"Vetter Mountain, In Service"

Day Two: First Full Day

8:30 amThose shutters are HEAVY! But I'm learning the correct procedure. Grace, another first-timer, and I work alone on separate shutters to gain the experience.

A female Anna's hummingbird hovers over the empty, dismantled feeder. She darts and probes at us. Right away, I fill the feeder and set it on the railing. Off and on throughout the day, other Anna's hummingbirds of various age and sex come to the feeder, but none as persistently as this early morning female. These mountain birds are leaner than their valley counterparts.

Next in the order of duty this morning: Sweep out all the dead flies and the very-much-alive ants that are feeding on them!

8:58 am"Angeles, Vetter Mountain, in service."
9:33 amRoll call from dispatch takes a census of what resources are available or committed for the day. Shortcut Station has opened for the season.

The fire weather report for the local area follows: Winds this morning from the northwest backing to the west by afternoon...relative humidity 15 to 25%.

9:45 amWe take our weather. It's already 85°; relative humidity is 26%; wind out of the northwest, gusting 0 to 3 miles per hour. The predictions are very accurate.
10:05 amThe smell up here is good...resinous from the pines and pungent from the yerba santa...after the sun beats down for awhile in the morning, the penetrating fragrance arises from the rocky slope and floats in through the windows of the cab. I lift my nose and sniff, acknowledging to myself that I'm glad to be on the mountain.
10:15 amBy combining the printed list of landmarks by degrees, the Osborne Firefinder and the panoramic photographs, we work around our horizon identifying as many features as we can. There, on that ridge, are the organizational camps along Santa Clara Divide Road, down there is the water tank at Chilao, a little to the west is the shaded Loomis Ranch, while Mt. Lukens, directly to the west, is obscured by the haze, and so on to Monrovia Peak, on to bald-as-its-nickname and without-a-trace-of-snow now, Mt. San Antonio, around to Waterman Mountain again, big and bold in the northeast.

The white haze has begun to creep up the canyons to the west, but mainly to the east in the canyons of the West and North Forks of the San Gabriel.

A red-tailed hawk soars high above Big Tujunga Creek, undulating over the ridges and down the canyons. The bird crosses at Shortcut Saddle and glides down through the West Fork canyon on its journey east.

11:35 amWe watch Helitac 531 chugging up the West Fork en route to Bouquet Canyon. False alarm. Helitac 531 is released and and sets down, not at Chantry, but Chilao instead. This is good for us because now we can pinpoint exactly the location of the heliport there.
12:00 noon90° and the butterflies are loving it...floating, dancing, chasing...dozens and dozens of them. The most abundant species today are the variable checkerspots. So intent are they on imbibing the nectar of the yerba santa, I can creep slowly up to them...within two feet...and inspect their multi-colored wings and red-tipped antennae. A lone anise swallowtail is hilltopping with the pale swallowtails. Wonder what will become of this engagement?
1:33 pmThe LA County Sheriff's Search and Rescue helicopter, Air Rescue 5, manuevers over the ridge nearby the Barley Flats Trail very close to the ground. We see a green Forest Service truck, which is Engine 15 from the recently opened Shortcut Station directly below us, and a red LA County truck equipped with flashing red lights coming slowly down the Barley Flats Road stopping at the turnouts.

The call comes over the radio about a search in progress for a crash victim ten minutes up the trail from the intersection of Alder Creek and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road. The search will eventually take over two and one-half hours and involve Air Rescue 5, three large trucks and several smaller vehicles and will be attended by two media helicopters hovering a safe distance away.

Since almost the entire trail is visible to us and, presumably, Air Rescue 5, I keep wishing I could give the person a small mirror or piece of polished metal to flash their location. Relief would be accomplished so much more quickly.

2:02 pmMore and more flies, wasps, etc. get trapped in the windows of the cab. The ceiling is high and they don't bother us seated at the counter and desk. We hear them more than see them. Sometimes a fly hits the window hard and falls to the desk, spinning round and round very fast on its back, then dies. The spinning makes a funny, distinctive sound.
3:30 pmThe haze in the east has turned to brownish gray. The wind has picked up and is out of the west.
3:45 pmA raven, black feathers glistening in the sun, follows the same route the hawk took earlier in the day: Up Big T, across at Shortcut, down the West Fork. Helitac took this route, too, but in reverse. An air highway.
4:30 pmThe haze over Big Tujunga Canyon and towards the west has thickened and risen, but is still whitish. This outlines and separates the ridges and the canyons very well and it is much easier to pick out Wildcat Gulch, Wickiup Canyon, and Coldwater Canyon on the north flank of the Mt. Lawlor - Strawberry Peak complex and Alder Creek and Lynx Gulch on the other side of the canyon.

A small anvil-headed cloud builds up in the clear blue sky over the desert.

4:34 pmWe begin taking down the shutters. I forget to remove the board that covers the door which has been stored on one of them. It comes crashing down. No harm done, but I will remember that lesson.
4:56 pm"Angeles, Vetter Mountain, out of service."
"Copy, Vetter Mountain, sixteen fifty-six."

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© Jane Strong, June 2000