Sawpit and Silver Fish: Machete!
If you don't return to the trailhead, after completing the full out and back, with your legs looking as if a bobcat used them as a scratching post, you have done something wrong. Even after showering and cleaning up, I think there are still thorns and pointy sticks protruding from my shins and calves. Armor would be a good idea, and I am not talking about the mountain bike armor with which you might be familiar. No, I am talking about full on knights of the Round Table armor. Yeah, that should just about do it - the only way to return unscathed.
Run! Mad mountain biker.
Better yet, bring a machete and have at it. All the riders who come after will owe you a great deal of gratitude - not that there will be many people coming after you. In the seven years that have passed since I last rode the Silver Fish Trail I can state with absolute confidence that no more than ten riders have taken the long forgotten route. And that is exceedingly unfortunate, because the Silverfish has so much potential. There are multiple, and spectacular views of Mt. Baldy. Silver Fish Canyon and various of its smaller feeder canyons possess great stands of alder, pine and ancient gnarled oaks. With all that tree cover your ride constantly transitions through sun, dappled light, and absolute shade. Given the right conditions, wildflower shows can be spectacular; today, at this time of year, Ribes (currant) was the only dependable bloomer, but it was putting on quite a show all by itself.
Speaking of transitions - one minute your wheels will crunch over decomposing granite, the next ripple through swaths of oak litter, and in the next they will silently spin over a carpet of yarrow, grass and other low-growing ground covers.
So why the armor, why the machete? Because the Silver Fish is so rarely, if ever, visited, the trail becomes progressively worse and degraded the further you follow it. It may start out fairly open, but little distance, little time passes before the buckwheat, the chamise, and everything else that grows up there closes in. At first the big 29ers simply bull right through, the fact that you head down into the canyon means they roll over anything that gets in their way. The further down you ride, the more that brush encroaches, until you eventually reach sections of trail that are impassible from the saddle. The only option is to dismount and push on through to the other side, to the next all too brief opening. Trees have crashed down during some unrecorded winter storm. Yuccas proliferate in places, and you thread the needle, hoping for the best, that it all works out.
The silence is startling, thunderous, enveloping. The Silver Fish must be one of the most isolated canyons in the San Gabriels - no massive parking lot, and short stroll will allow the masses easy access.
As it should be.
If you want to enter the Silver Fish, revel in its majesty, you must work for it. Some places are best left to those willing to make the effort. Otherwise it is all just disneyland.
Here is the catch about that isolation - if you carry an extra dose of fear of wild animals lurking nearby, the Silver Fish may not be the best choice for your next solo ride. The thought that no one would hear my yelling down in in those depths, crossed my mind, as every so often I came across great piles of bear scat. Or at least that was my best guess as to what had left them. A couple more things to consider - even though it is not yet February, the gnats are a bloody menace I almost gave up, stuck out my tongue and had an early, albeit unappetizing lunch. Secondly, there are stinging nettles at the last stream crossing before reaching Stone Cabin Flat (the only stream likely to have water flowing year-round) - be aware of your step. My left leg is still stinging from a leafy slap.
These days the Silver Fish Trail (1N29), as it did seven years ago, ends at Stone Cabin Flat (if the remains of an old cabin are there, I am yet to find them). That is a distance of 7.35 miles from where I began at Monrovia Canyon Park. Not much distance should equate to not much time. But, all that push-a-bike through the brush took me a good five hours. Yes, 14.5 miles in 5 hours (3600 feet of elevation gain). Woof.
The Silver Fish, and as much as I appreciate the undisturbed way it is now, could be a real destination, and a prize mountain biking route. It used to go from Monrovia, up and down canyons, across mountains, all the way to San Gabriel Canyon. Now there is no real way to get past Stone Cabin Flat, though it you look closely, you can see it continuing along the mountain sides further away. So close, yet so far away has never been more true. I would love to see a group like CORBA, or the MWBA take an interest in rehabbing the Silver Fish, bringing it back to the spectacular route it could be.
I posted the first half of this route, the climb of Sawpit Canyon, to the velo Course, which you can check at this link.
Sawpit Canyon Dam
Still in Sawpit
Near the top of Silver Fish, and yes, that cut discernible crossing the slope in the middle distance is the same trail beyond Stone Cabin Flat. Good luck getting through to it though.
dgst - decomposed granite single track
Limber enough to limbo?
I don't think the remains of this apiary at Stone Cabin Flat have changed in seven years
My guess - once upon a time Silver Fish was passable to motor vehicles, but over the years (or maybe just one heavy rainfall year), multiple washouts closed it for good. Yay, I would hate to see motors up here.
That's it, end of the trail at Stone Cabin Flat
Seven years ago there were bees at this crossing. None this time. Oh, and this is where the nettles are.
Definitely impassible. Push. Push on through to the other side.
There was a portion of a deer leg at this campfire ring seven years ago.
Not as bright in the photo. This fungus was actually neon orange in natural light.
Little bit rocky.
One of several downed trees.