Reports Camp News Volunteer

More Hiking & More Digging

Not Quite a Valentine

February 14 was the first official day of the planned eight-month closure of Chantry Road for the construction of an all-new bridge. By June, it will be physically impossible for any vehicle to cross the gap where the bridge is being built. But the project will maintain a pedestrian walkway, so that people can cross from both directions: this will allow Adam’s Pack Station owner Maggie Moran and her family, plus the USFS residents of Chantry Flat, to get in and out—and for our volunteers to stay on the job of prepping the camp for eventual re-opening. The walk-around will add about a half-mile to the work-day distance total, guaranteeing that everyone gets their “steps” in, with or without carrying pipes and parts!

Unfinished Business

Weekend work-team lunch break; standing L-R are Scott Wilson, Brent Pepper, Maureen Nally; seated are Kelly Davidson, Board members Teah Vaughn-Piscopo and Sarah Barron.

Most fundraisers offer thank-you incentives and souvenirs to donors — T-shirts, tote bags, etc. There are a few of those for last season’s Quench campaign to fund the new water tanks, but we also promised something special to many donors: thank-you luncheons and experiences at Chantry Flat and at Sturtevant Camp.

However, the closure of the Chantry Flat road has put a very real roadblock on those plans, compounded by continuing concerns over Covid exposure. Therefore, the board has chosen to put a hold on everything until we can do those events right — on site, safely and fully inclusive. Before then, we’ll ask for your feedback on the best, most accessible versions of the events, so please watch your email in-box for customized messages, and reply with your preferences.

The Recovery Business

The two storms at the end of 2021 were a real set-back on the water system project, but thanks to the skill and tenacity of our board members, and the many new and returning volunteers, we are back on track. Volunteers have done so much shoveling — so much — and Site & Operations Manager Paul Witman has been hands-on/in the dirt and mud to guide the recovery and rebuilding of the essential plumbing. Soon the focus will shift to installing the new water tanks after we solve the cement delivery dilemma.

Our volunteers have proven themselves to be reliably sturdy, but we won’t ask them to haul 60lb bags of concrete up the trail— that’s what burros are for! Cement is needed for the base of the water tanks, but the main trail is not yet passable to the pack train; there is serious technical work to be done in several key spots, as well as miles worth of basic shoveling. As a temporary alternative, pack train owner Maggie Moran has explored the original Sturtevant Trail down from Mount Wilson to camp as an alternative. That would also require some work, plus complicated logistics, including staging the pack train at the observatory for a week or so. We’ll have an update in the next Bigcone blog on how the dilemma is resolved.

Big improvement added to the ropes — a crevasse ladder! Board member Gary Keene tests a donated and carried in 15ft extension ladder.

The Nut$ & Bolt$ of Business Closure

The guest welcome board in the dining hall, unchanged since the group evacuated from the Bobcat fire in September 2020.

Not being open for business is obviously bad for business, but the Board is working hard to not go out of business and get ready to do business—when the time comes! We are fortunate that we do not have the daily-demand costs of Adams’ Pack Station, whose burros don’t care about road and Forest closures—just bring on the feed!  That’s why we encourage everyone to support Maggie’s on-line fundraisers at

But we do have on-going expenses: more than just insurance and fees, the demand for basic repair and preventive maintenance is constant. As much as we enjoy the forest wilderness, it is a hostile environment to the camp’s buildings and infrastructure, requiring steady attention and investment.

With the road’s construction closure through October, combined with the USFS closure of the canyon until further notice, we do not anticipate guest revenue until maybe the 4th quarter of 2022, and that is very hopeful. It does give us time to tackle both major repair projects from the fire, as well as long-sought improvement projects. For example, the 1897 dining hall has serious termite damage to repair, and the roof is due for replacement; the shut-down is an ideal time to get these kinds of projects done.

Thanks to the Quench campaign and the cash balance of business income before the fire, the camp has its fiscal head above the financial waters—make that its nose! Project-focused fundraisers are on the horizon, and in next month’s blog, we’ll outline the historic and projected fiscal ecosystem of the camp as we plan to go forward.

Until then, your financial support strengthens our ability to use this closure to improve the future of the camp’s service to the public: Thanks in advance for doing so!

Green & Black, Flowers & Scat

Coming into February, our volunteers are seeing plenty of green sprouting in the canyon; while the Bobcat fire likely burned out some of the familiar invasive species, it has also given opportunity to many of the indigenous plants of the San Gabriel Mountains to take their rightful place in the sun. Right now, white blossoms of the climbing wild cucumber are all over, lightly scenting the air.

There’s also good news for some of the fauna: horticulturist and board member (and bear-whisperer!) Teah Vaughn-Piscopo identified several recent doses of scat on the trail as bear-poop which were very black and dense. This indicates a diet unusually heavy in meat; whatever the unfortunate source, at least the bears have not been back into our kitchen and buildings (knock on wood).

Next Month’s Bigcone Blog

News from the U.S.F.S. for the canyon, a snapshot of the camp’s fiscal ecosystem, updates from the cabin owner’s association annual meeting, and whatever else happens between now and then.

Camp News

The Ladder Is Gone, Burros Are Coming

Indian Paintbrush wildflower
Indian Paintbrush wildflower

Just in time for the Spring Equinox, the ‘Slide-Rock Gap’ in the main trail has finally been solved. After months of grabbing ropes and dancing across the infamous ‘Khumbu Ladder’ bridge near Hoegee’s Drop-off, a safe tread has been reestablished on solid rock; more importantly, it’s safe even for the Adams pack train.

It was no small accomplishment: the gap in the trail meant the Camp was cut off from the Pack Station, preventing critical repair supplies from being delivered, stalling recovery and reopening work. The gap also meant Adams Pack Station was cut off from vital revenue from the Camp; with Chantry Flats closed, owner Maggie Moran’s business is entirely dependent on packing in the Canyon. So fixing the gap was THE high priority.

The challenge of the gap was three interlocking adjacent facets, all exposed over a sharp drop-off: first a steeply sloped rock ledge capped by an insidiously-well-rooted tree, then a slick-rock slope finally morphing into a deep chute.

Into the gap stepped (and crawled and scrambled) three trail-building pros: Nathan Bousfield, Fred Tanis, and Jim Richter. Over three days, the team effectively re-sculpted those facets down-and-over into a stable path. The amount of gritty, artful pounding with various sledgehammers and chisels plus levering with titanium prybars was staggering (and exhausting). And the tree presented an unexpected challenge—kind of like “Do we cut the red wire or the green wire?” to get the roots woven into the rock to release.

Our deepest thanks to these never-say-quit rockhounds, and to Maggie for housing them at Chantry: they camped out in her new storage shed and she kept them fueled for the job, as well as packing in tools and water on the burros. Thanks also to the Friends of the San Gabriels, who brokered the authorization to do the work with the USFS. With this key link in the trail restored, most of the remaining trail work will be more like annual spring cleaning—a lot of shoveling, raking and brush clearance. Check the volunteer link to participate.

And, anybody need a lightly used 15ft extension ladder?

New BSACPA President Elected

The Big Santa Anita Canyon Permitees Association is composed of dues-paying cabin owners, and at their recent annual meeting, they elected former Treasurer Jane Bice to the office of President. Closely involved with all the post-Bobcat fire work on behalf of the cabin owners, Jane takes up the mantle from Ben Fitzsimmons, who steps down with thanks from everyone for his service.

Jane promises an aggressive approach to post-fire issues and concerns with the USFS, as well as the on-going well-being of the canyon community. The work is sure to ramp up in anticipation of the canyon re-opening to the public (date unknown), so the Camp (technically Cabin #105) offers our support and best wishes to Jane in her new role.

Closed For Real

Heavy excavator working on the road to Chantry Flat
Heavy excavator working on the road to Chantry Flat

The Chantry Road is now fully closed to vehicle traffic for work on the bridge construction project. Chantry residents, cabin owners and Camp volunteers have parking space allocated below the work zone (about 3 miles up / ¼ mile short of Chantry Flats), and need to coordinate with the contractor’s work schedule for walking access through the project. Chantry resident Dave Nickloff is posting photos of the project almost daily to his Facebook page, which show up on Wilbur Sturtevant’s page—check it out for the latest.

A Financial Ecosystem Too

Sturtevant Camp lives in a wilderness ecosystem of water, trees, moving rocks and soils, plus bears, termites, newts and mousies, It also functions in a constructed ecosystem of heated buildings, pipes, propane and electricity. (Note that “eco-” means “home”, both the where and the way living is carried out). The Board is always working for the Camp to operate in balance with its ecosystems, a home away from home in the forest.

The other key ecosystem is financial: how are we keeping the balance there? Looking back over the history of the Camp, the income/expense reports and balance sheets are quite stable. This is a reflection of the basically finite fiscal ecosystem of the Camp: with just 40 beds, rustic accommodations, operating only weekends, an average of 50 weeks a year, the possible range of guest income has always been narrow.

Basic expenses are very predictableit’s all about the utilities (water system, propane, gas, trash) and packing packing packing. Like most camps nationally, tight budgets have always meant patchwork repairs and deferred maintenance, and we have plenty of both! But this is exacerbated by being isolated in the wilderness, where the trail is a serious bottleneck not only to repair materials but to the volunteers doing the work: often volunteers spend as much time on the road and trail getting to/from Camp as they do on site fixing/maintaining stuff. 

The big fiscal inflection points in the recent past have been the ca.2005 Chantry Road closure, and now of course the Bobcat fire—compounded by the current road closure for most of 2022. But the deepest impact over the last 30 years has been the decline in summer residential youth camping, which was the previous mainstay of annual income. Now the business has shifted to families and small groups of friends. The future is wide open, but we still have to address the loss of Cabin-1 which provided 20% of our bed capacity. 

Reclaiming that capacity will require the kind of capital expense that used to be covered by the Camp’s institutional ownership. But since 2014 the Camp has been a stand-alone and distinctly non-profit business! Except we’re not financially alone: especially following the Bobcat Fire, we’ve experienced broad support through direct gifts of all kinds and sizes. In fact, most non-profit businesses now practice a multi-revenue stream approach to budgeting, so that the mission of the Camp is not dependent on any one source of revenue.

Preparing to re-open to the public means conserving our place in the wilderness ecosystem, repairing and improving our functional ecosystem of buildings and utilities, and strengthening our financial ecosystem. That will include an updated reservations and accounting system, and developing a coordinated approach to fund-raising, grant applications, and contributions of goods and skills in kind. With your involvement, we look forward to healthy future in each of our ecosystems. Thank you for all you have done and will do!

Binocular Report

Woman looking through binocularsThe timing of this month’s trail fix for packing plus the road project moving forward rapidly means now the clock is ticking for delivery of cement for the water tank project. Although the Camp remains closed for business, we’re still busy with this and other repair and improvement projects: funding these projects is 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 move toward summer.

Next Month’s Blog:

Moving Mountains — a Hydrologist’s Prediction

Photo Gallery

Photos of the washed out stock trail and recent repair work.

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

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