January 28, 2015

Photo Essay: Saving Sturtevant Camp

Someone recently asked me what I do in my "down time." I said, "There is no down time."

After all, pretty much everything I enjoy – art, recreation, nightlife, history and culture – is documented here on this blog. Sure, there is some late night pizza that I might not have that much to say about, but you can visit my Instagram to live vicariously through much of my food and beverage adventures.

So while I knew I would enjoy a guided hike through Big Santa Anita Canyon and a tour of Sturtevant Camp co-hosted by my favorite hiking blog, I couldn't help but seize the opportunity to make something out of it.

Of course I would write about it here. But it turns out, this event – which was held to raise money to buy the camp and save it from its floundering state – was also an opportunity to publish my first article for KCET's SoCal Wanderer blog.

This is a real news story which I'm happy to have broken, but I'll let you read all the details over at KCET's website.

This, below, is my experience of the event.

We met at 7:30 a.m. at Adam's Pack Station, a famous rest stop at the Chantry Flats trailhead which I'd somehow missed when I'd come to hike to Sturtevant Falls the last time, despite my love for donkeys and mules (and beer).

It was an ungodly hour for me, out of shape, out of the habit of getting up early to hike the mountains with the Sierra Club and other groups.

But I was drawn to this area for its history: there was the destination of the camp itself, of course...

...but also plenty to see along the way, like the oldest operating telephone system in the U.S. (a crank-style phone that can get Adam's Pack Station on the line)...

...and the ruins of the four other resorts that used to flourish here.

There is the added benefit of the scenery, which is spectacular.

I'd been on the Gabrielino Trail before, but I had stopped at the falls...

...not realizing what lie beyond.

And when I arrived on Sunday morning, I also didn't realize that the only way to reach our destination, Sturtevant Camp, was to hike at least four miles in...

...and, of course, at least four miles back out.

But the lure of exploration for me is tremendous, and the opportunity to peek inside these historic structures...

...including the 1897 Swiss Dining Pavilion, which was once open-air...

...and now is enclosed with original wood, with painted mule shoes hanging from the beams.

Overnight visitors at Sturtevant Camp can cook in the communal kitchen...

...whether they stay alone, as a couple, or in a family or other group... a cabin...

...or a bunkhouse.

The donkeys and mule can be rented from the pack station to bring food and belongings up the pack trail...

...while you get a moment of peace in the middle of the forest...

...or opt for adventure...

...on the camp's own zipline.

There were so many of us who attended the fundraiser that we were split into four different hiking groups: advanced with Modern Hiker, two intermediate groups with volunteer hike leads, and "at a donkey's pace" behind the pack. Given my recent physical condition, I opted for the intermediate group hiking the shortest distance, hoping to not overestimate my ability as I have done in the past.

After all, we weren't there for sport. We weren't there for fitness or weight loss. We'd come for leisure, to recreate the spirit of the Golden Age of Hiking, and to learn about history – all in hopes of saving a historic site.

I knew it would be educational, but I didn't know I'd have so much fun. I didn't think I would laugh so hard.

I never went to church camp or day camp or sleepaway camp as a kid. My parents tried their hardest to keep me indoors, inside the house, at all times. As an adult, I've only gone actual camping once, in the sweltering desert. So this day trip up to cool, shady Sturtevant Camp was just a little taste of something that was completely foreign to me, a woodsy getaway that ended all too quickly.

And then I had a long walk downhill before I could head home.

Further Reading:
Friends of the San Gabriels Mount Fundraising Efforts to Save Historic Sturtevant Camp (KCET / SoCal Wanderer)

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Gabrielino Trail, Chantry Flats to Sturtevant Falls
Photo Essay: Mountain Oaks Resort, Abandoned & Illegally Subdivided
Recap: A Beginner's Journey Into Desert Camping

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