The Big Tujunga Narrows
By: Erik Siering
Some of the excitement and the beauty of Yosemite and Zion canyoneering can be found in our own local mountains of the Angeles National Forest. The East Fork Narrows of the San Gabriel River is an example. Another wonderful and very different experience is the Narrows of the rugged, wet Upper Big Tujunga Canyon.
Ann Kramer and I made a dayhike traverse of the Big Tujunga Narrows. Starting from the FS3N24 Colby Ranch road, we emerged a long five miles downstream, where the drainage crosses the FS3N27 dirt road. This required a car shuttle, so we'd parked Ann's car at the FS3N27 turnoff on Tujunga Canyon Road, and drove my truck to FS3N24, near the site of Wickiup Campground. From here, by a small bridge, we set out along the stream.
As so often, the impetus of this trip was John Robinson. His guidebook "Trips in the Angeles" (Trip 53) describes a hike midway in the Tujunga drainage, to reach beneath the Narrows Bridge from Angeles Forest Hwy. He describes easy going approaching the impressive Bridge, and cross-country travel with 'foot-wetting fords' downstream. We learned it was a lot more adventuresome than that!
The streambed between the Colby Ranch road and the Bridge consists of boulder-strewn cascades and pools. At times there is a faint use path,along either bank. Mostly, it calls for fun rock hopping from one side to the other. We bypassed a precipitous, multi-tiered falls by a scramble along northside cliffs. Poison oak was largely absent. Unfortunately, trash and graffiti, the other scourge of many Angelesdefiles, was prevalent where the canyon approached the roadway. I hauled out a large packful, only making a dent.
The worst blight is at a water guaging station near the Bridge, readily accesible from Angles Forest Hwy and referred to in Robinson's guidebook. Here the inviting pools and steep rockwalls are festooned with gang markers by taggers gone mad. Anything and everything is blazed. That is, until the first serious waterfall is encountered. Nimble class 3 scrambling from a high ledge passes the great cascade and its immense pool. This obstacle clearly deters the casual visitor, and so the graffiti and trash pleasantly cease.
Travel further downstream involves delightfully wet, sliding, and indeed, swimming navigation through the Narrows. The high, smooth canyon walls close to within ten and twenty feet, and little sunlight reaches the deep, bone-chilling cold pools and rills. High water conditions here would be deadly. Summer and Fall are the best seasons to visit.
Beyond the Narrows, the canyon expands gradually, affording welcome sunlight to the broad flowing streambed. The frequent, shallower fords reach knee-high. Birdlife and deer are abundant in this grassy, tree- lined riparian shelter that is rarely traveled by man.
The stream at last meets FS3N27 in an open bend of the canyon. This road is closed to public vehicular traffic, and reaches across the expanse of the Tujunga Canyon above the reservoir, winding its way to the Mt Gleason summit road. Turning left, Ann and I hiked up the last mile and 600' gain, returning us to our car at the locked gate.
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