Friday, December 3, 2010

Hike 106: Lower Bear Creek

Hiked Friday, December 3. Post edited December 4.

It seemed to make sense to try to check out the other end of the trail I hiked on Wednesday. Today's trailhead is located off of CA-39, just like the last trailhead, but about four miles further south. There's a small parking area just before the CA-39 crosses the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, and a much larger parking area immediately after the bridge. The "trail" starts on the south side of the bridge. It's a paved road that runs eight miles, to Cogswell Reservoir. It's closed to public vehicles, however. But you can ride your bike.

On summer weekends, this place is crawling with people and their styrofoam ice chests. After a weekend, the styrofoam, paper plates, pizza boxes, chicken boxes, empty beer and soda cans, and other garbage litters the place. At least it did. It's been a long time since I dared to try visit this place on a summer weekend.

On this late fall weekday, however, things looked pretty placid. I saw three other people around the parking area, and ran across two guys with their horses and one hiker while on the trail.

Back to the hike: To hike lower Bear Creek, you follow this West Fork road and bikeway for just one mile.

As you approach the one mile point, I passed a large arrow with no sign, which I assumed pointed up Bear Creek. That meant heading off the road and crossing the creek. I did not succeed in staying dry. Not a very auspicious start.

A smarter move would have been to ignore the arrow, walk past the metal "1" pole (indicating one mile from the trailhead), cross the bridge to get to the "north" side of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, then making a left turn off the road, then looping under the bridge. There's a very well defined trail there, although I didn't know this until I returned at the end of the day.

Doing that would have reduced the number of stream crossings by one, and the number of soaking wet hiking socks by one, as well.

Once under the bridge, the trail runs for about a 1/4 mile nice and level. Then you start making stream crossings. Lots of them. I lost count how many times.

The good news is, if you're patient and study the crossings, nearly all of them could be navigated without any hopping. It helps if you have waterproof boots, and can afford to stand on rocks that don't quite rise above the water level.

The lower sections of the trail have been maintained within the past year. Nearly each time the trail approached the river, a reasonable way across could be seen, and a clear exit point (cut area in the vegetation on the other bank) made knowing when to cross pretty easy, at least most of the time. Also, sections of the trail were lined with rocks. Not the whole trail by any means, but enough that it made it easier to follow the correct path.

Also, for the first 1/2 mile, someone with a green can of spray paint placed arrows directing the way.

Although I read of several "camps" along the way, I saw no signs indicating the official location of these camps. I did see some fire rings, but that's about it. The first apparent camp area was about 1/2 mile in from the West Fork bikepath. At the one mile point, a sign post and missing sign announced--well, I don't know what they announced, since the sign was missing. At about 1 mile, I passed the remains of a stone cabin.

Mileages are from my borrowed GPS. I'm still skeptical of how accurate it can be in the canyon, however. At one point, it was giving me an altitude with a margin for error of 450 feet! If it's that uncertain on the altitude, I'm sure it can't measure all the twists and turns I'm taking under the canopy of trees and between the canyon walls.

I headed a total of about three miles north from the West Fork Road. I'm pretty sure I passed the point where the West Fork of Bear Creek joins, and went an additional 1/2 mile or so past that. I stopped when I both lost the trail and came to a crossing that would be difficult to make while staying dry. By then, my legs were getting tired from all the boulder hopping (although I managed to make nearly all the return crossings without hopping, I did not do that going out. You walk and you learn). Yes, I could have taken off my boots or searched some more. But I knew I had a long walk back with each and every one of what must be a dozen crossings to re-cross on the way back. Total roundtrip walking distance was approximately 8 miles, and I didn't get back to the car until about 4:30pm. Needed to put the sweater on the for that last mile. That meant I made the right decision to turn around when I did.

It was a very scenic hike. In addition to being able to see Twin Peaks from a different angle compared to what I saw on Wednesday, I also had plenty of river shots, some fall color, and early evening light on the clouds to enjoy for the last mile or so of my hike. I also came across some rock art.

Started the hike around 10:30am and didn't get back to the car until 4:30pm. Seems pretty slow, even with the stops to dry my socks and feet off, and picking my way across the river. Also, my legs feel a lot more tired than they should after just eight miles. On the other hand, I did need to do a lot of balancing and hopping on all those river crossings. Once I figure out how to plug my gps coordinates into a map, I hope to know for sure.

Nice thing about coming home late is the lighting gets very interesting. I got some nice shots looking down the road on my way home. Even with automated cameras, you can still play with the exposure some. Here's two very similar pictures, one in which I metered off the sky and exposed for the clouds, and one in which I metered off the foreground and exposed for the ground. The former is at the top of this post, while the latter is the last picture posted.

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