The temperature finally dropped. The air has changed, and the days are getting shorter. Fall is here.
With this change of seasons, I always feel like hunkering down, a sort of slowing, like hibernation.
I took a run up from Crystal Lake. The usual route was up Windy Gap Trail to Windy Gap, and then along the ridge and over a few peaks to Baden Powell, and then back. Today I tried a new route. I took the trail to the junction with Big Cienega, and then took Big Cienega across to Islip Ridge, and Islip Ridge up to the summit. If I’d've bypassed the summit I could’ve continued on to Windy Gap, a mile away.
The past 3 weeks I’ve run down in Cleveland National Forest on the Chimera course, and then in the Santa Monica Mountains up from Sycamore Canyon, north of Malibu (and just inside Ventura County). The first of those three runs convinced me to drop from Chimera. Relentless climbs on fire-roads and truck trails just aren’t my cup of tea, and last year while running the race I swore I’d never run a race on that course again. The runs in Sycamore Canyon were better. They involved more climbing, but the trail had significant chunks of single track, and the views were much nicer. Still, they didn’t thrill me as much as they might have a year or two ago.
Today’s run had me in awe, once again, and as always when in the San Gabriels, especially once I get a bit into the backcountry. These mountains and trails have spoiled me. This was beautiful.
I hadn’t been in altitude for a month or more, and I felt it. I was worried for a moment that my eyes were going to pop out of my head.
Just below the summit is the remnants of an old stone ski shack. The the very top was something – I’m not sure what, but there are four concrete blocks that used to weigh it down or form the foundation. I sat on one of those and looked out over the mountains and down to the Mohave.
I sized up the remnants of the little stone cabin on the summit. Could I live up here? It would be a small place, room for a bed, and the stove over in the opposite corner. Not much else, but what else would be needed? This would be a hideaway. Maybe I could live forever in a hideaway. The winds would howl, especially in the winter, on the summit of a mountain. I’d need to grow my own food, since getting down would be a trek, and hauling anything up would be much, much worse. Would this be Jack Kerouac on Desolation Peak? Probably not, as I’d only be 5 miles away from civilization (in the form of a campground and a road), or 20 miles of trails along mountain ridges to Wrightwood, the nearest town. Could I reduce things down to camping gear? I’m sure I’d be a better housekeeper, not so much because there would be so little to clean but because I’d need to keep cleaning it in order to use it again. Dealing with people takes a lot out of me, but I’m not sure I could take the isolation of a stone cabin on a mountain peak. I think the wind would make me feel too lonesome.
On the return, I took Islip Ridge Trail all the way back down to Crystal Lake itself, and then took the roads back up a mile to the campgrounds, where I had started from. The run along the ridge offered some spectacular views – the kind of views that would have freaked me out a few months back. The first half mile or so past the Big Cienega junction was rough – lots of downed trees, and I found myself losing the trail altogether a couple of times. It cleared suddenly and I had a beautiful 3.5 mile downhill to the Lake.
The was the first time I’d made it to the lake itself. Once a popular swimming spot, Crystal Lake is not looking so great these days. It’s the only natural lake in the San Gabriel Mountains, and is fed largely by snow run-off, along with some underground streams. Because of this, the levels fluctuate greatly. This year, the lake is very low.
There’s a lot of plant life, and the water is not at all clear. Swimming is forbidden. Budget issues have left the lake more-or-less uncleaned and untended the past 40 years. (The money is better spent fighting needless wars). I made my way around gthe lake and picked up some half eaten bags of Cheetos and soda cans, and tossed them in the sealed-from-bears trash containers not more than 100 yards away, at the trail head. There were a few empty gallon water jugs floating in the weeds on the lake.
You can see some awesome vintage photos at the Crystal Lake website.
The closer you get to people, the more problems you encounter. Trash seems to be a huge problem all along the San Gabriel River. The scenes further down the 39 and off along the east fork are a horror, as this LA Times article so sadly depicts.