Barley Flats, Lawlor and StrawberryThere are some places in the San Gabes that are special due to their diversity of flora. There can be arguments made for the worst plants to go through but I will always say that yucca is where I tread the lightest. Two areas have done a superlative job in growing yucca. The East Fork of the San Gabriels and the south slopes of the ridge from Josephine to Barley Flats.
I had forgotten how enjoyable yucca was in this area since I had not been here in over seven years. My goal was to recreate a hike that I had done back in 2007 and see what the differences were pre-post Station fire. The route started at Red Box and from there follows the remains of the road to Barley Flats. This route was always overgrown but had minimal erosion and washouts pre-fire. Things have changed quite a bit since then with the vegetation not that high but a lot more washouts and deadfall. The most significant hurdle is the magnificent yucca that sometimes grows three across completely covering the route. There are a couple of places where you have to edge off the trail on thin slopes to get around these beautiful specimens. The route will have to remain passable on some level due to the telephone poles that are on it. If doing this route do yourself a favor and bring some loppers.
The more difficult section is at the beginning and the middle of this old road. The last section was relatively well groomed with minimal washouts. I was surprised to see the incredible retreat of the dreaded poodledog as it seems to be dying out almost everywhere. There was only one section that has significant poodledog and was not too difficult to avoid. After an hour and twenty I reached the watertank atop Barley Flats. All the beautiful trees that used to be up here are gone but apparently they saved the trees near the complex further on the ridge.
From here I could scope out the ridge to Lawlor. This ridge used to have a decent firebreak but the eyetest did not look too promising. The slopes appeared to be blanked with whitethorn. I chose to hike up the southern side of the ridge which had some trees that were spared and had allowed an access point to the ridge via grassy slopes. A couple of pushes through some vegetation got me on the ridge and voila a small use trail was discovered. Most probably it could be accessed along the spine of the ridge as well. This use trail was crucial in the beginning as the route was overgrown with lots of thorny plants as well as blooming thistles.
There are two bumps and then the easiest route, though still steep to the top of Lawlor. Lawlor gets no love but has nice views and is a more fun peak to climb than Strawberry from Red Box. I reached here in a little under a hour from Barley Flats. The route down from Lawlor to the saddle is a Class 2 steep clamber down through some ferrous rocks. The most important spot to note is at the last turnoff prior to the saddle, where the main ridge continues in a SW direction and you need to make a sharp west turn. Prior to the fire this was easier to spot due to all the brush growing along the wrong ridge, now its wide open so you have to confirm with a quick lookover which is the right ridge to take.
From the saddle it was a long mosey up the sand slopes to the top of Strawberry. I only met one person during this section which was surprising. Back in the day Strawberry was very busy with multiple parties on the summit at all times of the year. It was nice to have the whole trail and the summit to myself other than the plethora of bugs that also enjoyed sitting atop with me. All along the ridge, red flowers bloomed, attracting significant numbers of hummingbirds. I must've seen five of them with one bombing me apparently because I got too close to a nest.
From there it was only a matter of taking the standard trail back to Red Box. I only passing one party who was just starting out on the trail on the return. The hike took me just under five hours where in 2007 it had taken me four. Part may be, I'm slowing down but I think much of it was the changing terrain that made this trek more challenging than it had been.