Thursday, September 18, 2008

Weekend Adventure

I, too, enjoy a hike to a waterfall. But the easily accessible ones are usually crowded. One alternative: Millard Canyon. It’s an easy one mile round trip, and the trailhead isn’t far from Altadena. You probably won’t be alone, but you can avoid the throngs on other popular trails. One caveat: if you’re hiking with an infant, you’ll need to be a fairly adventurous hiker. There’s about a three-foot wall you’ll have to scramble over, making this a dead-end with a kid in a jogger. There are a few stream crossings which should be mild most of the year. This is a great trail for kids over age 5. Last fall, we ran into a Boy Scout troupe that was joyously tottering along rocks in the stream.

It’s is a lovely site. The canyon is festooned with alders, sycamores, maples and bay trees. The scent of California bay lingers in the canyon. The waterfall is like a tiny cathedral, jeweled with mosses and delicate ferns. A slender maple persists in the rock cliff.

Millard Canyon

From Loma Alta Drive in Alhambra, drive north to Chaney Trail and turn right. Follow Chaney Trail more than a mile, past the Sunset Ridge fire road (staying left), down into the canyon. From the parking lot, take the fire road to the Millard Canyon Campground. The trail is on the other side of the campground.

This trail can be quite cold, so bundle up fall through spring. We brought a picnic here last fall, but should have eaten it on the trail. The campground is a bit grungy and the view (and smell) of the toilets and an RV, isn’t too appealing.

If you do try this trail with an infant in a backpack carrier (as we have done), I recommend sending the other person ahead to test out wobbly rocks on stream crossings. Yes, I said “other person.” I do not recommend hiking alone, especially if you have a young child in tow. Even if it seems you’re close to civilization, a twisted ankle can cripple you and leave you vulnerable in a cold canyon—anywhere in the forest.

Always bring water, even if it doesn’t seem like a hot day.

Recommended trail guides:

Day Hiker’s Guide to Southern California by John McKinney

Trails of the Angeles: 100 Hikes in the San Gabriels by John W. Robinson. This is the definitive hiking guide to the Angeles National Forest. However, conditions on trails change, so be prepared. If unfamiliar with an area, stop at a ranger station for info on trail conditions. Always bring a trail map (available at outdoor stores).

If you’re interested in this forest, check out this radio story where I trekked the east fork of the San Gabriel River.
Angeles National Forest

The US Forest Service is releasing plans today for managing Southern California’s four national forests. The plans are largely concerned with meeting the needs of growing populations surrounding the forests: from accommodating power lines to reducing fires that people cause. To learn more about some of the issues facing the forests, KPCC’s Ilsa Setziol strapped on a backpack and headed into the Angeles National Forest.

(river sound here and under whole story)

SETZIOL: Some of the most breathtaking terrain in the Angeles National Forest is in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness, surrounding the East Fork of the San Gabriel River. On an August morning, Bill Corcoran of the Sierra Club leads two guests into the Wilderness. A sign says recent storms have eroded trails, creating steep drop offs.

CORCORAN Okay, let’s see how cold the water is.

(bird sound)

SETZIOL: Wearing overnight packs, we hike up river through groves of alders. But it’s not long before the trail disappears and we’re forced into the swiftly flowing river.

(plunging into river)

Corcoran has brought his colleague Juana Torrez, a young (fuller description, please) recently hired by the Club. She’s never been backpacking before. And she’s in for quite an adventure: the trip involves dozens of river crossings, sliding down sheer rock face, and slogging up steep slopes of scree.

(sound of walking on scree)

TORREZ: This is my first time. I think I’m doing well so far.

(walking on rock)

SETZIOL: A few miles upstream, we meet a Vietnam vet from Valencia. He’s sliding water around a pie tin.

“RECON” JOHN: My name is Recon John. Everbody’s got nicknames up here. Otherwise it’s Big John, Old John. I do a little gold mining, put it through a sluice, pan it out get a little bit of gold.

Recon John smiles, revealing a mouth that looks like someone nearly bowled a strike. There’s only one tooth standing

SETZIOL: finding stuff?
JOHN: Oh yeah … not enough where you make any money but you get some gold now and then.

SETZIOL: We continue upstream, listening to the cascading songs of canyon wrens.

(sound of canyon wren)

We next cross paths with a rock drummer from Pomona and his son.

SCOTT HILLMAN: I’m Scott Hillman, me and my son just camped at the narrows. Are they going to be able to preserve this wilderness? I know there’s pressure from other organizations to reduce the size.

CORCORAN: that would take an act of congress. But the club’s running a campaign to protect the 4 forests of So Cal and shine a spotlight on them in a way that maybe hasn’t been done before.

HILLMAN: Excellent. That really needs to be done.

SETZIOL: In an effort to influence forest management plans, the Sierra Club recently released a report chronicling threats to the forests. It calls on the Forest Service to do more to protect the Angeles, Cleveland, Los Padres and San Bernardino National Forests from off-road vehicles, oil drilling, and other impacts. For example, in the Cleveland National Forest, they’re worried about proposals for new power transmission towers, a hydropower plant, and a highway and tunnel system connecting Riverside and Orange County. Bill Corcoran fears the forest plans will be too accommodating.

CORCORAN: Rather than trying to balance competing interests, it really ought to be protected for the highest interests which is the 95% of people who visit the forests, they want to look at wildlife, picnic, walk.

SETZIOL: Corcoran says Sierra Club members are disappointed that drafts of the Forest Service management plans recommend very few areas for the highest level of protection: official Wilderness status.

CORCORAN: Places that don’t have roads, that are untrammeled by man, isn’t broken up with power lines.

SETZIOL: The Forest Service says that’s because Wilderness areas, as designated by Congress, have lots of restrictions. Jody Noiron is supervisor of the Angeles National Forest.

NOIRON: I need latitude to be able to manage actively manage this forest, putting in fuel breaks, maintain fuel breaks. There’s a host of uses that are not allowed in wilderness … mountain bikes … another big thing is hand gliding.

NOIRON: But Noiron says the plan for the Angeles does recommend to Congress that 13,000 acres be added to existing wilderness areas, including Sheep Mountain Wilderness

She says other areas that environmental groups wanted earmarked for wilderness, will be protected by a forest service zoning system that bars roads and motorized vehicles in some areas, while still allowing other activities. She says more than 110,000 acres will receive this kind of protection.

(sound of river back up)

SETZIOL: By noon, we’ve set into a numbingly hot march along a bluff. Then suddenly there’s motion on the mountainside.

SETZIOL: (gasp!) There they are, look!
TORREZ: oh my gosh! They’re so close.

SETZIOL: Five big horn ewes and lambs scatter to our right. To our left, a ram, like a sentinel, watches us from the ridgeline. His large scimitar-shaped horns cut through the blue sky.

We cross the “Bridge to Nowhere”—a remnant of a now-collapsed road, and head into the narrows. The canyon walls close in on the river. Yucca and mountain mahogany spurt out of the 800-foot-tall rock face. Up top, the long limbs of big cone Douglas firs stretch out as if trying to span the chasm. Bill Corcoran wades into a swirling, shimmering, teal-colored pool.

CORCORAN: Oooh! That’s cold! Oh my god that feels good! AHH!!Ha!

(sound of tents zipping)
SETZIOL: A few hours later, we set up camp on a sandy bar near a bend in the river.

(sound of pots clanking)
Corcoran says more than 70 percent of the remaining open space in LA County is in this forest. And the Angeles gets an estimated 3 and half million visitors a year, thousands of them crowding into a stretch of the river south of here.

CORCORAN: There are no steps built down to the river … there’s a whole array of portable toilets. It’s like visiting a temporary camp. And there’s very little staffing by the Forest Service to interact with folks, to use it as a gateway for an understanding of the entire forest.

SETZIOL: Corcoran says that’s in part because most of the budget for local forests goes to preventing and fighting fires.

Forest Supervisor Jody Noiron says protecting life and property is the first priority. Education is important, but--

NOIRON: We cannot do it alone. We need to explore and expand opportunities for partnerships and volunteer programs.

(night sound fading up)

SETZIOL: As night falls, 23-year-old Juana Torrez reflects on her first wilderness trip:

TORREZ: It was everything I expected it to be. Beautiful vistas, wildlife … when I’m 53 I hope to be able to come back to my national forest and find the lands how I found them today.

SETZIOL: Then she falls sound asleep.

(crickets, night sounds)

In the Angeles National Forest, Ilsa Setziol, 89.3, KPCC

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