Saturday, April 16, 2016

Fish Canyon Falls Hike - April 16, 2016

Fish Canyon Falls, Angeles National Forest, April 16, 2016
I love hiking to Fish Canyon Falls in the springtime! The canyon is vibrant with beauty. In my 48 hikes to Fish Canyon Falls over past 19 years, rarely have hikes fallen on the same dates. April 16, however, is special. Five years ago today, when the Vulcan access days were in their heyday, more than 600 hikers ventured to the iconic waterfall. And water was gushing from strong rain. It was a memorable day and my blog post for that hike is among my top 10 most-viewed posts. So I’m eager for my visit on this beautiful spring day and my fourteenth month in a row in Fish Canyon.

I arrive at the trailhead at 9:00 a.m. and the parking lot is packed. The temperature is about 70 degrees and there is a gentle breeze.

Looking north from Fish Canyon trailhead, Vulcan Materials, Azusa View of west quarry wall from the Fish Canyon access trail, Vulcan Materials, Azusa
Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) along the riparian section, Fish Canyon access trail through Vulcan’s quarry Spanish broom along the riparian section, Fish Canyon access trail through Vulcan’s quarry
9:10 - Begin hike. The massive quarry is mostly in full sun now as I stroll between its towering walls. There is some heavy equipment running, which is uncharacteristic for weekends. As I pass the big rock into the riparian section of the access trail, I am greeted with an array of wildflowers: brittlebush, golden yarrow, common sunflower, bush monkeyflower (orange and red), wild Canterbury bells, California buckwheat, mule fat, everlasting, Mexican elderberry, and Spanish broom.

I cross the bridge into the national forest at 9:33. The stream is flowing nicely and birds are chirping. It’s is a different feel from last month when I hiked it a day after a rain. Today is dry and the path dusty. I snap pictures of more plants in bloom: wild morning glory, phacelia, cryptantha, sow thistle, filaree, and blue dicks.

View south toward Vulcan’s quarry from Van Tassel Ridge Trail, Fish Canyon, Angeles National Forest
At the first metal interpretive sign, I take a sharp left and begin climbing the old trial coming down from Van Tassel Ridge. The route was left as a widow after the new access trail opened through the quarry in June 2014 and the section crossing through Vulcan property on Van Tassel Ridge was closed off. This section in Fish Canyon still provides a good route to access the ridge. The first couple hundred yards has been cleared recently, but the rest of the 1 mile to the top has gotten pretty brushy. But I still encourage hikers to climb the trail for an adventure and great views. Be sure to wear long pants and shirt, and maybe trekking poles, gloves and a pair of clippers would be good. And watch out for rattlesnakes. See my Van Tassel Ridge trail guide. See my hike from one year ago for narrative of my last adventure: Van Tassel Ridge Hike - March 15, 2015.

Van Tassel Ridge Junction along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest Western thistle (Cirsium occidentale) along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest Riparian section along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
Back at the main trail I continue up canyon. More flowers include California thistle, blue dicks (the dominate flower of the day), western wallflower, phacelia, spreading larkspur, watercress, elegant clarkia, California chicory, vinca, globe gilia, holy-leaf cherry (one remaining blossom), narrow-leaf bedstraw, common yarrow, native oxalis, Mediterranean mustard, hedge mustard, and miner’s lettuce. The vegetation is vibrant with spring…such a contrast from the parched summer months. Deciduous plants and trees are in full leaf. It's sad to see all the dead alders choked out by the invasive cape ivy. Abundant poison oak with shinny dark leaves graces the scenery. The fig tree hosts green fruit on its way to ripeness. There are lots of hikers coming and going. I saunter along and appreciate the fine nuances of my surroundings.

I arrive at the spiral steps at 11:23. It’s disheartening to me that the City of Duarte recently dismantled this iconic trail feature. Supposedly the Forest Service felt it was unsafe. But thousands and thousands of hikers have safely negotiated these unique steps. And the new bypass section built by Duarte is cut through an unstable rocky slope and is steep and slippery. Now we don’t have a safe way to avoid it.

I stop to view two Humboldt lily plants that Michael Charters alerted me to. I’m so eager for these to bloom. I take a side jaunt to visit darling Donna and it is flowing modestly.

11:42 - Main creek crossing. It’s flowing modestly too and will not make it into summer unless we get some more good rain. A group of about a dozen crosses the creek heading back. I am are in full sun as I climb the canyon’s east wall. The dense chaparral on the step canyon slopes is green a vibrant.

Past the Dudleya densiflora location, the city of Duarte has erected another interpretive sign highlighting the forces of nature and types of rocks. It’s interesting information, but I can’t help but to wonder if the FS signed off on this since the sign does not appear to comply with federal specifications for national forest signage. And I’m sure there are many hikers who would rather enjoy the pristine canyon in its natural beauty without more human trappings cluttering it up.

Traffic along Fish Canyon Trail, Angeles National Forest
When I get to the slanted rock that crosses the trail, a lady is sitting on the rock afraid to move. Her daughter is on the other side coaxing her across but to no avail. The woman is fearful of slipping off the rock and down the sheer slope. I reassure her that it’s going to be fine, and with much coaxing and handholding, I am able to help her past the rock. This obstacle has been a nemesis for many a timid hiker. Trail crews have recently attempted to bust it up and level the path, but the rock steadfastly resists. More attempts are planned. I continue up the trail. There are lots of hikers enjoying the canyon. I’m always eager as I approach the falls.

Fish Canyon Falls, April 16, 2016, Angeles National Forest
12:14 - Fish Canyon Falls. I love this place. There is no waterfall in the San Gabriels that really compares to it. I think about April 16 five years ago when the crowd here swelled to more than 100. It still stands as one of the busiest days in Fish Canyon history with more than 600 hikers for the day. Fast forward to today and there about 20 people here relaxing at the falls. And unlike five years ago when the water was gushing, today’s flow in quite modest. Fish Canyon Falls, April 16, 2016, Angeles National Forest The lady who was struggling to get past the sloped rock is sitting and enjoying the beautiful scene.

It’s disappointing that some dog owners don’t comply with leash laws. There are so many important reasons to keep a dog on a leash in wild places. Today, several dogs are unrestrained and shaking their wet fur onto innocent bystanders, and the dogs get the rock areas wet making them slippery for visitors. Is it too much to ask dog owners to simply obey the law and respect other guests of the national forest?

I leave the falls at 1:03 and retrace my steps down the narrow path. It’s getting warm. At the junction to Darlin’ Donna Falls, a mountain biker is carrying his bike down the rocky section. With the narrowness of the trail, steep drop-offs, and tons of foot traffic, this really is not the trail to be mountain biking. Really. And bikes are not allowed on the access trail through the Vulcan quarry.

I stroll through canyon enjoying the vibrant green of spring and taking more pictures of flowers. I meet Sean and Kristy and enjoy a nice conversation. There are still hikers coming up the trail. I never get tired of this amazing canyon. I cross the bridge at 2:21 onto Vulcan’s access trail and enjoy my stroll through the quarry to my waiting car.

2:39 - End hike. The lot is still pretty full and it’s 88 degrees. My Fitbit recorded 13,696 steps for the hike.

Epilog - Another thoroughly satisfying hike in my beloved Fish Canyon! I would think that with frequent visits I would get tired of it, but just the opposite is true. I find myself growing in deeper appreciation of its rugged beauty and fine nuances. And springtime is simply amazing with its verdant vegetation, lovely wildflowers, rich aromas, pleasant temperatures, flowing water, and blue skies. I’m so thankful for nearby natural treasures and the ability to enjoy them. icon

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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)

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NEXT > Fish Canyon Hike - May 7, 2016
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  1. Tuesday, April 26, 2016: We came back to Fish Canyon to see more of the flowers that were not in bloom in mid March. Hurray! Some outstanding Fairy lanterns (Calochortus albus) with their light pink and nodding globes showed up about three fourths from the start. They are usually on the slopes on the upside of the trail. The plants look like the Blue dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum) however the basal leaves are less wide and not long as the Fairly lantern which has up to inch wide and a single foot long basal leaf. Beautiful day!

    1. Yay! I was wondering if the Globe Lilies were blooming yet... I've Been waiting patiently. If you're lucky you'll find a Crab Spider on them. They're awesome. They seem to like lilies fire sine reason.

    2. Thanks for the comments, Roy and Camino Girl! Springtime is a great season to visit Fish Canyon multiple times to experience the various flowers coming into bloom. And the fairy lantern is a real treat and oft overlooked by hurried hikers.