Category Archives: nature|trees

After the Lake Fire: The Dollar Lake – Dry Lake Loop on San Gorgonio Mountain

Dry Lake in the San Gorgonio Wilderness

The north side of San Gorgonio Mountain was closed in June 2015 when the Lake Fire burned approximately 31,359 acres of forest, chaparral, sage, pinyon and Joshua tree habitat at elevations ranging from about 10,700′ to 5350′. As a result of the determined efforts of firefighters, only one residence and some remote outbuildings were lost.

Of the 30,487 acres reviewed by the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team 4,327 acres (14%) were categorized as Unburned; 17,100 acres (56%) as having Low soil burn severity; 8,420 acres (28%) as having Moderate soil burn severity; and 640 acres (2%)with High soil burn severity. (Note that soil burn severity isn’t necessarily synonymous with fire intensity and fire effects such as tree loss.)

I’d been keeping an eye on the Alerts & Notices section of the San Bernardino National Forest web site to see if the Lake Fire closure order would be renewed. I was curious to see the extent and impacts of the Lake Fire and how the area was recovering. Plus, the Dollar Lake – Dry Lake keyhole loop is an outstanding trail run — one of the best in Southern California. In addition to climbing San Gorgonio Mountain (11,499′), it encompasses some of the most scenic areas on the peak.

The area’s trails reopened July 20. The weekend prior to the reopening San Gorgonio Wilderness Association volunteers worked on the South Fork and Dry Lake Trails, clearing a number of large trees, removing debris and other hazards and improving the trail tread.

A week and a half after the opening I pulled into the South Fork parking lot on Jenks Lake Road, excited to get on the trail. There was a slight chance of thunderstorms in the forecast, and I hoped to be off the summit and on my way down by 10:30 or 11:00.

Most of the run is in the San Gorgonio Wilderness and a wilderness permit is required. Check a map, but the general sequence of trails is the South Fork Trail, Dollar Lake Trail, Divide Trail, Summit Trail, Sky High Trail, Dry Lake Trail and then back down the South Fork Trail to the trailhead. This Google Earth image shows the western part of the Lake Fire burn area in relation to San Gorgonio Mountain and some of the area’s trails.

Here are a few photos taken during the run:

After the Lake Fire: The Dollar Lake - Dry Lake Loop (Slideshow)
Click an arrow or swipe to advance to the next image or return to a previous image.
Overview of the South Fork - Dollar Lake - Dry Lake loop through the western flank of the 31,359 acre 2015 Lake Fire
Overview of the western flank of the 31,359 acre 2015 Lake Fire burn area and FRAP fire history. The fire database showed two previous fires in the area -- a fire in 1950 (309 acres) and in 1951 (1412 acres). The yellow trace is the GPS track of my run.
Crown-sprouting California black oaks along the South Fork Trail following the Lake Fire
Crown-sprouting California black oaks along the South Fork Trail about 0.5 mile from the trailhead. July 29, 2017.
Mix of burned and scorched trees below Horse Meadow following the Lake Fire
Mix of burned and scorched trees below Horse Meadow about 1.1 mile from the South Fork trailhead. July 29, 2017.
Horse Meadows appeared to have escaped being burned in Lake Fire.
It was a close call at Horse Meadows, but the cabins and most of the trees appeared to be OK.
Post-fire understory regrowth above Horse Meadows.
Post-fire understory regrowth above Horse Meadows folowing the 2015 Lake Fire. The regrowth helps protect and promote the germination and growth of pine seedlings. July 29, 2017.
Woolly mullein (Verbascum thapsus) along the South Fork Trail.
Woolly mullein (Verbascum thapsus), an invasive species, along the South Fork Trail. July 29, 2017.
Prickly poppy blooming along the South Fork Trail following the 2015 Lake Fire
Prickly poppy blooming along the South Fork Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
The change in soil chemistry and other factors influence the growth of plants following a fire
The change in soil chemistry and other factors influence the growth of plants following a fire, in this case promoting the growth of southern goldenrod. July 29, 2017.
Southern goldenrod
Southern goldenrod.
The western part of the BAER Soil Burn Severity Map with my route highlighted. The full map can be found here. Of the 30,487 acres reviewed by the BAER Team 60% were categorized as either unburned (14%) or low soil burn intensity (56%).
Coyote tobacco along the South Fork Trail.
Coyote tobacco along the South Fork Trail. The flowers of the plant were open in the morning and closed in the afternoon. The plant changes the time of day the flowers are open to protect itself from hungry caterpillars that hatch from eggs deposited by pollinating moths.
Jeffrey pine struck by lightning and scorched by the Lake Fire.
A Jeffrey pine on the Dollar Lake Trail above South Fork Meadows on San Gorgonio Mountain that was previously struck by lightning and then scorched in the 2015 Lake Fire. This image from 2013 shows the size of the tree. July 29, 2017.
South Fork Meadows from the Dollar Lake Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain.
South Fork Meadows from the Dollar Lake Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
Dollar Lake Saddle from the Dollar Lake Trail about 5 miles from the South Fork Trailhead following the 2015 Lake Fire.
Dollar Lake Saddle from the Dollar Lake Trail about 5 miles from the South Fork Trailhead following the 2015 Lake Fire. July 29, 2017.
Regrowth of chinquapin along the Dollar Lake Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain following the 2015 Lake Fire.
Regrowth of chinquapin along the Dollar Lake Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain following the 2015 Lake Fire. July 29, 2017.
Chinquapin produces a nut, several of which are encased in each thorny burr.
Chinquapin produces a nut, several of which are encased in each thorny burr.
The 2015 Lake Fire burned a number of limber pines in the area of Dollar Lake Saddle.
Nearing Dollar Lake Saddle on the Dollar Lake Trail. The 2015 Lake Fire burned a number of limber pines in this area. July 29, 2017.
The south side of the mountain, between Dollar Lake Saddle and the summit of Gorgonio was not burned in the 2015 Lake Fire.
Continuing on the Divide Trail above the Little Charlton - Jepson saddle. At this point the elevation is about 10, 600' and it's about two miles to the summit of San Gorgonio.
View west from near the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain on July 29, 2017.
View west from near the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain on July 29, 2017. That small patch of snow was nearly gone a week later.
The final section of trail leading to the summit of 11, 499' San Gorgonio Mountain
The final section of trail leading to the summit of 11, 499' San Gorgonio Mountain, the highest peak in Southern California. There was only one other person on the summit at 10:45 a.m. He had ascended the peak via the Vivian Creek Trail.
San Jacinto Peak (10839') from the Sky High Trail on the south side of San Gorgonio Mountain.
San Jacinto Peak (10839') from the Sky High Trail on the south side of San Gorgonio Mountain.
Cumulus clouds were already beginning to develop over San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak when I left Gorgonio's summit at 10:45 a.m. and by 1:00 p.m. or so it was mostly cloudy. Thunder rumbled in the distance a couple of times.
Lodgepole pines along the Fish Creek Trail  killed by a bark beetle infestation
These lodgepole pines along the Fish Creek Trail were previously killed by a bark beetle infestation. Some of the dead trees were burned in the Lake Fire.
Dry Lake on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
Dry Lake on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
Creek crossing on the Dry lake Trail at South Fork Meadows,
Creek crossing on the Dry lake Trail at South Fork Meadows, near its junction with the Dollar Lake and South Fork Trails. July 29, 2017.
The 2015 Lake Fire consumed most of the downed trees in this avalanche path.
The Lake Fire consumed most of the downed trees in this avalanche path on the South Fork Trail south of Poopout Hill. Compare to this image of the avalanche path from 2013.
Paintbrush and yarrow along the South Fork Trail.
Paintbrush and yarrow along the South Fork Trail. July 29, 2017.
Sugarloaf Mountain (9952') from the South Fork Trail.
Sugarloaf Mountain (9952') from the South Fork Trail.
Goldenrod and penstemon along the South Fork Trail.
Goldenrod and penstemon along the South Fork Trail about a quarter-mile from the trailhead. July 29, 2017.

 

On this particular run I also wanted to check out the Fish Creek Trail and the “use trail” down to Lodgepole Springs and Dry Lake, so rather than continuing down the Dry Lake Trail from Mineshaft Saddle, I turned right (east) and followed the Fish Creek Trail to Fish Creek Saddle.

There were some downed trees and a lot of fire debris on the Fish Creek Trail. Extra care was required and I probably hiked as much of it as I ran. As I worked toward Fish Creek Saddle I could not tell how much of the canyon leading down to Lodgepole Spring had burned. The slopes on the southwest side of Grinnell Mountain had burned and some areas along the Fish Creek Trail had burned as well. Whether I descended to Lodgepole Spring from Fish Creek Saddle or returned to Mineshaft Saddle would be a judgment call.

Arriving at Fish Creek Saddle I was glad to see the forest was intact. The path down to Lodgepole Spring looked promising, but had not been used in some time. As it turned out most of the trees along the path had not burned. In places, runoff from the burned slopes above had resulted in some erosion and small flows of sandy soil. There were also the usual downed trees, but other than being a little challenging to follow, the path was generally OK.

I was nearly off the trail when the “chance of thunderstorms” forecast materialized into threatening gray clouds, a few sprinkles, and a couple of rumbles of thunder.

Some related posts: Running San Gorgonio: Dollar Lake – Dry Lake Variation, San Gorgonio Mountain: Dollar Lake – Dry Lake Trail RunLake Fire MODIS Fire Detections

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Along the Crest

Trees and clouds along the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains. Photography by Gary Valle.

I rounded the corner, driving from deep shade into the golden glare of the rising sun. There was almost no traffic on Angeles Crest Highway. Up ahead, in the shade of some trees, there was something in the road. Was it a rock or a pine cone? Driving into the sun it was hard to tell. At this time of the morning — before the CalTrans truck has swept the road — one small rock can ruin your whole day. Getting to the trailhead unscathed is always the first challenge of the day.

Middle Hawkins from the Pacific Crest Trail. Photography by Gary Valle.
Middle Hawkins from the Pacific Crest Trail.

Today, Craig and I were planning to do a point to point run from Inspiration Point to Islip Saddle — one of the best stretches of trail in the San Gabriel Mountains.

PCTA volunteer Ray Drasher often takes care of clearing the trees from this section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s quite an undertaking to get the required stock and equipment to the trailhead and then cut trees spread over several miles of trail. Because of conflicting reports, Ray wasn’t sure whether there were trees still on the trail or not. We’d let him know after the run.

On the drive up you could see it was going to be a spectacular day in the Angeles high country. A low pressure trough moving through central California had pulled in the marine layer and a tumultuous ocean of cloud reached from the south-facing canyons far out over the Pacific.

Trail runner descending the PCT near Mt. Burnham.
Craig descending the PCT near Mt. Burnham.

I drove through the double tunnels at Mt. Williamson and then around a left-hand curve. Up ahead I could see the northwest ridge of Mt. Islip dropping down to Islip Saddle. What the heck? Orange cones? The gate is closed? The HIGHWAY is closed? That didn’t make sense; the Winter closure had ended weeks before.

After parking, I talked to a hiker who said it was closed for “road work.” I assumed there must have been a rock slide in one of the problematic areas between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap. Later I learned the problem was a “sink hole” west of the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center.

After Craig arrived we discussed route options to Mt. Baden-Powell. Either we did the South Fork loop, which I’d done a couple weeks before, or we did an out and back on the PCT. We opted for the out and back.

Weather-beaten limber pine near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. Photography by Gary Valle.
Weather-beaten limber pine near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell.

The run was as spectacular as expected. The visibility above the deck of stratus was at least 100 miles. San Bernardino Peak, San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto were easy marks to the east and Owens Peak and the Southern Sierra could be seen to the north. Before it was immersed in a tide of cloud, the summit of Santiago Peak (Saddleback) had been visible to the south. High clouds and a gusty westerly wind kept the temperatures moderate. Only one very small patch of snow remained on the trail.

I’d hoped to be able to tell Ray the trees had been cleared from the trail, but no — they were still there. He said the next time I ran there, they would be gone. Thanks Ray!

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Downed Trees, Melting Snow and a Waterfall

Snow-covered slopes from the Mt. Waterman Trail

Climbing up the slope and around the big incense cedar I stopped for a moment to enjoy the smell of the splintered wood. There had been so trees across the trail I’d lost count, but this was in the neighborhood of the 35th tree I’d had to work around on my way to Mt. Waterman.

Trees near Three Points burned in the 2009 Station Fire
Trees burned in the 2009 Station Fire

My run on the Mt. Waterman & Twin Peaks Trail had started at Three Points. Initially, I’d been encouraged to see some trees had been cut and removed from the trail. But the area was hard hit by the 2009 Station Fire and the combination of fire, years of drought, and rough winter weather seemed to be felling an increasing number of trees each year.

Across the canyon the north face of Twin Peaks was still blanketed in snow. On this warm, south-facing slope the snow was almost gone, exposing a veneer of pine needles, last Summer’s gray and wilted ferns, and the Winter excavations of industrious moles. In every gulch and gully water spilled down the mountainside; splashing, bubbling and burbling downslope under gravity’s spell.

Snow-covered Mt. Baldy from the Mt. Waterman Trail
Mt. Baldy from the Mt. Waterman Trail

This was supposed to be a recovery run, following last Saturday’s abridged — but arduous — run on the Backbone Trail. (Many thanks to Howard & Mike and all the volunteers!) The plan was to just go to the summit of Waterman and then back down the same way. But… the idea of crawling over, through or around more than 40 trees a second time just didn’t sound that appealing.

When I reached the junction with Mt. Waterman’s summit trail it took about a millisecond to make the decision to continue on the loop. It would be longer, and would have more elevation gain, but it was a beautiful day and my legs felt OK. Who knew when there would be another opportunity to do the loop in these conditions?

Snow along the Mt. Waterman Trail about a half-mile from Buckhorn
Snow along the Mt. Waterman Trail

Much of the trail down to Buckhorn was covered with snow. Not so much snow as to be a problem, but enough to be interesting and scenic. The weather was great and snow conditions excellent. Following the tracks of hikers, my socks didn’t even get wet!

Reaching Angeles Crest Highway, I ran east a short distance to the entrance of Buckhorn Campground. The gate was locked and the campground still closed for the Winter. Patches of snow, deadfall and other debris littered the area. When the camp is open, I top off my water here. Today the faucets were dry, but with the cool weather that would not be an issue.

Most of the hikers on the Burkhart Trail were going to see Cooper Canyon Falls. Seeing the falls was one of the reasons I’d decided to continue on the loop. My thoughts drifted back to April 1995 when Gary Gunder and I carried our kayaks down this trail and paddled Little Rock Creek from Cooper Canyon to the South Fork. (We put-in below the falls.)

The flow over the falls was the most I’d seen in several years and was probably nearing its peak. After enjoying the falls for a few minutes I scrambled out of the gorge and headed up the PCT. Like all that visit the falls, I now had to climb out of Cooper Canyon.

Drought-stressed young pine in Cooper Canyon
Drought-stressed young pine in Cooper Canyon

The effects of a prolonged drought don’t just disappear overnight, no matter how much it rains or snows. This was particularly evident on the sun-baked segment of the PCT above Cooper Canyon Camp. Just above the camp a large, green-needled Jeffry Pine had collapsed, leaving a large crater where its roots had been. In the year since I’d been on the trail, trees on the warmest, south-facing slopes had become more drought-stressed. It seemed additional trees had died and more had yellowing and brown needles.

Cooper Canyon can be hot, but today the temperature was pleasant. Eventually I reached Cloudburst Summit and clambered over a final steep patch of snow to reach the saddle. Three Points was now just a few miles away. I crossed Hwy 2 and started running down the trail.

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The Tree

Drought-stressed Valley Oak at Ahmanson Ranch - The Tree

As I climbed the long hill, the wind began to increase, gusting fitfully in one direction and then another. Chilled, I stopped to pull on my sleeves. As I tugged at one sleeve the setting sun suddenly broke under the patchwork of clouds, illuminating the hills in a wonderful — but fleeting — golden light.

Such situations can be anticipated, but not planned. In a matter of minutes the sun would set, or a stray cloud would block the sun. Camera in hand I continued to the top of the hill, hoping to see and not just shoot for the sake of shooting.

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Advancing Clouds

leading edge of the cloud shield associated with a cut-off upper level low southwest of the Los Angeles. December 20, 2016.

On my run today (Tuesday), the leading edge of the cloud shield associated with a cut-off upper level low southwest of the Los Angeles began to move into the area.

Systems such as this are notoriously difficult to forecast and computer models (and forecasters) often disagree. In this case the wetter solution won the day with a half-inch of rainfall being recorded at Downtown Los Angeles (USC) Wednesday evening.

The storm increased December’s rainfall total in Los Angeles to 2.26 inches — about 0.88 inch above normal for the month.

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Bear Canyon Bigleaf Maple Leaves

Colorful bigleaf maple leaves in Bear Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California.

Overcast skies and muted Fall color in Bear Canyon in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California.

From the Red Box – Bear Canyon Loop Plus Brown Mountain run.

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Excursion to Ross Mountain

Ross Mountain on South Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell.
South Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell, with Ross Mountain at its end.

Nearly every time I’ve climbed Mt. Baden-Powell I’ve wondered about the long ridge extending south from its summit. And nearly every time I’ve summited Baden-Powell I’ve been in the middle of another running adventure, and unable to explore more than a few hundred yards down the ridge. But today I wasn’t running to Eagles Roost or doing a long loop from Islip Saddle. Today the plan was to climb Ross Mountain, a peak far down on Mt. Baden Powell’s south ridge.

Ross Mountain
Ross Mountain

Major mountain ridges are often isolated, aesthetic and adventurous — characteristics that are magnets to mountaineers. While not technically difficult, the excursion to Ross Mountain is demanding. The first step is to climb Baden-Powell — a four mile trek with 2800′ of gain, that tops out at an elevation of about 9400′. From the top of Baden-Powell a use trail then leads down the south ridge three miles over varied terrain to Ross Mountain.

For the most part the use trail is relatively distinct and follows the anticipated route down the ridge. Even so, it is usually not as easy to follow a use trail as it is a conventional trail. It had rained a few days before, and the tracks of the last group to do Ross were vague. The most distinct tracks on the trail were from the recent passage of a bighorn sheep.

Bench on Mt. Baden-Powell's South Ridge.
Bench on Mt. Baden-Powell’s South Ridge.

The route to Ross drops 2100′ in 2.5 miles, then ascends 200′ over the remaining half-mile to the peak. The descent is not continuous. About a mile from Baden-Powell the ridge is interrupted by a large bench, and there are other ups and downs along the way. The ridge can be seen in profile in this image or the PhotographyontheRun masthead.

Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak, Mt. Baldy, Ontario Peak, Iron Mountain and Santiago Peak.
Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak, Mt. Baldy, Ontario Peak, Iron Mountain and Santiago Peak.

The ridge projects into one of the more rugged areas of the San Gabriel Mountains — the Sheep Mountain Wilderness. To the west is the deep canyon of the East Fork, with Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak, Mt. Baldy and Iron Mountain towering above. To the west is the very remote canyon of the Iron Fork, sweeping up to form the 9000′ crest between Throop Peak and Mt. Burnham.

The ridge hosts a wide variety of conifers — limber pine, lodgepole pine, white fir, sugar pine, Jeffrey pine and even a few incense cedars. Life on the ridge is tough, and many of the trees are contorted, broken or stunted. It appears to have been a good year for the sugar pines, and some were heavily laden with cones. Overall the health of the trees on the ridge appeared to be good, with surprisingly few trees in obvious distress from the drought.

Mt. Baden-Powell from Ross Mountain.
Mt. Baden-Powell from Ross Mountain.

A little more than three hours after leaving Vincent Gap I zig-zagged up the final few steep steps to the 7402′ summit of Ross Mountain. Not unlike other vantage points along the ridge, the summit was a pretty spot under a sugar pine tree, but in this case with a small cairn and rain-soaked summit register.

After procrastinating a bit and checking out the south side of Ross Mountain’s elongated summit, I began the journey back to Baden-Powell.

Complex geology at head of Mine Gulch on Mt. Baden-Powell.
Complex geology at head of Mine Gulch.

Surprisingly, considering my plodding pace coming back up the ridge, it took almost exactly the same amount of time to get back to Vincent Gap as it had to go to Ross Mountain. As it worked out, the time lost on the climb back up the ridge was offset by the superb run down the Baden-Powell Trail.

According to my Garmin fenix 3’s barometric altimeter the total gain/loss on this adventure was about 5100′. If the gain/loss is calculated from the GPS track using 1/3 arc-sec DEMs it works out to about 5400′. The round trip distance was 14 miles.

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Red Box – Bear Canyon Loop Plus Brown Mountain

Brown Mountain, Verdugo Mountains and Boney Mountain in the distance.
Brown Mountain, Verdugo Mountains and Boney Mountain in the distance.

This photograph of Jason and Owen Brown (Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific National Bank Collection) is cataloged with the following description:

Jason and Owen Brown (1884). Photo: Los Angeles Public LIbrary
Jason and Owen Brown (1884). Photo: Los Angeles Public LIbrary

“Photo of Jason and Owen Brown, sons of John Brown of the Civil War and Abolition fame. View shows Jason and Owen Brown sitting on Mount Wilson, near the site of their cabin in 1884.”

Is the reference to Mt. Wilson accurate? Probably not. The peaks in the background establish they are not on top of Mt. Wilson. While they might be elsewhere on the mountain, it doesn’t seem likely. Mt. Wilson is more than five miles from their El Prieto cabin site. In his guidebook Trails of the Angeles, John Robinson describes the photo of the Browns as being “on Brown Mountain” — a peak which is near their El Prieto cabin, and which figured prominently in their lives.

Not having climbed Brown Mountain, I was curious to see if the photo of the “Brown Boys”  was taken on or near its summit. Early this morning I set off from Red Box, Brown Boys photo in my pack, to do a loop through Bear Canyon and Arroyo Seco, and take a side trip to Brown Mountain along the way.

False summits leading to Brown Mountain
False summits leading to Brown Mountain

The detour to Brown Mountain began at Tom Sloan Saddle and followed the peak’s east ridge over several false summits to the summit of the peak. Brown Mountain’s rounded summit sits on the divide between Bear and Millard Canyons and on a clear day affords a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and much of the Los Angeles area. Big views can lead to big dreams, and according to an article in the Los Angeles Herald in October 1896, the Boys had planned to build an observatory on the peak. While this was not built, the Boys did succeed in having the peak named in honor of their father

On the summit, and with the Brown Boy’s photo in hand, I faced first north over Bear Canyon, then east toward Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Markham; and finally south over Millard Canyon. Neither the terrain or skyline matched the photograph.

The best match I’d found today was on a peaklet near Tom Sloan Saddle looking southeast toward Inspiration Point.  More likely the photo was taken on a ridge closer to their cabin. That adventure would have to wait for another day.  Today the clock was ticking and I needed to retrace my steps back to Tom Sloan Saddle, descend Bear Canyon and then follow the Gabrieleno Trail up Arroyo Seco and back to Red Box.

Some related posts: Bear Canyon Loop Plus Strawberry PeakRed Box – Bear Canyon Loop,  Arroyo Seco Sedimentation

Following are a few photos taken along the way. Click a tile for a larger image and additional information.

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