Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Attempt To Find Upper Fish Fork Camp

Typo's Be Damnd, I'll get to them

October 11, 2008

Having previously been to Little Fish Fork Camp, I really wanted to get back to this wonderful place. This was my second time and would be a much shorter and less strenuous route then my first. My earlier trip will be covered on another post when time permits. Be advised this post is going to be very long so grab a beverage and relax for a while. A long while.

Meet Richard

Richard, on the right, with his brother Christopher

On this trip I would not be going solo but with one of my good hiking friends Richard. Not only is Richard a strong hiker but he is also loaded with great vast amounts of wilderness knowledge. He grew up in the area and has hiked most of the peaks and canyons within the Angeles National Forest. When hiking with him he will point out edible plants, species of trees, animal tracks and so much more. To add to this he is also a volunteer with the Angeles National Forest donating much of his own free time to help others. Want another tidbit to add to his resume?

Years ago when Richard was paying a visit to a ranger station he was notified about a trail that was in really bad shape. This particular one, named Bear Canyon Trail, had fallen trees, badly eroded sections, covered by overgrowth and was basically not safe. The forest service had slated it to simply fade away and remove the referance of any trail from there maps. This did not sit well with Richard and he adopted the entire trail system of 5.2 miles. Obviously the task of resurrecting a trail that long and in such disrepair is beyond the scope of one man.

Next, he rallied several other volunteers to help him with this monumental task. With great perseverance over time, Richard and his wonderful group of volunteers finished the trail. Everything from clearing vegitation, digging out miles of trail and removing fallen trees was done with manual labor and manual labor alone.

This hard laborious backbreaking work, carried out by Richard and his dedicated group of volunteers, have created a premier trail. Along this trail are hidden natural pools and waterfalls. At the end of the trail is a campground fit for a king and his parliament. I would have to guess though that almost all of the hikers enjoying this wonderful secluded camp have no idea how much work it took Richard to keep this disregarded trail from disappearing. To date, Richard has remained vigilant with maintaining the entire length of trail along with the camp. He organizes his dedicated group of volunteers for this laborious work and then rewards them at the end of the day with a BBQ or some other means of wonderful feast.

Getting Started

The day of the hike, Richard and I met in the community of Wrightwood for a single car drive up to the trailhead. This is quite the drive too. Departing the parking lot we continued on Highway 2 up to the turn off for the Blue Ridge and from here it's all dirt roads. The cool thing about this dirt road is that it crosses right through the Mountain High Ski Resort. Well, that's also the drawback because when it snows the forest service closes the access down. I can't blame them though because the road cuts right through the upper section of the ski hill with the ski lift overhead.

Driving the Blue Ridge provides really wonderful views of the upper East Fork, and so much more. When there are no clouds and the air is ok, you can see not only the coast but also Catalina Island. During the summer mont's people will actually park up there and sit in the back ot their trucks just to watch the sunset.

Our drive along the ridge has come to an end for now and the turn off for Lupine has come up. This is also a dirt road that drops down from the ridge into a small valley with Pine Mountain Ridge to the south and Blue Ridge to the north. Sometimes the forest service will close the access to Lupine and only allow hikers in but no cars. This is to allow the area to recover from the abuse that only humans can provide. That's also fine with me, I'd much rather hike anyway. But for the time being it's not the safest road to hike on while cars are allowed. Most people seem to drive carelessly and it's a very narrow road, to narrow for my liking. The vast majority of people in this area are here for "car camping" and not hiking. Probably with their anxiety to hurry and find a first come first serve camping spot they are slightly less cautious on the dirt roads. In the days of road rage not even the isolated mountainous dirt road is safe.

On this particular day the presence of numerous outdoorsmen was very obvious from the upper heights of Blue Ridge all the way down to Lupine. This was, after all, the opening day for deer hunting season. Our parking location that doubled as a trailhead is within a stones throw from Camp Lupine. Today the camp was filled to capacity with people. Normally this location does have plenty of room for the campers, but this was not the case today. Hiking during the opening day of hunting season obviously requires a higher level of awareness, to put it lightly. At this time of the morning most hunters were barely stirring in the camp with a couple of fires for warmth already going. The morning air was cold and crisp with the wonderful smell of the pine forest and the occasional hint of somebody cooking breakfast. What a teaser that breakfast smell was with hints of pancakes and bacon.

Richard and I started suiting up for the hike and quickly hit the trail. The sun was rising but hadn't made its way to us yet. We were still within the mountain shadows and it was chilly. Hitting the trail would remedy this as we would be using some energy making our way up the twisty trail to the top of Pine Mountain Ridge. Our hiking route would take us along a path giving a direct view down to Camp Lupine and now it was quite clear of just how many hunters were down there, a lot!

A Little History

This entire area of Prarie Fork, Pine Mountain Ridge and our destination of Upper Fish Fork Camp is rich with history. Sadly though only small amounts are known and solid details are almost impossible to find. The area of Prarie Fork that includes Camp Lupine used to be a cattle ranch way back in the day. The vision of a cattle ranch down in this valley is hard to imagine. Back when it existed it would have been very difficult to get the cattle into here. But like all things that our forefathers accomplished, somehow they did it. Also along Prarie Fork are two old abandoned mines. These mines ares still there and can be found with some exploring and that is something I will do someday.

Actually there are numerous abandoned mines throughout this entire area. Most are almost impossible to gain access due to such remote and dangerous locations like the face of a cliff. Determined individuals can still get to them, its just that you may need a good foundation of serious climbing experiance. Many people have needed the assistance ot Search and Rescue after attempting to gain access to them and others have perished. Studying the maps of there locations and also seeing them from a distance I wonder just how people from the 1800's actually did it. How did they determine that an area was worth the risk, get to it and get all of the large heavy equipment to them? Hardcore determination and desperation is the answer I guess.

Anyway, the trail we are currently hiking is actually an old abandoned logging road. All I know is that sometime during World War 2 the area of Pine Mountain Ridge and going south into the Fish Fork area was being logged. This hiking path goes to the top of the ridge and splits. One continues west along the ridge and the other goes south dropping down into Fish Fork. After the logging company left the area the roads were still usable from our parking location in Lupine to the top of Pine Mountain Ridge. From there some would probably hike down to the Fish Fork camps, our destination. However, this section was declared the Sheep Mountain Wilderness and as a result only foot traffic is allowed past Lupine. Now, with regular vegitation growth, erosion and fallen trees these roads can be challenging to just hike along. Yes, this is a good thing. The wilderness area is named after its endangered inhabitants, the Big Horn Sheep. On previous solo hikes in this area I have seen a few herds of them, this trip we did not see any. Most likely since it was opening day for hunting season they were being scared off to more remote areas. Besides,
I'm sure Richard and I were making quite a ruckus keeping conversation during our hike.

There is still evidence of the logging company's past history on the ridge and hiking down to Little Fish Fork Camp.

On the ridge are heavy duty cables about three quarter's of an inch diameter that were buried in the ground but are now visible. As the trail leaves the ridge and drops down to Fish Fork I have even found an old chain saw oil can. Although rusted on the exposed side, at least one section of the can still has the old markings that are legible.

From the top of the ridge, a two and a half mile hike down, one of the trails lead to Little Fish Fork Camp. Down there I found another length of cable even larger about an inch in diameter and probably twenty feet long. I'm not really sure how long the cable is since it disappears into the brush and dirt and I'm no where near strong enough to pull that thing out. Standing there looking at it I wonder how the hell it got there and what exactly was it used for?

It's my belief that Little Fish Fork and Upper Fish Fork Camps were actually camps that the old logging company had used. From the location of Little Fish Fork Camp the maps show the trail splitting in two directions. One is further south and lowers into a canyon to Upper Fish Fork Camp, about a mile away. The other goes about five miles east and up about three thousand feet to the North back Bone Trail between Pine Mountain and Dawson Peak.

Near Little Fish Fork Camp you can see the Dawson Trail that used to be a Logging Service Road. It looks small but is atleast 12 feet wide.

Here lies the crux. Having previously hiked the route from Little Fish Fork Camp up to the North Back Bone Trail I can tell you one thing, it's a mess and it was never a trail by definition. That route was also a logging road as it is extremely wide, wide enough for a vehicle and at one time had turns large enough for a vehicle. Several years after the logging company pulled out the forest service labeled this the Dawson Trail. Well now, most likely due to its location, it is very rarely hiked. Maybe once every couple of years will people venture out here. The majority of the distance is severely overgrown and not even usable, this is when bushwhacking and cross country navigation comes into play. I'm getting ahead of myself here and that route will be covered on another post.

Where was I? This entire complex of trails and camps are only possible due to the one time presence of this mysterious logging company. I have tried very hard to find any information as they obviously played a huge role within this mountain range and moset likely the nearby community of Wrightwood. But there is no information on the World Wide Web at all of there existance, not even at the local Wrightwood Museum. Bummer indeed.

Pine Mountain Ridge

Done somewhat with our little history lesson let's get back to the hike. The distance from Lupine to the crest of Pine Mountain Ridge is about 2.25 miles and a thousand feet up. Along the way with the gain of altitude the underlying views are really something. When we made the ridge we had a very short break taking in these views. To the north was Prarie Fork with Camp Lupine and the Blue Ridge rising north of it. To the east, Pine Mountain Ridge contiues climbing three thousand feet and four miles to its namesake, Pine Mountain at 9,900 feet above sea level. Turning to the west Pine Mountain Ridge runs on for another two miles constantly losing elevation and ending at the San Gabriel River, the top end ot East Fork. Now turn to the south and there is a great view of Fish Fork below us along with the San Antonio Ridge descending from West Baldy to Iron Mountain. What a beautiful morning!

Pine Mountain Ridge is massive at six miles long starting from the east at about 9,500 feet elevation. It continues west losing elevation sharply in the begining then levels off about half way and then continues its sharp descent the remaining distance to 3,000 feet elevation. Along its run there are a couple of feeder ridges that are perpendicular in a north - south direction. One of them we will be hiking as it drops off just east of our position down into Fish Fork. Now to really confuse you, Little Fish Fork Camp is on the lower east face of this feeder ridge that descends south into Fish Fork.

Leaving our current position on the main ridge we had to descend slightly to the south and backtrack east to intercept our feeder ridge and cross over it. Around this section on a previous hike is where I found the very old empty can of chainsaw oil left behind from the logging company. That was a very cool find indeed.

The trails in this section are a trip. From a distance looking at the west face of the feeder ridge it seems as though there are at least ten different trails going all over the place. The reason for this is simple as there is the primary trail we want with another dropping down we do not need. All around these two trails are lots of game trails from the Big Horn Sheep using this as a main stomping ground just running all over the place.

The Hunter And His Son

Up ahead we could make out a hiker walking in our direction as he was on the same trail. I could tell right away from the orange hat he was a hunter. The closer we got to him I was able to make out the rifle over his shoulder.

We got within ten feet of him and introduced ourselves. He was very polite and he did the same. This gentleman was very kind and like all other hunters had a very hard time rapping his brain around the concept that we were only out here hiking. Turns out he was hunting with his son and they go into the same zone every year. They didn't see any deer so he was coming out empty handed and that seemed ok with him. I think just being out there with his son every year is all that he really wanted. I believe he mentioned that they arrived into Camp Lupine at around 3am and hiked into this area. I know one thing, they must have frozen their butts off. Right now it was 9:00am and the sun has yet to enter this section so it was still very cold, at least I was getting uncomfortable standing there.

We talked with this nice fellow for a while. It seems when they find out we are not hunting and there for not competing for the same game, they open up. They are happy and excited, and they should be, they have waited all year for this day. In general the hunters will do most of the talking about such things as where they have been, where they plan on going and what techniques they use. I have learned a lot form my conversations with hunters, but I'll admit almost all of that new found knowledge will never be put to use. From two completely different perspectives we both really enjoy the mountains and what they have to offer.

Feeder Ridge With A View

Leaving our first hunter friend of the day we hiked to the crest of the feeder ridge.

The day was still young and at this point we finally made our way to the warmth of the sun. This feeder ridge runs south somewhat level for about an eighth of a mile then drops into Fish Fork. Both Richard and I decided to take a few minutes and divert over to the location of the ridge just before it begins the sharp descent. It was an easy walk through some tall pines on a beutiful day and well worth the extra time.
Standing here looking to my left was Mt Baldy with that nasty looking San Antonio Ridge going down to Iron Mountain that happened to be right in front of me. Looking down I had an unobstructed view of the Fish Fork running west feeding its water supply into the San Gabriel River. This is the kind of stuff you live for, these breath taking views, just incredibly awesome.

Some Buckthorn

Richard and I grabbed our packs and started our journey down the east face of this ridge to Little Fish Fork Camp. The trail going down there has a few switchbacks and is in horrible condition.

There is the typical vegetation overgrowth and numerous very large fallen trees in the way. I knew from being down here in the past that I should wear hiking pants and not shorts. It was starting to warm up now and getting hot, but with shorts the buckthorn bushes will tear your legs to shreds.

Walking through a patch of buckthorn is sorta like walking through a box three feet deep full of sharp nails. The buckthorn will tear your clothes, cut your skin and you will bleed. Making our way with some bushwhacking and sliding on our butts down hill in the areas with no trail, we were making progress.

There is a small stream that we cross twice as we loop our way to the camp. Before we knew it, we were at the camp, slightly scratched up from the bushwhack and sliding, but we were there. Now it was lunch time.

Little Fish Fork Camp with a missleading trail sign.

Lunch And A Story

While we ate our lunch enjoying the serenity in an area that is very rarely visited, Richard gave a history lesson. First off, from higher up on the Pine Mountain Ridge looking down into Fish Fork it is obvious that there was a fire a long time ago. Richard said a fire had started several miles further south in the East Fork along the San Gabriel River. The cause was determined to be from a group of hikers that were camping. For some reason they decided to start burning there toilet paper and the embers began floating away thus igniting a forest fire. This fire proved to be very devistating burning all the way up to Fish Fork but luckily never made its way to the hidden Little Fish Fork and Upper Fish Fork Camps. Now here's the kicker. Due to the cause of the fire it was widely known as the "Charmin Fire".

The Hunt For Upper Fish Fork Camp

Now we pulled out our maps and began studying our next plan of attack to make our way to the Upper Fish Fork Camp. By viewing detailed topographical maps it seemed pretty straight forward. We both even had our gps receivers with us and had already set waypoints that would hopefully lead us to the trail. Everything seemed so simple from here except I already knew it wouldn't be. About two months before this trip I hiked through here with the intention of going to Upper Fish Fork Camp but I was unable to make it.

In fact I was even unable to find the trail or any such path. This area has a lot of moisture from streams that run year round. Thus the vegitation is heavy, very thick and high. The Pine trees are here and grow tall. Evidently the loggers of years past had no interest in the pines, thankfully.

After my previous hike through this area I had attempted to do as much research on this location as possible. There are several books and internet sources that do mention the camps and how to get to them. I can tell you one thing, they are horribly outdated and wrong. This area has become a canopy forest with thick underlying vegitation proving that nature will reclaim anything man has taken if left alone.

This trip did not look like it would have a positive outcome, but I kept my hopes up. Richard is an animal on the trail and is not one to shy away from the bushwhack or cross country off trail hiking on a scree slope. Just the kinda scout I need on a trip like this.

Grabbing our packs we suited up. We were to head in an easterly direction following any traces of the old Dawson Trail that is now overgrown. Our current location of Little Fish Fork Camp sits on the east lower side of a feeder ridge. Looking to the east a few hundred feet is another feeder ridge from Pine Mountain Ridge all the way down to Fish Fork. In between these two feeder ridges is a draw. A draw is the down sloping section in between two feeder ridges or also known as spurs. The draw is shaped like a "V" and in the case of this one has a year round running stream. This stream is a tributary flowing about a half mile south and down about a thousand feet to Fish Fork. On the south side of the intersection of our stream and Fish Fork is our hopeful destination, Upper Fish Fork Camp.

Studying the maps there was a definite trail opposite our location on the other side of the draw. Heading in that direction we crossed the stream that was about three feet wide and crystal clear. The ground at this level was soft from saturation and filled in with a typ of grass, like you would expect in a meadow. A quick glance down the stream and there was a solid wall of green thick heavy vegitation and the tall beautifil pines. Pausing and looking down there, the visibility was nil, like fog, there was no visibility.

We crossed the stream, made our way through the tall grass and to the area the maps
indicate a trail. Guess what? There was a small trail, faint but none the less there was something, more like a game trail though being used by animals. I checked my gps and it showed us pretty close but slightly high up the draw. I have a really good mapping program on my computer with topographical graduations that also showed the trail. As a precautionary before I left home I had set waypoints about a hundred feet apart along the trails path as an aid. These were showing up on the gps also indicating our position being slightly high and the actual trail being lower in the draw roughly twenty feet.

GPS Receivers In A Nut Shell

Using a gps receiver is pretty straightforward. Stand out in an open field with no obstructions and turn it on. Viewing a screen you would begin to see little images of satellites overhead beaming down bits of info. The gps receiver takes this information from as many satellites as it can, some signals are very strong, some not so strong and some are weak. The screen displays the satellites that are directly overhead and all the way down to the horizon. Sometimes I am able to pull in as many as ten of them at one time, the more the better. At a minimum, three are needed to triangulate your current position. The more received the less the margin of error, usually less than ten feet can be acquired. This is the error indicated on the screen but I have found the location to actually be spot on. I think that the gps receiver manufacturer places an error reading as a liability. Anyway, start walking around the open field and the gps receiver begins its constant recalculation of distance and time from each satellite giving your new position.

Now let's pretend a sky scraper is now in the field and you are standing right up against it. Obviously you will lose, at best, fifty percent of your view of the sky. That loss also hurts the gps receiver since it can't see those satellites anymore. Hopefully there are enough remaining satellites within your view of the sky to calculate for you. However, the remaining ones might be just off the horizon and transmitting a weaker signal. Your position may have just increased with an error of, let's say, sixty feet accuracy.

Add a second sky scraper about twenty feet away and now your view of the sky has been reduced to ten percent at best. Standing there in the same spot beceause you have not moved you will notice the gps screen having a tough time. Instead of showing the map and your position nice and steadfast, you will be indicated as moving forward, backward and side to side. Satellite reception is about at its worst with only a couple in view and signals bouncing off the buildings. The gps receiver is working overtime not knowing really where you are.

Take this same scenario but instead of having sky scrapers you have the sides of the draw. Remember a draw is shaped like a "V". Now add to this tall tree cover degrading the reception that is making its way to you. This is the reason I was happy with a position error of twenty feet, and it would be getting worse the further we trecked deeper into the "V" with increased tree cover.

Searching for a Trail

Making our way along the game trail, it quickly ended after about a hundred feet. The Upper Fish Fork Camp was still almost a mile away and things looked grim. By now the gps receiver was utterly useless and had no idea where we were within sixty feet. Not to mention it couldn't tell if we were standing still or running a marathon in circles. From here the gps was put away and it was back to basics with terrain association for navigation. Not only was there no indication of a trail but there seemed to be an impossibility that a trail ever existed in this jungle. Referencing the map by terrain I headed further down the draw hoping to pick up on something and before I knew it I was at the stream. This movement involved bushwhacking and climbing over and under fallen trees. While I was doing this Richard was checking the area slightly furhter south. We both came up empty handed and decided to try something else.

We worked our way out of the worst part of the thick forest and headed back up the draw about sixty feet. From here it gave us another perspective, although not much better. The decision was made to give up any attempt to bushwhack through that green hell. We made no progress down there and lost precious time and daylight. We started feeling the pressure of this loss and came up with one more plan.

Referancing our location about sixty feet up the draw above the thick forest we scanned ahead looking south. That was the decision, stay at this level moving south always paraleling the forest below and maybe get lucky. Just like the comparison of a draw to the letter "V", it was steep and slow going, but some progress was being made. Occasionally we would come across a game trail and get a little excited, but that excitement wouldn't last as the game trails always faded away. Finally, we managed to make our way to the spine of this feeder ridge and our hopes were dashed away. The views opened up to Fish Fork well below us and by referancing the map I could even see the location of Upper Fish Fork Camp!


Just to get to our present location we had climbed and slid through patches of scree, held on to tree limbs so wee didn't free fall and crashed through nasty patches of buck thorn.

Sitting down for a moment we thought this over. We could see the location of Upper Fish Fork Camp and there was just as much heavily overgrown vegitation down there as we encountered early on. The spine of the feeder ridge we were currently sitting on dropped in elevation fast. There would be no hiking down so much as sliding down. We judged our distance to be about half a mile from us as the crow flies with just under a thousand feet elevation loss. Getting down there would be fast, very fast and then we might have a bushwhack from hell to our destination.

Richard asked me what time it was. Well, Richard, it's 2:00pm. That was the final blow right there as it was our turn around time.Every hike has to have a turnaround time even if you do not make your goal. Don't stick to your turn around time and bad things can happen. Our time was based on getting back out of this area to the trail head before darkness set in. If we were lucky we could get to Upper Fish Fork Camp in one hour and the time would then be 3:00pm. Take a breather down there for about half an hour and now it's 3:30pm. Go back through a potential bushwhack, steep climb with just under a thousand feet elevation gain in less than a mile on a scree slope. This could be very slow going indeed. Now let's just say that leg could possibly take up to two hours to get back to the Little Fish Fork Camp and now it would be 5:30pm. This location would have been under the mountain shadows, getting cooler and the sun would be just off the horizon out of view getting ready to set. From the Little Fish Fork Camp we still had over an hour hike back to the car waiting for us at the trail head.

Weighing all of this Richard looked at me and said "If you want to go for it, you know I'll be right there with you". Tough guy that Richard, he didn't want to say it was over either, but it was. Slowly we stood up, took one last look down Fish Fork and began making our way back to Little Fish Fork Camp. This time it wasn't too bad, just trace our route we had taken to this point. Returning to Little Fish Fork Camp we dropped our packs and took a small break talking about return plans. We had a snack and studied the maps for a return in the future. Unfortunately since it was already October we knew that we were sunk until after spring as this area will be blanketed with several feet of snow soon.

We packed up and made the hike for Pine Mountain Ridge. This leg would be slow going as this area has the buck thorn, minor bushwhacking, more fallen trees and not much of a trail. Making Pine Mountain Ridge and breifly pausing for a look back down was a bag of mixed emotions. Both Richard and I were happy to have had a great day in the mountains hiking together, but on the other hand we were disappointed with a sense of failure being unable to find the Upper Fish Fork Camp.

The Dragging Buck

As we turned to begin our remaining two mile hike to Lupine we met two more hunters. While we had been searching for our lost camp the hunters had been out searching for deer. These two guys were nice and told us about there day, the locations they had been to and that they struck out. They were also just as interested in our day as we described our hike to them. Then they told us about a group of fellows, about three I think, that they had seen with a pretty big buck. Now, I always believed that when a hunter shoots the animal, like a deer, they field dress it. This allows them to carry out the meat and maybe even the rack of antlers if the wanted but leave the unwanted waste behind for nature to reclaim. To try and pack out the entire animal would be vary difficult, if not impossible, thus the field dressing. Well, our new hunter friends began to tell us a story that even they admitted was crazy. About an hour before Richard and I made it back to the crest of Pine Mountain Ridge, our two new hunting friends witnessed three other hunters with there freshly killed buck. Standing there they saw three other hunters dragging the buck and they showed us the groove in the ground. This was not an easy task. From here down to there destination of Camp Lupine it was two miles with plenty of obstacles. Remember earlier in my story this section used to be a dirt road from Camp Lupine to the crest of Pine Mountain Ridge. Well, since it is only used as a foot path now there is no maintenance at all and it shows. Obstacles include large fallen trees that you have to climb over, big boulders that have come down with slides from above and overgrown vegitation. Hiking this is not tough or challenging but none the less it does have these obstructions and I could not imagine trying to drag the carcass of a large buck through here. The path they took was obvious as the groove from the buck was in the ground about half an inch deep and four inches wide all the way to Camp Lupine. They really wanted that creature. A big part of me had a feeling of sorrow about how the fallen buck had been dragged more than two miles. But, after all, he was dead and far worse things were about to happen to him.


Richard and I continued our trek to the car uneventfully and unloaded our packs.

By now the sun was getting low and some of the hunters were getting there dinners ready and had there camp fires going. In the car heading up to Blue Ridge the sun was setting and it was just a beautiful touch to the day. The drive along Blue Ridge is about seven miles and from there we turned on a paved road, Highway 2. From this point it was a quick drive to Wrightwood with Richard's car faithfully waiting for him. I helped Richard transfer his gear over to his car and with a handshake and goodbye he was on his way home. Me? I was hungry and pizza was the only thing on my mind. About a block away is one of the best pizza parlors around and within twenty minutes I had a large pepperoni with mushrooms and pointed the car towards home.

Hike Information

Search For Upper Fish Fork Camp at EveryTrail

Map created by EveryTrail: Geotagging Community

Google Map of Hike

Topo Map of Hike

Elevation Gain and Loss During Hike


It is now June 2009 and ever since Richard and I did this hike in October 2008 I have not gone a single day without thinking about the Upper Fish Fork Camp. I remain in contact with Richard and he also has this place in his thoughts nonstop. We are currently making plans for a return trip in July and will hopefully have our friend Ken along with us. On our return trip we will find the camp and we are planning on making an over night stay at the Upper Fish Fork Camp.

I am confident we will find it due to several things that have happened in the past eight months. One is I have been studying the pictures I had taken down there in comparison with maps and Google Earth. While studying the area closely in Google Earth I have even been able to make out a portion of the trail on the ridge we stopped at as it continues to the Upper Fish Fork Camp. How did we miss it? We couldn't see it as the trail was about 40 feet below us and the ridge is very steep, thus out of view.

Map with Google Earth Overlay that has a view of the trail and our location. Just missed it!

Another is a report on one of the local hiking forums of a hiker finding the camp. On the forum he has posted a map with a gps track of his hike along with a few pictures. In comparison we were very close, but just never saw the trail.

Map of Hiker that made it to Upper FFC. His hike track is white and my track is red. Oh so close!

One last bit starts with a thank you to "gibsonjw" for his kind offering of instructions from the last time he was able to actually find the Upper Fish Fork Camp. He even posted a link to a picture of him standing next to the camp sign.

"gibsonjw" at Upper Fish Fork Camp


  1. i was hoping to camp at upper fish fork this weekend. not very encouraging!

  2. Mark, I am getting ready to do the long awaited update for this post. So sorry I didn't notice your comment uh a month ago? Have you made any attempts at Upper Fish Fork?

  3. Hi.

    I found UFF in 2006. We went in there again June 7 2009 and failed to find it again. Very grown over in there and the trails very obscure.

    I offer the following directions in the hope they will help:

    From Little Fish Fork cross the watercourse to where the terrain heads up. To the right is the trailhead down the stream, there is some trash in a ditch to the right at the start. Stay to the left and look high, you should find a trail cut above the watercouse that runs down to the main canyon and then cuts left and down about 1/4 mile, with some down trees to climb over etc., then goes steeply down to the camp.

  4. gibsonjw,
    Thank you so much for the information. On my hike last year I recall the trash you spoke of, ie. old tents?
    I'm pretty sure we were also on the light trail you mentioned up high, but kept losing it.

    Thanks again and I can't wait to get back down there!

  5. The "Charmin fire" was in the mid-90s, maybe 1996. Burned half of Guffy Camp, a crime if I ever saw one. The road down from Guffy to Lupine was closed for about ten years after that. A good thing.

    Around 2002 there was a big storm that blew down a lot of the dead wood from the fire and made a mess of the road. I went down there a couple times to Cabin Flat after that, and it was a real mess. Most of that is now cleaned up and the walk down to Cabin Flat is easy and pleasant.

    I first hiked into the Fish Fork in June 2004, when the road was still closed. At that time I tried the fake trail down from before LFF camp, decided it was a lie, wasted 3 or 4 hours, then tried the other side of the draw, found a passable trail running along above the draw, but much as you describe, felt I was running out of time, and went back. Wound up spending the night on Pine Mtn Ridge and hiking back out to Guffy the next day.

    I remember at that time finding old logging cables and stuff of that sort. And it was much less overgrown in places than it is now.

    The next time, June 2006, my brother and I hiked into LFF camp, spent the night, and day-hiked down to UFF the next day, having little trouble finding the trail, the only difficulty occurs in two places, shortly after you head down the watercourse, where things are badly eroded out, and you have to locate trail cut higher up, and after you turn left and down towards UFF camp on the "feeder ridge", where the trail is overgrown and eroded out. There were also some down trees to scramble over, but that is a different problem.

    The "trash" looked to me, when I first saw it (2004), like some guy packed in and just gave up and left it. It was all spread around, not in the ditch at that time.

    I was really surprised with how much things have gone to hell in there in the last 2 years. I'm considering going in with some tools and doing a bit of selective trail maintenance.

    The section of trail from Lupine up to the Fish Fork Trailhead on Pine Mtn Ridge appeared to me to have been cleaned up in the last year of two, mostly downed trees cut through, anyway, it was less of a scramble than I remember from 2004-2006.

    Your topo map of the old trail down to UFF Camp agrees with mine and with what we found.

    Good luck.

  6. gibsonjw,
    Thank you so much for that wealth of information I really appreciate it.

    Your discription of the strong storm would explain the area of trees laying down just below the north back bone trail on the south-west side of Dawson going into Fish Fork.

    The fake trail you mention to UFF from LFF, I even fell for that the first time I came through there. Whoever scratched the arrow in the sign is just evil. When I was on the fake trail it took me a minute of looking at the map to realize I was wrong. Lesson #1 trust the map.

    The trip I was on with Richard when we hit the first overgrown section just leaving LFF after the trail vanished we did find two stacks of ducks but found no more. The area the ducks lead to was just getting thicker in vegitation in a bad way and we couldn't make sense what there intention was.

    We also had the same thoughts about the tent and sleeping mat left behind that the guy was beat and not able to hike it out. It is a sad thing to see it there and I did not have any room in my small day pack at the time to bring some of it back out. Maybe on my return trip I'll bring a bigger pack to get some of it.

    Have you noticed everybody that has there picture taken with the FF trail sign has there hand on it ;)

    Are you planning on a return?

    Thanks again,

  7. My DSL has been down, and my old Win98SE machine fails to be able to post here, so sorry for the delay in responding.

    I don't know what "ducks" are, some sort of tool?

    I expect if we all took a bit with us, eventually the trash would disappear.

    The sign would fall over it I didn't hold it up. I think I left it propped against that tree, but you can't read it as well that way ...

    I will give it another shot in the Fall (October) or next year in the month after the road opens. Allow at least 3 days for it. I'm 64 and it doesn't pay to hurry. If you are willing an able we could try to hook up for it.

    Best regards,
    -- Joe

  8. Hi Joe,
    Sorry to hear about you computer problems, that is never fun and sometimes costly.

    I have pretty much been off line the past week prepairing for the hike last Friday-Saturday. Up the ski hut trail and down to the eastern section of the San Antonio Ridge for an overnighter. Returned via the Devil's Backbone and down the ski lift trail.

    Referance the ducks. I know you have seen these things many-many times on your adventures but probably by another name. They are the small stack of stones placed in rough areas to help guide a hiker through the safest route, or the only route. These are only placed by hikers previously making the same route and being kind enough to take the time to set up a safe passage. Normally when you see one, start scanning the area and you will see another, that is the route.

    As far as a return to Upper Fish Fork, we are working on an end of July time frame. If you can not make that than I will hopefully be able to make a return in late October.

    I just added the contact in the top of the blog just below my picture. If you are wondering that was two years ago on Gorgonio, great hike! Anyway if you would like go ahead and send a message through that. I tried it and it works, kinda funky though.

    Take care,

  9. Ah. Trail markers, cairns, etc.

    Fish Fork is one of those places where there is no substitute for a good topo map and having some idea where you want to go. The encrusted errors and erosion will get you if you don't have time and rely on what you heard or read. I have spent a lot of time in the San Rafael Wilderness up near Santa Barbara, and similar issues apply up there, including looking for ducks to get clues about where to go.

    That Pine Mtn to Vincent Gap hike looks like a nasty bugger, but fun. Did you go through the Miners Gulch Camp? I was in there a long time ago, and always wanted to go back and spend a night.

    I hiked from Eaton Saddle over and down Brown Mountain a couple weeks back, which was really over my head, 10 miles and lots of down, some of it steep, but interesting. Lots of flowers, little tiny praying mantises. My legs are still getting over it.

    Were you thinking about doing San Antonio Ridge to Iron Mtn?

    I want to do Twin Peaks behind Waterman too, but don't know if I can handle it. That might be a good Fall hike.

    I probably don't want to do Fish Fork in late July, it will be hot and there will be bugs. The first time I went in there was the 4th of July, and it was hot and buggy at LFF camp. On the other hand it will probably be very nice down in UFF camp. Since you live in Phelan, I suppose you may be more tolerant about the heat.

    I think right now I will probably do UFF next Spring, I have other obligations and commitments, and that would be my prefered time to do it.

    I thank you for the contact. I'll supply my email that way, and maybe we can get together now and then. I've been in need of hiking companions the last couple years.

    -- J

  10. A gentleman by the name of Matt was just there and found it OK. See

    I was there over the 4th of July weekend (just past). I found the remains of a trail easily enough although it was quite over grown. Due to lack of time we didn't go all the way to UFF, but the trail (such as it was) clearly went through. See

  11. Hey there Hikin’
    Thank you very much for the useful information and the links to the trip reports.
    As of right now my plans are falling together and I, along with Richard, will be heading back into Fish Fork at the end of this month (July).
    I have noticed on your trip report some mention of the Dawson Trail. I hiked that last summer via Blue Ridge - Pine Mtn – Pin Mtn Ridge – LFFC – Dawson Trail – Pine Mtn – Blue Ridge. That was also my first attempt to find the UFFC and failed, so I guess you could say I failed twice. Third time should be a charm…HA!
    As far as the Dawson Trail, Look at your topo and notice the two major sets of switchbacks. Ignore them and hike straight up each ridge. Trust me, it’s not worth trying to stay on them. The first set on the lower section is overgrown and swings way too far from side to side adding tons of time a mileage. The second set higher up pretty much doesn’t exist and if it did the same applies for time and distance. Actually from the higher set of switch backs to the saddle there really is no trail. If you see one, ignore it and maintain an azimuth to the saddle as any trace of a trail found in this area is not worth trying to hold, they come and go.

    Thanks again,

  12. g-day gents, I was down in lupine on the 5th of july, last weekend, one camper, looks like he was gold panning.
    the road to cabin flats is blocked. it ends at lupine.
    noticed the steps cut into the rock just up from lupine, on the south side.

    I'm in juniper hills

  13. Hi there canoeman,
    Thank you for your update on the Lupine area. I am aware that the restrictions placed on Cabin Flat have upset some people. This however is a sort of blessing in disguise as we are still allowed to hike in using Lupine as the parking/trailhead. Certain times of the year as the other camps fill up you could pretty much guarantee to be one of the only, if not the only, camper in Cabin Flat.

    Was the individual you noticed gold panning in the area of Columbine Spring?
    I have one more question: How were the flying insects in Lupine during your stay?

    Thank you,

  14. sorry for long delay had to get my daughter of to college.
    whew, were empty nesters now. there were no bugs. the gold panner was comming up the canyon, so I dont know exactly where he was. he had his wife and daughter with him so he was a little skittish.

  15. So, did you finally make it?

    Hikin' Jim

  16. Hi Jim,

    Boy am I glad you are still checking in and I am sorry for not updating in quite some time. I'm actually pretty upset with myself for not sticking with it. I will get back with the program!

    Ok, to answer your question, yes I did make it. It was last year in July and then I just made it again almost two weeks ago.

    After my failed attempt I spent the entire off season stuying my pictures and maps. Then one late night it hit me like a ton of bricks. Basically I recalled something after a previous hike up the Dawson trail departing LFF. To keep this short I'll save all the details for an update.

    Hang in there buddy and I will get this updated very soon with detailed routes descriptions, gps tracks on the map and pictures.

    Currently I'm planning a hike loop for the Dawson Trail again hopefully mid next week. The route will be Lupine - LFF - Dawson Trail to the saddle between Pine mtn and Dawson - Up Pine - Down Pine mtn Ridge - Lupine. It's a fun loop that I'm putting a twist on as the last time I did it I started from Blue Ridge to Pine mtn. This time I'm changing the starting leg.

    Take care and I'll chat with you later...


  17. Thanks, Darren. I'll look for your post.

    You probably know it, but the trail up from LFF to Dawson isn't in any better shape than the trail down to UFF. Good luck and happy route finding.


  18. P.S. Tell Richard that Hikin' Jim says "hi" and thanks for the tip on Deer Park.


  19. Hey there Jim,

    I'll be sure to give Richard your thanks, he's a great guy. Works been very busy the last week every single damn day and has kept me from starting a new post. I'm on my days off now and getting ready for the Dawson Trail hike out of Lupine.

    I totally understand how the Dawson Trail is not much better than the LFF as I have done it before. Last time though was from Blue ridge and around. It's a brutal trail that gives no mercy to the timid. Not much trail to speak of and route finding is a given.

    Take care and I'll be updating with the UFF and this Dawson hike very soon.

    Many regards,


  20. I'll looking forward to reading your post. I haven't done the LFF to Dawson trail in years.


  21. Hi Mark, I made it to both campgrounds in 2013. The trail down to Upper Fish Fork is not too bad in most locations, but is completely obscured in the Little Fish Fork area. Did the Dawson Trail all the way in 2012 and it was completely overgrown in about half the roadbed. Message me if you'd like more info. Amazingly, the signs for both campgrounds are still there!

  22. Thanks so much for the informative hike. I am happy there is so much overgrowth up there. My friends and I were dropped off by car at Lupine Campground back in about 1976, late in the night. My buddies and I just put out a tarp and crashed for the rest of the evening. Early the next morning we began our trek up through the Fish Forks area. It was quite memorable for it was very green! The sound of trickling water was quite vivid. I suppose so, for it was 41 years ago! We climbed on up out of the Fish Forks area and continued up the Dawson Peak trail, I believe. Remembering only joys or traumas, this climb was a joy! From there we went up the back of Baldy. Our intention was to spend the night on the top. There was a city up on top. Way too many folks enjoying the view.We decided to proceed down the Devil's Backbone. From there, we walked the dirt road underneath the ski lift. We only had $3 between us, so riding the lift down was unthinkable. From the parking lot we walked down to the village of Baldy. We found a pay phone and I called my brother asking him if he could pick us up. He agreed. We decided to keep walking all the way down through the tunnels planning to meet up as he ascended the road. Eventually we caught the ride. What a trip! Today, I am happy that the area north of Mt. Baldy remains sort of secret. let the natural wildlife have a hidden place. P.S. I took my son to PCC and attended classes taught by Richard, if this is the same super fellow I recall maybe back in say, 2006.