The East Fork Narrows
An Epic Weekend Hiking Saga
September 6-7, 2003
The East Fork of the San Gabriel River cuts the deepest
gorge in Southern California. From the top of the San Gabriel Range, the East
Fork flows south toward greater LA and is fed by a semicircle of the tallest
peaks: Mt Baldy (10064'), Dawson Pk (9575'), Pine Mtn (9648'), Mt Baden-Powell
(9399'), Mt Burnham (8997'), Throop Pk (8789'), and Mt Hawkins (8850').
A perennial creek, its remoteness, dramatic relief, rugged nature and ribbon
of deciduous trees are enticing. Having gazed into the East Fork from
surrounding peaks, and having hiked into the upper 4 miles, I wanted to offer
this trip to the members of the Hiking Club for September 2003. This worked
well, because the weather restabilized and the days were still just long enough
and nights still temperate.
This 16-mile hike starts on trail but is a scramble down through the creek for mile 5 to about mile 11. Owing to the fact that its orientation is essentially north-south, once in the shady bottom we find that it's not hot for much of the day. The bugs didn't bother us after we reached the creek, but with no trail we're on constant watch for poison oak. I pack the poison-oak antidote lotion in my secret utility belt, and as in the past, it worked - nobody broke out in a rash afterwards.
Area map, with route shown as purple dotted line. For a topographic map of this entire hike, one is available online here (853k).
I took this photo from the head of the East Fork on a different day. This looks straight down the canyon.
Now I know what you're thinking: THAT is one group of handsome hiking men. Not to mention the numerical convenience of splitting a 6-pack. (Our finishing shot isn't so flattering.) This is the Mt Baden-Powell trailhead (elev 6565), on top of the range and just an hr from home. We'll hike this canyon top down, with a pickup at the lower end by Brian's wife in a van. It's a smarter way because roundtrip, it's a 170 mile shuttle for each vehicle. Besides, last night I couldn't do vehicle-shuttling anyways cuz I had tickets for the Weird Al Yankovic concert in Hollywood. (A man's GOT to have his priorities.) Weird Al was great, by the way.
Brian right after our start, with Dawson Pk and Mt Baldy behind (to the east)
An old cabin along the way down
The upper part of the canyon has thick wooded slopes like this. Very pretty forest but as it turned out, this was where our hikers most needed their headnets. We found a sailplane crashed in the trees just beyond here. (There's a skeleton still inside it, still gripping the control stick. Really. We took his wallet.)
Mile 5. Seasonal runoff tumbles rocks and debris 5000' down Mt Baden-Powell to join the east Fork here. This rockpile was a good place to get hurt. By now the trail has disappeared and this is a mere route.
Further down we start criss-crossing the creek. This was a nice spot so we took a group photo.
Our route alternates between riparian canopy and the bordering higher, dryer slopes. Hey Mike, watch out for that yucca!
D'OHH!!! Too late - Rampart, we got us some leg fu!
Mile 8: At the end of day 1, we camp at 3400' at an old mining camp site where another fork of the river enters. We had a GREAT night of sleep here, laying on the ground, with a bird calling from the tree above us all night. And this morning photo shows it!
Then we're off. Here's the crew on creek crossing #63,412. The sun is up, but it's still sort of dark down here because we're entering the Narrows section of the hike.
Here's an example of many of the crossings - jump, and try to not get wet. Of course, by the end of today we were wading anyway.
One of my prettier shots in the Narrows, taken on a crossing.
Along the way we spot this guy on an oaky bench above the creek, so we stop to talk to him, expecting he's another backpacker. Actually, his camp was rather makeshift but permanent. He introduced himself as Dave, and he's a placer miner LIVING there. He's lived in this camp year-round for six years! He told us that he hikes out for supplies every two or three weeks, but his bear encounter stories were a hoot! He said, "Yeah one time I got drunk and fell asleep and when I woke up the bear was eating all my supper!" This guy earns his living with his muscles, and it shows. Actually he seemed pretty sensible about his pursuits, and told us all about his life here. He had established this camp, with two makeshift shelters, this kitchen, and even a solar array that powered his television! He gets four TV stations out of LA, but unfortunately Comedy Central isn't one of them.
This stretch of bedrock was wonderfully fluted and sculpted into curvy surfaces
Me by a really cool-looking pool of bodacious swimming hole potential. This one looks like lime jello, except without the banana slices in suspension, although that boulder does resemble a gigantic half-exposed marshmallow.
So by now, my dear armchair hiker, you are undoubtedly remarking to yourself, "WOW, that's so much stuff, I am in virtual website nirvana! Just how much more of this great story could there be!?" And the answer is: some more. So the trail climbs away from the river to bypass a cascade, and at this point it's really barely more than a goat-trail, and we hike around the corner, and suddenly there it is: The Bridge To Nowhere.
At mile 11 there's a spectacular 2-lane arched bridge spanning the canyon. It was built in the 1930's as part of a highway project up the East Fork, but before the highway's completion, in March of 1938 a heavy rainstorm flooded the canyon and wiped out the road downcanyon from the bridge. No roadway was yet constructed upcanyon of the span. The highway project was then abandoned, and one result is this anachronistic remnant, never paved, and never to carry a vehicle thereafter. Bungee jumpers make use of it now, and a gaggle of them, (all 20-somethings who probably use the word 'extreme' a lot) approached as we departed. Wanting to make our pickup on time, we didn't return to watch them do jumps, though one of our hikers did, and he watched one or two jumps. Anyway here's a photo of us in front of The Bridge to Nowhere.
Our way descends back to the canyon bottom, following the incline of the old highway, easily recognizable here and continuing in the distance below. Some of the original blacktop even remained in places up here, but for the four miles after the roadbed rejoins the canyon bottom, we'll find no blacktop, and three ruined bridges as a testament to the 1938 flood (and those since, presumably). Here we're well-exposed to midday sun, and we look forward to returning to the cooler creek where we'll break for lunch.
It occurred to me here that when we were each 6 years old, this is exactly the kind of thing that gets you scolded by your mother. When you're middle-aged, though, the rules are different, and that's a good thing.
At the East Fork Ranger Station, the completion of our hike. Linda drives up right on time, just as we sit down. We'll load up now and ride back to the Antelope Valley. Another one in the can! Our Epic Weekend Hiking Saga is complete.
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