Categories
Reports Camp Operations Camp News

Good News & Other News for 2022

Last Year’s News for 2022

The work crew putting the safety line to good use across the Slide Rock Gap: L-R board members Paul Witman and Sarah Barron (rock climber and rope-slinger), with Brent Pepper and Scott Wilson. All made it safely across.

It never rains in California, until it does. Then it really does! The end of year holiday rain and snowfall made the national news and has been the intense focus of everyone in Big Santa Anita Canyon.

Since the Bobcat fire, Sturtevant Camp volunteers have been double-tasking: working on recovery in camp and shoveling a lot of rock and gravel just to get into camp.

Now the rains have done real damage and reshaped most of the canyon stream bed. The damage includes complete loss of sections of the trail to sharp, often steep washouts. Side canyons became roaring torrents filled with gravel that quickly carved through anything not solid rock. Some of the cuts are deep or wide or both, making for difficult crossings. But some are also “exposed” with a steep drop-off threatening a misstep.

Those are points of individual danger but the more serious threat is that until these cut-outs/drop-offs are repaired the pack train can’t get through. This is bad for business on both ends, the pack station and the camp.

The Sturtevant Conservancy board is working with Maggie Moran, owner of Adams’ Pack Station, to solve the problem and get on with the continuing work of preparing for when the canyon re-opens. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a full-body workout, otherwise known as trail work, click here to volunteer!

New Year’s Tough News

L.A. County technical drawing of the section of Chantry Flat road to be removed and replaced with a bridge. First the entire side of the canyon above this will be ‘rock-scaled’, which means scraping off/bringing down as much of the loose surface rock and dirt as possible.

We previously reported on the 2022 Chantry Flat road project to construct a new bridge, spanning 240 feet at mile marker 2.95, near the top of the road. Chantry Flat will be cut off with no vehicles allowed or even able to pass through for the duration of the work (proof of which is that Los Angeles County is paying for rental cars for those living at Chantry Flat.)

That’s the project, but not the news, which is the schedule. Work is to begin mid-February (weather permitting) with official completion targeted for mid-October of this year. But with an allowance for weather and supply delays plus corrections the road may not reopen until February, 2023.

Together with the Bobcat fire closure plus damaged trails, this means no public access to the Big Santa Anita Canyon via Chantry Flat from September, 2020 to around Christmas, 2022. That would be nearly two and a half years of shut down.

The impact on the camp and pack station are of course significant. Any creative work-arounds will be complicated. Hypothetically, the canyon could be opened to the public before the road project is finished; this would allow hikers to enter from Mt. Wilson and the back country, which could also be an opportunity for the camp to open to guests, and to engage the pack station for packing. Of course, that would still be complicated.

Stay tuned for head-scratching, brainstorming, and hopefully a few miracles.

One Way to Add Campers

The brightest smile in the canyon just got brighter: Board member Teah Vaugh-Piscopo looks forward to becoming a first-time mom in July. Congratualtions!

The Sturtevant Conservancy is expanding unexpectedly and joyfully. At our recent meeting, board member Teah Vaughn-Piscopo shared her good news that she and her husband Graham Piscopo will welcome their first child in July. Teah was quick to say that won’t keep her from the trail, and not even the typical dose of shoveling along the way, but lifting heavy stuff will be out since she’ll already be doing increasingly heavy lifting 24/7!

Along with everyone who has enjoyed her enthusiastic welcome into camp (and her yummy cookies), the board joins in wishing Teah and her family good health and progress; we’ve already signed up to take turns carrying the kid up to camp until Teah can lace-up some tiny hiking boots on the new munchkin!

New Year’s Goals FYI*

During the early phase of the pandemic shutdown, many people took the opportunity to clean out closets, organize photo files, and otherwise catch-up on deferred maintenance. With 2022 shaping up to be closed for the canyon and the camp, the board is likewise aiming to catch-up on a long list of to-do items, and to make some improvements. But not all of those are building fix-its and upgrades.

For example, once camp re-opens, the volunteer hosts will need a new operating manual based on changes caused from the Bobcat fire, including changes in the water system (draft title: “How to Make Happy Campers”). There are new insurance requirements for the guests’ safety orientation and there will be new kitchen and housekeeping protocols to prevent further bear damage. And, of course, there are many new stories to show-and-tell about the camp after the fire.

*For Your Invitation: the pool of camp hosts will need to be re-recruited, expanded and trained! If you’re interested, visit the Volunteer page.


Shoes Found

The flooded stream unearthed some antiques: this jumble of horse, mule and burro shoes was found at the high-water mark behind the generator shed. Likely they had been salvaged for use in craft projects back when children’s camps made souvenir plaques of their week at camp, and mounted them the dining hall rafters.


Ever-Changing Stream Beds

Looking at the trail crossing between the Honeymoon Cottage and the Mt. Zion & Mt. Wilson trails junction. The first storm filled in the stream bed with sand and gravel, and second storm carved it all out.


Crossing The Gap

Upper right, Paul Witman adjusts the safety rope for crossing above a missing and very exposed gap in the trail while Gary Keene ponders the drop-off from the edge of the exposure.

Upper right, Paul Witman adjusts the safety rope for crossing above a missing and very exposed gap in the trail, while Gary Keene ponders the drop-off from the edge of the exposure.
Categories
Camp Operations Camp News Volunteer

Board Introductions & Water Tank Update

Who We Are

Sturtevant Conservancy board members on a video conference call.
Video conference with the board members.

The Sturtevant Conservancy is a non-profit registered in California; its purpose is to sustain historic Sturtevant Camp for the public benefit, operating on land leased from the U.S. Forest Service.

The governing Board members are volunteers who supervise and manage the mission of the Conservancy, and the camp itself. Board members are recruited based on their “boots on the ground” commitment to the camp, as well as the diverse skills needed to operate the camp. These include guest hospitality, site operations and maintenance, marketing, financial management, lumberjacking and trail-building. All have the passion to share the Sturtevant experience with the public for the future.

Check out their bios and profile photos on the Who We Are page.

Four Hauled, Two Qued

We had the parts, the people and a plan—then if finally rained for real in the San Gabriels! The first run to deliver a water tank panel up to camp was delayed so that the trail could get worked back into shape (mostly). Plenty of shovels and shoulders were duly exercised!

Over the next few weekends, a variety of regular and newbie volunteers came together to manually haul the roughly 4x8ft curved steel panels up the main trail. Each time was an experiment with improvements the final delivery will be simple and almost easy. The chief factor was not weight but the wiggliness of the panel, and the persistently unstable trail.

The success was mostly because people were good at working together and sure-footed on the trail. A lot of new friendships were made, and future volunteers inspired. A good thing, because there is always more to do at Camp!

Binocular Report

Stay tuned for the end-of-the-year-holiday edition of the Big Cone Blog!


Categories
Reports Camp Operations Camp News

Trees Down, Flowers Up, Gate Closed

Forest More Open – Canyon Still Closed

Extended closure map

The Angeles National Forest is slowly opening after the Bobcat Fire, but the Big Santa Anita Canyon remains closed. The original order closed the Forest through this April, and there was hope that when it expired, the Canyon would re-open. And the U.S. Forest Service did open nearly 60% of the closed area, but extended the closure for the remaining 40% of the Forest through Spring 2023. You guessed it: the Camp and Canyon remain in the closed area.

It’s hard to make a positive case for public access to the Canyon at this time*. Spring weather continues to move the streambed around and knock trees down across the trails. Volunteers are engaged in a Sisyphean effort to clear deadfall and quickly scrape the trail on their way in, but the tread remains sharply rocky and unstable. Basically, the trail is still hazardous and just plain unwelcoming.

*And that’s ignoring the Chantry Road project; if the Canyon was opened before the Road is completed, hiking access would have to be from the Mt. Wilson side or Newcomb’s Pass).

Closed, Except to Flowers!

Bushwhacking through Canterbury Bells

Given all the above conditions, the old days of a relatively smooth walk/hike in the mountains looking up into the trees is gone, at least for now. But it’s also true that the trail and hillsides are overwhelmed by tall bright green grasses and wildflowers concealing the trail, most of them between knee and hip-high; it’s like pushing through powder snow! Especially abundant are the blue Canterbury Bells—what used to be a nice annual scattering along south-facing hillsides is now a dense blanket of purple-blue.

So, hiking into Camp isn’t without its rewards! Work is currently focused on clearing a few pinch points in the trail so a fully loaded Pack Train can come all the way through to Camp. The load going up will be cement-mix and parts for the water tanks; coming out will be the charred remains of Cabin-1 and the old tanks, plus accumulated broken junk that needs to go out.

To get in on the action while the flowers are still bright, go to sturtevantcamp.com/support

Back in the Cabin Again

Sarah & Teah at dinner

Given the USFS guidelines for safety in the post-burn Canyon, no one has stayed in Camp since guests were evacuated for the Bobcat fire 20 months ago. But earlier this month, we ‘broke the fast’ and for a very timely reason: board member and Manager for Guests & Hospitality Teah Vaughn-Piscopo was the host who evacuated that group, and her first baby is due this July. She quite rightly wanted to spend a first and last “normal” night in Camp “Before I shift from carrying the baby inside to outside.”

Following the hiker’s safety rule of 3 minimum, fellow Board members Sarah Barron and Gary Keene hiked in with Teah for a very mixed 24 hours: originally scheduled for a Friday-Saturday that suddenly became insanely hot, they shifted forward just one day—and instead hiked in a cool drippy drizzle. A lovely dinner of Italian cuisine followed, then Teah slept in the Manager’s Cabin with a can of bear spray just in case Peggy the Bear decided to try her old trick of coming through the closet wall!

Instead, the wind howled all night, and the morning brought a clear and beautiful day for the hike out. But not before Teah finished her job of refitting the bear-damaged refrigerator doors in the Lodge kitchen! Thanks and congrats to Teah, we’ll keep everyone posted here about her birth-day.

Peggy On the Move Again

Cabin-owners at Fern Lodge and up Winter Creek are reporting a new round of bear break-ins, which is frustrating: nobody is keeping any food that would attract attention, but Peggy clearly learned to check back just in case, pulling boards off cabin walls like the lever on a slot machine—might get lucky!

Fortunately, she hasn’t been back to Camp (yet.) What few dry staples were salvaged from the original break-ins after the fire are stashed – where else? – in the Bear Bin, a solid sheet metal container designed to hold garbage until the Pack Train can pick it up.

No ‘permanent’ repairs have been made to the prior damage either: the plan is to develop a food/bear security protocol for when we re-open, and make the real repairs then. With any luck, having people more consistently on site will help keep Peggy (the peg-legged bea) away.

Moving Mountains: a Hydrologist’s Prediction

Standard orientation for guests at Camp includes pointing out that the San Gabriels are one of the most unstable mountain ranges anywhere. The combination of decomposed granite sitting on the uplift of the San Andreas Fault means we’re always falling / sliding / eroding down. Now the Bobcat fire has exposed all that, and with any hit of rain, more is carried down the canyon, filling in the streambed like a beach.

Now, according to an L.A. County hydrologist, we can expect more. Detailed post-fire surveys measured the loss of vegetation and the amount of remaining exposed soils, their depth and composition; next came rainfall calculations, with the estimate what we saw around Christmas 2021 will repeat for the next 3-5 years. Put those together, and there is a high probability we will continue to see the Big Santa Anita Canyon seriously re-shaped in the years to come. Grab your shovels and wax those boots!

Really BIG Holes

Drilling really big holes

Camp volunteers are getting a close-up look at the Chantry Road bridge project; vehicles have to be left behind about the 3 miles up the road, and then everyone hikes through the churned-up dirt, rocks and huge drilling equipment. Almost two dozen bore holes are going in through soil and solid rock, some 55 ft and other 75 ft down. Pretty nifty what you can do with gigantic heavy metal bits and engines, but we’ll stick with our shovels and McLeods!

Binocular Report

“Opening Next Spring” is the refrain for predictions about when the USFS will open the Big Santa Anita Canyon to the public; the ideal would be to coincide with the re-opening of the Chantry Road scheduled before Thanksgiving. But HOW that re-opening happens is purest speculation.

During the early phases of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Canyon was overwhelmed with people desperately seeking to get outdoors together. So, it’s a good bet that once the gate formally opens, thousands will want to see the effects of the Bobcat Fire up close—as well as to again, get outdoors. How will the canyon be made ready—safe for the public, managed in terms of parking, trail directions, trash collection? All eyes are on the USFS.

Although the Camp remains closed for business, we’re still busy with repair and improvement projects: funding these projects is now entirely dependent on charitable donations of time, talents and dollars. You can help with any or all of these! Click into the Volunteer and Donate links, and keep in touch here as we find our way forward on the trail in 2022.

April Photo Gallery

Categories
Reports Camp Operations Camp News

Building Large & Small

There are two “big” projects underway that, when completed, will give the public safe and reliable access into the Big Santa Anita Canyon. The objectively larger one is the L.A. County project to build a vehicle bridge on the Chantry Road, using heavy—really, really heavy! – equipment. It is currently on track for completion in early October.

The smaller but no less crucial one is helping the Adams Pack Station to reclaim the ‘horse’ or pack trail from Chantry Flats up to Camp; the tools and equipment are shovels, pick-axes, McLeods, and strong backs! The packtrain burros will be the first regular users, with hikers coming later when the Canyon opens to the public (hopefully next spring).

The trail is rough but navigable by foot now, but there is one rocky pinch point the burros cannot pass with their bags loaded; plus a few other points are tricky and need work. As soon as these can be fixed, Maggie Moran can start packing, which serves the Pack Station and the Camp—both of which remain endangered by the closure of the Canyon nearly two years after the Bobcat Fire. To join this project, visit sturtevantcamp.com/volunteer. We’ll provide the shovel!

Spring = New Births

Flowers aren’t the only things blooming in the Canyon: bear cubs have been sighted near Chantry, and on the trail to Camp, Manager Paul Witman came upon three still wet, just-born fawns (see photo). Then in Camp, a Dusky Flycatcher has made a nest in its usual place on the kitchen windowsill of the Manager’s Cabin – but this time had the advantage of a cup previously filled with ammonia to stave off the bears. A week after the first photos of her sitting on 3 eggs, the work team returned to find them hatched and hungry; the photo here shows them napping while mom is out hunting for breakfast.

How to Sell “Camp”

With Camp closed for repairs and preparing for re-opening ‘later’, the Board is catching its breath and thinking about how to advertise for that re-opening. Sturtevant is so wholly unique, it’s hard to accurately “sell”: hikers come into true wilderness, but stay in cabins, with kitchens and restrooms. Sturtevant is just 25 miles from downtown LA. so it’s ‘accessible’—but that 4.15 mile hike makes it genuinely remote. In Camp guests are “wi-fi free”, yet most awareness of Camp is built on-line, especially now while the Canyon is closed. It feels luxurious to have bed and pillows in the wilderness, but for sure it’s not glamping, it’s rustic—historically, intentionally, inevitably rustic!

We’re confident that the Canyon’s magic will continue to pull in all kinds of people, just as it has since Wilbur set up the first tents in 1893. With that in mind, one option to both sell that Canyon magic and recover the guest capacity of Cabin-1 could be to put up an old-school canvass sidewall tent. These have become popular and are readily available—just as they were way back when: the accompanying photo is from the 1897 Sears & Roebuck catalogue, showing many kinds of tents for recreation and work.

Note that 1897 is the same year that Wilbur built the “Swiss Dining Lodge” to accommodate his booming tent-based resort business. We still enjoy it today, and are working so that many more can continue to come to Camp in the years ahead. To be part of helping that history thrive in the future visit sturtevantcamp.com/support.

Calling All Hosts, Old & New

Speaking of which (the Future): Sturtevant’s microscopic non-profit public service Conservancy depends entirely on volunteer hosts to welcome and manage guests on weekends. Looking ahead to re-opening (sometime after Christmas?) we are ramping up to recruit old and new hosts for that exciting day.

This includes an updated job description, orientation and training for hosts, and a smoother booking system for hosts, with accompanying “bennies” on the far end. If you have been a host before or want to be considered, visit sturtevantcamp.com/volunteer and/or send an email stating your interest—we’re interested in you!

And the Water-Works Goes On

These snapshots from progress on the water system include Site & Operations Manager Paul Witman piecing together the filter system for the replacement tanks at the entry to Cabin-2, which has become the storage and assembly site for all the valves, tools, etc. Action figure-photo-volunteer Scott Wilson pumps the come-along to drag one of the old concrete tank support ledgers out of its place, making room for the replacement tank/s. And Scott at rest, surveying the reworked pad for the new water tanks: the new ones are shorter but wider than the ones lost to the fire, so the pad had to be slightly expanded.

Binocular Report

Going into summer, the Conservancy’s “backpack” is full of work: getting the pack train through to Camp a.s.a.p., installing and testing the water tank (as the water level drops for the season and the continuing drought), finalizing host recruitment and training, housekeeping and repairs in Camp, upgrading our accounting and reservations systems, and developing both marketing and publicity before the Forest opens, etc.! In other words, we’re keeping our boots laced up and ask you to do the same with a visit to sturtevantcamp.com/support

Bonus Shot / Up Next

Here is a fuzzy spy photo of – what? One of our volunteers with – what? See next month’s newsletter for the big reveal!

Categories
Camp Operations Camp News Volunteer

Hot Summer News

What’s Boring?

Paul with plumbing parts

Frankly, the news from Camp is boring, for now. A lot of detail work on valves and pipes, and a lot of grunt-work doing fire clearance in & around Camp, plus brushwork on the trail. That’s cutting back all that tall green grass from this winter that’s gone brown. Also, many of the toasted and burned chaparral and smaller trees are finally sagging into and over the trail, and have to be clipped/cut back so the pack train can get through. That will be exciting news (the pack train delivering) but, later! Check back here in August for the latest.

Arbutus Comes Home

Meet Arbutus

After many years in hibernation elsewhere, ‘Arbutus, the electric green mule’ has finally come back home to Sturtevant. Designed to hand-truck propane tanks to and from the Camp using an electric bicycle wheel, its conception and journey parallels the recent history of the Canyon and the Camp.

Back in 2005, the Chantry Road was closed, similar to now, but because of a complete wash-out of one section, and an avalanche of rocky dirt on another. Although guests could (and did) hike down from Mt. Wilson, getting propane into Camp was “a problem”. With the road impassable, there was no way to get tanks filled and to the Pack Station for the burros to carry in. And without propane, there’d be no cooking, no heat in the cabins – and no happy campers!

How to bring tanks in and out from another trailhead? Doodling on a napkin, manager Chris Kasten and previous manager Gary Keene spit-balled a design for a tank carrier running on a car-battery powered electric bicycle wheel. Working with gravity, the carrier would roll a full tank down the Mt. Wilson trail, then turn around and boost an empty tank back to the top. They took the design to a bike shop that did the custom welding, and Chris named the contraption Arbutus (look it up!) Story continues below.

People, Who Need People

The crunch in summer air travel is mostly pegged to a shortage of staff—cabin stewards, gate personnel, etc. Those ‘front facing staff’ are the key to making the travel experience a positive one, while the mechanics and pilots work behind the scenes to actually deliver.

That’s similar to Camp: while the Conservancy works to get the water system working and the Camp ready for re-opening, it will be the Hosts who actually greet guests and help make their time at Camp a positive one. Those people (guests) need those people (hosts)!

The best hosts are ‘people people’ who know that “a pleasure shared is a pleasure doubled”. It’s true that Hosts also manage a lot of the house-keeping, and Camp being the nearly 130 years old, they often have to step in to make repairs and keep things safe over the weekend. So hosting isn’t coasting through a weekend at Camp.

But in return, Hosts become part of a special team with customized access to the Camp and Canyon. The job criteria are simple: are you a people person who appreciates the Camp and wants to share that? Are you available to commit to a few weekends in Camp (on your own schedule) over the course of a year? Oh, and do you love to hike?! An updated job description and orientation program will be available this fall to get ready for the Camp’s re-opening. If you have been a host before or want to be considered, visit sturtevantcamp.com/volunteer and/or send an email stating your interest — we’re interested in you!

Bun Definitely in the Oven

Teah and Gary

If ever there was a “bun in the oven”, Ripley Vaughn-Piscopo was it! With her birthday coming VERY soon, a baby shower for her mom (and Conservancy Board member) Teah was in order. Maggie Moran offered her home and its expanded porch at Adams Pack Station as the location, so in the scorching heat of an early summer Sunday, immediate family and friends gathered on the deck with the burros braying in the background. Teah was (as always) the life of the party, accompanied by husband and future dad Graham (sweating not the delivery but the heat, along with everyone else!)

Maggie and guests

Maggie was Hostess with the mostest and emceed the party, which included cold beverages, tasty snacks, and some fun games (including real horseshoes). NO tails were pinned on any actual donkeys, but most guests did visit the pack train in the corral to meet Teah’s “extended family.”

Thanks to Maggie for providing a great place to celebrate (plus her custom cupcakes!), and to board members Sarah Barron and Gary Keene for organizing and refreshments. Thanks also to Patrick Kelly and Dave Nickoloff of the Canyon Patrol for staffing the gate to get all the guests in on time. News of Ripley’s arrival will be posted on Wilbur’s Facebook page. Stay tuned!

Arbutus Continued

Arbutus headed back home

The shop finished Arbutus right when Chris was scheduled to be away for a rare vacation, so Gary picked it up for the test run. Rolling the loaded rig down from the summit of Mt. Wilson while feathering the brake was a breeze. The next morning, he turned around with an empty tank loaded and headed up: a small lever actuated the battery supply, and the ‘mule’ pulled the tank up the trail about 20 yards— and died.

Whaaaat?! After a few moments, the green light came back on: power on, roll forward and up – and dead. In between pushing and dragging, this on/off pattern repeated for another 3/4s of a mile or so, then stayed dead. Gary reported, “What was usually an hour hike to the summit took over 3 hours and was the toughest I’ve ever done—Mt. Rainier included!”

Turns out back then there were two kinds of electric wheel: one to help you get going, and a different model that you pedaled first, then it would assist. Arbutus had the first one, although it is doubtful any version could conquer Mt. Wilson. As usual, Chris figured it out, swapped out the wheel, and switched the delivery route over to Newcomb’s Pass (driving the tanks on the F.S. road to the drop-off/pick-up point for a most downhill run in.)

Arbutus fulfilled its purpose, carrying propane and groceries and repair supplies into Camp until the Chantry Road was repaired and re-opened. Then it got moved over to another Methodist camp in Wrightwood, where it languished for many years. With the closure of the Chantry road for a new bridge this season, Gary (as current General Manager) got to wondering where the it had gone to hibernate.

The green mule was recovered and turned over to John “JT” Thompson, the Camp’s ex-officio electrical wizard (who also happens to be a cyclist.) He renovated Arbutus, giving it two ‘tiny but mighty’ nicad batteries in place of the old car battery. Fourth of July weekend, a work team delivered Arbutus up the trail—or rather, chased it up the Canyon: with no load (this time!), the tire was skipping and pulling fast over rocks and roots, tossing dust and mud in the face of the drivers.

Next it will be tested for carrying various supplies in and out of Camp; eventually it will stay in Camp and help volunteers move propane tanks around the cabins, bathhouse and dining hall. No carrots, but regular re-charging should keep it in service for many years to come – check it out when you finally get back to Camp!

Binocular Report

While the Canyon is closed this summer, the Conservancy’s “backpack” is full of work: installing the filter and valve system for the water tanks, getting the pack train up to Camp, recruiting a new cadre of hosts, developing marketing before the Forest opens, plenty of repairs and maintenance on site – in other words, we’re keeping our boots laced up and ask you to do the same with a visit to sturtevantcamp.com/support