The Three-Leaf Follies of '07

Late Saturday night I knew. I’d caught a whiff of my special self. I had scored big on the "Smells Like Ass" Sweepstakes. All I had to do was get back to the trailhead and claim my prize.

I'd taken a three-day fastpacking trip into the West Fork of the San Gabriels. The itinerary was to camp out for 2 nights in the Middle Range, all before the bugs woke up and hopefully before the Forest burned down in this epic dry year.


I left Chantry Flats Friday mid-morning under a blue-white overcast marine layer. I was above the overcast in less than 4 miles, but it’s persistence into the early afternoon was noteworthy.

After a desultory check-in with Chris at Camp Sturtevant, I’d exhausted my supply of lies and falsehoods. I then made for Newcomb’s Pass and Saddle, into the crystal bright. From there, it was a hard left turn down into the West Fork Campground, which was completely empty.

Rinse off, build a fire, eat dinner, watch Caveman TV, fall asleep. Life is good.


After a 2-mile wrong-way start, I ascended Short Cut Canyon on the Silver Moccasin Trail. I’d actually never been on this trail in all the years of banging through the mountains. The streambed was bone dry for the first half mile, then becoming a series of stagnant pools. Two miles in and the Spanish Broom gave way to happy new growth of poison oak.

Poison oak is the Irreducible Calculator in the San Gabriel Mountains. Whither it lies, I goest not. I travel through it with the greatest reluctance. I will skirt it, ease around it, rock-hop and look for gaps through it. I will not touch firewood lying in it, I will not shortcut through it, and I make note if I touched it in anyway. Did I untie my shoes? and so on. And if I did, I'll wash with Fels-Naptha bar soap, or barring that, old wood ash, or even use pulverized dirt. I hate it. But I’ve made my accommodation with it. And it doesn’t give a shit about me.

Seriously though. The local Indians wove baskets from it, they lived in the middle of it, their children played in it, and their dogs for certain ran through it. Forever. And those secrets are lost to my Anglo eye.

Two miles up Short Cut Canyon, the trail left the drainage and began contouring up to the Shortcut Trail Head on Highway 2. It was sunny and toasty. This stretch would be very warm and bright come summer. I met up with a CORBA trail work crew who were busy brushing back. I thought about the poison oak patch that needed their tough-love.

The Silver Moccasin Trail meets the utility road below the Highway 2 trail-head. I turned right and headed down into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River. The marine layer was building to the east, hinting at a massive counter-clockwise wheeling. Within 3 miles it became a lot cooler an overcast, with a steady breeze.

At this point I encountered the OHV enthusiasts, who fortunately were jonesing on getting somewhere fast. Three motorcyclists heading east, one 4W heading west. Their trajectory would be Short Cut down, then up to the Rincon-Red Box Road west to the E Fork of the San Gabriels, Camp Williams and all that.

The bottom of the W Fork is approximately 5-1/2 miles down from Highway 2. I was simultaneously hot and chilled. I also took advantage of the water to forestall a potential outbreak of Ring of Fire. Having a clean ass makes me a happy man.

Now is the long 4-mile slog to the top of Newcomb’s Saddle. I keep forgetting how stark and beautiful it is here, despite the best efforts of modern industrial intervention to uglify it with galvanized cribbing, powerlines, and all the rest. There is more shade cover than I remember from summer death-march training runs.

Nearing the top the marine layer is boiling over the Saddle at a brisk 25mph. Now I’m getting chilled, and frankly, I’m spanked. Its been a long 15 miles, and given my current conditioning, I’m whupped.

At the juncture of the trail going S into Big Santa Anita Cyn and the Rincon-RedBox Road I have to make a decision. The siren call of Spruce Grove is tempting. I debate whether or not to make an improv camp in the blowing mist. It doesn’t look good.

Taking a leaf from the British Army Playbook—I brew up a billy of tea, eat, and think things over.

If I go south, down to Spruce Grove, it will be soggy and dark. I won’t be able to build a fire I can look at, only a fire in a metal stove box. Not good.

If I suck it up and head west, down to Devore, I’ll probably get a campsite in a remote campground. Inshallah, a camp fire as well.

Saddling up, I head down and west on the R-R. Within a half mile, I’m below the overcast into bright and dry! Damn.

Now I make the turnoff to Devore. The trail drops steeply in the 1.2 miles down to the 5-site camp. A quick peek shows it to be empty. I pick the sunniest spot, and begin to forage for wood. This is also a campsite for the continent, as there is no privy. This means you and your little shovel are going to probably make friends with Mr Oak at some point in the future. Unless you dig a hole in the firepit. But I get ahead of myself.

Fighting a dehydration head-ache, I go thru the motions of making dinner and all. I can barely keep my eyes open, but its better than yesterday. Without distractions, I look at the land in front of me. My eyes are readjusting to looking at things more than 3’ in front of me.

Spent an intervalled night sleeping. Get bitten by a woodtick. Now there are nightmare Lyme Disease scenarios. Fall asleep. Yes, Virginia, I smell like Ass.


Up and gone within an hour. On the trail, chowed up and ready to kick ass. At the ridgeline the marine layer is thick and wet. The canyon is completely obscured, and frankly, is wonderful given the drought that is starting to build.

Five miles in, and swing by Sturtevant Camp to see what Chris and Joan are up to. Their dog Natalie is thrilled I Smell Like Ass. All she wants is me to be dead so she can take me out in the yard and play with me.

Up and over Mt Zion, since it looks to be the quietest route in. Not a soul until a mile out of Chantry Flats. Given the persistent drizzle, the parking lot is mostly empty. My Sun Shower is cold, but with a dry change of clothes in the car, I no longer smell. And the prize committee left just before I got there. Bastards.

Friday: 11 miles
Saturday: 17 miles
Sunday: 12 miles

Yep, pretty slim. In the words of the immortal Ice-T from “New Jack Hustler”…never mind. And he says it better than I do anyway.

  • Ultimate Direction Voyager Fast Pack, 1998 model yearW/ 2 48oz bottles. I left the suck-tube at home, capped them with the conventional UD bottle tops. Yes, at 1700 cu in, it was just big enough to hold what I needed, and still be somewhat mobile. Otherwise I would’ve just gone car camping. At a casino.
  • Ridge Rest ground pad
  • 4x6 reflective ground tarp
  • North Face 3-season bag
  • Tom Harrison's Map—Angeles Crest: Front Range
  • Silva compass
  • Hand-held 20oz UD water bottle w/ Gatorade solution
  • 1 pr Running shorts
  • 1 pr cotton-poly sox
  • 1 s/s lightweight synthetic t-shirt
  • 1 l/s lightweight poly shirt
  • 1 polypro pullover
  • 1 fuzzy polypro knit cap
  • 1 Propper boonie hat [days]
  • 1 pr Patagonia Baggie poly trou
  • Optimus 8R steel clamshell stove, with pressure pump, Straight outta 1968, and nearly indestructible.
  • MSR cookpot kit w/ pot-gripper
  • 1 pint of stove fuel [excessive in retrospect, but, what the hell]
  • BIC lighter
  • Undersize wimpy spoon. Next time it’ll be a heftier tablespoon. Or a round-billed shovel.
The opportunistic outfitter can and will provision out of a 7-11 if necessary.
  • Trader Joe’s cheesy garlic mash potatoes
  • Freeze-dried beef. This would've been better with tomato paste.
  • Hard Sausage
  • Xtra Sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 loaf spelt bread
  • date expired Taster’s Choice ®™ Instant coffee. Not noticeably worse than fresh, only now its vintage.
  • A fistful of teabags
  • McCann’s Irish Oatmeal, 3x per breakfast
  • dehydrated eggs, probably date-expired, to mix into the oatmeal
  • Old-school Gatorade
  • A couple of ClifBars
  • The canonical Swiss Army Knife
  • Magnesium bar w/striker edge
  • Sweetwater water filter
  • A wee bug-eyed LED headlamp.
  • Machete
  • Ibuprofin
  • Miso soup
  • Fels-Naptha bar soap
  • Trader Joe's Natural Deodorant
  • The Black Diamond Megamid. After Saturday afternoon, it all made sense.


Tim said…
I guess I'm not going to let you in on my trip this Friday out of a '98 VW Jetta.


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