Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hike 2011.020 -- Fish Canyon

Hiked Wednes-day, March 30. I initially planned to hike this either Monday or Tuesday, but I went and substituted a hike in Whitewater on Monday, and on Tuesday, I forgot my camera and didn't feel like heading back out here after heading home. I would have preferred those other days because this is a long and tough hike, and not something you want to do when it gets hot.

I think this is my third time doing Fish Canyon the long way. I also did it once the easy way.

The easy way is obviously quicker. It's about 4 miles roundtrip of hiking, with only a few steep gains and a net gain of about 700 feet going. But it can get way too crowded for my taste. All that pent up demand between shuttle days means when Vulcan (Azusa Rock) runs their shuttle vans, the vans tend to be full. In theory, regular, 7-day a week access by foot is coming, since it's one of the conditions in the new development agreement Vulcan has with Azusa. That may be a while coming, however.

The hard way is a bear of a hike. You need to make about a 3,000 foot gain to work over and around the current Vulcan Mining operation, both coming and going. In theory, this route will be obliterated once Vulcan moves their operations to the west. When the mining shift (and regular access via a low route) will occur depends in part upon the litigation surrounding the new development agreement.

To get to the trialhead for the long hike, take the 605 freeway north to Huntington Drive. That's at the end of the freeway. The second lane from the left will take you there. Make a right at Huntington, and head east for just under one mile. After passing Las Lomas, the next left will be Encanto Parkway.

Head north on Encanto Parkway. After just over 1/2 mile, you'll pass Encanto Park, on your left. If you need to use the restroom, go there, because there aren't any restrooms at the trailhead or anywhere along the trail.

There's also the Duarte Museum there (777 Encanto Pkwy, Duarte, 91010). I mention this because on Sunday, April 10, I plan to join my friends in the Old Town (Monrovia) Sidewalk Astronomers there for a public star party. Weather-permitting, we should get a nice view of Saturn and the moon. If we're there late, we might try for a few deep sky objects, but usually for urban events we just stick with brighter objects. We start around dark, after folks who came to the Duarte Chamber of Commerce potluck are done eating.

About 1/2 a mile past the park, you'll pass the last of the houses. The road will get narrower and rougher. Shortly after a dirt road (Van Tassel Mountainway) headed off to the left, you'll see a small (unmarked, unpaved, unsigned) parking area on your left. It's surrounded by mounds of dirt pushed around the lot by bulldozers. Park there.

The actual trail begins on the northwest end of the lot (that's the back right, if you're facing the lot from the road). You cross on a small wooden walkway, then head towards a display board with some trail information. Continue to your north. Right around here this morning, I saw a little bunny rabbit.

As you keep walking, you'll soon find yourself with a chain link fence immediately on your right, keeping you out of a horse boarding and exercise area. Dogs will probably bark at you as you walk by.

Next, you start to climb. And you'll do a LOT of that on this trail. Even worse, you'll probably want to do this hike wearing long pants, since there's LOTS of poison oak along the trail, unless you come in the dead of winter, when poison oak drops its leaves. There were also some poking thistle along the trail ("Poking" here is a verb here, not the proper name of the plant!).

On the positive side, there were plenty of flowers blooming. Mustard, daisies, sunflowers, thistle, sage, Canterbury bells, lupine, California poppy, and morning glory, chia, and blue dicks were common on the way up. Monkey flower were visible in the "jungle," the heavily overgrown area that breaks up the climb up. I also saw blue larkspur once I got near the river, as well as other flowers I didn't recognize.

Also on the way up were several nice views of the snow-covered mountains to the east: Mt Baldy, Mt Cucamonga and Mt. Ontario, among them. Some views were framed by flowers. All views showed what seemed to me to be a crazy amount of snow for being practically April. Depending on how hot it gets in the next few weeks, as well as if we get any more snow it could be well into June before the summit is clear.

After the long climb, you eventually reach what feels like a little depression in the path. It's obviously a moister area, as the growth tends to be thick. This is also where you'll run into your first poison oak, which will often grow right adjacent to or over the trail. It's almost impossible not to rub against it as you walk, so long pants are a good idea.

When I reached the jungle today, I was accomp-anied by a turkey vulture, who kept riding the thermals above this ridge.

When you pop out of the jungle, you are then walking along a chain link fence. Walk along that fence for a few hundred yards. Then the trail curves to the left, and begins another significant climb. Finally, you'll pass between a gap in another fence. Shortly after that, your're over the ridge, and making a long descent back towards Fish Canyon.

For the math to work out, the entire climb and descent is just three miles each way. But it is a 3,000 foot net gain, so it feels a lot further.

You are now on the regular Fish Canyon trail. From here, it's less than two miles to the waterfall. With the water not far below you, however, the trail now begins another ascent. It's nothing compared to what you've already done, but because you've already done it (and you know that big hill is waiting for you on the return), even these smaller gains can be demoralizing.

Nonetheless, at least now you are often able to look down at and hear the rushing water, so I suppose it should feel cooler. The foundations of several cabins and walls are visible from here on in, just in case you want to make some detours.

About a mile in, there's an interesting "spiral staircase," where the trail makes its way between tree branches. Shortly after that, there may be a small amount of water crossing the trail. If there is, you can take a short detour to the left here. Darlin' Donna Falls is up that way, less than 100 yards from the trail, but completely invisible without getting off the main trail.

Less than 1/2 mile past there, you cross the main portion of Fish Creek. Or at least, you do if you want to make it to the falls. Depending on the volume of water coming down the creek and your confidence in your own sense of balance, this may be easy or hard.

As you contemplate your way across the water, take a look upstream. If it's early season, there may be a thin fall of waters, coming down the canyon face, on your left.

Once across the river, it is again less than 1/2 mile before you reach the end of the road.

Fish Canyon Falls deserves the "s," because there are multiple falls here. You can walk right up to the pool of one of them. Two others are above this "main" falls, although one is semi-invisible, depending on the angle you're looking at it. A fourth falls drops from the pool of the main falls.

Any one of them would be quite a sight in the San Gabriel Mountains. Having all four here together (plus, potentially, Darlin' Donna and the unnamed falls near the river crossing) makes this one of the special places in the local mountains.

After enjoying the falls, I headed back. I wasn't looking forward to this, because I brought less liquid to drink than I intended (a byproduct of doing the Whitewater hike on Monday and being too lazy and too stubborn to toss another bottle into my backpack). As it was, I had only a quart to drink, which is 1/2 what I should have brought.

When I got back to my car, the car thermom-eter said it was 88 degrees. I stopped at Encanto Park to fill up my bottle with water and splash some on my face. That helped, but I know I should have brought more to drink. The fact that the weather was even warmer than I expected didn't help things. It was way too hot to be doing this hike today.

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