Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fish Canyon Adventure - February 20, 2016

Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, February 20, 2016
What a notable hike in Fish Canyon! This hike was meaningful to me on three counts. First, with this hike, I have now completed hiking to Fish Canyon Falls for 12 months in a row. Yahooo! It’s been great to experience Fish Canyon through the seasons. Second, it’s the first time I have hiked Fish Canyon in February. Third, I planned this as an adventure outing. In my 45 hikes to Fish Canyon Falls since 1997, I’ve never really done much exploring off trail. So armed with long pants and shirts, gloves, clippers, topo maps, aerials, and courage, I set out for an adventure. And what an adventure it was! My plan was to hike to the falls first and then explore.

I arrive at Vulcan’s gate at 6:55 a.m. and there is a long line of cars waiting for the 7:00 opening. The guard opens the gate punctually and about 22 cars immediately populate the parking lot. There are several large groups. Fish Canyon trailhead at Vulcan Materials, Azusa

7:09 - Begin hike. I wander through the quiet quarry. The temperature is brisk (about 50 degrees) but not uncomfortable. The sky is clear and blue and the sun alights on the upper portion of the steep west quarry wall. We had a good rain on Wednesday into Thursday so everything is fresh (and a little muddy in places). As I transition to the riparian section of the access trail, I am greeted by blossoms on mule fat, everlasting, California buckwheat, and golden current (first occurrence of this I’ve since this year).

Riparian section along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
I cross the bridge into the national forest at 7:27. The creek is flowing briskly and the canyon is damp with a wonderful aroma. After several months of very little in bloom, it’s nice to see more flowers: blue dicks and western wallflower (the first I’ve seen of both this year), wild cucumber, canyon sweet pea, and the ever-present common sunflower. And of course weeds: common beggar-ticks, sow thistle, filaree, and mustard, and the landscape plants: a few purple blooms of vinca and a profusion of jade. The canyon still has the feel of winter with many of the deciduous trees and shrubs in their leafless state. Some poison oak is beginning to sprout its tender leaves…a harbinger of what I will face shortly on my adventure.

I stop occasionally and review the topo maps and aerials to get a better feel of the canyon’s topography as I ponder features to explore. There is a constant flow of eager hikers on the trail today, including several big groups. Near the Old Cheezer Mine site, a large boulder has fallen onto the trail.

At 8:34 I step into the sun. I bypass Darlin’ Donna without stopping for a visit.

9:07 - Main creek crossing. It’s flowing well. I suspect that some poor hikers have fallen in today. I now climb the east canyon wall, still in shade. As many hikers pass me going down, the dominate comment is that the falls are really crowded. A beautiful display of mountain lilac is blooming near the rare Dudley densiflora site. I always have a bit of excitement as I approach the falls.

9:49 - Fish Canyon Falls. I love this place! The falls are nearly in full sun now. It’s flowing well and more showy than when I was here on January 24 (4 weeks ago), but not as showy as when Hank videoed it on January 31 after the big rain storm on January 28. The black willow that provided wonderful autumn gold is now completely leafless. There are about 25 people here. It’s hard not to linger long at this splendid setting, but I have an adventure waiting.

10:15 - Leave falls to begin the adventure.

ADVENTURE: I’ve decided to withhold the narrative of my adventure. It posed serious risks and I really don’t want to encourage hikers to embark on this off-trail escapade. I would feel terrible if some hiker had to be airlifted out after reading my blog post and attempting the route. I would hate to see this become another Eaton Canyon death trap.

Below are some pictures of the adventure.

See Adventure Debrief for more considerations for off-trail excursions.

2:52 - Finish adventure! Wow, what a relief to be back on a safe and comfortable trail. Four hours and 47 minutes of sheer roughing it through hostile terrain (See Adventure Debrief below).

I decide to head up trail back to the falls. The falls are in full shade now and only a few people are here. I am still buzzed from my adventure.

3:09 - Leave falls. My pace is deliberate but relaxed as I enjoy the comparative ease of a nice trail. The sun is warm and lights the canyon quite differently from the morning hours. At the Dudleya site a couple is looking at the rare plant. We chat for a few minutes. At the Darlin’ Donna junction I decide to take a quick jaunt to visit the charming waterfall. I’m glad I did. There has been a big debris slide that has obliterated vegetation near the falls and changed the whole feel of the setting. Back on the main trail as I near Old Cheezer’s, I step from the warm sun into the shade cast by the west canyon wall. I never get tired of this beautiful canyon. There are still hikers coming up the trail with insufficient time to complete the trip to the falls before the 5:00 closing time. I cross the bridge at 4:09 onto Vulcan’s access trail and enjoy my stroll through the quarry to my waiting car.

4:24 - End hike. There are 26 cars still in the lot and it’s about 74 degrees. My Fitbit recorded 14,594 steps for the hike.

Epilog - What an adventure to culminate 12 continuous months of Fish Canyon visits. I am tired and dirty and have bruises, scrapes, and scratches. But I feel so good. I am indeed grateful for a safe trip and an amazing canyon. I have a renewed appreciation for a fine trail allowing us to penetrate deep into wild places safely without having to embark on treacherous expeditions. And of course I’m not stopping at month 12 as we approach the next three months and the very best season for hiking my beloved Fish Canyon. icon

It’s sobering to realize that the difference between a safe conclusion and being airlifted out can be one miss step, one branch tearing loose, one foot slipping from its tentative hold, one dislodged boulder toppling down on a buddy. What a fine line between being a heroic explorer and ending up on the news as a foolish risk-taker. On all my hikes, whether on an easy trail or an arduous bushwhack, I assess the risks and carry the essentials. Risk can never be eliminated, but it can be mitigated and managed. Some essentials include wearing clothing and footwear suitable for protection, carrying a whistle, first aid kit, bandana (many uses), map and compass, cell phone, extra layers of clothing, extra food and water, protection from the sun and elements, mirror for signaling, and telling a family member or friend where you are hiking and when he or she should expect your return. Does your hiking buddy have the necessary skills and equipment? Did you check the weather forecast? Can you survive overnight temperatures if needed? Can you direct emergency personnel to exactly where you are?

These things can be the difference between search and RESCUE and search and RECOVERY.

On my adventure, I never felt I took risks that posed major injury or death. Before trusting my weight to a branch or foot-hold, I would assess the exposure. If the branch would tear lose, what’s the worst case-scenario? I may end up with a broken bone, contusions, abrasions, lacerations…but probably nothing to put me on a search and rescue stretcher.

Experience, preparation, vigilance, and good judgment are all essential to keep you off a gurney and out of the headlines.

Environment – In considering hiking off trail, we must remember the environmental impact. Our beating through brush, climbing steeps banks, dislodging rocks, trampling on grass and plants…it all has an impact. We can disturb sensitive habitats, create erosion, and disrupt animal behavior.

Fish Canyon Wilderness
This adventure was a poignant reminder that Fish Canyon is truly a pristine wild place in many ways…steep mountainsides, dense and hostile vegetation, craggy ramparts, jumbled scree, deep furrows, watery obstructions. Such wild places are probably best experienced on an established trail. What a gift to have a fine footpath that allows us to safely amble deep into rugged wilderness and be comfortably home by lunch.

I have trusted you with my story. Please be wise and take care of yourself and our special wilderness places.

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

NEXT > Fish Canyon Adventure - March 12, 2016
PREVIOUS > PHOTO ALBUM: Fish Canyon - January 24, 2016
PREVIOUS > BLOG POST: Fish Canyon Falls Hike - January 16, 2016

1 comment:

  1. I remember eyeing that line on the map a few years back, especially as it appears on the 1939 version passing high above the falls before coming back to the creek and passing a half dozen more cabins. There certainly was no sign of it remaining near the similarly old waterfall trail. A very worthy adventure.