The Great Outdoors: Mt. Wilson

“This trail has been created for you – the city dweller – so that you might exchange, for a short time, the hectic scene of your urban life for the rugged beauty and freedom of adventure into the solitary wonderland of nature.”

– United States Forest Service

Its been long due for a post. If you’ll entertain me, I’ve decided to do something a bit different.

7 AM. Start. Class, research, study, socializing, networking, career, career planning, relationships, improve mandarin, learn Japanese, learn Spanish, work out (gym? cycle? climb?), aspirations, mindless streaming, mindless gaming, more study, eat. Stop. Despite achieving some, I am successful in none. Even if only temporary I sought an escape–an interlude from the chaos imposed by day to day life.

Memorial day weekend arrived and with more time on my hands I decided to set out on a hike. Although I’ve been afforded many hiking opportunities in the past, it had been at least 3-4 years since I went on something more substantial. For the route in question, perhaps 5 years since my last attempt. Of since I’ve gained a much greater appreciation of the outdoors. All things considered, I was eager to set out.

I would be hiking Mt. Wilson starting from the Gabrielino Trail and looping back on Mt. Wilson Trail. The route is approximately 15 miles round trip with 4,000 ft of elevation gain.

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I began my day at 5:00 AM, an unholy hour. While the sane, should they have the choice, was sleeping in I packed my gear and set out early to secure parking.

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But hey, the cat’s awake though!

I was heading to the Chantry Flats station. Despite getting there at 6:25 AM, 25 minutes after they open the gate, the parking lot was already completely filled. I was fortunate to find parking further down the road. Had I been enthusiastic enough I could of biked up there and locked it to the provided racks, bypassing the need for parking. I wasn’t too keen on stacking a difficult bike ride and hike together. Perhaps next time.

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I followed the Gabrielino Trail, a popular well traversed segment likely due to its creek-side pathing. Water running through the Santa Anita Wash created a lush understory and a diverse canopy of both deciduous and evergreen trees. White alders dominated the landscape with oaks mixed in.

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I also got a look at the nearby Sturtevant Falls. Even at 7 am there were still a fair amount of people at the falls. Speaks for its popularity.

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As the trail branched away from the creek the canopy transformed into groves of live oaks, one of my favorite species for bonsai cultivation and in its natural form. One oak in particular stood above the rest. The enormous trunk and boulder its’ roots grasped was a testament to it’s age–undoubtedly a centennial at minimum. It’s difficult to get a sense of scale but the boulder is at least 5-6 feet tall.

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Here are some shots for the remainder of the Gabrielino Trail.

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The Gabrielino trail led into Sturtevent Trail which would be taken to the summit. The gradual incline became steeper and steeper and white firs and big cone spruce would begin to take hold.

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The dense canopies restricted your field of vision but the latter half of this segment afforded expansive vistas.

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Soon after I reached the top. Instead of pristine alpine summit you’re met with paved roads and astronomical equipment. As a consolation prize you get to eat at a cafe.

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Of course, the trip wouldn’t count if I didn’t photograph the USGS marker.

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The views back down were nothing special but I did see many spectacular manzanitas–characterized by the striking contrast between their red bark and bleached deadwood. Highly sought after as bonsai, but are extremely difficult to collect and keep.

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All in all it was an enjoyable trip and I plan to do more in the future. I hope you’ve enjoyed my post and its off topic nature. Thanks for taking a look!

Bonus panorama shot:

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Carving workshop with Will Baddeley

Easter Sunday wasn’t spent in pious gatherings or church festivities but rather in the deafening whirling of 8-9 simultaneously running dremels. I came unprepared for the onset of woody carnage. Flying bits of wood, flying bits, and flying die grinders. Good thing I was wearing eye protection. This action was found in non other than a Will Baddeley workshop–a bonsai professional from the UK with a focus on carving. There were 9 participants with a wide arrange of material including olives, bald cypress, buttonwood, boxwood, and others.

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I neglected to take pictures of everyone’s’ trees but got a few good shots. For starters here are my own trees:

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Large nandina bamboo with corky bark
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Foliage tied down to clear space for carving

I dug out this nandina several months back. Considering how much foliage it has put out and that it was relatively secure in the pot (meaning new roots) I was confident that the tree could handle the stress of carving. I would be carving down all the middle trunks that failed to backbud post initial collection as well as a stub in the front where I had removed a low sub trunk. Will’s workshops are very hands on–meaning you do most of the work and he provides the direction.

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I really should of taken my time here and was fortunate I didn’t compromise the design. I went all out and grabbed a makita die grinder with a large 3/4s or 1 inch ball carbide and grinded away. All those mid sub trunks were obliterated but I quickly realized that I needed to leave some wood to do finer detail work on.

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I used this triangular bit to add in some channels and prepared the next region for carving by stripping the bark. The stub would become an uro with a lip and the outer region would be recessed more. A lot of Will’s advice emphasized depth. Meaning that instead of carving clear cut holes you should do them at angles to create shadows or pockets. Doing so created more realistic deadwood as opposed to a contrived flat image.

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Best shot I could get at the time but you can see it taking shape.

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Rough work in the back. Edges need to be worked and detail put in.

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Hollowing some small sub trunks on another side. A nice detail I added here myself is a spiraling piece of wood. Its in the upper middle part of the shot and was carved out from one of the larger sub trunks.

Some finished shots. The carving could be refined and use some detail work but for the most part its done. I will allow the tree to grow unrestricted the entire year with lots of fert. Next spring I will cut back the outer sub trunks more and select primary branching.

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Final shot
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Image is a bit flat but the carving here was the best on the entire tree in my opinion. The lip has lots of detail and character
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I realize that I didn’t clean up the bottom of the channels with the obvious drill bit holes. At the time the entire tree was covered in sawdust and details like that went unnoticed

Tree dos:

This is jujube I’ve actually had for quite a long time. It started out as a tree in my parent’s yard. They were going to throw it out so I took it and bonsai’d it. Meaning chopping off 90% of the tree. Although covered this tree has REALLY good nebari with nice thick spreading surface roots. I didn’t really do anything with it and just let it grow the past few years. Last year it sulked a bit from over-watering but overall seemed out. There was some dieback from the initial cutback and decided that I might as well bring it to the workshop since I had no other plans.

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Removing bark and prepping for carving
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Top hollowed
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Hard to see detail here but under Will’s advice I created lips on the outside and angled cuts to create depth
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Top prepped for detail work. Did not take a close shot of top after detail but its dark. I’ll stick it in later
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Final shot. Burned the wood a bit to add depth.

Plan is to feed heavily and allow for strong growth. I will use basic wiring and clip and grow to develop this tree. I plan to make the foliage weeping seeing how mature trees have overhanging foliage. If they live I’ll post updates in the summer. Should prove to be interesting projects for me to mess around with.

Anyhow enough of my trees and onto shots of the workshop and trees other people brought:

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Settling in the morning
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Safety talk
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Assessment of trees
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Work on a large olive. Neglected to photograph the tree but a lot of wood removed on this one
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Jamie’s bald cypress
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Hank’s olive
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Nelson’s buttonwood. Gnarly deadwood on this one
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Getting all up in there
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Detail work
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Bob’s boxwood
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Nelson’s buttonwood enjoying a wash and reprieve from carving

A group picture I stole. Hank took the shot. Missing Jamie and Jack if I  have that right?

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Well that’s it folks. If I find any good shots I’ll add them in. All in all I had a good time. It was nice talking to Nelson, Jamie, as well as meeting many new people. Was able to have a hand at my first serious carving attempt even if it wasn’t very good. Hope you enjoyed the read! These posts take quite some time to make so if you liked it a subscription is cool too.

Large Coast Live Oak and Labor Extortion at Kimura Nursery

I was recently offered a spot in a Will Baddeley workshop. Bob informed me that some space was open and in lieu of the workshop fee I could also trade in work. I didn’t have $200, but with the onset of spring break I did have time. With a few trees that could use carving as well as an opportunity to meet more members of the bonsai community I gladly accepted. I spent the last few days working at his nursery doing anything asked of me. If I could sum up the 15 or so hours of work in one word–deweeding.

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In seriousness it was good to spend some time outside and I enjoyed talking to Audrey and Bob. I will be attending the Sunday April 16th workshop and look forward to meeting those there.

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Great weather on the days I came

Anyhow on to the tree. Winter of 2015 I picked up a large coast live oak from Barry Altshule. I visited his home and was able to get first pick before he brought the trees to that year’s GSBF Convention. It had good character, gnarly deadwood, and decent taper. All in all it looked like an interesting tree and I picked it up.

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As seen in the picture, the whole front of the tree died off at some point. The heath of the tree as purchased wasn’t the best either and lacked a lot of foliage. .This was caused by borers of which were still in the tree! In the successive growing season I had to treat the tree with a systemic as well as physically removing the borers and treating the points of entry. After a year and a half of strong growth I can confidently say that the borers are gone and the tree is healthy.

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Tons of character on the wood. These trees were collected and the slow growth with subsequent weathering produced gorgeous deadwood.

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There was also significant dieback at the top of the tree as seen by the “L” shaped line. Despite the tree’s character and nice deadwood there were many design challenges. For one the tree lacked good primary branching not to mention the awkward transition to the apex as well as random bulges on the back. The tree was fed well to prepare for the major repotting.

Oaks being a semi-evergreen tree hold their leaves year round. This makes repotting difficult and many have reported losing their trees post repot. I was advised to defoliate the tree prior to repotting as to avoid transpiration loss and presumably a weak or dead tree.

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The tree responded well and leafed out 1-2 weeks later. The top chop would be carved and and some preliminary wiring was done. In retrospect I should have cut back the front branch at this time to get better budding closer to the tree. But given that it was weak and had borers I feared the front of the tree dying and losing the bridge of live tissue between the top cut and the main deadwood.

Anyhow here is the tree several months later having pruned unnecessary branching as well as wiring some primary branching in place. As far as cut-backs for oaks the best time is mid-late winter right before the buds start swelling, and right after peak summer temperatures when (at least for coast live oaks) begin a second strong flush.

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Spring 2016

I missed the window to do cut backs on the larger primary branches due to my concerns of dieback. Due to my impatience I cut back the front branch with poor timing. It did throw out one tiny bud, but it was burned up in the heat. Fortunately I was able to get some side primary branching going.

Here is a shot of the branch structure developed at this time:

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Late spring 2016

With several months of strong growth primary branches thickened substantially.

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Summer 2016

From my brief experience, coast live oaks develop SUPER fast in Socal. All the branching in this photo was developed from scratch.

At this point development was done for the year and I fed the tree aggressively to prepare for the big cut-backs to be done

I cut the tree back some time in late January. Just before the tree starts sending up sugars so food would not be allocated to branches that would be thrown away.

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Exposed

A few weeks later

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Fast forward nearly 2 months later it it became a head of green.

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Yes leaves and outer nodes are monstrous, but the node length for the first few pairs are short and usable. I tried out these dried hard balls of composted chicken poo and turns out they had much more nitrogen than I anticipated. Thankfully it was slow release so my initial growth didn’t come out with poor internodal length.

Unfortunately I did not get buds directly on the big branches I cut back. I did however get plenty of buds near it and opted to approach graft branching in place. My top side branch was removed entirely and will allow an adjacent shoot to fill in the space.

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It’s a bit chaotic but I will be allowing the new growth to grow unrestricted until late summer when I do the cut backs. This will help me thicken my primary branches and give strong back budding when I do the cuts.

On the tree I did a total of 3 approach grafts. One in the front and 2 in the back. Unfortunately the front stub is dead but the cambium behind it bridging the gap between the top chop and front deadwood is alive and strong. Meaning graftable.

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Cut is probably too deep

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Few dormant buds on my branch that should wake up after cut backs

Not the cleanest grafts but I have confidence in them. As long the cambium underneath is alive and strong the branch should eventually fuse as it thickens up. Least I’m counting on it.

Here is the finished tree post spring styling. Extensions will be cut back and after a year the basic form of the tree will be set! Hard to believe it has developed this much in under 2 years. It’s hard to see the form with all the leaves but I will post an update when I do my cut back later this year.

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Syringe is for the tree, not me

A quick before and after showcasing the current progress:

Thanks for taking a look and I hope you’ve the read. Feel to leave me any comments. Have a great day! 🙂