Sunday, September 30, 2012

Windy Gap Trail Work with the Trailbuilders - Sept. 29, 2012

Safety meeting to begin Trailbuilders workday
See Windy Gap Trail hike description at Dan’s Hiking Pages

Since June 2003, I’ve enjoyed volunteering with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders. This group of dedicated men and women have been building and maintaining trails since 1984. We primarily focus our efforts in the San Gabriel River District of the Angeles National Forest, with much of that in the Crystal Lake basin. The project for today is Windy Gap Trail. I hiked down the trail a month ago and it was in pretty good condition, but since then, there was a big rain storm that caused some damage.

8:00 AM - Leave from the San Gabriel Canyon Gateway Center in Azusa and head up Highway 39 to Rincon Fire Station to load the equipment. There are 25 of us today, including seven Boy Scouts from troop 90 of Newport Beach and their leaders. With equipment loaded, we continue the drive up to Chrystal Lake basin. Once at the campground, our keys allow us to pass through locked gates and to drive along South Hawkins Road through Deer Flats and arrive at the location where Windy Gap Trail crosses the road for the second time.

Volunteers heading up trail for Trailbuilders workday
10:10 - After a safety meeting, we begin up the trail. Two chain saw crews take the lead since they will be going on ahead to remove deadfalls higher on the trail. The rest of group breaks into several parties and attacks various damaged areas along the route. Experienced Trailbuilders patiently provide instruction and oversight for the young scouts.

The weather is great today. Scattered high clouds mute the sun. A pleasant breeze is refreshing. My tool of choice today is a McLeod: half rake, half hoe. It was originally a firefighting tool invented in 1905 by Malcom McLeod (pronounced “McCoud”). It’s a ideal tool for spreading soil and grading trail tread.

Trailbuilders repairing trail damage
After accomplishing some light trail clean up, I catch up with Lou, Buddy, and Alan, three veteran Trailbuilders who are working on a spot where the trail crosses a ravine and is significantly damaged. I’m always amazed to see the kind of destruction that rushing water can do. We chisel away at the dried mud mixed with rocks that is heaped on the trail on both side of the ravine. Lou leads the effort in rebuilding a rock retaining wall to support the trail crossing the narrow wash. We wrestle heavy rocks to move them into place.

12:05 - Take a break for lunch. After the break we continue on the project. We dislodge a huge rock that was perched precipitously above the trail. As we anticipated, the rock came to rest right in the middle of the trail. Three of us laying on our backs and using our legs are able to roll the rock over the edge.

Trailbuilders repairing damage on Wendy Gap Trail
1:20 - Finish the project. I continue up the trail to see what else I can help with. I pass over several sections which have been freshly restored by our crews today. It’s very easy to take for grant it a good trial. I round a bend and find the main group of our volunteers laboring on a large washout. Debris from the sheer cliffs above has obliterated the Sutter walls (wooden retaining barriers) and buried the trail. The task today is to clear a temporary route over the rubble. I lend a hand. Shortly the chain saw crews arrive from the upper trail. They removed four deadfalls today, which was everything to Windy Gap.

Descending Windy Gap Trail at end of workday
2:00 - End the work at the designated time. We gather our equipment and head down the trail. We’re dirty and tired. Views toward the valleys beyond are muted by haze. I think about my hike down this trial on Sept. 3 when smoke from the Williams Fire completely obscured visibility. I look west across the bowl toward Islip Ridge and Mt. Islip and reflect upon my thoroughly enjoyable hike there back in July. Along the trail I admire the work our crews have accomplished today.

Tired and dirty volunteers after a satisfying day of work
2:32 - Arrive back at the vehicles. An ice chest full of cold Gatorade and bottled water is a hit. We load the tools. A group picture caps the day. Back at Rincon Fire Station we unload the tools and say our goodbye to one and all.

Beautiful skies over Crystal Lake basin
Epilog - A very rewarding day of hard work surrounded by breathtaking scenery. I always enjoy the camaraderie. And it’s good to have Boy Scouts join us. For the entire day, we encountered only three parties of hikers using the trail. Maybe eight years of closure due to the 2002 Curve Fire caused people to forget about Crystal Lake as a great hiking venue. I implore hikers to take a break from the crowd-infested places like Mt. Baldy and Icehouse Canyon and enjoy the grand scenery, splendid trails, and majestic peaks of the Crystal Lake basin. And if you would like to serve those who love the outdoors, come out and spend a day with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders. Workdays are on the first, third, and fifth Saturdays of each month. Visit the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders website to learn more. icon

See Windy Gap Trail hike description at Dan’s Hiking Pages


  1. Dan,
    Thanks for your help and the great report. I think the BS Troop was actually Troop 90 from Newport Beach.

    1. Thanks, Steve. Yes, Troop 90. And I enjoyed your photos that Ben forwarded.

  2. It is great to see so many people helping keeping the trails and wilderness areas maintained and its sad to see just how much damage a fire can do.