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The Ups and Downs of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run

Pacific Crest Trail on Mt. Baden-Powell

Switchback after mind-numbing switchback you work up the mountain. White firs and sugar pines give way to lodgepole pines and then the forest begins to thin. Views of the high desert stretch out to Edwards Dry Lake and the Southern Sierra looms hazily in the distance.

This mountain, Baden-Powell, is the second of several big climbs on the Angeles Crest 100 Mile course. While it reaches the highest elevation on the course — about 9250′ — it is not the longest climb or the ascent with the most elevation gain. Which climb on the course is the most difficult is an all together different question, and one that can only be answered on race day.

This elevation profile of the AC100 course (PDF) was created in SportTracks, using elevations corrected with pkan’s Elevation Correction Plugin and NED 1/3 arc second DEMs and a conservative elevation data smoothing setting. The GPX file analyzed is Rainer Schulz’s from 2013.

Angeles Crest 100 Mile Elevation Profile. Click for PDF.
Angeles Crest 100 Mile Elevation Profile. Click for PDF.

The profile is similar to the one found in the AC100 Racebook, but includes info on some additional climbs. There are also some differences in the elevation gains and lengths of certain climbs. The Acorn climb was extended to include the ascent to the high point on Blue Ridge. The mileage is from the GPX track and differs from the official mileage. Placemark locations, mileages, and elevation gains and losses are approximate.

Using the corrected elevations, the cumulative elevation gain on the AC100 course worked out to around 20,875′ and the loss to around 25,515′. The gain and loss could easily be a bit more.

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Shortcut – Chantry – Mt. Wilson Loop

Twin Peaks Sunrise from Shortcut Saddle

Yes, there were a few gnats; and for sure, it was little warm and muggy; and without question the Silver Moccasin Trail had a few downed trees and was a bit overgrown. It was still an excellent run!

The idea was to do a loop from Shortcut Saddle and do 20 miles or so of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile course. Craig and I were training for the AC100 and Ann was training for TransRockies and UTMB. Art, who would be crewing and pacing me at AC100, was joining us for part of the run.

Training philosophies for 100 milers vary, but one constant in most approaches is doing a marathon or longer run in the mountains most weekends — usually back-to-back with another run.

As the sun crested Twin Peaks we left Shortcut and began the 5.5 mile descent of Edison Road. The good news was we were not running up this beast. Even so, it is a long way to the bottom. That gave us plenty of time to talk about past experiences and upcoming races, and to ponder the “No entrance permitted” signs at cliff faces, culverts and other impassable places along the road.

I had expected temps to be pleasantly cool on this section, but the day had dawned clear, warm, and a little humid. Lately it seemed every run had been an AC100 heat training run and it looked like today’s run would be no exception. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and I wondered just how hot the climb to Wilson was going to be.

Eventually the service road bottomed out at the West Fork San Gabriel River. Sadly the river was a trickle that could be easily bridged in one step.

At Newcomb Saddle we said goodbye to Art and continued over to Newcomb Pass and down the Gabrielino Trail to Chantry Flat. Once down into the shade of the tall trees in Big Santa Anita Canyon, the running was idyllic. At the Green Bridge we began the short, but steep, climb up to Chantry. At Chantry we would refill and rehydrate before continuing on the Upper Winter Creek Trail to the Mt. Wilson Trail and its junction with the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. The approximately 6.8 mile climb from the Green Bridge to the Mt. Wilson Toll Road is the longest on the AC100 course, and has the most elevation gain — over 3500′.

We did not complain when monsoonal clouds began to creep in from the east. The varying clouds brought some relief from the heat and humidity, and by the time we reached the Mt. Wilson Toll Road the temperature had dropped from the mid-eighties to the mid-seventies.

The clouds continued to thicken and as we topped out on Mt. Wilson a few rogue raindrops made it to the ground. Once again we refilled and rehydrated. From here we would follow the Mt. Disappointment 50K course backwards to West Fork. The descent down the Kenyon Devore and Gabrielino Trails to West Fork and the climb out to Shortcut would be a good simulation of the descent to Idlehour and climb to Sam Merrill on the AC100 course.

It had been a while since I’d run down Kenyon Devore. It is the iconic climb of the Mt. Disappointment 50K. Running down Kenyon Devore gives you no idea of what it’s like to ascend the trail after running 26 miles. All of us are entered in the Mt. Disappointment race and will be enjoying uphill side of Kenyon Devore in a couple of weeks.

Given the severity of the drought we had wondered if the usually reliable water source at West Fork would be running. The flow from the pipe was surprisingly strong. The water wasn’t necessary to complete the run, but it sure was nice to dunk my head in the cool stream!

Another thing we had wondered about was the condition of the Silver Moccasin Trail between West Fork and Shortcut. The Mt. Disappointment 50K race has not been run on this segment since 2012 and this year is back to it’s original route. Had any trail maintenance been done?

It didn’t look like it. Craig and I had done trailwork here in 2011 and today the trail along the canyon bottom was almost unrecognizable. Recovery from the 2009 Station Fire continues and growth along the stream has been robust to say the least. If you are not into crawling over trees and navigating overgrown trails, finishing at Red Box using the Gabrielino Trail or Red Box Road would be another option.

Once away from the stream and out of the canyon bottom, the Silver Moccasin Trail returned to normal and Ann set an unrelenting pace back up to Shortcut.

According to SportTracks the loop worked out to about 31.5 miles with an elevation gain/loss of about 7600′. Here’s a Google Earth image of an overview of the route.

Related post: The Ups and Downs of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run

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Kingsnake Along the Garapito Trail

California mountain kingsnake along the Garapito Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains

The patterned colors of a mountain kingsnake are hard to miss. The snake’s white-black-red-black-white triads attract attention in just about any habitat. (The amount of red can vary in an individual as well as subgroup.)

San Diego mountain kingsnake along the Garapito Trail
San Diego mountain kingsnake

Traditionally California mountain kingsnakes (Lampropeltis zonata) have been grouped into several subspecies according to subtle and variable pattern characteristics.

The kingsnake in the title photograph appears to belong to the San Diego mountain kingsnake pattern class (Lampropeltis zonata pulchra). The broken white ring on the head is common in this subgroup in the Santa Monica Mountains.

San Bernardino mountain kingsnake on Pleasant View Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains
San Bernardino mountain kingsnake

This mountain kingsnake, photographed on Pleasant View Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains, likely belongs to the San Bernardino mountain kingsnake pattern class, Lampropeltis zonata parvirubra.

Study of California mountain kingsnakes’ mitochondrial DNA (E. A. Myers, et. al., 2013) conservatively supports separate northern and southern species and potentially two lineages within the southern group.

California kingsnake in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve
California kingsnake

Mountain kingsnakes aren’t the only kingsnake found in the Los Angeles area. This California kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula californiae) was photographed at Ahmanson Ranch a couple of weeks ago. When I approached the snake, it immediately became defensive and started rapidly vibrating its tail. This behavior is often described as mimicking a rattlesnake, but could also predate the development of rattles in rattlesnakes.

For more info on the reptiles and amphibians of California see the californiaherps.com web site.

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Manzanita Leaf Galls and Aphids

Manzanita Leaf Galls and Aphids

Was running down the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail Saturday, when a flash of bright red on a manzanita bush caught my eye.

Very bizarre, as nature often is. At first glance I thought the bulbous red objects on the manzanita were some kind of larvae, but on closer inspection could see it was a swelling of the leaf. My first thought was some kind of viral infection.

What they turned out to be are aphid induced leaf galls. Galls generally provide a protective habitat and enhanced food source for the inducing species and their tenants.

Related post: Scrub Oak Apple Gall

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Over Boney Mountain to Sandstone Peak and Serrano Valley

Volcanic rocks along the western escarpment of Boney MOuntain

While running in the Marin Headlands last weekend it occurred to me that it had been at least a couple of months since I’d done a a run in Pt. Mugu State Park. In addition to following the recovery of the area since the May 2013 Springs Fire, I’ve been surveying the effects of the December 2014 flash floods in Sycamore Canyon and its tributaries and hadn’t yet looked to see what happened in Serrano Canyon.

When doing a run in Pt. Mugu State Park I almost always start at the Wendy Drive trailhead. I’ve run from that trailhead to Serrano Valley and Canyon a couple of ways. Both routes connect by way of Satwiwa and Danielson Road to the Old Boney Trail. One follows the Old Boney Trail all the way to the Serrano Valley/Canyon Trail. The other climbs up and over Boney Mountain, eventually connecting to the Backbone Trail, and then descends the Chamberlain Trail and rejoins the Old Boney Trail about a mile east of the Serrano Valley/Canyon Trail.

Today’s run was a variation of option B. After climbing Boney Mountain to Tri Peaks, I ran over to Sandstone Peak using the Tri Peaks and Backbone Trails. Sycamore Canyon Fire Road, Two Foxes Trail and Upper Sycamore Trail were used to get back to Satwiwa and the Wendy Drive trailhead from Serrano Canyon.

Here are a few photos from the run. Click for a larger image:

 

Some related posts: Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods, Just Me and the Meadowlarks, After the Springs Fire: A Run Through Pt. Mugu State Park

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Miwok Wanderings

Greenery along the Redwood Creek Trail

The sign read “Middle Green Gulch Trail” but didn’t indicate if the trail went to Muir Beach. I was on the Coyote Ridge Trail and about 12 miles into a running adventure that had started in the Marina District of San Francisco, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, and then entered the runner’s Wonderland of the Marin Headlands.

My destination was the Bootjack parking area in Mt. Tamalpais State Park. There are many ways to run to Bootjack from San Francisco, but the game I had decided to play was to pick up the Miwok 100K course at the juncture of the Coastal and SCA Trails and run the course in reverse to Pan Toll. From Pan Toll Bootjack was just a few minutes away.

Broken clouds and early morning light on the Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

It had gone well so far. The bridge and bay had been spectacular in the broken clouds and early morning light. There had been a bit of a headwind running along Crissy Field, but once across the bridge the wind and temperature had moderated and the weather had become nearly ideal for trail running.

Working up the Coastal Trail to the SCA Trail junction
Working up the Coastal Trail

The Coastal, SCA and Alta Trails had been well-signed, so it had been straightforward to get to the the Alta-Bobcat Trail junction. This nefarious juncture is marked with a skull and crossbones on the Miwok 100K map. Here I’d briefly tried to follow the Miwok course in reverse, but bailed and used the more obvious Bobcat Trail to get to the Marincello Trail. Back on route, it had been an enjoyable mile and a half descent to Tennessee Valley.

After chugging up the Miwok Trail from Tennessee Valley, I’d stopped at an unmarked trail and was trying to determine if the single-track was the “Miwok Connector.” I’d only been pondering the question for a minute when some runners happened by and confirmed that it was.

San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz & Angel Island from the SCA Trail
San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz & Angel Island from the SCA Trail

That had been about 20 minutes ago. Now I was trying to get down to Muir Beach and still trying to do the Miwok course in reverse. In my somewhat hastily created cheat-sheet the trail I needed to descend was labeled the “? Trail” which wasn’t a big help. It became one of those, “I’ll just run down to that next corner, where I can get a better view” kind of descents. Corner followed corner, and I soon found myself most of the way down the trail and still up-canyon from Muir Beach.

What was worrisome was that there was a farm in the canyon and it looked like I would have to run through the farm to get to Muir Beach. The trail had to go to a trailhead somewhere. Hopefully somewhere without snarling dogs and shotguns.

I needn’t have worried, I was on the correct route. The farm was Green Gulch Farm Zen Center, a Buddhist practice center. The forest service-style trail sign on the farm’s gate, and some fresh mountain bike tracks, suggested it was OK to pass through, and I was soon on my way to Muir Beach.

Google Earth image overview of my route.
Route Overview

At Muir Beach I wandered around a bit and happened on a Western States 100 runner who gave me directions to the Redwood Creek Trail and also where I could get some water if I needed it. The Redwood Creek Trail was lush, green, and somewhat overgrown, but easy to follow. The stinging nettle mixed in with poison oak ensured that I would pay attention to the plants along the trail.

The Redwood Creek Trail ends at Muir Woods Road near the bottom of the Deer Park Fire Road. The fire road (and Dipsea Trail) border Muir Woods National Monument and cross through the northwest corner of the monument near the top of the climb to Pan Toll. Whether going up or down, or on or off the Dipsea Trail, it is outstanding running through a classic redwood forest.

At Pan Toll I crossed the Panoramic Hwy, picked up the Matt Davis Trail and was soon sitting in the sun at the Bootjack parking area.

Some related posts: Golden Gate Bridge Run, Tamalpais Trail Run, Marin Headlands: Bobcat – Miwok Loop

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Ahmanson Valley Oaks Battling Drought

Following four rainfall years in which Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has cumulatively recorded less than half of normal rainfall and accrued a precipitation deficit of more than 30 inches, many of the valley oaks at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Open Space Preserve) are drought stressed.

The most obvious signs of drought stress in valley oaks and many other plants are a reduced number of leaves and reduced leaf size. In severely stressed valley oaks the foliage has the appearance of a tree that is recovering from a wildfire.

At Ahmanson the degree of stress varies widely from tree to tree. The “TV tree,” an aesthetically-shaped and often-photographed valley oak on the west side of Lasky Mesa appears to be showing a higher than average level of stress.

Valley oaks and live oaks cohabit the oak savannas at Ahmanson Ranch, but live oaks appear to be more drought tolerant. The lone Blue Oak at Ahmanson seems to be doing OK and has at least as much foliage as it did last year at the same time.

Some related posts: Ahmanson Blue Oak, The Color of Rain IV

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Hot Running, Cold Running

Even with a wind shell and multiple layers the gusts of wind were sharp-edged and penetrating. The weather was spectacular, but it was very windy and very cold.

My run on the PCT had started at Islip Saddle in the San Gabriel Mountains. At 8:00 am the temperature at 6593′ had been about 35 degrees. The north wind funneling through the saddle had roared through the pines, buffeting their stout limbs and telling me to put on every scrap of warm clothing I had in my pack.

The broad canyon of the South Fork seemed to act as a wind tunnel — drawing the wind from the high desert into and over the crest. Even with a gloved hand it took only a couple of minutes before my camera became too cold to hold.

I was on my way to Mt. Baden-Powell and nearly up to Mt. Hawkins. With every stride up the mountain the temperature had dropped. Father Frost had frozen the landscape and me along with it.

Had it really been just a week ago when I had broiled in 90+ degree temps on the south-facing sections of trail on the Leona Divide 50M course?

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Running to Shangri-La

Cloud-shrouded Saddle Peak, Cold Canyon and Monte Nido from Calabasas Peak fire road in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Well, maybe not Shangri-La, but a Lost World kind of morning on the Calabasas Peak fire road segment of the Secret Trail.

Calabasas Peak fire road traverses the rock formations on the left, descending to Stunt Road. At Stunt the route continues up the Stunt High Trail to the Backbone Trail. Here you can do an optional out and back to Saddle Peak, shrouded in clouds in this photo, or turn west on the Backbone Trail and continue mostly downhill to Piuma Road near Malibu Canyon Road. Malibu Canyon is in the distance on the right in the photo.

The panorama is from a run earlier this month. Here’s a larger version.

Related post: Secret Trail Variations

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The Rattlesnakes Are Blooming

Rattlesnake on the PCT east of San Francisquito Canyon.

Although we are still experiencing a record-breaking drought, this rain season did provide a little short term relief to plants and wildlife. Compared to last year rainfall is up 27% at Los Angeles, 39% at Santa Barbara, 57% at LAX and 63% at Camarillo/Oxnard according to NWS data.

The increase in rainy season precipitation dramatically increased plant growth, the abundance of wildflowers, and temporarily increased the availability of key resources to wildlife.

Another thing it seems to have increased is the number of rattlesnakes. Over the past two years I have seen maybe two rattlesnakes total on my runs in the Santa Monica Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, and in the Big Bear area and on San Gorgonio Mountain. In the Ahmanson Ranch – Cheeseboro area I’ve seen none.

With the increase in rainfall this season that has changed. The title photo was taken on the Leona Divide 50/50 course March 28. That day I encountered two rattlesnakes and talked to a runner that had seen three on the course the previous weekend. From March 26 to April 2 I encountered rattlesnakes on three out of four runs. Two of those were at Ahmanson and it seemed everyone I talked to on the trail was seeing rattlesnakes.

Hard to see rattlesnake on the PCT a few miles west of Bouquet Canyon.
See the rattlesnake? Click for larger view.

There has also been an increase in the number of encounters with non-venomous snakes as well. I’ve seen a number of gopher snakes and a California striped racer. Friends have mentioned seeing a ring-necked snake and California kingsnake.

Since the weather has cooled I haven’t encountered any rattlesnakes, but have seen their tracks. When I run, especially on single-track trails, my snake radar is on and I’m definitely on the lookout for the hard-to-see beasts.

Some related posts: Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Big Southern Pacific Rattlesnake at Ahmanson Ranch

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