28 April 2013

Fish Canyon

Angeles National Forest

Locate the trail head.

This hike begins on the other end of the Warm Springs Fish Canyon road I used for access to Warm Springs Mountain. Like on that side, this road is in good shape. Also like on that side, the trails nearby have vanished into the brush for decades without any sort of maintenance at all. Meanwhile, although it is easier to get to than many more crowded areas of the forest, it is thought of as remote. I expect this is changing, especially on this side where many of the trails are in the bottom of a tight canyon and could never have been very good, but also never very hard for route finding. The forces that wash away the trail will also wash out the plants. Also, when I parked by the side of the road at the locked gate, I parked behind another car and there was a group (of likely Boy Scouts) hanging onto it, waiting for their rides at the end of backpacking.

I packed up, including some shoes for sloshing through water, and started down the closed section of the Templin Highway. Winding down two lanes with wide shoulders, there is a glimpse of Castaic Lake to the south. There are stands of pine that look planted and a random palm tree in the flats below the road. It is lined with No Trespassing signs, some next to where there should be a trail. Just past a spot where a bit over half the road has fallen, it ends in a single lane bridge. A gauging station sits just north of the bridge measuring the flow of a very dry Castaic Creek. On the far side of the bridge, a bit of old road goes past the gauging station and should continue far up Castaic Creek in a form now reduced to trail. (Oddly, the Liebre Mountain quad takes some of this trail's route from the old telephone line path instead of the road.) The satellite looks promising for that and there could be some fun adventures up that way, but not today.

a peek at Castaic Lake
Following the paving down allows a look at Castaic Lake before it becomes hidden by the rest of the landscape.

hills sloping down around a tributary to Castaic
The mouth of Fish Canyon out across the flats with their pines all the same height and lone palm tree.

gauge measuring no water on Castaic Creek
The gauging station on Castaic Creek. The road behind it follows a path up Castaic Creek for a while. This is the route of the first telephone line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

After the bridge, the road turns to dirt. It is still well used by those with the appropriate key. It turns back toward the lake and splits. Taking the left fork, I started toward Fish Canyon past anther dry gauging station. The complete lack of water worried me since I was carrying a little over two liters and a pump. Soon, the impression of blanched white bones of the bed is broken by sycamore standing bright and green, if a little droopy. Eventually, as the power lines come overhead, there is a small but clear puddle.

Warm Springs Fish Creek as it enters the canyon
Warm Springs Fish Creek looks like it still gets a little use by 4 wheeled vehicles as it starts up the canyon. This first ford is not improved, which may indicate something about the water typically sinking in by this point.

a small amount of water welling up in the creek bed
A dark spot of clear water in the creek bed shows evidence of some underground flow.

delicate purple petals getting a little dry
The flowers by the side of the trail weren't many.

As I continued, the evidence of water and flow increased. The last dry ford was improved by concrete, but showing its age with rebarb sticking out in various directions. The next ford I came to was flowing and developing holes in that way old fords do. Eventually, I passed a spot that looked like it is still used for turning vehicles around and an old gate that has been yanked from the ground still locked and tossed to the side. After that is a piece of road that doesn't even make sense as the canyon narrows down and the road starts at least a quarter of a mile of solid ford.

a long slog right upstream
A road built through a canyon that is no wider than the road.

a bit more of the long ford
Still fording through the bottom of the canyon. That on the left looks like a respite to water except in the highest times when the road would be closed anyway.

When the concrete finally ends and the canyon opens up again, it is back to good dirt road. After a little ways, there is another ford coming to a spot that is positively lush with stinging nettle and then old pavement comes under foot as a couple of buildings come into view. This is the old Cienaga Campground and the nettles are on the side of the spring. The posts marking the parking spaces for the old sites can still be found around the decaying asphalt loops, but the numbers have been removed. The buildings are two vault toilets with sagging roofs, one with the seats removed, and one with a seat that looks like it could fall in if you don't sit on it right while one last seat looks like it could be usable. Pipes stick up where faucets have been removed. Most of the fire pits and BBQs have gone and the information sign lays in the dirt looking at the sun giving none.

decaying asfault loops and site markers
Cienaga Campground has a few nice trees, but is short on amenities these days.

Past the campground, trail splits off to the north following the main fork of Fish Canyon while the road starts to climb the north side of the east fork. The footprints in the sand all headed off to the north while abundant tire marks, some suspiciously wide, continued up the road. Disappointed with the water level, I headed up the road.

east and main forks of Fish Canyon collecting
A long, dry crossing over the main fork of Fish Canyon with the junction between trail and road at the far side.

The road climbs out of the canyon giving an overview into the dry creek bed below. It was hot, and climbing the north side of the canyon just made it all feel hotter. Large side canyons come down into the main canyon and the road makes large loops to pass them making what shouldn't be that long a trek to the saddle at the top into a grand journey. At the side, a metal triangle marked what may have once been a trail and now has a trail going past it again, although it may not get far. I kept going until deciding I would probably run out of water and it was far too hot to go running out of water. Also, I've already been there, although there's something of a feeling of accomplishment to finish off a route.

looking down over the east fork of Fish Canyon
The canyon is open again as the east fork makes its way directly east. There are trees in the bottom of both it and a tributary coming in from the north.

three different butterflies on yellow flowers
A few little butterflies out this day, but it was the swallowtails I kept almost running into.

a bit more road going on and on
Warm Springs Fish Canyon carves its way along the north side of the canyon.

looking back to the west along Fish Canyon
Looking back down Fish Canyon it doesn't look quite so narrow.

I dropped back down the road fairly quickly and ran out of water as I got to the junction again. I crossed into the campground to look around and then follow the creek down to the water. I found a site chocked with poison oak where the BBQ hadn't been removed. It was beside the creek and down in the flood plain were the bones of a hut made of found pieces. I dropped into the bed near it and wandered down, almost getting to the road again before finding the water. I pumped some out of a spot of flow and then poked around a little more finding concrete that must have been part of gathering the water for the campground.

the bones of a hut
Someone at least started to build a hut in the flood plain of the creek.

frog in the water on a small twig
One of the residents of the spring.

concrete structures near the water
Concrete that might have something to do with gathering spring water for the campground. Or not.

After gathering more water, I was ready to seek out new adventure in another direction. I headed up the road again and this time turned with the footprints up the main fork.

the view when turning up the main fork
Heading toward Redrock Mountain along the main fork of Fish Canyon.

yucca flowers with moths
Yucca flower with yucca moths.

This part of the trail was also once a road, but the only evidence of that now is the 6N32C designation. Below, I catch a glimpse of some wheel marks in the creek bed where someone made a three point turn. The trail crosses over the bed a couple times and I passed another group (of likely Boy Scouts) on their way out from backpacking (at a more appropriate time). Eventually it gets to a campsite next to The Pianobox Prospect.

a bit of nice trail
A bit of good trail through the canyon headed toward The Pianobox Prospect.

trail dropping into the creek bed on the left, a hole in the cliff on the right
The end of the road at The Pianobox Prospect. On the left, the trail drops into the flow of things, if there was any flow. On the right, a hole in the cliff could be left from the prospect.

The Pianobox Prospect marks the end of the road and essentially the end of the trail. A few iron pieces are scattered about the site. The trail drops into the creek bed past some massive concrete blocks that may have stored water for those at the prospect. Somewhere behind the concrete there should be a trail that climbs up and over the ridge over to Redrock Canyon and then Castaic Creek. I completely missed it, but the trail is visible in satellite photos and being used to access the nearby peak with a "Redrock Mtn" benchmark and the high point of the mountain 1.5 miles further along the ridge. I was heading for the narrows rather than the mountain anyway. A track can be picked out easily in the bottom of the canyon, especially after so many backpackers have just passed along it. The walls closed in quickly as I made my way along it. Water seeps from the walls in many places and I began to see pools of water again, mostly clear, along the bottom.

the narrows
Red rocks tower above as the canyon closes in sharply.

cliffs on one side, steep slant on the other with crooked trees making their living
A little more of the narrows.

makeshift camp
A sleeping platform and fire ring mark a camp at a junction of creeks.

I came upon a camp as I came upon a tributary. From here, the proper trail, if it can really be called that, follows the canyon to the south. A second trail that looked just as good took off to the north up a tributary that might be even tighter. I looked around the camp. It has a disused fire ring with a bit of bench and a sleeping platform with a bit of a tilt and a "Z" worked in twigs and fibers hanging from it. Since I had already passed my turnaround time and gotten to my turnaround mileage, I decided it was time to go back.

a bit of water flowing over granite
Some flowing water cutting at the bedrock.

algae in a shrinking pool
Some of the water is looking a bit stagnant.

a seep of water in the steep red wall
Another narrow spot with a seep of water bringing lime to the red rock cliff face.

Once back a The Pianobox Prospect, it is smooth footing all the way back. I made my way, stopping for yet more water because it was a bit of a hot day. Not quite a half liter a mile, but close to it.

ragged butterfly on red flowers
Another of those small and ragged butterflies.

closed road with barricades and such
The end of the road for the general public when they are headed down Templin Highway to the east.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 30 Apr 2013


Helen said...

Because of our drought, the gnats have increased this year but easily remedied with wearing a $5 bug net. Just came back there from a hike with friends. Still gorgeous as ever. You did an accurate discription. Best treasure in Los Angeles county.

Valerie Norton said...

Thanks, but don't let a ranger catch you out there right now. The southern edge of the road (they are very specific about this) and areas north are part of the Powerhouse Fire closure. I would have expected there to be signs. The current order is effective until Dec. 31, 2014.

Helen said...

When the Angeles National Forest closes a trail, they post it with Angeles National Forest signs, ie their logo and it's done properly. There is no such Closure signs at Fish Canyon. A group from the college was there today.

Valerie Norton said...

As I said, I am surprised there was not a posted notice. The only place you are certain to find closure notices are at the main headquarters on Santa Anita Ave in Arcadia. They are very good about posting closure notices on their web site under "alerts and notices" within a couple days and the one in question, Powerhouse Fire Closure Order #01-04-05, can be found here.

Valerie Norton said...

And that link does not seem to work. The address is http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprd3798183.pdf

Helen said...

Update - There was not a posted notice because IT WAS NEVER CLOSED. If you want to know if something is closed, call directly to ANF. There was one individual who circulated false information about closures which was horrible, so please go directly to the source. There's been confusion about Fish Canyon, off Templin Highway and Fish Canyon Trails in Azusa. This article is about the Fish Canyon in Castaic, off Templin. Some vandal was spray painting on the barricade the words, 'closed'. ANF of course, does not do closures with red spray paint. We also have a good idea who did this. Sacramento official said they encourage hikers to enjoy the area and also report wrong doings such as this. Hike Fish Canyon on overcast or cooler days. Bring a bug net for your head because of gnats and plenty of water. Enjoy one of the most beautiful trails in Los Angeles!

Valerie Norton said...

Again? The Forest Closure Orders on the ANF web site are legal documents and they did specify a closure along Templin Highway and then along the south side of 6N32 (this road) as the limit of the closure for the Powerhouse Fire. Personally, I think that was a bit overblown for closing things, but the language was very clear. I expect they were concerned with the increased dangers to people in the lower canyon during rain events in the burned upper canyon. A few years have passed since that fire and the closure was reduced to not include this road a while ago. The last Forest Closure Order I can see expired October 2015, so now nothing is closed due to that fire except those roads that have not been repaired. There do seem to be a few unofficial closures continuing, which is quite annoying. It is up to you what you do when you see a "closed" sign without a Forest Closure Order posted. None of those closures are at this trailhead. That is how it stands today. Those "closed" signs will come down eventually and there will likely be another fire, be it tomorrow or in 50 years, that closes the area again. These comments are dated so you can easily see if they are likely to contain current information.

No, this is not Fish Creek Canyon north of Duarte where the Fish Fire (as of the date of this comment, not 2 years hence) is burning. The included map should be sufficient to make it clear that this is the one on the end of Templin Highway and not one of the many other places with this very common name.

I have not been there when there was spray paint claiming the area was closed. That sort of thing saddens me, both as graffiti and as an attempt to remove the public from a place they may rightfully go.