The Mysterious Lost Mountain Cabin of Grizzly Flat – Part 2
Last week I wrote about a mysterious cabin that stood for many years on a shelf of land overlooking Big Tujunga Canyon. Thanks to local historian Art Cobery, we learned it had been built in 1925 as a base of operations for a homegrown Crescenta Valley group of firefighters, and as a central location for an experimental tree farm to best determine how to reforest our denuded mountains. The group was the Angeles Forest Protective Association. The volunteer firefighters spent weekends at the cabin (after hiking in from CV) learning advanced firefighting techniques.
They fought many wildfires I’m sure, and the fires that they put out before they got out of hand of course go unrecorded. The only one they lost is the only one we have record of. It was 1928, when a fire started at the top of Lowell Avenue and burned up the mountainside. As it gained force, a powerful wind from the north sprung up, driving the fire back down into the valley where it marched relentlessly down Lowell. Firefighters set up a fire line at Foothill Boulevard, but the wind sent embers over their heads and into the brush on the south side. Firefighters then raced down to Honolulu, where they lit a backfire and drove it uphill toward the advancing firestorm. Just when it looked like the blaze would be controlled, a howling gust picked up burning material and sent it spinning into the Verdugo Mountains. The fire raced up one side and down the other, all the way to Burbank.
The Angeles Forest Protective Association served as the valley’s only organized firefighters for six years until the county took over that function with professional firemen. The cabin however continued to attract the brotherhood of CV’s volunteer firefighters, and was used for social functions up to 1941, after which it was abandoned. The experimental forest grew thick in the acres around the cabin, a mixed forest of various pines, some oaks, and even some eucalyptus. Hikers in the ’40s and ’50s were mystified by the sight of an out-of-place stone cabin in an oddly thick forest. Sadly, starting in the ’60s, the Forest Service embarked on a misguided policy of destroying abandoned buildings in backcountry as “hazardous nuisances.” Structures from the Mount Lowe Railroad were dynamited, as was the spectacular stone chapel at Switzer Falls and, tragically, the little stone cabin at Grizzly Flat. Only foundations are there today.
I first hiked to Grizzly Flat before the Station Fire when it was still a magical place – a deep forest with a thick carpet of dead pine needles. The forest was dark and dense. I easily found the foundations of the cabin. But the Station Fire burned that magical place right to the ground. Since then, the trail to Grizzly Flat has been impassible with overgrowth and blocked by fallen trees and limbs. But just a few months ago, a volunteer chainsaw crew cut through and reopened the route, so my wife and I hiked it a couple weeks ago.
This is a spectacular hike for the views, but also for the amazing growth of wildflowers. The same flowering chaparral that grows knee-high by our local trails was well over our heads, attesting to the fertilizing power of burned land. Once we reached Grizzly Flat we entered a ghost forest of charred tree remains. Blackened poles stuck up occasionally, and everywhere were black logs piled in profusion. It’s an otherworldly scene. The undergrowth (particularly the poison oak), newly exposed to sunlight after years of shade, had exploded and we could no longer find the cabin foundations buried in the tall brush.
It’s a relatively easy hike, about three hours in and back. The trailhead is 6.3 miles up Angeles Crest Highway in a large turnout. Fire road 2N79 takes you up the mountainside – stay to the left for any forks. After a mile look for a vague road heading down to the right, which switchbacks down to Grizzly Flat. It’s a fun, if obscure, piece of CV history – and a great hike as well.