Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fish Canyon Adventure - March 12, 2016

March through May is the very best season to hike Fish Canyon, and a day following a heavy rain is wonderful. Continuing my monthly hikes to Fish Canyon Falls, I was elated for the rainstorm on Friday. Last month’s most excellent adventure was so rewarding, I decided to plan another adventure. So armed with long pants and shirt, gloves, clippers, topo maps, aerials, and courage, I set out for an adventure. My plan is to hike to the falls and then embark on my adventure after.

I arrive at Vulcan’s gate at 6:57 a.m. and there are six cars lined up for the 7:00 opening. The guard opens the gate punctually and in we drive.

7:08 - Begin hike. I stroll through the massive quarry with its towering walls. The sky is clear and the temperature brisk. I’ve come to enjoy this 10-minute walk through the quarry as a warm-up before engaging plants and flowers and the beauty of the canyon. I segue to the riparian section of the access trail, and begin to note blossoms of brittlebush (Encelia farinosa), golden yarrow, California buckwheat, mule fat, and everlasting.

I cross the bridge into the national forest at 7:27 (exactly the same time as last month) and the following narrative is virtually the same: The creek is flowing briskly and the canyon is damp with a wonderful aroma. Blooming plants include blue dicks, western wallflower, wild cucumber, canyon sweet pea, wishbone bush, and the ever-present common sunflower. And of course lots of weeds: sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus—that pesky dandelion-related weed that can invade our yards), filaree, and mustard. Of the landscape plants, the purple blooms of vinca (periwinkle) are coming back strong while the white flowers of jade are thinning out. A notable change from last month is that the canyon is looking more like spring than winter with many of the deciduous trees and shrubs beginning to sprout new leaves. The tender new leaves of poison oak are green and shiny and seem eager to share its toxic oil with unwitting passersby…humanoid and canine. There is a constant flow of happy hikers on the trail today.

At the cabin ruins in the tree of heaven jungle there is a square pit with concrete walls and about four feet deep. I call it Michael’s Pit, named after a friend with a humorous story of falling in…and thankfully uninjured. Today I discover that the pit has been filled in with dirt. Must be the recent work of a trail crew. It’s a good thing since the pit did pose a risk for those who might not be paying attention. Approaching Old Cheezer Mine site I notice the large boulder that had fallen onto the middle of the trail after a rain last month has been removed…no small task.

I absolutely love hiking in Fish Canyon the day after a good rain…the freshness, the aromas, the water drops on the green leaves…it’s a paradise. At 8:09 I step into the sun. Add to my blooming list spreading larkspur, pipestems, and eupatory.

Arriving at the spiral steps I find a sign has been posted at the top saying “Keep Out.” Upon further inspection I find that the wooden steps have been removed leaving only the rebar stakes. A couple days later I heard that it was vandalism. Then I came to hear that it was the work of a trail crew hired by the City of Duarte. They were the ones who cut the precarious switchback to circumvent the spiral steps, which is dicier than the spiral steps. . What a mess this project has turned out to be. I take a peek at Darlin’ Donna Falls and see that it is flowing nicely.

8:39 - Main creek crossing. It’s flowing bountifully and has bottle-necked some hikers on both sides as they gingerly attempt to negotiate the wet rocks to cross. I now climb the east canyon wall, still in shade. Lots of hikers on the trail. As I pass the place where the slanted rock poses some difficulty, I see where the trail crew recently tested the possibility of removing some rock to make the route safer. Add to my bloom list sugar bush.

9:07 - Fish Canyon Falls. So splendid! I’ve been here 46 times before but I never get tired of it. What a beautiful scene. The falls are in the full sun now and are the strongest I’ve seen all year. There are less than 20 people here but the number will grow toward 50 during my visit. A troop of boy scouts arrives. Leaves are returning to the large black willow tree that graces the setting. Happy voices blend with the roar of the falls echoing from sheer rock walls. Visitors to wild places like this need to realize that egg shells and fruit peels are garbage and should be carried out with them and not thrown on the ground. There are many dogs in Fish Canyon today and thankfully most dog owners appropriately have them on leashes. It’s hard not to linger longer in this special place, but I have an adventure awaiting me.

10:00 - Leave falls to begin my adventure.

WARNING: I wrestled with how much detail I would include in this blog narrative. On one hand I want to share the story of my adventure, but on the other hand I really don’t want to encourage hikers to embark on off-trail escapades that would pose risks and negatively impact pristine wild places.

Anyone who attempts off-trail excursions in rugged terrain must be skilled, equipped, and have good judgment in ascertaining risks in light of their outdoor expertise and preparedness.

For this adventure I’ll skip sharing the specific route details and just give a high-level account.

See Adventure Debrief from last month for more considerations about off-trail excursions.

After leaving the falls I arrive at a location that I had done considerable pre-scouting in studying the aerials and topos as well as viewing from different angles from various visits to Fish Canyon. Up I climb through difficult and steep terrain, unstable rocks, loose footing, thick brush, poison oak, and other hostile plants. Thankfully the weather is pleasant with some light clouds and temps in the 60s. My shoes and long pants are getting wet and muddy from plants still wet from yesterday’s rain. Pushing through thick stands of coastal sagebrush and white sage releases wonderful aroma. Route finding is tricky at times as I attempt to find the best way through and around thick walls of vegetation. There is an element of crazy to what I am doing. Vigilance and safety are paramount. After 90 minutes of arduous climbing and gaining about 400 vertical feet, I achieve a turn-around point with a commanding view of the canyon and beyond. After 25 minutes of enjoying my peaceful perch, I retraced my steps down. Forty minutes of demanding down-climb delivers me safely back to Fish Canyon Trail.

Finish Adventure. Wow, that was something! What a relief to be back on a safe and comfortable path. What a gift to have a fine trail allowing casual forest visitors to penetrate deep into wild places safely without having to embark on treacherous expeditions.

My pace is relaxed as I appreciate the ease of a well-traveled trail. I stop at several places and look high above to where I was and experience some euphoria over the accomplishment. I meander along and enjoy the rich greenery of the season. I photograph some purple nightshade that I missed earlier. Fluffy white clouds grace the blue sky. The temperature is perfect. Hikers are still coming and going. I survey other locations for possible future adventures. I never get tired of this amazing canyon. I cross the bridge at 2:59 onto Vulcan’s access trail and enjoy my stroll through the quarry to my waiting car.

3:15 - End hike. There are 29 cars in the lot and it’s 64 degrees. My Fitbit recorded 15,303 steps for the hike.

Dan Simpson at Fish Canyon, Angeles National Forest, March 12, 2016
Epilog - What an enjoyable adventure! It never ceases to amaze me how I always discover and experience new things in Fish Canyon. And a day after a strong rain is wonderful. Fantastic weather, lush green vegetation, lovely wildflowers, rich aromas, a splendid trail, rugged scenery, a dramatic waterfall, and a rewarding adventure, I am so thankful for local wild places and the wherewithal to enjoy them. And the coming spring promises only to be better. icon

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

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