8 June 1999
By: Hugh Blanchard
Misadventure on the Allison Trail
Confession they say is good for the soul. So with that in mind I submit the following recital of errors made on this trip which fortunately resulted in only a minor injury but easily could have had more serious consequences. The moral is that mountains "don't care" and even minor errors in judgement made in a harsh environment may lead to devastating consequences. Hopefully the reader may profit from my mistakes.
For background information on this area, please first read Safety Committee member Bill Oliver's article in the Mar-April 1997 Lookout on his trips to Allison Mine on the SW side of Iron Mountain. Information on this area is also contained in John Robinson's "Trails of the Angeles" (Sixth. Ed. 1990 and Seventh Ed. 1998) as trip #87.
In Robinson's Sixth edition, readers are given conflicting advice for the return trip. They are first told to return by going down Allison Gulch but then later are instructed to return the way they came in, namely the Allison and Heaton Flat Trails. The Seventh Edition removes this contradiction by clearly advising readers to return the same way they came in and to exit by Allison Gulch. Bill concluded his article with the following admonition: "A trip to Allison Mine can be a great adventure - or a great mistake. Please don't underestimate it!" Truer words were never spoken!
I met my companion, Mark, a fellow member of the local cave exploring club, at the Azusa rideshare meeting point (King Ranch Market Parking Lot) at 9:30 AM, the earliest that Mark could make it. Mark had never been to the Allison Mine; I had been there once several years before. We parked at the end of the East Fork Road and started hiking toward the Heaton Flat Trail at 10:30 AM. About 4 miles later, we reached Iron Mt Saddle. At the end of the saddle, a faint use trail leads directly up to Big Iron. There is also a rather prominent trail on the right (east) which leads after a mile or so to the old privately owned and posted Widman Ranch and three old abandoned mines.
On the left (west) side is the Allison Trail, virtually invisible at its start, but which leads after 3 miles to the Allison Mine. The Trail after more than 50 years of little use is heavily overgrown with yucca and other brush which caused Mark, who had short sleeves and pants and no gloves, much discomfort.
Upon arriving at the Allison Mine area, we explored the first two horizontal shafts. I then belatedly became aware of the time factor as it was about 5:00 PM. So we ceased further examination of the severed shafts and didn't bother to try to locate the old trail to the semi-legendary Stanley-Miller Mine located several miles up canyon. Mark did not wish to return to the Allison Trail because of the yucca and brush problem. We therefore decided with some anxiety to return down the right (west) side of the Allison Gulch below the waterfalls until reaching the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and then go down the East Fork to the road head. This proved to be a bad decision!
In any event we crossed the small stream and started down the faint return trail used infrequently since the mine closed in 1942. After about half a mile we contoured onto a ridge overlooking a small tributary. We needed to descend a steep talus slope. At this point near disaster struck!
I climbed a short distance up the steep slope to gain a better perspective and started to push myself up on a low rock ledge. Part of the ledge immediately collapsed, throwing me down a slope about 10 feet where I landed in a thick bush. A large boulder which had separated, went flying by within a foot of me. Mark saw the boulder bounce down the slope several hundred feet or more and believes I would have fallen the same distance had my fall had not been stopped by the bush.
The sudden event was especially traumatic to Mark, as it reminded him of a trip he made several years before to the Tri Peaks area in the Santa Monicas where a similar rock fall severely injured his friend resulting in permanent paralysis.
As I landed I felt a sharp twinge in my right ankle which was lying under me. Subsequent X-Rays showed a ligament separation. By now it was about 6 PM and the nature of the trip had suddenly changed. I could stay where I was overnight, even though I lacked camping equipment, relying on Mark to get assistance which would hopefully result in the sheriff's department helicopter evacuating me sometime the next day or I could try to get out on my own. As soon as I got up and found I could still hobble, I decided to try to get out. I descended about 600 ft. down the talus slope to the stream bed of the tributary sliding on my rear end most of the way and then hobbled down another 600 ft. to the junction with Allison Gulch. From there I shuffled along down the gulch with the aid of a trekking pole and stick for about a mile until we reached the East Fork. By now it was 8 PM and daylight was fading.
We were still three miles and 10 stream crossings away from the road head. The three miles proved to be endless. Even with lights we invariably lost sight of the trail after making a stream crossing. We just continued on and on downstream the best we could shuffling around and over boulders. On several occasions I lost balance while crossing the stream and fell in the water which was quite high.
After six hours of this torture we finally reached my car at 2 AM. The trip would ordinarily take about two hours. Upon reaching the King Ranch Market we phoned our worried spouses and canceled their previous request for assistance with the Sheriff's Department.
The next day Mark stayed home from work and I visited an Orthopedic Surgeon. I am a recent list finisher which involved a marathon day hike to Rabbit from Clark dry lake but no hike I have ever made compares with the utter misery experienced on the return from Allison Mine.
I hope to be up and around shortly and resume exploration in this area. Any reader interested in accompanying me is urged to call. Don't get discouraged if the line is busy as I anticipate heavy response. You might want to bring along a satellite phone.
1. I should not have started a day trip to the Allison Mine area so late.
2. I should have informed my companion prior to the trip that long sleeves, long pants, and gloves are a virtual necessity on the Allison Mine Trail.
3. At 5 PM I should have insisted we return on the Allison Mine Trail in spite of the excess yucca and brush. By nightfall we would have reached the Heaton Flat Trail, which would have been far easier to navigate at night than the East Fork.
4. I wore low cut cloth Nike hiking boots which did not give me much ankle support. My regular leather boot might have prevented this injury.
5. Preliminary testing of the rock ledge would probably have prevented the accident.
However there will always be some inherent risk when going cross country and scrambling over rocks. Many hikers and climbers far more capable than myself have died or been injured by rockfall. Perhaps Edward Whymper, the renowned Victorian climber who first climbed the Matterhorn but lost four of his party during the descent said it best: "Climb if you will, but remember that courage and strength are naught without prudence, and that momentary negligence may destroy the happiness of a lifetime. Do nothing in haste, look well to each step, and from the beginning think what may be the end."
|HPS Archives Index | Hundred Peaks Section|