VOLUNTEER EFFORT GONE AWRY
It was about 7am when I awoke. It had been another long week at work with 4:30am wake-ups, and I could’ve used a little bit of a sleep-in. But alas, today I was support to do some volunteer work to plant trees in the Angeles National Forest as part of Earth Day. And their event started at either 8:30am or 9am. Whatever the case, it was a pretty long drive to get there and I had to be out the door by 7:30am.
So it was a bit of a bummer that I couldn’t spend a little more time with Tahia and Julie this morning. But every once in a while, I figured we have to make sacrifices and perhaps I might learn something about the Angeles Forest through this experience that I might not have realized before.
After all, we had gone into these parts to see several other waterfalls including Switzer Falls, Trail Canyon Falls, and even Cooper Canyon Falls among others.
But given the Station Fire from a couple of Summers ago, I began to wonder if any of those waterfalls will be re-opened in the coming years (I’m sure it will take years). And I guess this volunteer effort in the heart of the Angeles Forest should shed some light onto it.
So off I went at a little after 7:40am. It was hard to leave Tahia and her wide eyes as she was in the middle of a feeding and burping.
I guess also setting the mood was the dark gray skies on this late April Saturday. The weather certainly reminded me of June Gloom where the deep marine layer would burn off some time after lunch. Sometimes it would drizzle. But then with Climate Change, the June Gloom became May Gray. And now that it’s happening in April, I wonder what kind of name they got for it now?
The solo drive in my beater was for the most part uneventful. It did start to drizzle as I made it onto Hwy 2, but just as the 2 and 210 started to deviate, I was met with warnings that Hwy 2 was closed.
I didn’t think much of the closure signs because how could TreePeople have an event if the road to get to Charlton Flats was closed?
But sure enough by 8:25am, I made it right up to the barricades blocking further access to Hwy 2.
Now my work emails and confirmation notices failed to call out alternate routes to the Charlton Flats. I didn’t even get correspondance from TreePeople themselves. It definitely didn’t seem like this was a very well communicated nor well coordinated Earth Day event. Was there something that I missed?
So I spent about a half-hour calling my wife to see what information she could dig up on the internet. Calling TreePeople themselves yielded answering machines with a maze of options.
I was starting to get discouraged and realized that maybe I won’t be doing any volunteer work on this day. But it definitely seemed very wasteful (especially with the high gas prices) that I came all the way out here only to be turned back.
At some point, Julie mentioned on the phone that I was supposed to go all the way to Sunland and then take Big Tujunga Canyon Road until it somehow wound its way through mountain roads until it got to Charlton Flats. I’m sure that would add another hour to the already long drive. Plus, there was no guarantee that I would even find the place with the lack of information available to me.
So it was at that point that I decided it wasn’t worth it and declared this a wasted effort.
But I figured that since I did bring my camera along, why not give Millard Falls another try? After all, La Canada wasn’t that far from Pasadena, and it was kind of on the way home anyways…
SEIZING AN OPPORTUNITY
It was about 8:50am when I left.
With the early start, I figured it might be a fairly pleasant jaunt over to Millard Falls. However, from last year’s experience, I had recalled that the falls and campground was closed due to the danger of rockslides thanks to the vegetation getting wiped out in the Station Fire.
But when I made it back to the familiar Chaney Trail, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the gate that once blocked that road was now open!
When I continued further on the Chaney Trail, I reached that familiar intersection, and saw that the road descending on my left towards the Millard Campground was also open!
I couldn’t believe it! Could Millard Falls finally be open?
When it was 9:25am, I made it to the Millard Campground Car Park. There were quite a few cars here this morning and lots of people walking about. I was so excited with anticipation that I was about to give Julie a call about the news until I realized that there was no service down here.
In any case, I wasted no time getting my hiking boots on along with my camera and started walking.
But my anticipation quickly gave way to resignation when I saw that the waterfall trail was still closed despite the campground being very busy and bustling. For good measure, they left the chain-linked fence up to do whatever they could to keep people from even trying!
So all this wasn’t terribly surprising to me, however. If anything, I would’ve been more shocked to see the falls trail opened. But then, I realized that perhaps there was another way to see the waterfall. It just wouldn’t be from its base.
So back in the car I went and then I drove back up to the familiar intersection at the top of the ascent. There, I joined the handful of cars already crowding the limited “parking” space at this intersection before another road closure gate at 9:40am.
And once again, I got my camera while keeping my hiking boots on, and proceeded to follow the road beyond the closure gate towards who knows where?
At first, I saw a couple of signs indicating the Mount Lowe Railway. The signs looked historical and didn’t have a whole lot of updated information to be used as a guide.
So onwards I went trusting only my instincts.
During the walk on the road, it traversed a ridge flanked by pretty wildflowers with buzzing power lines high overhead elevated by power pylons at the top of the foothills. On one side, I could see Altadena underneath the gloomy skies. On the other side, I could see (and hear) the activity going on at the Millard Campground as well as the now-recovering bare mountains across this canyon.
It didn’t look like they would be growing trees anymore as I could see more shrubbery and grasses growing where they used to be.
Eventually, the road traversed the ridge and not long after that part, I saw a foot trail branching off from the road. In front of it was a sign indicating there were trails but it was covered by another sign indicating the area was fire damaged.
I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to proceed or not, but there were plenty of footprints below so I guess people have been walking it recently.
So I continued on the trail and along the way, I was greeted by a mountain biker going in the other direction. So I guess I had some assurance that this wasn’t a true closure after all.
The trail continued to hug Millard Canyon. Throughout this hike, I could hear Millard Creek down below. The hike seemed a little further than the scramble I would’ve anticipated had the waterfall trail been open down below. So perhaps the anticipated 1-mile round trip scramble wasn’t as close as I thought.
Anyways at 10am, eventually the trail rounded a corner and a few paces beyond that, I saw slivers of moving water in the distance. With a few more steps, the viewing angle improved, and sure enough, it was Millard Falls!
From this vantage point, there was a lot of canyon below with the falls a bit in the distance. But at least I could appreciate how tall the falls truly was. Plus, I could see that there were at least 2 or 3 wedged boulders at its top.
It was a good thing my camera had telephoto zoom capability to 200mm. I definitely needed it to keep the falls from looking puny from this spot.
It was also clear from being able to get a feel for the context of the falls that Millard Canyon was indeed rugged. There definitely didn’t seem to be a safe way to get down to the waterfall from up here. So I was content to get these rather unusual photos of Millard Falls. But I started to wonder if there were more waterfalls further upstream.
So I continued on along the trail past a few more little gullies where the trail was held up by sandbags. I guess this was part of the fire damage that the signs were referring to.
At about 10:15am I eventually reached a fork in the trail where the left side led to someone’s cabin apparently. The right side started climbing up some steps with a sign indicating the Sunset Trail. I figured at this point, I was getting too far beyond the waterfall, and that having already gotten what I came for, it was time to turn back.
On the way out, I saw an African American hiker going solo but in hiking gear. I also saw a trio of ladies each walking dogs as well as another one decked out in USC sweats walking her dog. It definitely seemed like despite the limitations of hiking options, it didn’t stop locals or visitors alike from walking their dogs and getting a taste of the great outdoors.
At 10:30am, I was back at the car. Sweaty from my bit of exercise, at least I salvaged something from this ad hoc day where curve balls were being thrown at me left and right, but sometimes you just gotta roll with the punches and see what life brings to you next.
At 11:15am, I was finally back at home. No I didn’t volunteer as I was supposed to do this day, but the alternative wasn’t bad either!
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