Category Archives: photography

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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Say Goodbye to the Snow in the San Gabriel Mountains

Patches of snow on the PCT west of Mt. Baden-Powell

Each year around Memorial Day weekend I like to do a run that includes Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′). It’s a good time to check how much snow remains at the higher elevations of the San Gabriel Mountains. In a heavy snow season, such as 2004-2005, higher sections of trail may still be buried in snow and drifts can persist into July. In below average years, such as we experienced from 2013 to 2016, there may be little or no snow.

South Fork Trail below Islip Saddle
South Fork Trail below Islip Saddle

There are several good runs that summit Mt. Baden-Powell. If Hwy 2 is still closed between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap, I’ll usually do an out and back from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell. If Hwy 2 is open, then a point to point run from Inspiration Point to Islip Saddle or Eagles Roost is a good option. Today the choice was one of my favorite loops in the San Gabriels. It starts at Islip Saddle, descends to South Fork Campground, then climbs about 5000′ to the summit Mt. Baden-Powell. From Baden-Powell the route follows the Pacific Crest Trail back to Islip Saddle.

Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell.
Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell.

This was my third time on the PCT between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell this Spring. The first was at the beginning of April and was more of a snow hike than a run. The micro spikes went on at 7000′, less than 0.7 mile from the Islip Saddle trailhead. The second trip was two weeks later, in mid-April. Micro spikes were still helpful in a couple of places and there was still plenty of snow on the north side of the crest. Based on other seasons with a similar amount of snow, I thought some patches of snow might last into June, or even early July. Today (May 27) only a few patches remain on Baden-Powell and along the crest, and these will soon be gone.

Manzanita Trail between South Fork Campground and Vincent Gap
Manzanita Trail between South Fork Campground and Vincent Gap

Except for being a little disappointed there wasn’t more snow, the run went well. The South Fork Trail was rocky and rough — as usual. The Manzanita Trail, which connects South Fork Campground to Vincent Gap, has seen a lot of work in recent years and is in relatively good shape. Even the gnats weren’t bad. I saw no one on the South Fork and Manzanita Trails. As might be expected on a Saturday on Memorial Day Weekend, there were “a few” hikers, thru-hikers and runners on the PCT.

The South Fork Trail is part of a long and little-used “official” PCT detour around the mountain yellow-legged frog closure at Eagles Roost. Based on the number of thru-hikers I see on Hwy 2, most opt to hike the 2.7 road miles between Eagles Roost and Buckhorn Campground and then descend the Burkhart Trail to the PCT. It’s been more than 11 years since the initial “temporary” closure of the Williamson Rock area in December 2005. Hopefully it won’t be too many more years before the proposed plan to reopen the PCT and partially reopen Williamson Rock is completed.

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Sunny San Francisco

Land's End with Golden Gate Bridge and Marin Headlands in the distance.

It was a warm day by San Francisco standards — sunny and in the seventies. We’d planned to go “across the bridge” for today’s run, but with the great weather it seemed half the city’s residents and visitors were queued up on the streets leading to the Golden Gate Bridge. We opted for a run in the city instead.

This was not an inferior alternative. Running in the city is fun; there are many options and much to see. Today’s course took us from Industrial Light & Magic, to Mountain Lake, Land’s End, Sutro Heights, Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park.

Some related posts: Crissy Field – Fort Point – Land’s End – Golden Gate Park Loop, San Francisco Sights Trail Run, Golden Gate Bridge Run

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Misplaced on Mt. Wilson

View from the Rim Trail on Mt. Wilson

I’d just finished an 18 mile loop from the top of Mt. Wilson and was changing my shoes, when I noticed a group of six hikers walking down the Mt. Wilson loop road toward me. I’d started my run before the Mt. Wilson gate was open and was parked in a turnout near the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail.

Poodle-dog bush along the Rim Trail on Mt. Wilson.
Poodle-dog bush along the Rim Trail on Mt. Wilson.

The run over to Newcomb Pass, down to Chantry Flat, and then back up to Wilson had gone well. If you don’t mind a little Poodle-dog bush and a lot of poison oak, the Rim Trail is one of the hidden gems of the San Gabriels. And the Gabrielino Trail’s excursion through the forests and along the creeks of Big Santa Anita Canyon is a classic.

When the group reached me, one of them asked,”We’re looking for the Winter Trail, do you know where that is?” I did know where the Upper Winter Creek Trail was, because I’d just been at the top of it about 45 minutes earlier.

With its maze of antennae, telescopes and other facilities, it’s not uncommon for hikers and runners unfamiliar with the top of Wilson to become temporarily misplaced. The trails are, of course, on maps — including Google Maps — and described in various online and offline resources.

Bigleaf maple along the Gabrielino Trail in Big Santa Anita Canyon.
Bigleaf maple along the Gabrielino Trail in Big Santa Anita Canyon.

In this case the hikers didn’t know where they had parked and they didn’t know the route that had taken up the mountain. If you don’t have a clue where you need to go, a map isn’t very useful.

When I described where they needed to go, there were groans all around.

It was midday, the weather was good, it wasn’t hot, they had water and a phone, they would be hiking mostly downhill, and there were plenty of other hikers on the trail. Unless they did something really stoopid, it was just going to be a long day.

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A Fashion Show on Lasky Mesa?

Lasky Mesa

From Gone with the Wind to the bridge scene of Mission Impossible III, there have been some big productions on Lasky Mesa. I’ve seen TV shows, commercials, music videos, photo shoots, and even an online game being filmed on Lasky Mesa. But as I ran past the complex of canopies and tents on the grassland site, I never would have guessed that this time the production was a fashion show.

It was not only a fashion show, but a runway show by the French fashion house Dior, introducing their “Cruise 2018” collection. Given the dry-golden-grass character of Lasky Mesa in May, I jokingly wondered if the designs were all going to be in tones of beige, tan and brown. Not quite, but from a photographer’s perspective of color and texture Lasky Mesa appears to have been a surprisingly complementary location for the event.

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Looking for Ogres in Serrano Canyon

Mustard on the Old Boney Trail.
Mustard on the Old Boney Trail.

I was covered with bright yellow mustard petals and soaked from head to toe. It had been raining, and I’d just wrestled my way through another tangle of 10 foot high mustard plants. On some parts of the Old Boney Trail the mustard was so thick it was almost impenetrable. The pestilent species becomes especially prolific in wet years, growing rapidly and overwhelming native species and habitats.

After turning onto the Serrano Valley Trail and climbing up to the overlook of Serrano Valley the trail wasn’t quite so overgrown — at least I could run. In the grasslands below the greens of the rainy season were gone, replaced with the straw-colored hues of dried grass gone to seed.

Serrano Valley
Serrano Valley

Like mustard, foxtails are bad this year. In recent weeks I’ve picked a multitude of the barbed grass seeds from my socks and shoes. Today, I’d worn ankle gaiters hoping to ward off the expected seed-storm in Serrano Valley. The seed-storm turned out to be more of a seed-shower, but the gaiters did help.

Part way through Serrano Valley I happened on a hiker, coming up from Serrano Canyon. We said hi to each other and then after he passed, he turned around and dramatically exclaimed “Don’t go down Serrano Canyon!!”

What?? Were there ogres down there? He’d obviously made it through the canyon OK. All limbs were intact and I didn’t see any cuts or bruises. I quickly ran through the possibilities and rejected most of them. One possibility that seemed plausible was that the trail had been washed out.

Covered in mustard petals after mustard-whacking on the Old Boney Trail.
Covered in mustard petals.

One of the reasons I was doing this run was to see how Serrano Canyon had fared during the February 17 atmospheric river event. I’d seen the damage caused by high flows in Blue Canyon and Upper Sycamore Canyon. This was the first chance I’d had to investigate Serrano Canyon since the flooding, so the hiker’s warning had the opposite of its intended effect — it just made me more curious about what was going on in the canyon.

All the way down the canyon I kept an eye out for X-Files monstrosities, but saw none. Serrano Canyon did not appear to have had as severe flooding as Blue Canyon and Upper Sycamore Canyon. Some sections of the trail were very overgrown and a short section of the trail was partially washed away, but with care and a bit of mustard-whacking the trail was passable.

Canyon Sunflowers
Canyon Sunflowers

I’d had my fill of mustard and was happy to reach the dirt road in Big Sycamore Canyon. I returned up canyon using a combination of Big Sycamore Canyon Road and the Two Foxes Trail. This was much more straightforward than Old Boney and it took only about an hour to reach the Upper Sycamore Trail.

The work done on the Upper Sycamore Trail by the Santa Monica Mountains Trail Council during Trail Days was impressive. Several sections of the trail were washed away by the February 17 atmospheric river event and all have been restored.

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Front Range Duo: San Gabriel Peak and Strawberry Peak

Bigcone Douglas-fir on San Gabriel Peak
Bigcone Douglas-fir on San Gabriel Peak

The two highest peaks in the front range of the San Gabriels, Strawberry Peak (6164′) and San Gabriel Peak (6161′) are about three miles apart as the raven flies and about 6 miles apart by trail. If you don’t mind running/hiking a third of a mile on Mt. Wilson Road, you can do both of them from Red Box as a 12 mile run/hike with a total gain of about 3000′.

Strawberry Peak and Mt. Lawlor from San Gabriel Peak.
Strawberry Peak and Mt. Lawlor from San Gabriel Peak.

Earlier this morning, I’d done San Gabriel Peak. It’s the shorter of the two ascents — from Red Box it’s about 2.4 miles to the summit. While the elevation gain is nearly the same as climbing Strawberry, it is a less strenuous and more straightforward peak. Except for a short stint on the service road below Mt. Disappointment, the grade of the San Gabriel Peak Trail is relatively constant — and the trail goes all the way to the summit.

Josephine Peak (5558') and Mt. Lukens (5074') from the summit of Strawberry Peak.
Josephine Peak and Mt. Lukens from the summit of Strawberry Peak.

The route up Strawberry Peak is distinctly different. The initial 2.5 miles follows the Strawberry Peak Trail to Lawlor Saddle, gaining a moderate 500′ along the way. From there a steep, rough and sometimes rocky use trail ascends 950′ in a little over a mile to Strawberry’s summit.

That’s where I was now — nearly at the end of that brutal mile-long climb. My heart was racing and my legs felt like Jello. Reaching the crest of Strawberry’s final false summit, I jogged across the shoulder of the peak and on uncooperative legs climbed the final few feet to the summit.

To the southeast, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment stood across the canyon and further to the east, indistinct in the morning haze was snow-capped Mt. Baldy. To the west, the view extended past Josephine Peak and Mt. Lukins to the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica Mountains and Santa Susana Mountains.

The southwest side of San Gabriel Peak was burned in the 2009 Station Fire.
The southwest side of San Gabriel Peak was burned in the 2009 Station Fire.

Recovery from the devastating 2009 Station Fire continues on both peaks. The amount, extent and size of Poodle-dog bush (Eriodictyon parryi) in the burn area is slowly diminishing. Some plants have died, but there are still viable plants of which to be wary. These plants were on the San Gabriel Peak Trail, above the notch, on the final climb to the summit of the peak. I don’t recall seeing any Poodle-dog bush on the ascent of Strawberry from Red Box, but it is still present on the west side of the peak.

Some related posts: Strawberry Peak, Switzer’s and the Old Colby Trail, Bear Canyon Loop Plus Strawberry Peak, After the Station Fire: Ten Miles – Four Peaks

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Savoring the Snow Between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell

Snow on the PCT east of Mt. Burnham.
Snow on the PCT east of Mt. Burnham.

The two hikers stopped on one side of the broad chute and I stopped on the other. We were on the Pacific Crest Trail about a half-mile from Little Jimmy Campground and had paused to put on micro spikes before crossing the icy slope. It was the same chute that had been so unnerving for a couple hiking down from Little Jimmy on a chilly morning two weeks before.

http://www.photographyontherun.com/content/binary/SanJacintoDawsonBaldy1020343c.jpg
Mt. San Jacinto from Mt. Baden-Powell. Click for a larger image.

After the hikers crossed we chatted for a moment about the snow. They were doing the PCT and I asked them what gear they used on Fuller Ridge — an infamous section of the trail on Mt. San Jacinto. They said they’d used micro spikes and ice axes. The segment had gone well, but at one point it had taken them four hours to do two miles!

It’s not often there’s this much snow in April in the mountains of Southern California. After venturing to Mt. Hawkins a couple of weeks ago, I had wanted to get back to the San Gabriels and check out the snow on the higher part of the crest between Mt. Burnham (8997′) and Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′).

Mt. Burnham (near) and Throop Peak (behind) from just west of Mt. Baden-Powell.
Mt. Burnham (near) and Throop Peak (behind) from just west of Mt. Baden-Powell.

The photo on the left is a view west along the crest from the shoulder of Mt. Baden-Powell to Mt. Burnham and Throop Peak. Strong, southerly winds that accompany Winter storms blow from left to right across the crest, depositing extra snow in the wind-shadowed lee of the ridge. Snow accumulates along the ridge in dense, deep drifts, which in a big snow year can persist well into Summer.

Snow at 9100 feet along the crest just west of Mt. Baden-Powell
Snow at 9100′ along the crest just west of Mt. Baden-Powell.

The PCT between Mt. Baden-Powell and Throop Peak generally follows along the crest, tending to the north (right) side of the ridge and detouring around Mt. Baden-Powell and Mt. Burnham on their north slopes, and around Throop Peak on its southeast side.

Today, I stayed more or less on the crest between the summit of Baden-Powell and the PCT’s junction with the Dawson Saddle Trail, using the trail and snow where possible, but avoiding big drifts and steeper snow slopes. Between Throop Peak and Islip Saddle I stayed on the trail, and used micro spikes in a couple of places.

Lower elevation snow is melting relatively rapidly, but snow on the north-facing slopes at higher elevation could be around for weeks. Some patches and drifts may last into June or July. We’ll see!

Snow-capped Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powe;;

On the summit of Baden-Powell I pondered Mt. Baldy and thought about Sam and his love of the outdoors and Mt. Baldy. His effusive spirit will linger there always, and we’ll smile when we encounter it.

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