July 9, 2011 – With some trepidation we headed up to the San Gabriels to ride our favorite trail Charleton Flats to Mt. Hilliard. This was our first time seeing the trail after two years of waiting for the area to recover from the devastating Station fire. We wondered if we would find any remnants of the trails that had given us so many of our favorite challenges, weekend warrior tales and weary pleasure savored for days afterwards. Our questions were soon answered with both good news and bad.
First the bad news. From the Charleton Flats picnic area parking lot , the single track heading up towards Vetter Mtn. was mostly rideable but there is some eroded soft spots, a few trees down across the trail and tall purple flowers blooming in profusion everywhere whacked us in the face as we navigated along the faint trace of the trail. We lost the trail somewhere near the road crossing and pedaled up the main road the rest of the way to the summit. Just before reaching the summit, I saw that the Vetter single track is signed “Closed” and to please respect the closure. It is closed from top to bottom. As if it wasn’t badly eroded enough before, I could well imagine it might be completely demolished now. The Lookout burned completely to the ground. The Lookout volunteer who was there explained money is being raised to rebuild it with the help of volunteers.
We descended on the road and turned left to head over to the Silver Moccasin fire road and Chilao. The Silver Moccasin was in pretty good shape not drastically different than two years ago. Perhaps more loose rock and sand. Picking up the single track I was pleased to see it completely intact with little to no damage. However, the surrounding areas on either side of the trail were completely burned. Dead blackened trees and shrubs stood out in stark contrast to the purple flowering plants and greenery beginning to establish itself. This area that was moderately tree and chaparral covered is now so open you can clearly see the Mt. Wilson radio towers in the distance.
Crossing the Chilao Road the trail continued intact with intermittent burned areas merging with swaths of green that survived the blaze untouched. Although we did not meet any other bikers, we did see a pair of hikers and a group of four equestrians. There were several cars parked at Chilao and other vehicles busily zoomed up and down the road. The only significant change to the Silver Moccasin was the creek crossing just before hitting the paved road which used to be rideable, now requires a hike-a-bike across the creek on two fallen trees. At the Chilao Ranger Station, we stopped briefly to get water when we saw the Forest Service staff who were loading a truck start to run, grabbing equipment and stuffing tools into their pockets. The loudspeaker blared out names of units to respond to a small brush fire somewhere I couldn’t make out. Pedaling out the road, we had barely reached the gate down to Alder Creek when we heard the “thwack, thwack, thwack” of helicopter blades as it lifted off bound for the fire no doubt.
The road towards Mt. Hilliard seemed much the same as before. The only slightly unusual thing was the traffic on the road. One off road motorcyclist and three SUV’s barreled past us where we usually encounter no one. Perhaps they were just as curious as we were to see the extent of the fire’s damage. As we arrived at the single track leading up to Mt. Hilliard, I was stunned by the barren slope stripped of the manzanita, trees and chaparral leading up to the first big impossible (for me) hill climb up to Hilliard. I was relieved to see tall green conifers still standing majestically on the hill. The sandy single track was still there slightly modified by several rain run-off berms. The rest of Hilliard was as I remembered – that was the really good news. I was so busy grinning from ear to ear I barely caught a glimpse of two groups of hikers sitting in the shade of the boulders.
CORBA’s trail crew is waiting on the Forest service to schedule work up there, but nothing is planned just yet. Please come out with the trail crew and lend a hand to repair Charleton/Chilao and other trails we love to ride. Upcoming work days will be posted on the CORBA calendar so check the calendar and stay tuned!
By: Louisa Bonnie