03 May 2009

Bridge to Nowhere

Angeles National Forest

Locate the trailhead.

The "Bridge to Nowhere" isn't really such. Hike information can be found here. The instructions for getting there could be improved quite a bit, though. After getting off on Arcadia in Arcadia, turn north and follow the road out of the city and along the reservoir. Turn right on East Fork Road to cross a large bridge over the river and wiggle around a little more. That road does dead end at the ranger station if you go around the hairpin turn it talks about, but if you catch the road into the Sheep Mountain Wilderness to the left on that hairpin turn you pass a few trailheads on the way to the end of the road. Park in the large lot by the gate on the road and continue down it passing yet another trailhead to some other destination. The trail follows the old road route up to the bridge built for the road. At least half of it is actually on the old road bed, but there are places where the roadbed are long gone and the bridge at the top is the only bridge left.

Also, where it says there are six stream crossings and you will need waterproof shoes even in low water needs some correction. This is the east fork of the San Gabriel River, as it says on the map, and as such is, in fact, a small river. I crossed with water halfway up my thighs on a few of these. Bring shoes that drain well. Waterproof is probably a bonus, but I haven't met any boots that handle when the water goes over the top of them without getting wet.

I started the hike a bit late. I never quite got decided to go until it was the latest time I could start since no one else was coming along. On the way up, a yellow jacket took the time to smash itself into the window edge, bank off my pony tail and drop down my shirt. In its last moments, it took a bite of my back. I was further delayed since I've never been stung by a bee so I had to figure out what it was and make sure nothing bad would result. I was given some ice by a fellow on the road which helped greatly. (Ouch!) I decided to go on even as it got later since 9 miles is less than 5 hours at 2MPH which should be a reasonable pace for a trail that supposedly only rises 1000 ft. I could still be back before dark. Turned out I wasn't the last to start. As I came back down, I met two more on their way up and the couple I'd met about the same place when I was going up were slower than I was even with stopping for a quick sketch.

Follow the old road as much as can be done.  Here it is easy. Trail sign for some drier hiking for the more sensible.
The trail follows the old road. Here it is still a usable road and it will be until the first bridge that's gone out. The carnage of the old bridge is still in the river there. A drier trail (probably) leads up out of the canyon for those who are more sensible with their trail choices. It looks like there could be some reasonable hiking up this trail too.

Anyway, I took off up that road up there. The photo shows the end of the road where it used to cross the river. The trail passes down to the side of the river and continues that way until rocks force it over. This first crossing is one of the deep ones going halfway up my thighs. I initially crossed it taking off my boots. This was a poor choice since footing is more stable when your feet are protected and I managed to bruise the top of my left foot on the way over through some of the swifter bits of water. I was hopeful there were only a few crossings.

The trail dives into the river since there's no more space on this side to walk.
No more room to walk on this side of the river, time to dive in and cross it. Choose swift or deep, but climbing instead won't work well.

After the crossing, the trail climbs up onto the old roadbed again for a little bit.

A river crossing for people who haven't figured out to get up onto the old roadbed.
The river from up on the old roadbed. This is probably another river crossing for people who stayed down next to the water.

Eventually the trail drops down again and dives back into the river. Since I had already been shown there are unwanted consequences to taking the boots off, too, I took a deep breath and dropped them right into that river. My pants slowed down the flow into the boots, but less than halfway they were quite full of water. My Smartwool socks performed wonderfully, my shoes needed to be dumped out after each crossing and were still oozing water when my pants were dry even with that. It should be noted that the water was not particularly cold and with starting around 2PM it was quite pleasant except that it was forced.

Some ruins along the trail.
Along the way, there were few ruins to be seen other than the ruined road. Here are some ruins.

The trail crosses the river again. This time I took the time to take off the boots and dump them out and found my way up that side of the river for a bit. The trail got dimmer and dimmer and more confused. There were fewer and fewer routes that didn't include getting poked by yucca plants, which is never a good sign that people actually travel this way. Then I looked up to see people up high on the other side of the river. It turned out that I needed to cross back very quickly this time. In fact, on the way back I only waded out far enough to get around a rock and the deep bit next to it before wading back in to the trail never actually getting more than halfway over. I crossed back over and made my way back along a campsite until I could climb up to the trail. That trail became the road again.

Sign stating that this is the Sheep Mountain Wilderness on the old road.
Entering the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. Here is some of the only evidence that this road was paved that I saw.

And then the trail dives back into the river. This time there is an island in it a little way up from the entry point. At the end of the island, I crossed the little bit of water, just deep enough to flood into the boots and not very fast, back to the east side of the river again. From there, the hiker can stay by the river crossing back and forth (I was told), or can climb back up to the roadbed. The roadbed is almost unbroken from there to the bridge and the broken parts are easily passable.

The bridge.  It's actually a rather boring bridge from this angle.
And here is the bridge. The date on it is 1936 and the road was washed out in 1938 according to various sites. It's odd that there is still a bit of construction equipment hanging (upside down) across the ravine.

The bridge is apparently now privately owned. A sign warns that the bridge and a half mile in every direction is private and you enter at your own risk. The cannot prevent it, of course, since this is an established trail. The purpose of the ownership is apparently to allow people to bungee jump. I was told that folks were up there jumping. They had just finished putting everything away by the time I got up there. The lower side of the bridge was marked out by tape, so I suppose that's where they jump from.

Another view of the bridge, the high side.
Another view of that same bridge. This is the high side and a little of the arches. A typical bridge for the time, so far as I can tell.

Looking down from the side of the bridge to where the bungee jumpers were jumping.
Looking down from beside the bridge into the river far below. The bridge really is very far up. This would be the jump the bungee jumpers were taking.

A couple more since this was the destination, silly as it may be to hike up 4.5 miles to an ordinary bridge.

The date on the bridge: 1936.
One depression era bridge.

The bridge from another viewpoint.
Most of the bridge again, but from the side it curves toward. This is where I sat to sketch. Sketching was kept more quick than usual since I didn't want to be crossing rivers in the dark.

And then I headed back. While coming up, I found the backpackers on this side of the trail seemed to have dry shoes so was feeling determined to stay out of the river. I tried to stay up on the roadbed for that last half crossing set. The trail got thinner and thinner as more people had gone down and turned back. It looked like it had been regularly traveled, but not in the last few years. Eventually, a bit had slid away and some people went up the hard rocks covered in loose stones at a steep angle and came back down the other side similarly. Further along, it was clear there was another. I looked down the high slide and thought "down there, when I fall, I just get wet" and turned around. One set of crossings surrendered to.

Staying on the same side of the river as long as I could, I crossed a large tributary I hadn't even seen before and then climbed down. I could see where the trail I had come up was, just on the other side of a rock. I had also tried to climb over that rock on the way up and found that there was an impassible spot along the way. This time I just waded out and back in avoiding the very deep part next to the rock.

The river where it must be crossed.
The 3rd and 4th river crossing which can be combined into a single bit of wading no worse than a single crossing. The trail continues on just behind the trees. The tributary is in the foreground, but hard to see for the angle. It is in a somewhat artificial looking channel and drops quickly right at the end.

One set of crossings only half yielded to. With at least two places forcing crossings from what I had seen on the other side, I just had to dive into the river again for the last set. It was between the 2nd and 3rd that I passed the folks I had first seen going down as I went up. I made it back down before the sun set, although it was seriously thinking about it. Hiking in wet boots made it all a bit more of a workout than really expected.

All up and down the river, people were panning for gold. That may or may not be a sign of the times. This is actual gold country so they may be finding enough to be worth their while. I'm sure the people really getting rich in the deal aren't getting their feet wet but buying the gold at half the value and selling it on. That would certainly make it just like in the old west.

The quick sketch of the bridge.
And this is the quick sketch of the day.

Here are some more pictures from along the way.

Flying swallow-tail butterfly.
Early along the trail I saw a couple butterflies dancing about. Here is one of them that I managed to photograph in flight.

A piece of trail along the way.
The trail has a few spots of dense growth. Here is one with some blue flowers and raspberries. Behind, it is like most of the trail.

Mushrooms on a log hanging out over the river.
Some fungus growing on a tree trunk that sticks out over some slower water in the river. Behind is the trail hitting the river for the first crossing.

Above the river a bit, the road and river can be seen.
Up on the roadbed again, an overall view of river and roadbed ahead. This is between the 4th and 5th crossings. Entering the wilderness.

A lucious crop of poison oak.
Sometimes even poison oak can be pretty. Here's quite a luscious crop of the stuff hanging around some rocks in the shade.

©2009 Valerie Norton
Posted 16 May 2009
Updated 17 May 2009

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