american west, california, Hiking, outdoors, Travel, Uncategorized, writing

Wild Winters Melt into Springs

Enjoying the cool mist from the Brown Mountain Dam waterfall

The wild weather of the past several months in California is yielding some lovely results. While technically not a ‘superbloom’ in many areas, the superfluity of water has sprouted many beautiful blooms across verdant hills in southern and central California. I enjoyed the drive up to Monterey back in March for the California League of Educators conference. I have not seen the hills so green in recent years, and even in March- so early in the season- there were hills covered in what may have been yellow mustard. So pretty.

Our hikes as of late have been in impacted by the various atmospheric rivers what bombarded California from about December through March of this year, saturating our landscapes and filling our reservoirs with much needed water after years of drought. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, the storms brought massive amounts of snow, resulting in a record Sierra snowpack which will provide an important source of water in the months to come.

The downside to that much water is exactly that- it is that much water. The warmer weather of the last couple weeks in April have brought average to above average temperatures, causing a faster melt into already inundated rivers and streams. This has increased the risk of flooding, and is even responsible for the closure of a portion of Yosemite Valley this weekend due to how high the Merced River is flowing at this point.

While not quite as dramatic as up north, the hikes we took the last few weekends were noticeably impacted by the wet winter storms. The Claremont Wilderness Loop this past Saturday had two small stream crossings that are not typically there: one before the junctions to the Burbank and Cobal Canyon Trails and one just past it, crossing Cobal Canyon. These were not very deep, and indeed, provided the relaxing sound of a bubbling stream on the trail before the incline. Along the trails, the wildflowers were in bloom and the trails were green with grasses.

More impactful was our hike in the Angeles National Forest two Saturdays ago. We headed from Angeles Crest to Gould Mesa and up the Gabrielino Trail to Brown Mountain Dam. This is a hike I’ve done many times with Owen, and it is a perennial favorite as it is a relatively easy, flat trek from Gould Mesa to the dam, and offers plenty of shade and fun stream crossings over the usual bit of water in the Arroyo Seco.

This last hike however was rather different. The water in the stream was dramatically higher. While it was not particularly dangerous at this time, the water was quite fast-moving. There were areas that were more difficult to cross, as the usual stepping stones were covered. There were several points where the water was up to my thighs or higher at the points we would normally cross, and so we did have to take our time to look upstream and figure out where to best cross. Fortunately I had on my Teva sandals, which were perfect for water crossings and offered enough traction for the rest of the hike.

While the hike was a bit more slow-going than usual, we did make it to the dam safely. What had been more like a trickle of water in the falls was significantly more dramatic. We could feel the cool spray from yards away. It felt good as the day was becoming quite warm. After spending some time at the falls, we turned around and headed back, and we could see the debris line from where the water had been higher. The trek back down the trail and up to Angeles Crest was faster since we knew where to cross the stream, but we still took our time to cross safely. While the water was not and any type of flood stage, it was definitely deeper than usual and fast-moving. There is power in even shallow water as it moves down a mountain.

The current excess of water and has some inherent risks that need to be considered, but with some preparation and care, there is opportunity for much fun and adventure, as well as some really pretty scenery. Just be sure to research your happy trail before heading out, be prepared, and have fun.

Some things to consider:
Even with the best laid plans, conditions can change. If in doubt as to whether a water crossing would be safe, it is okay to turn around. The trail will still be there when conditions improve.

There were a couple points in the trail to Brown Mountain Dam that would have been easier to balance with trekking poles. I was not trying to balance on small boulders on this hike, as most of those were covered with the water. At those crossings, I opted to trek through since I had on water sandals. But when crossing streams, trekking poles can be helpful to provide another point on which to balance.

Weather can change the trail conditions, even on familiar trails. Even Echo Mountain, a trail we hike regularly, felt the effects of this year’s winter storms:

Be sure to check current trail conditions. All Trails is a good place to check for recent check-ins. Trails can become washed-out, overgrown, or there can be debris. The other possible issue, especially in riparian environs is poison oak.

The past several weekends have been perfect for hikes. The weather has been lovely, and the trails are alive with blooms. Stay safe, and have fun. Happy trails.


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