The misty rain had momentarily turned to sunshine. As I ran along the trail, rain-soaked sage glittered in a rainbow of colors. The peaks above me were still shrouded in gray clouds, but the sunlit valley below glowed bright and green. Streams that had been dry on New Years, now burbled and bubbled restlessly. My shoes and socks were soaked, not from stream crossings, but from the cold, wet grass overgrowing the trail.
Dense patches of shooting stars covered wet hillsides and milkmaids lined shady sections of trail. Paintbrush, Indian warrior, California poppies, larkspur, chocolate lilies, bladderpod, encelia, lupine, nightshade, wild hyacinth, phacelia, bigpod ceanothus and wishbone bush had also started to bloom.
The day not only encouraged the accumulation of miles, but of the sensations and emotions of the outdoor experience; and that feeling of well-being that emerges somewhere between the trailhead and the top of the last climb.
As of yesterday Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded 8.80 inches of rainfall for both the Rainfall Year (July 1 – June 30) and Water Year (October 1 – September 30). By either measure Los Angeles rainfall is well above normal, and with three well-advertised storms in the forecast it looks like Los Angeles rainfall could remain above normal for at least a few weeks.
Even if it has been a bit wet — and muddy — it’s been great to have a more normal rain season. The rain has been very beneficial and has impacted the drought, at least in the short term. Just how much a continued wet rain season would impact the drought in the long term is a question that has to wait for future analysis.
There has been a five year precipitation deficit of nearly 36 inches at Downtown Los Angeles (USC). It’s hard to appreciate the size of this deficit while running in the rain, splashing through puddles, and trying not to slip in the mud. One tangible indicator of this deficit is that despite above average rainfall, many creeks in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills have remained dry or are barely flowing. Some have been dry for years.
Update Tuesday, January 24, 2017. From Wednesday, January 18 through Monday, January 23, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded 5.53 inches of rain, bringing the Rain Year and Water Year precipitation totals to 14.33 inches. This is 217% of the normal amount of 6.65 inches for the date, and 97% of the normal amount of rainfall for the entire Rain Year. It has been the wettest start to the Rain Year (July 1 – June 30) and Water Year (October 1 to September 30) since the very wet year of 2004-2005. There were high rain rates on Sunday, January 22, and Upper Las Virgenes Creek did finally flow for a period of time.
Update Saturday, January 21, 2017. From Wednesday, January 18 through Friday, January 20, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded 2.53 inches of rain, bringing the Rain Year and Water Year precipitation totals to 11.33 inches. The average annual rainfall for Downtown Los Angeles is 14.93 inches. The rain, which was heavy at times on Friday, produced some flooding, rockslides and debris flows. Both branches of upper Garapito Creek are flowing as a result, but Saturday afternoon Upper Las Virgenes Creek was still not flowing.
Garapito Creek – On Saturday, January 21, 2017, both branches of upper Garapito Creek were nice burbling brooks. Previously, on January 15, the north branch was just starting to flow, but the south branch was dry.
Did the Colby Canyon – Strawberry Peak – Red Box loop again over the Thanksgiving holidays. While taking some photos near Strawberry’s summit I was struck by the regrowth that has occurred since the 2009 Station Fire. What caught my eye were the bare limbs of the old growth, burned in the fire, projecting from the new, dense, green growth.
The growth of the chaparral over the seven years since the fire does not appear to have been noticeably impaired by the 2011-2015 drought in Southern California. (In the photograph above note the height of the regrowth compared to my friend near the summit.)
This conclusion is based in part on the observation of chaparral regrowth following other fires, such as the 2005 Topanga Fire, but is also supported by comparing the amount of new growth to the pre-Station Fire growth. This can be inferred by the length of the burned limbs and the approximate age of the chaparral when burned by the Station Fire.
According to the FRAP California geodatabase of fire perimeters, the last fire to burn the summit of Strawberry Peak was the 1979 Sage Fire, which burned approximately 30,000 acres. Before that you have to go back to 1896 to find another fire in the database that burned Strawberry’s summit.
In the absence of fire, it appears that in another 23 years the chaparral in the title photo could reach a similar height and extent to the old growth.
The last time I climbed Mt. Lukens was in the 70s. Drawn by its classic line, Phil Warrender and I climbed Lukens’ west ridge — a long, trailless ascent that started near the probation camp on Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Many years and many adventures later I was back on Lukens — this time on the Stone Canyon Trail.
Curious about the current condition of the trail, last night I read a few recent trip reports. It was a bit like reading tabloid news. If the reports were to be taken at face value, it would be a hellish, impossible to find, unmaintained, horribly overgrown, washed out trail that was lined with poison oak and poodle dog bush, and writhing with rattlesnakes.
While on the summit, a LASD’s Air Rescue 5 helicopter flew by to the east — I guessed on the way to the Barley Flats staging area. But part way down the peak I heard the airship to the northeast and noticed a cloud of dust being stirred up from a turnout on Angeles Forest Highway. Once again Air Rescue 5 was at work. It’s astonishing how many calls they get.
Continuing to run down the trail I thought about some of the online comments I’d read the night before.
Hellish? Well, sure, on a hot day. Unless you’re looking to get in some heat training, don’t climb it on a hot day. Climb it when the weather is clear and cool!
Impossible to find the trail? Except for the big sign at the trailhead parking lot, I didn’t see any trail markers. But if you have a “big picture” view of where the trail is in relation to the parking lot, it’s not too hard to find.
Unmaintained? These days most trail maintenance is done by volunteers. A trail like the Stone Canyon Trail is kept alive through use, sporadic organized trailwork, and an occasional snip here and snip there.
Horribly overgrown? The higher you go the more overgrown it is, but today it was not yet to the point that serious bushwhacking was required. I wore running shorts. (But I almost always wear running shorts.)
Washed out? Yes, there were a few small washouts, and the margin of the trail has collapsed in a number of places. With care, all were passable. One of the washouts was a little larger, and required a bit more care than the others.
Poison oak and poodle dog bush? Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see any poison oak. There was a minuscule amount of dried up PDB. (Ask me about the PO later in the week.)
Rattlesnakes? Always a possibility, even in Winter. But this is true in most areas of Southern California. In my experience the chance of encountering a rattlesnake is less from November through February, but there’s still a chance.
Ear-popping? The trail gains about 3,270 feet in 3.8 miles. My ears “popped” a couple of times on the way up.
Theoretically the gate on Doske Road is open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The Angeles National Forest web site showed the status of the Wildwood Picnic Site to be open, but the gate was not open today. I parked in the large turnout on Big Tujunga Canyon just west of the gate and ran about a half-mile on Doske and Stonyvale Roads to the parking lot and trailhead.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Nearly back to Vincent Gap after visiting Big Horn Mine, I debated whether to run part way down Vincent Gulch on the Mine Gulch Trail. The Mine Gulch Trail leads to the confluence of Vincent Gulch, Prairie Fork, and Mine Gulch on the headwaters of the East Fork San Gabriel River.
The only reason I was hesitant was that hunters might not expect anyone else to be down in the isolated canyon. On the way out to Big Horn Mine I’d encountered a couple of hunters and heard the occasional report of a deer rifle down in Vincent Gulch. After my experience in Colby Canyon the previous Saturday, I hoped my neon-yellow-green Mt. Disappointment 50K shirt would help make me more visible.
I’d wanted to check out the Mine Gulch Trail for a long time. Back before the drought, when rainy season storms would sometimes rejuvenate the streams of Southern California, the West and East Forks of the San Gabriel River were a local alternative to the three hour drive up to kayak the Kern River. My kayaking partner Gary Gunder, myself and other local kayakers had paddled as high on the East Fork as the Bridge to Nowhere. In 2003 Gary kayaked the upper East Fork from the Iron Fork. We’d done a lot of hiking with our kayaks and we began to wonder if it might make more sense to hike down the Mine Gulch Trail from Vincent Gap, rather than hiking up the East Fork.
Reaching the well-marked trail junction a quarter-mile from Vincent Gap, I turned down the Mine Gulch Trail. I was finally going to see what the trail was like!
I had been expecting the Mine Gulch Trail to be a rough, overgrown and little-used path. After crossing an area stripped of trees by sporadic debris flows and avalanches, I was stunned to be running in an idyllic forest of pine, fir and oak on a wide, needle-covered trail bordered with golden leaves of snowberry.
Continuing to descend, the trail passed near Tom Vincent’s cabin site and then a mile or so from Vincent Gap started a series of long switchbacks. A couple of switchbacks down, at an elevation of about 5900′, was a small stand of ponderosa pines. Ponderosa pines are less common in the San Gabriels than the similar Jeffrey pine, but can usually be distinguished by their smaller cones. The trees had drawn my attention because one of them was especially drought-stressed.
Below the switchbacks and about two miles from Vincent Gap, the trail crosses a stream bed. The seems to be a spot where many hikers turn around. The trail sees less use beyond this point, and as it descends the east side of the gulch it becomes increasingly adventurous and isolated.
About three miles in I encountered a group of four hunters hiking up the trail. They were a bit surprised to see someone running down the trail and asked if I knew about a “flat” area down the trail. Now I realize they must have been referring to Cabin Flat, which was some distance and much bushwhacking away.
After encountering the hunters, the trail became less distinct and more disconnected. The “good” sections of trail were relatively long and the game became to piece together the sections of old trail, rather than traipsing through the rubble of the ravine. Intending to be back at Vincent Gap by about 1:00, I continued working down the gulch about another 30 minutes and finally turned around about a half-mile before the Prairie Fork junction.
Having just solved the main trail-finding puzzles on the way down, the ascent of the gulch was relatively fast and took about as much time as the descent. Part way up the switchbacks I caught up to the hunting group on their way out. They joked around, asking what my “secret” was. I told them I’d still be down in the canyon if I was loaded down with the 50-60 pounds of gear they were carrying.
Running down the Manzanita Trail, then over to Big Horn Mine, and then down the Mine Gulch Trail had been an enjoyable stream of thought adventure. I’d found Icy Springs was still running and learned more about the geology and history of the San Gabriels. While I probably wouldn’t be carrying my kayak down Vincent Gulch, becoming familiar with the trail did open the door to other adventures.