We have begun the process of taking our new water tank parts from Adams’ Pack Station at Chantry Flat to the upper reaches of Big Santa Anita Canyon. When coming to Sturtevant Camp for a stay or a visit the trip is a pleasant, four-mile hike. But when carrying large, curved pieces of corrugated steel it becomes a long haul.
The First Trip
On Saturday, November 6th, 2021, eight volunteers carried one of 6 pieces of a water tank cylinder. Each piece is a 4′ x 9′ of deeply curved, corrugated & galvanized steel.
Initially we had tested a wooden rig for carrying the pieces; something akin to a stretcher used for carrying wounded people. But this rig proved to be more trouble than help so we abandoned it in favor of good old-fashioned elbow grease… and pool noodles.
Not So Fast
Before we could attempt to carry such large and awkward items through the third steepest mountain range in North America, we had to do some trail repair.
If you don’t know, the reason for installing these new tanks is that in September 2020 the Bobcat Fire, one of two widespread fires in the recorded history of Big Santa Anita Canyon, destroyed our water system, along with one of our cabins.
The intensity of this fire denuded the canyon slopes of vegetation. And without the chaparral to hold the soil in place there was much dirt, rocks, and fire debris washed down across the trails by recent rains.
So instead of hauling the first tank piece on the first scheduled volunteer day, several volunteers, including new friends, went to work on clearing washouts with McLeods and shovels over the course of the two-day weekend, making the trail safe for our hauling efforts. In some places, loose rocks from above the trail were removed and placed in gullies as crib walls to restore the trail surface.
Let the Fun Begin
The trails now in relatively safe and passable condition, we used the next scheduled volunteer day to begin hauling our tank pieces. And because we knew that we would encounter new debris on the trail we again brought in the trail-building tools.
Our new hauling system was simple and effective: two heavy-duty carrying straps rented from a moving company and cheap foam pool noodles to cap the sharp edges of the steel. This is much lighter and more maneuverable than the wooden rig, although the size and shape of the steel is nevertheless awkward to carry.
See the gallery below for photos from the first delivery day and days prior.
More Help is Needed
This trip was just the beginning of delivering all the water tank pieces to Sturtevant Camp. And once everything is delivered we need to assemble it all and get the plumbing connected to the existing, undamaged infrastructure. If you can help in any of these capacities please use the following form to send us your information.
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.
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!
2015 was a busy time for Sturtevant Camp and the Friends of the San Gabriels. It was a year of restoration, improvements, new procedures, marketing, and meeting a lot of new people. Here are some of the accomplishments:
The Friends of the San Gabriels purchased Sturtevant Camp in April, 2015. 95 donors made this purchase possible. Donations continue to be received periodically.
The US Forest Service approved the organizational permit in July 2015.
Over 200 volunteers worked diligently during the summer and fall to conduct fuel reduction (fire clearance), improvement of the heliport trail, cabin painting, re-routing the trail into Camp, posting of an introduction and welcome sign, creation of retaining walls, and miscellaneous repairs and maintenance. Termites are under control.
Water tank #2 (the redwood tank) was re-commissioned and Water tank #3 (poly tank) was converted to a potable tank. All three water tanks are now plumbed into a single system providing over 5000 gallons of storage water. New water treatment procedures and tank rotation insures good quality water with better chlorine retention time.
Eighteen new hosts have been trained, with several that have spent time in Camp.
New sheet sets were purchased and now the guest cabins have matched sheets. A new procedure to always provide sheets, pillow cases, and blankets has been put in place.
The guests cabins have begun their transformation to theme cabins. Cabin 1 = Pack Train Rest Stop; Cabin 2 = Forest Friends Hangout; Cabin 3 = Bob Cat Lair (new wall hanging in progress); Cabin 4 = The Bear Den (new wall hangings and decorations are in place.
Coffee is set out on weekend days, the main lodge is propped open to welcome hikers inside, a set of nine chairs are always out for hikers to rest, cabin brochures are posted, and a host is in Camp to greet hikers, as well as provide information for the Camp. This has resulted in numerous reservations during 2015 and into 2016.
The number of likes on Facebook and followers on Instagram has increased significantly. Newsletter signups are now over 1000.
A new reservation system is in place to ease the front end and back end operations. The website has its own theme, but is still linked to Adams’ Pack Station, Friends of the San Gabriels, and Big Santa Anita Canyon websites. The url for sturtevantcamp.com and sturtevantcamp.org was secured.
Reservations for both the main area and retreat cabin were some of the highest in years. This trend is continuing for 2016.
The Camp has been signed up with Groupon and HipCamp. Ads on Facebook will begin showing on Facebook in January 2016. This will be targeted to people who have searched online for camps to stay in.
A Grant proposal was submitted to LA County Parks and Recreation for $170,000 repairs, maintenance, and restoration. The California Conservation Corps will provide the labor. The approval is on schedule for early 2016 with work to begin late spring.
And for the New Year – 2016:
The focus for 2016 will be to continue with infrastructure improvements, marketing, and guest satisfaction. Here are some of the plans.
Complete the transformation of the guest cabins to theme cabins (add decorations and interpretive signs).
Get the microhydro (water-based electricity) back online. There has not been enough water for several years. We will have sufficient water at least through early summer and then may have to revert back to the generator.
Paint the inside of the bathhouse, retreat cabin, and manager’s cabin. Replace carpet in the retreat cabin and manager’s cabin with wood flooring to provide for more durability, easy cleaning, and prevent the need to vacuum. Refinish the floor of the honeymoon cottage and put sealer on the walls.
Continue to expand marketing sources.
Introduce Theme Weekends. See the weekends we have scheduled so far HERE
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
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
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 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!
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!
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
The pricing structure for Sturtevant Camp is going to change in 2017. Rather than a per person price for the cabins, we are moving to a flat rate per cabin or the main area. This means that there will no longer be a minimum number required to reserve. We are hoping that this will simplify the pricing. There is a price increase for the smaller numbers in each cabin, but a big price break for the full capacity of one or more cabins.
The price increase was built in to support the changes we have incorporated in camp:
Improved Cabin Feel (more homey)
Sheets, pillow cases, and blankets now provided for all cabins
Coffee, Tea, and Oatmeal now provided
Condiments and charcoal now provided
We are adding solar for a quieter and cleaner electricity experience. Note that the micro-hydro system will continue to be an option when there is sufficient water
Prices through 2016
Retreat Cabin and Honeymoon Cottage: $45 and $40, respectively, per person per night with a 2 person minimum. The reservation is pre-paid with no refund. If people are added, then you need to remit the balance.
Guest Cabins, Main Area, Entire Camp: $40 per person per night with a 5 person minimum for each cabin, 20 for the main area and 30 for the entire camp. The reservation requires a 50% deposit with final payment including additional guests due the Thursday before their stay.
New Pricing Starting 2017
Retreat Cabin: $125 per night for 2-3 people and then $250 for 4-6 people. This will continue to be pre-paid with no refund.
Honeymoon Cottage: $90 per night, sleeps up to 2. This will continue to be pre-paid with no refund.
Guest Cabin: $275 per night regardless of the number of guests (up to 8). Pre-paid with 50% refund if cancelled with 3 week notice.
Main Area: $1150 per night, regardless of the number of guests (up to 34) which provides for exclusive use of the kitchen and reservation of the 4 guest cabins plus the honeymoon cottage. Pre-paid with 50% refund if cancelled with 3 week notice.
Entire Camp: We will eliminate this option. If you want the full camp then you need to book both the main area and the retreat cabin.
With an extra week of incubation capped by 23 hours of labor, Ripley Arliss Piscopo finally joined the sunshine world at 8:28am Thursday, August 4, 2022. Mom and Conservancy Board member Teah Vaughn-Piscopo and Dad Graham welcomed Ripley, along with a whole canyon-full of folks looking forward to Ripley’s arrival. Now the game is on to predict how soon Mom will have her cub in a sling and up the trail to Camp – stay tuned!
The Pour is On
Even with the heat drying out the canyon hillsides, sending constant showers of gravel down on the project, the Chantry Road bridge is moving toward completion this fall. Two of four concrete pours are done, so the sections connecting the bridge to the original roadbed are scheduled. Next up will be negotiations with the County and the USFS to allow controlled access to Adams Pack Station.
The summer heat has made volunteer work at Camp even more of an exercise in commitment. Work has continued on the water system, fire clearance, building repair and maintenance— but just hiking in and out takes extra effort in the heat. Paying attention to staying hydrated has made the water system an even higher value asset, so that volunteers can resupply in Camp.
In the Canyon, the stream has gone underground in many places, typical for August. But we’re still getting a decent little flow into old tank #1, while the new valve and control system for the new tanks is being completed.
Volunteer work on multiple projects will resume in earnest Labor Day weekend. The goal is to double-down on projects by scheduling a few overnight work teams this Fall. To get in on the action (ideally in cooler temps), visit sturtevantcamp.com/volunteer and/or send an email stating your interest—you can make the difference!
Looking Back, Musically & Generously
Back in the day, Mr. Glenn Robison was operations Director for the multiple camps in United Methodist system, including Sturtevant. Now in retirement, he’s expressing his eclectic talents and tastes with a radio show focusing on vintage pop and jazz music of the 1920s-30s. Remembering the Camp and Adams Pack Station, he put together a segment on music about mules, burros and pack trains, with a link to donate to the Pack Station! Shout out and thanks to Glenn, with plug for the Pack Station to boot (or hoof.) Check out his intro and the music here: https://www.glennrobison.com/rapidly-rotating-records-78-rpm-show-august-7-2022/
Thank you for your interest in and concern for Sturtevant Camp, especially now in light of the Bobcat fire. Here is what we can say today with some certainty:
There is every indication that the fire has moved directly through the upper Big Santa Anita Canyon and therefore the camp. However, we do not know the impact on the buildings and infrastructure, and we won’t know until we can put boots on the ground.
That is a very long way off. Even when the fire is confirmed to be done in the canyon, it will be a very hazardous environment. This starts with air quality: until winter rains thoroughly soak the ash and soot on and into the ground, hiking much less working in the canyon will be extremely unhealthy. The other immediate hazard will be standing burned trees and the threat of deadfall. Simply getting into the camp will likely be very difficult because of downed trees, etc. Based on previous fires in the San Gabriels, such as the Station Fire, we know that once the rains come, it will get worse.
The Forest Service will decide when the National Forest can be opened to the general public. Because we are permit holders, we expect and will request to have early access prior to that opening. At that time, we’ll make a detailed assessment of the camp and begin to take every action to conserve what is there and to preserve general safety.
Once we have a clear picture of the status and condition of the infrastructure the questions will turn to the future, starting with:
What the Forest Service will allow
What is physically possible and financially feasible
How can we best serve the public good
Since Wilbur Sturtevant recognized the special qualities of this little place in the canyon, put up a few tents and invited people to come into the canyon almost 130 years ago, Sturtevant Camp has been a touchstone of the San Gabriels and a portal into the wilderness experience. We know that whatever the fire has done, the forest will renew itself, as it has before, and people will seek to come for the unique gift of the wilderness. We hope you will join with us in continuing to make that possible in the seasons ahead.
For more information as it becomes available, check-in here and/or friend “Wilbur Sturtevant” on Facebook.
The Board of the Sturtevant Conservancy,
Deb, Paul, Sue, Danny, and Gary. and the Friends of the San Gabriels
Since the Bobcat Fire two years ago, the two big projects for Camp have been repairing the water system and getting the trail “pack-train worthy”. This is so the burros can bring in the rest of the materials for the water project, and everything else needed at Camp, especially once the Canyon opens to the public.
“Pack-worthy” means a clear trail, a stable tread, AND side to side clearance for the loaded panniers or saddlebags. Given the damage to the trail after the Bobcat fire, there are several places where the tread needs fortification, and for sure where passage is ‘skinny’ at best.
Which is a problem: it seems the burros have put on their own “pandemic-20” and then some. With no long hauls up to Camp (4.2 miles one way), but plenty of yummy feed at the Pack Station, the burros have bulked up like a bunch of football players after a two-year party cruise to Ensenada!
“Adjustments” will be made along the trail, and Maggie promises to start working the beasties back into shape; if you’d like to help coax/coach the burros on one of their training/delivery runs, give us a call.
Mariachi on the Mountain – Fundraiser October 30th
Come up to the Mt. Wilson Observatory for a fundraising concert for Adams’ Pack Station, featuring our own mariachi/packer Maggie Moran! The talented Mariachi Lindas Mexicanas perform inside of the historic 100 inch telescope dome Sunday, October 30th at 3 & 5pm. Guests are invited to observe Dia de Los Muertos for the concert of traditional Mexican music echoing beautifully inside the Observatory dome. Space is limited, so please get your tickets quickly: go to https://adamspackstation.com/fundraising
Hurrah for Valves
Sometimes something simple can cause a shout of joy: first-time hikers arriving in Camp often give a holler and a yell—finally there! So much effort, so many steps, it’s great to see the Lodge and just sit down!
It was the same for a simple gush of water from a half-inch pipe: so much digging through rocks, so many pipes carried so many miles, such intricate valves and connections, and finally Paul the Plumber turned a valve handle, and fresh wild water spurted out the side of the new valve box – Hurrah! Success!
While the new water tank panels have been in the spotlight for over a year, those wouldn’t have any work to do without a LOT of fresh plumbing. Conservancy Board member and Site/Operations Manager Paul Witman led the effort and engineered the plumbing, especially the new control-valve set-up.
Sturtevant’s water begins in a surface collection pond, moves through pipes and several basic filters to take out the sand and gravel, and then accumulates in the storage tanks; old metal #1 survived the fire, and the new #2 and #3 (metal) tanks are poised to be built. Once the water is stored, it is treated then filtered one more time on its way into Camp.
Because the water system is typically used by different volunteers every week, designing the control-valve system was the perfect chance to improve and especially simplify the system: where different valves used to be spread between the 3 different tanks in 3 different locations, now they are all together in one control box that it is easier to hike to, and sits at waist level so the sequence of flush and control valves are easy to see and use.
Next up: assembling the new tanks, connecting the plumbing, and finally turning those valves on – expect to hear some serious Yahoo-ing once we hear the sound of water running into the tanks!
Trees Been Coming Down For-Evah
Much as we love the Canyon and its forest, it is an active environment, often hostile to our “improvements”. Indeed, every time we hike into Camp, the first thing is to scan the buildings for tree-fall. Back in 1964, Camp volunteers found this new and unwelcome project. Today, the stump of the tree that fell is still visible next to the lower water filter box by the bathhouse.
About the photo: Camp Board member Paul Witman reached out to fellow preacher’s kid Karen Garrett, daughter of Rev. John Knox who recently passed away; she’s going through her dad’s photo archives and found the image. Rev. Knox was a key early volunteer and leader for the Camp, and likely had a hand in building the bathhouse, which would have been relatively new at the time. Thanks Paul & Karen!
4x Better Than a Crank
Sounds small, but recently the Camp was gifted with two new hand radios, with a third on the way = four total. The Canyon radio system was developed several years ago by the cabin owners’ association and Friends of the San Gabriels for fire safety; it provides a live connection between Chantry Flats, cabins up Winter Creek and the Big Santa Anita, all the way to Sturtevant.
Back in the day – WAAAY back– the crank phone system was the only way to communicate up and down the canyons (it even ran all the way to Mt. Wilson.) Voices were often distant and scratchy, and the copper lines required constant maintenance – and now the Bobcat Fire has wiped out most of it.
In contrast, the radios are pretty reliable. They help Canyon regulars keep up with what’s going on in the Canyon and are especially useful when there’s trouble: when the Bobcat fire started, the host in Camp was able to give and receive real-time information with the Pack Station, and get the guests on the trail ahead of the fire.
For Camp volunteers, multiple radios will make for quick communication on the way to and from Camp, and especially between work projects spread in and around the Canyon. This is no small thing: many volunteers have burned many calories and much time hiking back and forth between the projects for tools, help, and guidance. It also – frankly – provides quick consensus on lunch time!
In the future, if you’re in Camp or on the trail or at Chantry and hear “Patrol 15”, that’s Sturtevant talking.
Coming in November
The Becky Page story, the road opens (maybe?), year-end wrap-up and prep for 2023.
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
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 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.
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.
The Sturtevant Conservancy is an all-volunteer operation, and we now have the numbers to show just how grateful we can be—and are indeed! Although we’re not hard-core bean-counters, there is some real data to analyze, estimate and extrapolate*. Here’s the picture based on what we have so far this year:
55 volunteers have signed waivers to work in the Canyon/at Camp; 32 have showed up for one or more workdays. Using static data (distance to Camp, elevation gain, etc.) and average data (time hiking in/out and hours in Camp), as of Nov.17th, we get 495 total volunteer hours of hiking and working combined. That’s 62 days at 8 hours a day – even though most days were 6:30am at the gate, back out at 4:30pm = ten hours.
In terms of hiking, we also calculate 495 total miles, not including all the schlepping back and forth in Camp while working which can add up to way more than a mile. The total elevation gain is nearly 582,000 feet, equal to climbing the height of Mt. Wilson 102 times, or Mt. Everest 20 times.
But that’s the numbers; here are the names of all those who put boots to dirt to move Sturtevant into the future:
Volunteered at least one full workday in 2022: Susan Stahl, Taylor Crisp, Aaron Blanco, Peter Vance, Charie Contreras, Sandra Sanchez, Todd Williamson, Fred Tanis, Sharon Miller, Ted Baumgartner, Avery Arauz, James Krist, Alex Barron, Elizabeth Sturdevant, John Butta, John Binninger, Reg Willson, Ty Oehrtman, and Jim Oberman = Thank You!
Volunteered more than once: Dave Baumgartener, Andrew Bousfield, Anna Binney, Maureen Nally, Kelly Davidson, John Peel, Emily Sawicki, Peter Witman, Patrick Gorman, and Patrick Kelly. (Special call out that several of these folks were even more active in 2021, back when we weren’t trying to track the particulars.) Double-Thank-You!!
Scott Wilson, Brent Pepper, and Nate Bousfield volunteered five times or more for a collective total of at least 135 miles hiked and 158,625 ft of upward trail. No counting of all the parts carried, shovels-flung and dirt inhaled; a mountain-sized THANKS to each of you!!!
There simply would be no real progress on recovery from the Bobcat Fire, much less conserving the Camp’s long-term condition for future use without all these boots, miles, hands and hearts: thank you all so very much! We’ll have year-end totals after the holidays, a snapshot of the Board member data, and next year we should ‘count calories consumed’—that should be an outstanding number. If you want to get in on the action, sign up to volunteer sturtevantcamp.com/volunteer.
*Board members are not included so as to not skew the data.
Raindrops Keep Fallin’ — and Moving Stuff
The early November storm that smacked southern California did a real number on the San Gabriels. Despite the dramatic changes of the 2020 Bobcat Fire and the subsequent storms at the start of 2021, this one seemed to do even worse. Winter Creek* was especially hard hit, with the familiar green bridge at Roberts Camp ripped from its foundations, along with all the forest cover at the junction with the Big Santa Anita stream. The view is simply devastating.
Up-canyon, the water did some more re-landscaping, and more trees were down, thankfully none in Camp. The heliport rain gauge measured 6.9 inches from the storm, and that plus the volume of surface gravel yet again wiped out the Camp’s rebuilt collection pond, along with much of the hardware. Volunteers have already shoveled a LOT of soupy gravel to locate what was left, and rebuilding is underway. As posted on Wilbur’s Facebook page, certainly Mother Nature bats last, but thanks to our volunteers, we’re still in the game!
*Winter Creek is so named because that’s when and where Wilbur paused building a new trail (the one we know as the Zion Trail) from Sierra Madre up to the Camp. It was his second trail into the Big Santa Anita, after guests complained about the difficulty of his first one. Speaking of which…
Happy 130th Birthday Sturtevant Trail!
Wilbur Sturtevant opened his trail resort in 1893, the first in the Big Santa Anita Canyon, and now the last in the San Gabriels. The country was in the midst of a severe economic depression, and his chief financial asset was the string of 23 pack animals he had built up and brought west from Colorado. While there was money in packing for local projects such as the Mt. Wilson toll road and construction of the Observatory, he was a bit of a loner and likely preferred to work for himself.
Wilbur observed the success of Martin’s and then Strain’s camps on Mt. Wilson and figured he could do even better; a camp would create guest revenue and a steady demand for packing (just like the money in selling printers is really in replacement toner cartridges!) Scouting the front range, “he first laid eyes on the gently sloping wide spot by the upper Big Santa Anita creek…”* With its steady water supply, majestic trees and a good dose of sunlight, it proved to be an ideal setting for a trail camp. But how to get there?
Anyone who has hiked the San Gabriels, and especially those who have done trail work, know how difficult the conditions are. Yet Sturtevant set to carving a steep trail down from the summit of Mt. Wilson to his new camp. It would prove to be 2.8 miles over 2800 feet of elevation – drop and the gain on the return, the same rate as the infamous Chilkoot Pass on Alaska’s Klondike Trail. Everyone who has hiked Wilbur’s trail knows it is a ‘butt-kicker’, ideal for training AND great views across to Mt. Baldy.
The Sturtevant story is the trail resort opened in 1893, likely summertime; that would put starting the construction of the trail into at least 1892. So, as we wrap up 2022, here’s Happy Birthday to the Sturtevant Trail, now 130 years old!
*G. Owens, “The Heritage of the Big Santa Anita”, pg. 4
Coming in December
The road re-opens (probably?), the Becky Page story, looking into the new year, Board changes and more. Until then, have a gravylicious Thanksgiving!