Bailey Canyon's Trail to Nowhere : Sierra Madre Plans to Link Hiking Path to Mt. Wilson Route

Tice is a Pasadena free-lance writer.

Years ago, many hikers with more enthusiasm than experience would trudge into Bailey Canyon, a rugged gorge in the San Gabriel Mountains, only to be rescued many hours or days later, lost, cold, hungry and sometimes seriously injured.

It wasn't until the late 1960s that hikers could find their way in the canyon along a trail that was carved by a small group of teen-age boys who called themselves the Sierra Madre Mountaineers.

But the Mountaineers, whose goal was to cut a three-mile zigzag path to Jones Peak, a 3,400-foot ridge to the northeast of the canyon, abandoned the task when it was two-thirds finished. Today, the map board in Bailey Canyon Park labels the final approach to Jones Peak as an "uncompleted trail." But to many hikers, "deer path" would be more accurate.

Sierra Madre officials were notified in May that the California State Department of Parks and Recreation has approved a proposal by the city to finish the job that the Mountaineers started.

Planning Phase

A $50,000 grant will be used to repair the existing trail, complete it to Jones Peak and create a new three-mile segment that will link it to the Mt. Wilson Trail in Little Santa Anita Canyon. Planning for the project will begin later this year.

"Bailey Canyon was one of the best places for trapping," says Earl Lalone, 64, a Sierra Madre native who remembers the canyon from the 1930s and who still hikes there. "Up there we would get fox, raccoon, ring-tailed cat and coyote. We shipped the pelts to a furrier in Chicago."

With his three brothers, Lalone was among the original members of the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team. His son, Chris, was one of the Mountaineers in the 1960s.

Bailey Canyon, one of several smaller canyons that slice into the mountains between Eaton Canyon on the west and Little Santa Anita Canyon on the east, was a logical place for the Mountaineers to create a path. They had grown up listening to their fathers, members of the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team, describe rescue operations in the mountains.

And the canyon, which starts at the northern end of Lima Street, was the site of a rescue that sparked the formation of the volunteer Search and Rescue Team in 1951.

When their sons came up with the plan to aid hikers in Bailey Canyon with the trail, their fathers not only encouraged them but served as advisers, along with representatives of the U.S. Forest Service.

For several years the group got together on weekends and during school vacations, putting in hundreds of hours of work cutting switchbacks, or zigzag paths, up the east side of the canyon.

They had completed the trail just beyond a point known as "the promontory," a spur of land next to the trail that drops off sharply on three sides, leaving a small, flat open area. Knee-high stone walls are the only remains of a cabin built there in 1910. Here the proposed trail would have climbed eastward, away from Bailey Canyon, zigzagging to the top of the peak.

But from the site of the cabin the trail fades rapidly. With more than two miles completed--about 2,000 feet of elevation gain--the workers abandoned their project.

Rae Anderson, whose three sons were members of the Mountaineers, says that as the boys became young men, much of their enthusiasm was "diverted to cars and girls." To finance their new interests, they found paying summer jobs.

Fire and Flood Damage

In October, 1978, a fire swept over the ridge and burned Bailey Canyon almost to the stream bed near its mouth. Two months later, heavy rains resulted in flooding and, because the ground cover had been reduced to ashes, led to devastating erosion of the trail.

All things considered, the existing trail is in good shape today. Over the past decade, local Boy Scouts and other groups have done intermittent sand-bagging work to shore up weak spots along the trail's edge.

Slopes cleared by the 1978 fire have been reclaimed by typical chaparral. The canyon is alive again.

As recently as last summer, the Sierra Madre Police Department required hikers to obtain a permit to enter the mountains above town during the peak fire season.

But since Pasadena, Arcadia and the Angeles National Forest, which border Sierra Madre, require no permit, Fire Marshal Bill Kramer said Sierra Madre will waive the permit requirement on a one-year, experimental basis.

An advantage to hiking Bailey Canyon is that one does not have to slink across back fences or sprint past privately owned beehives to reach the trail. It lies entirely on public lands, starting on the edge of Sierra Madre at the end of Grove Street. The hiker earns a feeling of accomplishment in the rough terrain and is rewarded by lofty overviews of the San Gabriel Valley.

Hiking purists do not fear that the trail will be clogged by mountain bikes after the city's work on the trail is completed. It is narrow and features dozens of hairpin turns. It is what riders call "a carry."

There are disadvantages, too. The present trail does not connect with any other. After toiling more than two miles, hikers must turn back or crawl and thrash their way over three more miles of manzanita-covered slopes to reach the Mt. Wilson Trail.

Jones Peak Trail is not for couch potatoes. It is steep and, as a veteran hiker once said, "as crooked as a dog's hind leg." When the sun is high there is little shade.

The entrance to the canyon is in Bailey Canyon Park, the upper reaches extend well into Angeles National Forest. The start of the trail is reached by passing to the west of the flood control basin in Bailey Canyon Park and then, at a locked gate, bearing to the left into the mouth of the canyon.

The large buildings with red tile roofs visible on the hillside to the west are the Passionist Fathers Monastery and Retreat.

Winter flooding over the years has eroded the stream banks near the canyon entrance, isolating a short nature loop-trail on a bench of land opposite the main trail. The trail winds into the canyon through low brush and a scattering of sycamore and oak.

A quarter of a mile beyond the flood control basin, at the foot of a 35-foot pine, the trail begins the long ascent to Jones Peak. The slopes are covered by thick brush--mostly manzanita--and an occasional yucca. The rustling in the bushes turns out to be a squirrel, rabbit or scrub jay. Tiny lizards leap away at a hiker's approach.

At the cabin ruins, the trail swings away from Bailey Canyon and enters a forest of pine and big cone spruce and then ends in thick brush.

When completed, the link to the Mt. Wilson Trail will open up new territory for hikers.

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