Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fish Canyon Falls Hike - August 23, 2015

Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, August 23, 2015
August is not the season to visit Fish Canyon. Along with September, it’s probably the worst month of the year to hike there. But in continuing my monthly visits for a year, I bit the bullet and ventured into the canyon. I had realistic expectations: dead grass and weedy plants, flowerless withering vegetation, dry falls and creek, hot, dusty. And that pretty much describes how it was. Yet looking past the summer blight, one can still find natural beauty in Fish Canyon…it’s not a reason to hike there in August, but more of a consolation.

The forecast is for clear skies and heat, so an early start is fitting. My wife has the car this weekend, so I have to walk to the trailhead, about 2.3 miles from my home in Azusa. There are 15 cars in the lot.

Start of Fish Canyon access trail in Vulcan Materials’ Azusa Rock quarry
7:22 AM - Begin hike. I walk through the quite quarry. Vulcan continues to make progress on grinding down the mining benches to restore the mountainside. California buckwheat is about the only thing in bloom, and some of it is turning its rust red. After the transition past the big rock to the riparian section, I observe a single occurrence of golden yarrow and Canterbury bells. This is a big contrast to the abundance of flowers in the spring. The temps are pleasant as the canyon is still in full shade.

View from Fish Canyon Trail toward Fish Creek and dead white alders, Angeles National Forest
I cross the bridge into the national forest at 7:41. The creek is bone dry, accented by some scarlet monkeyflower in bloom. I wander along the trail up canyon and am observant of what’s changed since last month. A lot of new sprouts of castor bean are growing along the trail’s edge near the junction to Van Tassel Ridge. I pull many of these invasive non-natives. They come up easily. Alarmed to see a nasty goathead weed, aka puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris). Get rid of that bad boy. Goathead weed (Tribulus terrestris) on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest. Snap pics of cliff aster and chicory-leaved stephanomeria. I lament over the number of dead alders along the creek bottom. All but a few of the holly-leaf cherries that were ripe in abundance along the trail last month are gone. And no more hollyleaf redberries.

Non-native lily near cabin foundation along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
Occasionally I encounter other hikers coming and going. Most of those I talk with are here for the first time. I encourage them to come back in the spring when the canyon is beautiful. At the cabin foundation in the tree of heaven jungle, a beautiful lily greets me. I had heard a report that it was here a couple weeks ago. It looks like an amaryllis of some kind, and presumably planted by cabin dwellers many years ago. In my dozens of hikes in Fish Canyon over the years, I’ve never seen them. Always fun to discover new things.

Traveling north on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
At 8:34 I step into the sunlight for the first time. The light adds vibrancy to the setting. The beauty of Fish Canyon in August comes as one lifts the eyes beyond the weedy, parched plants along the trail and gazes upon the rugged expanse of chaparral-covered canyon walls, upon the leaves of big-leaf maple and poison oak turning to their fall colors, upon bugs, blue sky, and fascinating displays of rocks, and inhaling the wonderful aroma of bay and sage. View north on Fish Canyon Trail toward the rugged canyon walls, Angeles National Forest

Arriving at the spiral staircase where the trial crew recently created a switchback to circumvent it, I am disappointed that someone has shortcut the switchback and destroyed habitat. I am delighted to see water still flowing from the Darlin’ Donna stream. I attempt the side jaunt to Darlin’ Donna Falls but decide not to destroy a beautiful spider web that blocks the path. The increase of graffiti along the trail is disheartening.

Rare Dudleya densiflora on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
9:08 - Main creek crossing. It’s bone dry. I stop to appreciate the rare Dudleya densiflora. It is past its bloom and the dried inflorescence is a rusty red. I am still curious about the large clearing that was carved out here and I'm miffed that the forest service (Freddie Duncan specifically) has not responded to my two email inquiries. Tiny blossoms of common eucrypta, leafy daisy, and small wirelettuce get lost in the virtually flowerless summer canyon. There is an eerie silence as I approach the falls.

Dan Simpson at bone dry Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, August 23, 2015
9:35 - Fish Canyon Falls. A huge dry rock face stands in front of me in full sun. The lighting feels different to me with the angle of the sun since I’ve visited the falls only once before in August. I muse over standing here last month in the pouring rain. The falls and upper pool are completely dry today, Bone dry Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, August 23, 2015 which I anticipated since they were nearly dry last month. The lower pool is shallow with green, stagnate water. Lower pool at Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, August 23, 2015 Two young men and a young lady are here. They are from Orange County and it’s the young men’s first time here. I encourage them to come back in the spring when the canyon is simply beautiful.

Others come and go. I have many fond memories here and reflect on the popular Vulcan access days of the past when crowds at the falls were like the mall at Christmastime. I explore around falls and just enjoy the setting and good conversations.

Heading south toward Old Cheezer Mine on Fish Canyon Trial, Angeles National Forest
11:32 - Leave falls (where do two hours go!?). My pace is earnest as I retrace my steps. The canyon is in full sun now and getting warm. I snap pics of some flowering plants that I didn’t see on the way up. The botanic narrative for the day is quite subdued. Aside from the abundant buckwheat, most of the plants in bloom are single or few occurrences and some have merely a single blossom. Hikers are still coming up the trail. Most are dripping with sweat under the hot sun. It still puzzles me why someone would be hiking in this parched canyon midday in middle summer (aside for the scientific reason for me being here). Savvy outdoors people learn to mind the seasons.

Owl along Fish Canyon Trial, Angeles National Forest
As I get near the end of the trail, I notice a small bird making a lot of noise and flittering around a tree below in the creek bed. And to my delight, I spot a large owl in the tree. Zoomed in view of owl along Fish Canyon Trial, Angeles National Forest Wow! I am curious if the little bird is alerting others to the presence of this predator. I saw an owl for the first time in Fish Canyon in May and wonder if this is the same one.

Heading south on Fish Canyon access trail through Vulcan Materials’ Azusa Rock quarry
I cross the bridge to the Vulcan access trail at 12:23 and wander through the sun-drenched quarry. It’s hot now and I’m ready to be done.

12:38 - End hike. It’s about 87 degrees but feels hotter. There are 11 cars in the lot.

Epilog - What an enjoyable outing. It is enriching to experience Fish Canyon through the seasons. There is always something new. Despite the summer blight, nature has beauty for those who look for it. I’m eager to see what September offers in Fish Canyon. icon

Canyon dudleya on Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest Plants in Bloom by order of occurrence
(1 B) = 1 blossom total hike
(1 O) = number of occurrences
     (usually multiple blossoms for each)
California buckwheat (abundant)
golden yarrow (1 B)
wild Canterbury bells (1 O)
redstem filaree (1 B)
scarlet monkeyflower (1 O)
common sunflower
cliff aster
chicory-leaved stephanomeria (2 O)
oleander
lily (looks like an amaryllis)
morning glory (1 O)
elderberry
wishbone bush (2 O)
felt-leaf everlasting (3 O)
red-gland spurge (2 O)
mustard (1 B)
canyon sweet pea (1 B)
agave
western thistle (1 O)
pampas grass (1 O)
common eucrypta (1 O)
leafy daisy (1 O)
small wirelettuce (1 O)
chamise (1 B)
California fuchsia (1 O)
toyon (2 O)
mugwart (1 O)
creek monkeyflower (1 O)
canyon dudleya (1 B)
Plants See Plants in Fish Canyon at Dan's Hiking Pages
(including links to various plant resources)

Facebook icon Like Fish Canyon Falls Facebook Page

See Fish Canyon Falls Hike Description at Dan's Hiking Pages (including a link list for my other blog posts for Fish Canyon)

Plants See Plants in Fish Canyon at Dan's Hiking Pages
(including links to various plant resources)

icon  See Waterfalls of The San Gabriels at Dan's Hiking Pages


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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mt. Islip via Big Cienega and Islip Ridge - August 8, 2015

Mount Islip, view northeast from the summit, Angeles National Forest

The pointed summit of Mount Islip with its amazing 360-degree panorama over the heart of the San Gabriels is a great summertime hike. Mt. Islip is one of my favorite peaks and is always worthy of return visits. It’s been a while since I’ve climbed its lofty summit, and I’ve not done any high-country hiking yet this summer. So when I got the email from my friend Ray and his Hikemasters hiking group announcing a Mt. Islip hike, I decided to jump in. The plan is to begin on Windy Gap Trail, take Big Cienega Trail to Islip Ridge and on to the summit, then return via Windy Gap Trail. It makes a splendid loop of 7.2 miles with 2,418 feet elevation gain.

Hikemasters group shot at Windy Gap trailhead, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest. Photo by Cheryl Williams
I walk the five minutes from my home in Azusa to the corning of 9th Street and Hwy 39 where Ray conveniently picks me up at 6:30 a.m. We drive north to the rendezvous point near the mouth of San Gabriel Canyon. Soon others arrive and we caravan the 24 miles to the Crystal Lake Campground and Windy Gap Trail trailhead. The 27 of us gather for the customary group photo.

Beginning of hike at Windy Gap trailhead, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
8:02 a.m. - Begin hike. It’s brisk and I’m the only one in short sleeves. Within five minutes, however, I’m quite comfortable. The aromas of campfires fill the air. Majestic pines, firs, and cedars tower into the deep blue sky. A luminescent glow on Hawkins Ridge high above announces the sun’s eminent appearance. Within five minutes the sun’s rays fall upon our surrounds. I began at the front of the pack but pausing for a few photographs puts me in the middle now. On Windy Gap Trail heading north, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest I love the freshness of morning in the forest.

On Windy Gap Trail nearing South Mt. Hawkins Fire Road, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
At 8:15 we cross the first occurrence of South Mt. Hawkins Fire Road (0.4 miles from the start). The forest thins out as we transition into area devastated by the September 2002 Curve Fire. Mt. Islip and Windy Gap comes into view high to our north. I snap pictures of the blooms that subtly grace the path: California fuchsia, leafy daisy, rabbit brush, evening primrose, and yerba santa. As several in the group take an interest in plants, I am happy do some docenting along the way. The views begin to open up to the south toward inland valleys covered with a marine layer. Lifeless tree trunks jut into the sky creating strange and eerie art pieces. Damage from the 2002 Curve Fire on Windy Gap Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest

View southwest toward Islip Ridge from Big Cienega Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
8:50 - South Mt. Hawkins Fire Road, second occurrence (1.1 miles from the start). I walk over to the berm and point out to David a huge round (slice from a tree trunk) and tell him the exciting story of how it got there 12 years ago on a San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders’ work day (Hint: The fallen tree was 100 yards up the ravine and there were cars parked along this road). We continue up the trail and within a couple minutes turn left unto Big Cienega Trail. The sign indicates 1.8 miles to Islip Ridge. I snap pictures of California buckwheat, California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum) on Big Cienega Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest Indian paintbrush, and Douglas nightshade in bloom. The scenery is grand. Soon we cross a stream rich with lush vegetation and blooming scarlet monkey flower, Bigelow's sneezeweed, and lemon lily. Further up the trail there are blossoms of lupine, milkweed, goldenrod, everlasting, and bush chinquapin. Huge cedars reach to the sky. Their thick bark is burnt and protected the tree from the ravaging fire.

View south from Big Cienega Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
As I soak in the beauty of the spectacular scenery, I find myself being flooded with happy emotions. I first started working on these trails 12 years ago with the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders. It was less than one year after the curve fire incinerated 21,000 acres of our national forest. The scenery then was barren moonscape and working here was depressing. Here is an excerpt from my hike report from the Trailbuilders’ work day on August 30, 2003:
August 30, 2003, San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders - Damage from the 2002 Curve Fire on Big Cienega Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
The devastation is particularly bad at the lower end of the Big Cienega Trail. Stark, blackened trees rise as toothpicks from the barren, rocky ground, which is void of any organic material. What groundcover the fire didn't consume was washed away by torrents of unrestrained water rushing down the slopes from heavy winter rain. As I graded trail tread and saw a fine footpath emerge, I couldn't help wonder who would even want to hike through this desolate moonscape, regardless of how pristine the path.
View southwest toward Islip Ridge from Big Cienega Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
Today I feel happiness as I see the cycle of life take its course and scenery that speaks of natural beauty louder than the devastation of fire. I’m really enjoying the splendid landscape.

I begin to realize that Ed, who was appointed as the sweep, is no longer with us and I am hiking with three who are very slow, including one young lady on her first hike. We stop often as we plod our way up the mountainside. I point out our destination—Mt. Islip—high above us to the north, and they seem daunted by the challenge. View north toward Mount Islip from Big Cienega Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest

View north toward Mount Islip from Islip Ridge Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
10:34 - Islip Ridge Junction (2.6 miles from the start). The sign indicates 0.9 miles to Mt. Islip. We turn right (north) and begin ascending the broad ridge. Soon views open up west into Bear Canyon and the rugged San Gabriel Wilderness dominated by Twin Peaks. View west into Bear Canyon and the San Gabriel Wilderness toward Twin Peaks from Islip Ridge Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest I’m loving the amazing scenery, great weather, blue skies, pleasant breezes, and fulfilling memories of previous hikes here. Across the yawning basin to the east, Hawkins Ridge stands as a vivid reminder my most awesome adventure commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the Curve Fire.

View northwest toward Hwy 2 and Mt. Williamson from Islip Ridge Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
Up we continue to climb. Soon Hwy. 2 and Mt. Williamson come into view to the northwest. Our path is subtle and nondescript in places. Cut tree trunks remind me of Trailbuilders’ work days. Far to the south, Saddleback pokes above the marine layer. The trail leaves the ridge and begins to traverse and zig zag up Islip’s south flank. Our pace is dreadfully slow and I wonder if the rest of the group will even be waiting for us at the summit.

View northwest from Islip Ridge Trail junction on the north flank of Mount Islip, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
11:49 - Mt. Islip Junction. To the right (east) is Little Jimmy Trail Camp (1.1) and Windy Gap. We turn left. The sign says 0.1 to Mt. Islip, which is incorrect; it is actually 0.2 mile. I’m eager to reach the summit but trudge along with the caboose group. The views are wonderful. View south from Mount Islip Trail on the north flank of Mount Islip, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest We round the hip at 12:00. They decide to sit and rest so I leave them and head eagerly to the top.

12:01 - Mt. Islip (8250’). Our group is still here and looks like a small army on the small summit. Hikemasters group on Mount Islip (8250’), Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest When the group had arrived, Wei Wei found a ring box tucked into the rocks. When she opened it she found a ring and a note. The note reads:
Ring and sad note found on Mount Islip, August 8, 2015, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
This box contains promises unfulfilled. Love that could not keep away the sorrow. Happiness that could not stem the tide of pain. Take this if you will. I don’t want it anymore. With it I give all that it has seen. 8/8/15. [initials]
How sad.

I do my best to switch my attention from the broken relationship and begin to appreciate the fine summit. View northeast from Mount Islip (8250’), Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest The 360-degree panorama is breathtaking. Marine layer still blankets the human sprawl to the south. I share with several standing by that the concrete footers were for the fire lookout tower which was built in 1927 and moved to South Hawkins in 1937. I point across the basin southeast to South Mt. Hawkins where the tower was burned to the ground on September 1, 2002 when the Curve Fire ravaged this forest.

Southern panorama from Mount Islip (8250’) toward the Crystal Lake Basin, Angeles National Forest

Northern panorama from Mount Islip (8250’) toward the Mojave Desert, Angeles National Forest

I snap some pics and I try to soak in the beauty of this place as the group prepares to leave. I just got here! The group leaves at about 12:15 as I linger to capture a few more shots. The caboose group is still here too but Ed has stayed back to accompany them.

View southeast from Mount Islip Trail toward Windy Gap and Hawkins Ridge, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
12:19 - I leave the summit with the caboose group, but I speed ahead. When I reach the hip I take a short-cut east straight down the ridge figuring I can catch the rest of the group, which I can see on the trail far below. I arrive at the trail in seven minutes and descend east on the fine path while enjoying a PB&J sandwich. Thankfully the Curve Fire was pretty much was stopped at this ridge and the mature coniferous forest (cone bearing) was spared and stands majestically on the northern slopes. My pace is earnest as I enjoy the rich forest and grand scenery. A group of six passes me on their way to the top.

View north from Mount Islip Trail near the junction to Little Jimmy Trail Camp, Angeles National Forest
The trail leaves the ridge and cuts north toward Little Jimmy. Ray is standing on the trail waiting to see how the caboose group is doing. I said they should be just a few minutes behind me and he said the rest of the group is waiting at Windy Gap. I continue down. The last time I was on this trail I was climbing it with a chainsaw crew. I look across to the northeast and admire Mount Lewis (8396’) with fond memories of climbing it with the Hikemasters group along with two other peaks on September 28, 2013.

View southeast from Mount Islip Trail toward Windy Gap (7588’) and Hawkins Ridge, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
12:52 - Windy Gap (7588’). It’s windy, of course. Our main group had decided to leave so just two gals are waiting. Other groups are here as well. Seems like there is always people here. Ray joins us and tells us to go ahead and he’s going back to check on the others. I empty the dirt from my boots (from the short-cut), we snap a few pics, and leave the gap at 1:00.

I love the magnificent scenery descending Windy Gap Trail. The Crystal Lake Basin spreads out before us. View southwest from Windy Gap Trail toward Crystal Lake Basis and Hawkins Ridge, Angeles National Forest The last time I was on this trail was returning from my surreal adventure through thick smoke on the commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the Curve Fire. What an experience that was. Today is quite different and absolutely beautiful. I add to the blooming list golden yarrow, chicalote, and San Gabriel Mountains gilia (AKA volcanic gilia)—a tiny purple flower that’s easy to overlook.

Continued rock slides from the 2002 Curve Fire on Windy Gap Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
It’s getting warm now. Others are heading up the trail and I wonder why folks begin a hike so late on a hot summer day. There are parts of the route that trail crews have really labored over battling the unstable debris slides. The wooden Sutter walls are no match for the huge rocks that tumble down the slopes left bare by the Curve Fire. (Be sure to thank trail volunteers if you happen to encounter them on one of their work days. Better yet, come out and help sometime. Everyone is welcome. The San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders works on the first and third Saturdays of each month and are often here in the Crystal Lake Basin during the non-snowy seasons.)

View south from Windy Gap Trail, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
Ray catches up with us at 1:24. He had returned all the way to the summit of Mt. Islip and did not find the caboose group. They must have returned the way they came rather than continuing on loop as planned. Ray is not happy. We continue down the trail at quick pace. Finally I just let them go figuring there will be a long wait at the trailhead for the caboose group. A family with two young girls is on their way to Little Jimmy for the night. It’s great to see parents introducing their kids to hiking and camping.

View southwest on Windy Gap Trail, below the first crossing of South Mount Hawkins Fire Road, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
1:47 - Big Cienega Trail junction. Two minutes later I cross the upper occurrence of South Hawkins Fire Road. I think about the black bear I came face to face with at this spot on July 23, 2011. That was an awesome experience. The sun is warm and the lighting is very different than when we came up this trail in the cool of the morning. I’m ready to be done. I cross the lower occurrence of the fire road at 2:11 and have 0.4 mile to go. I appreciate portions of shade from the oaks as I saunter down the rocky path into the campground. Heading south on Windy Gap Trail nearing Crystal Lake Campground, Angeles National Forest

View south on Windy Gap Trail arriving at the trailhead in Crystal Lake Campground, Angeles National Forest
2:25 - End hike. Ray and the two gals are here. Most of the others have left. Ray is going to wait for the caboose group so I thankfully catch a ride down with Cheryl and her niece (the group shot above is Cheryl’s). About half way down the mountain her brakes begin to have problems and we end up having to wait for AAA to come, summoned by helpful CHP officers. Ray stops on his way down and waits with us. Ed is with him but the caboose couple is still on the mountain someplace, having told Ed to go on ahead without them. Oh the drama of group hiking. The AAA truck finally arrives at 4:19 and I ride with Ray and Ed back to Azusa. BTW, this was my maiden hike with a new pair of Vasque boots and they performed superbly. New Vasque boots performed superbly on hike to Mount Islip, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest

Young pine on Islip Ridge, Crystal Lake, Angeles National Forest
Epilog - What an enjoyable hike! I love the Crystal Lake area with its amazing scenery, towering ridges and peaks, and splendid trails. Perfect weather, blue skies, fresh air, pleasant breezes, lofty trees, graceful wildflowers, good company, hearty exercise, and great memories. I am always so appreciative of the Creator and the wherewithal to hike and enjoy his creation. icon

See Hike Descriptions at Dan’s Hiking Pages
(Detailed trail guides include driving directions, recommended season, map, notes, links, and photos)
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