Father's Day/Mother Nature ComboWhat better way to spend Father’s Day than to do something a father likes to do. So it was that I explained to my family that we’d have to postpone our traditional Father’s Day dinner because I’d be out past dinner time on a canyoneering outing. They immediately knew that I couldn’t have a better Father’s Day gift than their understanding .
Canyoneering couple Julie and Kevin (their first date was a canyoneering rendezvous so the description is apt) had organized an outing to do Pasadena Glen Canyon in the front range of the San Gabriel Mountains. True, the canyon’s name has a certain ring of tameness and suburbia tinge. It turned out anything but tame.
Nine of us met at the terminus of the canyon to arrange a car shuttle. We left a couple of vehicles there and drove to the starting point which was the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. This fire road cleaves the mammoth Eaton Canyon rising out of Altadena. We started hiking at 7:30 a.m. and the 2 1/2 miles on the toll road was by far the easiest part of the day. After that, there was some tricky route-finding to locate the exact spot to leave the fire road and head toward our destination canyon. Fortunately, Kevin had done this canyon before and we had the benefit of his having wandered around lost for a couple of hours on his previous visit looking for the correct route. Even at that, we had to do some back-tracking in places.
The Approach: Up, Down, Traverse and Curse
Once we got off the toll road, we immediately hit “machete country.” The route involved some serious bushwhacking. On top of that, the brush was wringing wet with early morning dew and cloud seepage so that we got soaked from head to toe as we thrashed through the undergrowth. A couple of us in front took turns swinging a dull machete someone had brought along. Fortunately, we didn’t encounter too much Buckthorn (a prevalent bush in the San Gabriel range characterized by tissue-piercing thorns) at this point or the bleeding would have started early.
The cadence of the route went like this: up and down and traverse and curse. Finally, we got view of our canyon. We were tempted to drop straight down towards it but Kevin had done that very thing the last time he was here and ended up dead-ending at a cliff. So we tramped on until Kevin signaled a drop-in point which we could get down without sustaining fatalities. Still, this point presented some seriously steep terrain lubricated with lots of loose dirt and rocks ready to succumb to gravity with just a stern glance. But everyone was up to the task and we all got down into the canyon bottom without mishap. It had taken us an adventure-drenched 3 ½ hours to reach our canyon!
Moving Smartly AlongAbout 10 minutes of hiking along the canyon’s waterway brought us to the first rappel, a good 80 footer. There would be 10 to 12 rappels of lengths from 80 feet to as short as 15. This is a very narrow canyon and the little space that exists to descend the waterway is choked with brush, trees and logs. Good thing we had warmed up to major league bushwhacking on the approach.
The canyon added some unpleasant surprises to the flora we had encountered on the approach: Stinging Nettle, thistle bushes, and generous quantities of Poison Oak in a variety of colors, red, green and brown. I had a confrontation with a bush of the red variety at one drop where, in traversing a steep slope, I couldn’t avoid swinging my chest and arms through a little red beauty. For the results of this mismatch, see the last section below.
Because we anticipated a 12- hour day from start to finish, we took few breaks and tried to move briskly along. We had two ropes, 250 feet and 200 feet, along with a 30 foot section for hand-lines. The first ones down a particular drop could thus take the second rope and move on to set up the next rappel without waiting for the entire group.
A Canyon with Technical Variety
The canyon had its technical challenges. Many of the anchors were trees that required skillful and exposed climbing to reach. Except for near the end of the canyon, there was a good water flow in the stream. Consequently, the raps featured a lot of slippery, wet rock that was hard to keep upright on. There were also drops featuring narrow chutes or slots where foot placement was tricky. This was where, rather than putting your non-brake hand on the rope above you where it doesn’t do anything useful, you could put it to good use by pushing against the rock to direct your descent.
In the last half mile or so of the canyon, there were a number of attention-getting 4th class descents that some of us down climbed. Others chose the less adrenaline- filled way to get down by rappelling.
We finished the outing about an hour earlier than the anticipated 12 hours. It was evident that everyone had enjoyed the adventure immensely although, for some, this was one of those canyons of which it is said “you’ve got to do it once, but once is enough!”
Touched by Mother Nature
So I’d had a great Father’s Day with a good group of people. I arrived home wet, muddy and shaking leaves and twigs out of my hair and clothes. In other words, with the signs of having been literally touched by Mother Nature. She touched me in another way: within a couple of days, I had sprouted a Poison Oak rash over both arms, front torso and both legs. Fortunately, my years of wading through and brushing against this plant has conferred on me an immunity of sorts: I get the rash but nowadays with only minimal itching. I consider it a fair exchange with Mother Nature.