Four days in the San Gabriels

I had driven from Illinois to California for vacation. Shane and Joseph are two young men from my church: I've known them and their parents for most of their lives. They flew out from Illinois to join me for a hike. Our plan was to hike the Gabrielino National Recreation trail from JPL to West Fork Campground where we would hook up with the Silver Moccasin trail which we would follow to its terminus at Vincent Gap. But the heat was worse than any I remember. We ended our hike at Chilao campground after hiking 30 miles in three days. We began our hike on Sunday, August 5, 2005. My sister Ida drove us to the west end of Altadena Drive, adjacent to JPL in Pasadena. Our hike begins...

The adventure begins. Joseph Larson, Bill Qualls, Shane Seay.

This is the first time Shane and Joseph have been to California, and their first real attempt at backpacking.

Just a mile or so into the hike we stop for water at a spigot next to forest service residences. Staying hydrated will prove to be a constant concern on this hike.

Shane's first time crossing a mountain stream.

The swim hole at Gould Mesa is a favorite.

Joseph at the Gould Mesa swimming hole.

Bill swimming. "There's no place like home..."

Heaven. I savor the moment. I've hiked this route enough to know it's about to get real hot.

Joseph and Shane at the agave patch just beyond Gould Mesa.

Joseph and Shane at a large cactus patch between Gould Mesa and Paul Little picnic area.

Joseph crosses the creek yet again in the Arroyo Seco. What a pleasure to be here.

Shane navigates the rocks.

Another creek crossing below Paul Little picnic ground.

Blue-belly lizard at Paul Little picnic ground.

Joseph and Shane at the dam just past Paul Little.

Joseph and Shane at Paul Little picnic ground.

Just past Paul Little there is a short but steep climb. It is a dose of reality; a taste of things to come.

Doing real well so far.

Where did the water go?

This stuff is gross.

For a first-timer, Joseph proves to be a strong outdoorsman.

We stop for lunch at Oakwilde campground. Ramen soup (salty) tastes sooo good.

This cool tree is at Oakwilde campground.

Just past Oakwilde campground we found this abandoned bicycle.
Farther up the trail we found the abandoned bicycle seat!

The first of several places we will come to where the trail has eroded away.

Joseph and Shane on the trail between Oakwilde and Switzers.

The largest yucca Shane has ever seen.

Joseph just keeps on chugging. Wrestling and track served him well. Ah, to be so young again....

The trail between Oakwilde and Switzers is a long uphill climb and it can take its toll, but Joseph is up for it.

Classic San Gabriel mountains trail shot.

We came up this valley.

The worst is over for today.

Trail sign at the fork for Oakwilde, Switzers picnic ground and Bear canyon. We will now descend into Bear canyon and check out Switzers Falls.

Bummer...these large trees have pretty much filled up my favorite swimming hole. I wonder how long they will be there? Will a flood take them out? Recognizing they represent a hazard to swimmers, will the Forest Service remove them?

We camped about a half mile downstream from Switzer Falls. We didn't use tents: we each had a "sleep screen" which provided protection from the bugs. We had no rain throughout this trip.

The next morning, on the trail to Switzers picnic ground.

We saw this helicopter at Switzers picnic ground.

Helicopter at Switzers picnic ground.

Helicopter at Switzers picnic ground.

The trail from Switzers picnic ground to Red Box station is uphill and hot. We took a rest beneath a large coulter pine and Joseph and Shane had their first exposure to the massive coulter pine cones. You don't see these in Illinois!

Shane on the trail between Switzers picnic ground and Red Box station.

Joseph's heels prove to be the kink in his armor. He had some blister problems. Here we've covered his blisters with some duct tape (not as ridiculous as it may sound.)

Check out the background. The San Gabriels are very rugged. But then, so is Joseph.

The view from Red Box station. We came up this canyon from Switzers picnic ground, the trail paralleling the highway. The Native American museum at Red Box station was open and I took advantage of the available Coca Cola. We had lunch and rested at Red Box before continuing on to Valley Forge campground.

We followed the road down, down, down from Red Box station to Valley Forge campground. You hate to lose altitude in the San Gabriels because you know you're going to have to climb back up again!

Welcome to Valley Forge campground. There were probably 50-60 people camped here but we found a relatively private spot to set up camp.

When we set up camp, it appeared as though we might get some rain, so we got the rain fly ready just in case, but it wasn't necessary.

The next morning we woke and continued our hike. The first leg was from Valley Forge campground to West Fork campground.

At West Fork campground we would leave the Gabrielino trail and take the Silver Moccasin trail. This next segment - Shortcut Canyon to Shortcut Saddle - is always tough. It's uphill and exposed. It's always hot.

There is a spot in the lower part of Shortcut Canyon where the trail has fallen away. So you have to go down to the creek, around the slide, and back up to the trail.

One of very few pictures of yours truly. I am drinking water and Gatorade like crazy, but I just can't cool down. I am so sweaty. It is sooo hot.

Looking back towards Mt. Wilson. Our hike started on the other side of that mountain. We didn't go over it: we took the long way around it.

Shortcut Canyon trail.

Joseph just below Shortcut Saddle.

Joseph just below Shortcut Saddle.

Shane and Joseph at Shortcut Saddle. Here's where it gets really tough. You go down, down, down again and then up, up, up to Charlton Flats picnic ground. It isn't as difficult as Shortcut Canyon, but it feels worse because it is after Shortcut Canyon so you're tired before you start.

Another water stop from a trickle of a stream between Shortcut Saddle and Charlton Flats picnic ground.

Our rest stops are becoming more frequent. The heat is taking its toll on me. I'm wondering if it is due to the medication I started this year. What are all those warnings about avoiding direct exposure to sunlight? I've had a whole lot of exposure!

I am always so excited when I get to Charlton Flats as it is breezy and cool and the pines are beautiful. But not this time. The picnic ground is abandoned. The forest appears dead. There are downed trees everywhere. And then I see this sign. At this point I am so exhausted from the heat and frustrated by what I am seeing that I am thinking we may cut this trip short.

Due to the pesticide sign, I decide we will take the most direct route out of this picnic ground. We follow the road to the Angeles Crest highway. There are downed trees and piles of firewood everywhere. It breaks my heart.

I think the ranger station at Charlton Flats has been closed for years. The water at the ranger station has been turned off. We are almost out of water, so I start flagging down cars asking for water. Most people are happy to stop and help and share their water.

This dear woman gave us water, then asked if we wanted her to drive back up the road to a restaurant and bring back some burgers. I couldn't believe her generosity. I give her $20 and she takes off. She comes back a little later with a bag of food and drinks and says "The receipt is in the bag just so you know I didn't rip you off." And then off she goes. I find the receipt...for $31. This is what hikers refer to as a "trail angel". Thank you, ma'am. God bless you.


The burgers and fries are so much better than the freeze dried dinners we were planning on cooking (behind Joseph.)

We hike three miles on the highway from Charlton Flats to Chilao campground.
I have absolutely nothing left.

We will spend our third night at Chilao campground.

Joseph's blisters are bothering him. And the heat is affecting me worse than it ever has. Is it my medication? We decide to call it quits, a decision which will plague me for a long time. I call my sister Ida and she will come tomorrow night and take us home.

Our campsite at Chilao. Shane says it feels good to be in bare feet.

Good morning, sleepy head.

We've got a day to kill here. So Shane and Joseph decide to harvest some Coulter pine cones.

Shane, back from the hunt.

While the boys hunt coulters, I nap. I take several short strolls throughout the day. I am exhausted. I know quitting was the right thing to do, but it nags at me constantly. I had such high hopes for the boys for this trip. The feeling that I may have let them down only serves to bring me down.

Joseph admires his beard.

I win.

Hi Shane.

"You're mine!"

The hunter shows his technique.

Jack rabbit at Chilao.

Joseph gets overly ambitious!

Trophies from the days hunt.

One good thing about ending the hike early is the boys had another chance to visit the ocean before flying home. This is Joseph and Shane on the Newport pier.

White boy on Newport pier.

Too cool for Illinois.
"I'd take a job as a hit man if I could live like this!"
(Note to Stacee: I think he's kidding, but I can't be sure.)

There were a lot of jellyfish this year.

Jellyfish as seen from the Newport pier.

Bill and Shane get an Italian ice on the walk at 15th street.

This home on the walk has a beautiful garden.

Joseph and Shane said "Bishop Coleman would love this!"

Another advantage of ending our hike early was a chance to attend the open house for the Newport Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Joseph at the Newport LDS temple open house.

Shane at the Newport LDS temple open house.

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