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Trees Down, Flowers Up, Gate Closed

Spring weather has been a mix of good and bad news in the Canyon and at Camp. Here’s the latest about bears, flowers, and more from the Sturtevant Conservancy.

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

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Bigcone Blog:
There are a lot of blogs out there, but only Sturtevant Camp is shaded by the largest untouched stand of Bigcone Spruce in the San Gabriel Mountains. Those trees drop huge seed-cones, and if you’ve ever had one conk you on the head, you’ll agree. So, we’ll claim that distinction for this blog: dropping big, fresh news all the time!