Gabrielino Dreams

Discussion in 'Ride Reports' started by Beowulf Shaeffer, Sep 28, 2018.

  1. Beowulf Shaeffer

    Beowulf Shaeffer Titanium reinforced!

    Jan 8, 2006
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    The Mount Wilson Bicycling Association ( has given us a gift: singletrack ambrosia, resurrected.

    The Gabrielino has, since the early 1990s, been one of my very favorite trails in the San Gabriel Mountains. The skill, endurance, and mental fortitude required to ride this beast had drawn me back repeatedly to test my mettle. I would get butterflies in my gut whenever I began another round in this exquisite 'hurt locker' of an epic.

    Years of minimal maintenance, followed by the very destructive Station Fire of 2009, wiped the middle section of this ride clean off the mountain. A few years of radio silence followed, in which time I reluctantly accepted that The Gab had faded into history, taking it's throne as the 'Zeus' in the Mount Wilson mythological pantheon. I had fond memories to hold, so the loss was ameliorated. It just felt like the end of some epic tour by your favorite band, or the passing of your favorite author.

    Most of all, The Gab was one of my 'schoolrooms' in which my skills and savvy were honed to a katana edge. After all, I used to ride this trail on a fully rigid Klein!

    So, with all the nostalgia and longing pre-loaded, imagine my near cranial explosion when I read the news last year that The Gab was 'nearly restored' and was expected to be opened soon. G'dam, I could hardly f#(<ing wait!!!

    A few weeks back, and less than a week past the official re-opener, I decided it was time to drag my 51-year-old arse back up that hill for one more shot at the glory. It wound up taking 2 tries, since the Friday of my first attempt saw 100*F temps on the Mt. Lowe Railway after I got too late a start, and the attempt degenerated into a Railway-Toll Road loop. The second attempt, 2 days later, was not much better. Earlier start helped, but the temps were still in the 'nearly deadly' range.

    I parked at Loma Alta Park at about 11:00 AM and began the grind up Chaney Trail. Less humidity and a better breeze aided my volkswagon-esque 'dash' from shade to shade. Temps had dropped nicely by the time I reached Granite Gate, and I cruised on up through the forest, topped out at Markham Saddle, then crossed over to Red Box on the Mt Wilson Road, where the trail drops to the west to begin the popular descent to Switzers Picnic Area.

    This stage of the trail was much the same as it has ever been, with the exception that nearly all the old forest has been burned off. The trail itself is in good shape in this section, and the rock chute at the Ladybug junction has been filled in with gravel and sand. It's still very challenging, but doesn't score the 'double diamond' it had in previous years.

    Switzers Picnic Area was a zoo, as always. Walking the rocks and greeting hikers is de rigeur until the trail climbs out of the canyon just before Switzers Campground. And this was also where the herculean efforts of the MWBA began to shine. Trailbed widening and prolific rock work have improved the climb up and past the Bear Canyon Trail junction. The mountainsides in this section have been stripped of their shade, and the haze of the day made for dramatic lighting that made every ridgeline and cliff face seem fiercely intimidating.

    As the trail traversed and then descended into Long Canyon, I could see that there would be damn little shade the rest of the way. What had been a lovely forest of maple, bay, live oak and douglas fir was now a long, dry looking trench bottomed with alder, willow, blackberry, poodle dog, and poison oak. A 'wet hot blanket' of still, humid air lent an oppressive mood to the scene.

    The MWBA work shone throughout. Only the occasional dismount was required, for either unfixable stream crossings or for not-yet-complete brush work. The roller coaster in Long Canyon had returned! After crossing the falls at the Arroyo Seco-Long Canyon confluence, more roller coaster ensued before the trail dropped to the streambed and began the sandy slog past the now-invisible Oakwilde Campground. All of the historic foundations, walls, steps, etc, have been buried under gravel and cobbles. It's impossible to tell there was ever anything here at all.

    Below Oakwilde, the switchbacks that climb past the Paul Little debris dam were in good shape, but the fencing that used to guard the outside of the trail is now gone. It's a bit spooky, but since the trail is improved it's not too bad.

    Paul Little to JPL was no different, being the usual river bottom mosh until the pavement started. There was a large pool of water at the base of Paul Little dam, and folks were there swimming. Most of the stream crossings below that were only trickling or damp. I had run out of water at Paul Little, so I was eager to get out and find some. The only water available was a crappy 'fountain' outside a fenced residence...the water was so metallic I almost refused to drink it.

    I popped out at JPL just at sunset, and had a relaxing spin back to Loma Alta Park to finish a day that was much tougher than my weak memory said it would be. Quick stop at George's Market on Lincoln for cold water and OJ fixed me right up.
    singl_trakr likes this.
  2. singl_trakr

    singl_trakr New Member

    Dec 19, 2007
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    Well said, Beo...excellent recount of one of my all time favorites. I too thought this trail was old news, so many thanks to MWBA for making it possible for all of us to be able to ride it again. Now if we could just keep it off Strava...

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