by Bryn Barabas Potter

This past fall, the National Forest Foundation sponsored a blog contest to celebrate local community connections the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument outside of Los Angeles. Special thanks to REI, Southwest Airlines and Grand Trunk for helping to sponsor the contest and providing prizes for the winning entries. Read Bryn’s winning entry here.

The San Gabriels are my mountains, and I have my father to thank for this.

The Adirondacks were my dad’s mountains. He grew up skiing in upstate New York, skied in WWII in the 10th Mountain Division, then he met my mother and came west. They settled in a valley below the mighty San Gabriels. My childhood memories are riddled with San Gabriel Mountain explorations – picnicking at Jackson Lake, hiking around San Dimas Canyon, learning about the universe at Mount Wilson Observatory, viewing fall colors close to home. But mainly skiing.

We skied everywhere in the San Gabriels, from Mount Baldy, Kratka Ridge, and Mount Waterman on the southern slopes to Blue Ridge, Holiday Hill and Table Mountain/Ski Sunrise overlooking the Mojave Desert. So many fond and vivid memories! Our yellow 1967 Ford station wagon crunching uphill with tire chains, expertly handled by an easterner who knew icy roads. The feel of the rope tow zipping between gloved hands. Tired feet clomping in ski boots back to the car for ham sandwiches, apples, and thermoses filled with hot chocolate. The whiff of chocolate offsetting the distinctive smell of damp wool clothes. Squinting at brilliant sunsets splashing over our mountains on the westward drives home.

There’s nothing like the stillness of snow falling and the soft creak of a ski lift as it gently sways over the earth. And the feeling of flying down a favorite run with perfect snow. I got ski fever whenever I saw fresh snow across the San Gabriels. Patient Dad, the teacher, made sure I was ready. As a teenager, he taught me how to put chains on the car and drive in snow. As my skiing skills increased, his encouragement let me tackle black diamond runs with him and my brothers. Later, armed with mountain knowledge and his confidence in me, he let me borrow the car for ski trips with friends.

When I was in my 20s, new experiences made the San Gabriels mine. As an archaeological intern with the U.S. Forest Service, I surveyed areas like Chilao Flats and portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, plus recorded CCC structures at Crystal Lake. A geology trip across Big Tujunga Canyon let me find marble, graphite, and earthquake faults while heading toward the Palmdale Bulge. On a backpacking journey through Azusa Canyon to Upper Bear Creek, I woke early one magical morning to cracking sounds. Looking up the rocky slope across the creek, my gaze was met by that of a bighorn sheep. Despite gentle hoof-steps, the passing herd dislodged occasional pebbles that tumbled down, softly tinkling in the quiet dawn.

Years passed, and in turn, my husband and I took our sons to the mountains. By then, Blue Ridge, Holiday Hill and Ski Sunrise had been swallowed up by a single entity and morphed into Mountain High. It was a struggle getting the boys ready for the snow and teaching them to ski. I wonder how in the world my mother was able to get four kids prepped and in the car before daybreak, plus fill the thermoses with hot chocolate?

As when my dad brought his kids to the mountains, it’s not all about skiing. We have snow play days: bending bodies into balls to fit onto downhill-racing plastic disks; freezing fingers as gloves become soaked while building snowmen; flinging wet snow during loud and lively snowball fights. We also visit Grassy Hollow, see Smokey Bear, and hike on Lightning Ridge, climbing on stumps and downed logs. Walking on autumn days, we hear crisp leaves crackling underfoot, and appreciate the bright palette of luminous trees and the fragrant green pines. We spend evenings reading books fireside while wrapped in cozy quilts in a knotty pine-shrouded cabin. Camping at Table Mountain provides new memories and inside jokes. Giving back to the mountains during a Boy Scout service project at Haramokngna Indian Cultural Center provides us with a chance to learn about native plants used by the area’s first inhabitants.

This year, two significant events will stay with me always. First, a December drive up the Angeles Crest Highway with my dad, which was to be his last visit to the mountains. Second, with my youngest son and his friend, watching the solar eclipse from the hallowed grounds of the Mount Wilson Observatory. Now the mountains are all of ours – three generations of the mountain bloodline. I’ve passed the torch, successfully instilling the love of the San Gabriel Mountains that my father gave to me on to my children.

About the author

Bryn Barabas Potter is a museum consultant, anthropologist, writer and skier who still lives within view of the San Gabriel Mountains.

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Bryn Potter Jul 19, 2018 19:07

Write it up! Aug 31, 2018 is the deadline for the next National Forest Foundation's blog contest, here's the info & site:
What is your connection to the trails of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument?
Share a story or experience you have had on a trail on the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
Have fun with the post! We want to help spread the word about the amazing opportunities on the Monument.

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mallthus Dec 15, 2017 21:12

I too grew up in and around the San Gabriels, having been born and raised in Long Beach to a family with deep ties to Pasadena. My first mountain hikes were during family camping trips at Barton Flats. In 6th grade, I was able to go to Hi Hill Camp, near Mt Wilson, for a week. What a week that was! That happened to be the week that Highway 39 slid into the canyon! I recall having to walk to meet the school buses picking us up on the other side of the collapsed highway, as the rains continued to pour down on us.

My college days were punctuated by trips to ski Mountain High, Baldy, Kratka Ridge, and Waterman. I'll never forget the heady joy of skiing Kratka one weekday just after a quick storm had left nearly a foot of fresh powder with only about 6 people on the mountain. No lines for that single chair then!

I'll, of course, also never forget the day I decided to mountain bike near Red Box ranger station. After a bit of riding, I thought it'd be nice to soak my feet in the stream. My bare feet managed to find a shard of glass, leaving me with a deep cut. I carefully put my sock and boot back on before riding about 3 miles back to my car. Byt that time, the blood had soaked into the boot, so I just left it as it was and drove home to Long Beach.

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