal Lake Recreation Area. I turn right and another 1.2 miles brings me to a left turn on the lake road and then another 0.2 mile to the small parking lot. There are two cars here and another pulled in a minute after me. The sun is rising over Hawkins Ridge. The trail starts at the south end of the parking lot, but it’s not evident and there is no sign. It’s a pleasant 54 degrees.
The trail gently climbs south through what feels more like chaparral than a pine forest. There are some pine and fir still living, but many are just blackened sticks. A couple spots provide access and glimpses down to the lake. I have memories of pulling yerba santa from the trail. The trial climbs at a comfortable rate. Views of the basin open up. Far to the south Saddleback pokes through the hazy marine layer. Feels warm now in the open sun.
7:38 - Reach a spur ridge which is the farthest point south for the trail. The route turns west then north as it continues its climb through undulating terrain accented with huge boulders. A motorcycle can be heard on Hwy. 39 far below.
8:07 - The trail finally achieves the main backbone of Islip Ridge and the land of living trees. The panorama to the west features the rugged expanse of San Gabriel Wilderness dominated by Twin Peaks and Mount Waterman. A strong, cool breeze feels good. I’ve really been enjoying the total solitude. My pace is relaxed as I gently ascend the board ridge. The sky is deep blue and the air fresh. I love the vanilla smell of Jeffery pine. I stroll through intermittent patches of shade and open sun. The breeze is unrelenting. The trail stays mostly to the east side of the ridge as it circumvents a steep section.
8:48 - 2-mile post. Another 15 minutes delivers me to the main ridge again with more spectacular views west. I hang out here for a bit, explore and just soak in the scenery. There is hardly anything in bloom: a few occurrences of yerba santa, lupine, California fuchsia, poodle-dog bush, bush monkeyflower, mountain lilac, southern mountain woolstar, volcanic gilia, alpine sulphur-flowered buckwheat, milkweed. The trial stays mostly on the east side of the ridge but occasionally it crests with views east. I’m loving the beautiful and solitude.
9:58 - 3 mile post. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see that at near 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to here is pretty slow, but I love just sauntering along and experiencing the amazing setting...varied topographic, sweeping views, majestic trees, warm sun, cool breeze, blue sky, and serenity. As I look far to the west, San Gabriel Peak and its neighbors stand silhouetted and remind me of my splendid outing last November.
Still off trail, I come across some scat from either deer or bighorn sheep. I saw a couple deer earlier, but I also know that bighorn sheep have been spotted in this area. I continue looking for the trail when all of a sudden a herd of Nelson bighorn sheep scatter in a flurry right in front of me! As these majestic animals frantically disperse, I’m conflicted as to where to point my camera. How do I capture it? I got several shots off and some video. There were 20 to 30 bighorns, including a bunch of young ones. What a special experience!
I proceed slowly, still in awe of what I just experienced. I’m still off trail as I climb to a high spot 7600+. The ridge drops to a broad saddle and I tangent east and find the trail again. Another 100 yards brings me to the junction.
11:18 - 4-mile post. I came down this route last July and returned via Big Cienega Trail, so the terrain is more familiar now. Thousands of dead trees testify to the destruction of the 2002 Curve Fire. But the scenery, however, is breathtaking and even the lifeless tree trunks rising into the sky add to the beauty. My pace is still relaxed as I enjoy the solitude. In fact, it’s almost lonely here. Many millions in Los Angeles, and I’m the only one on this ridge in this magnificent high county on this gorgeous day. What a gift!!
11:57 - Trail junction coming up from Windy Gap. I turn left (west) and in a few minutes reach the ridge where the trail switches back. I decide to go straight up the ridge. It’s steep but quite doable. I had contemplated exploring this route the last time I was here.
4:15 - End hike. Wow, nine hours exactly from the start! That’s a lot of time for a 10-mile hike with 2,750 feet in elevation gain. But how thoroughly enjoyable! The car thermometer says 90 degrees, which might be a little high since the car has been sitting in the hot sun.
See slide show of a Trailbuilders workday on lower Islip Ridge Trail - July 17, 2004
See Windy Gap Trail hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages
See Mt. Islip hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages
See Big Cienenga Trail hike description at Dan's Hiking Pages