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.
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!
Stay tuned for the end-of-the-year-holiday edition of the Big Cone Blog!
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.
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!
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.
The Nut$ & Bolt$ of Business Closure
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 adamspackstation.com.
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: sturtevantcamp.com/support 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.