03 July 2011

Cooper Canyon and (no) Buckhorn Spring

Angeles National Forest

Locate the trailhead and the end point.

I found the Cooper Canyon Falls hike and have been wanting to go on it for quite some time. It is well outside of the burn closure, so I went for it one time, only to find the 2 was still closed at La Canada so I would have to drive all the way around, which wouldn't be so bad except the 39 is also washed out shortly before the 2. Now the 2 is open again, so when wondering where to go, I thought of Cooper Canyon again. It was even more attractive when I noticed how high up it is since it has been quite hot the last week.

I double checked that it is not in burn area and noticed another closure near my destination. The hike calls for a loop with a shuttle going from in at Buckhorn Campground to the Pacific Crest trail and coming out at Eagle's Roost, but this second bit of trail is actually closed soon after the junction with the PCT. Another loop is possible by continuing the other direction on the PCT to get back to the main road. I printed out a bit of USGS to show the area and the possible hikes and took off for the trailhead.

Which was closed. The road into Buckhorn was marked "hardhats only" and a paper sign showed the closures in the area, including the trail from PCT to Eagle's Roost and the roads into the campground. The campground is being redone and getting bear boxes. I was crushed. I'd made sure I was aware of the closures and there was still another closure to contend with.

Just the other side of the south end of the campground road, where I was parked because it was shorter to the trail, is another trail. This goes past Buckhorn Spring and then soon comes to an end, according to my bit of USGS. I decided to see what was up there. This trail starts as a washed out fire road. It gets near a saddle loses the water damage to become a nice, easy trail climbing gently. The use pattern would suggest that people go up to the saddle and climb the tallest of the peaks near it rather than follow the road as I did. Unfortunately, the spring was either dry or misplaced, for I did not find it. Just past where it should have been, the road split, showing there was more here than my map showed. I turned back and took a peek over the saddle.

saddle on up the washed out fire road
Saddle that is up the fire road on the other side of the road from the exit for Buckhorn Campground, on the way to Buckhorn spring.

distant mountains and a large road cut beyond a dead tree
Once up onto the saddle, there's a lot of view. This is off to the east.


As I got back to the road, someone was unloading their huskies for a stroll down to Cooper Canyon as well. I talked to them and they said that it was closed just for the campground work and it was alright to go through now since no one was working on the weekend. They also lamented that it should have been completed by now, especially as this was a high camping weekend. I suspected it wasn't quite true we were allowed through, but it was clear no one was working and we would be safe. I walked with them through the campground maze to the day use parking and the trail, the huskies pulling the other hikers along at a good pace.

There's many water features just past the campground. I probably missed the first waterfall in among them since I hadn't quite understood how very large a mile was on my scrap of map. I came upon a use trail angling downward toward the stream far below at an almost tolerable angle. It was just past a bit of reinforcement for the proper trail. The stream seemed louder, so I followed it down. It dropped quite some distance, but if this is the second fall it is roughly 200 feet below the trail. It proceeded between a couple slopes and popped out at some loose rocks above and a little upstream of the top of the falls.

The falls unfortunately, were just after a turn and were falling almost directly away from me. I picked a careful route along the rocks headed down stream. Climbing down a large rock, I could further pick my way out onto a boulder which gave a good, solid place to try to see the waterfall from.

angled edge with a touch of water going over it
The top edge of the waterfall from the first vantage point. All you can see is a pool upstream and the water starting its leap out into the air.

water tumbling a long way down into a little valley below
After a little work, the water can almost be seen tumbling down the cliff side into the pool at the bottom.

above the falls
It would be rather difficult to get a good view of the falls from the other side, too.

trace of use trail down to the waterfall top
The use trail heading down from the main trail to the top of the waterfall. It was a bit of a huff'n'puff to get back up.

Continuing on, the trail was picturesque and fairly uneventful. A small stream or perhaps spring oozed out of the ground and from under roots at about three places just up from the trail making it muddy. Mostly it stays high and dry. Eventually it meets up with Cooper Canyon across the stream from the PCT where a large tree bridge, which seems to be marked on the map, crosses over to a nice campsite. It turns downstream and rejoins the stream it was following to cross it and finally join with the PCT. Along the way, I decided to do the loop with the PCT and walk back down the 2 to the car.

some trees in the high desert
The high desert has some nice trees.

post marking 1 mile along the trail
First mile finished. The last of the trail before dropping into Cooper Canyon was rocky path.

thick tree providing a bridge high-ish above the creek
A big tree bridge across to a nice campsite and the PCT.

call it Buckhorn also
Crossing back over... let's call it Buckhorn, since it probably is. It's a lovely little stream.

fisher person trying to hide behind a tree
And it has people fishing in it.

a couple of fish
And it has fish. Here's one. They look like trout, maybe rainbow.

cascade above falls
A big cascade along the trail means I'm almost there.

Someone had strung a pink ribbon across the PCT at the junction. Since the sign I'd looked at marked closed trails and open trails, and while the one I was on wasn't marked one way or the other, the ones I was coming to were marked open. Shortly after the junction was a cascade, and shortly after that a use trail down to the bottom of the falls, and after that a better use trail down. I didn't notice the second until I met it sloping gently down. A short climb was required at the bottom and a rope that didn't look old hung down to help out in that. I saw other people use it before I gave it a try, but it wasn't really required and the fall if it was bad wasn't that great. The bottom was quite crowded, but half the crowd was taking off and the rest but two didn't last too much longer than that. Eventually I was left alone with the falls.

view of the waterfall
This is the waterfall we've all come to see.

people climbing back up to the main trail
And here are some people demonstrating the route down on their way back up. The log on the right is tied to a tree with an old rope.

looking right up the falls
Here's what it's like in the splash of the waterfall.

another view of the falls
And here is another view of the falls and the pool below. The very chill pool.

butterfly polinating a flower
A butterfly having a meal at one of the flowers on the cliff. These would dip very low under the weight of the butterflies.

more fish
A few more fish could be found in this pool too.

I sketched a bit by the waterfall and had lunch. I went back up to the main trail myself and continued up the PCT, ducking under the ridiculous ribbon. There were more nice campsites above the one I had seen from the other side of the creek and a road had once come down that far. The trail seemed to be further from the creek than indicated on the map as it went up Cooper Canyon, but the creek always seemed to come back to meet it. Many places, it showed the wide bed of the old road. Some places it had washed out, but these were easy to traverse as they were low to the small stream. Eventually I came to Cooper Canyon Trail Camp, which still has a road maintained to it. The bugs were bad through this section.

bumble bee deep in purple flower
A bumble bee pollinating a flower. A lot of flies were on these flowers as well. This wasn't one of the bad bugs.

moth deep in a flower
A moth also pollinating a flower.

Cooper Canyon Trail Camp
The trail camp is just across the creek. There are tables on that side and a biffy and the road on this side.

trail on back downhill
The way I have come. The sign says it's 3.0 miles back to Buckhorn, 5.0 miles over to Eagle's Roost, and 11.4 miles to another trail camp.

trail further on uphill
Some information and the PCT leaving the wide road for the higher points and vistas.

At the trail camp, the PCT splits off from the road route, preferring a higher, more meandering route that touches on saddles and has better views. A small sign pointed in the general direction of the trail and then a cairn marked the thin ribbon climbing away from the road. I went up the PCT instead of the fire road. The trail was well used in spite of the presence of a shorter route. A couple easily traversed fallen trees are in need of removal, but otherwise it was a well established trail.

the next canyon to the north
As the trail comes to a northward facing saddle, the canyon of Little Rock Creek is visible.

from above, looking down to the canyon
A look over Cooper Canyon from up on the side along the PCT.

from another saddle into the canyon to the west
Coming to a second saddle, Squaw Canyon is visible to the west.

The trail came up to a saddle just north of Winston peak giving a view off to the west. There the trail joins some evidence of an old road that used to pass over the saddle and continue down along the peak westward. A use trail circled around and followed the ridge northward and a second took off up the side of Winston peak. I continued along the PCT which eventually crossed the fire road again, while the old road it was following turned onto that. The trail then drops a bit to climb back up to the road.

red bellied lizard
A lizard with a red belly. I've been seeing these recently instead of the blue bellied ones.

cedar trunk
A bit of cedar trunk with the cool, criss-crossing bark, slightly singed by some long past fire.

grey squirrel
And a little grey squirrel who was watching me warily, but let his tail fall down so must not have been too scared.

Reaching Cloudburst Summit and the road, I spotted more signs indicating closure. One claimed the part of the PCT that was my destination was closed, explaining the pink ribbon on the trail, since that was where it supposedly closed. It rerouted the through hikers on some ridiculous loop to avoid the 1/4 mile or so between junctions. I have checked the order now, and this section is most definitely not closed, so this sign is just mean, not informative. I turned to follow the tar down the hill, past the ski slopes, the trail up Waterman Mountain which progresses in a loop, a stubby road crowded with picnickers for no good reason except that there were tables there. I turned down this a little too hopeful and quickly came to the turnaround. A short bit later, I was on the road through the campground and back to the car.

big white flowers
Some flowers along the side of the hot tar road.

entering the campground along the stream
The road into Buckhorn campground. The other way may be shorter, but this direction is certainly prettier as it enters along the stream.

And then the trip was through and I turned back.

lupin growing among blackened trees
Between here and there is a lot of the burn. Driving up, the hillsides were clearly lavender from lupine. The color was not so evident with the late day light. The purple hills are pretty, but the trees were nice too.




©2011 Valerie Norton
Posted 12 July 2011

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