Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hike 55: Fish Canyon Direct

On Feb. 1, I took the "scenic" route to Fish Canyon Falls. It was a tough hike (reportedly 9 miles roundtrip) with a huge, 1,200 foot or so altitude gain involved both coming and going.

Today (May 8), I took the easy way--A shuttle van from Azusa Rock's parking lot to the trailhead. This trail has usually been reported as five miles roundtrip. However, I finished the roundtrip in 90 minutes--and that's with a number of stops for photos and getting blocked by the mass of humanity on this trail today. I walk pretty fast, but not *that* fast. At the end of my hike, my legs didn't feel in the least bit tired. This, despite the fact that there are at least two segments where the trail climbs rather sharply above the riverbed. This probably means the five mile figure was from the old trailhead outside of Azusa Rock's property, across their property and then to the falls. Since the van transports you across their property, this probably knocks a 1/2 mile off the trip, each way.

I arrived at the Azusa Rock parking lot sometime around 10:30am. I needed to hastily scribble my name into the log book, since the van was ready to leave. This was one of the Saturdays when Azusa Rock runs a free shuttle bus through their property to the old Fish Canyon trailhead. As noted previously, without the shuttle van, the trail is a long and circuitous route that requires a huge altitude gain and loss just to get to near the trailhead that this van was taking us to.

Personally, I think Azusa Rock (Vulcan Materials) should be required to maintain full, reasonable access to this trail in the Angeles National Forest at all times. That should mean more than just a van running once or a few times a month for eight hours or so at a shot. However, since the van was running today, I figured I'd take advantage of it to see what the short version of a Fish Canyon hike would be like.

The answer is that it's a piece of cake, albeit a CROWDED piece of cake. Because much of the trail is quite narrow, that means a number of times I needed to stand to the side as 2, 4, 7, or as many as 16 hikers (a Cub Scout den and accompanying parents) headed the other way. I was also slowed a number of times by slower hikers blocking the way. All of this is just to reiterate that it was Chantry Flats or Eaton Canyon crowded, and that I'm sure I wasn't even doing my 3 mph "cruising on flat, open trail" pace, which makes the five mile RT number unbelievable.

The falls themselves were still very nice. However, I'd wager there were at least 40 people in and around the pools near the falls when I reached the end of the trail. There were also at least a dozen playing in the river along the way. That's in addition to the 45 or so people I passed going the other way on the way in, and the 20 or so I passed on the way out. The van driver told me they usually get 200-300, and sometimes 400 or more people on these open access days.

Bottom line: If you come on an open access date, this hike is pretty easy. However, there are still a couple of steep sections, and the trail is very narrow in places. There's one spot where you need to almost "monkey bar" your way around a tree. You do need to pay attention to what you're doing. That makes this hike tougher than getting to Sturdevant or Eaton Canyon Falls. However, because of the pent-up demand created by the limited access, the crowds here are comparable.

By contrast, if you go on a non-open access date, it's a killer of a hike. But on my February trip, I don't recall seeing more than five people during my entire hike, and 3 of them were as I was returning to the parking lot. Today, there were only four cars in the bypass trail parking lot when I drove out.

Bush sunflowers blooming on the hill just a few hundred yards into the hike.

Stunning blue flowers. It's the first time I've seen them, and I haven't yet identified them. Best match I've found is a larkspur, but it doesn't look *exactly* like any pictures of them I've seen, either.

A shot of a different group of these same species of blue flowers.

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