Category Archives: running|adventures

A Two Mud Run Summer and Wet Winter Outlook for Southern California

Mud puddles on Lasky Mesa following record rainfall on September 17, 2015.

Ahmanson Ranch gets notoriously muddy when it rains, but it is exceptionally rare for it to rain enough in the Summer to do a run in the mud. Due in part to a warm Pacific, El Nino and a little boost from the Madden-Julian Oscillation in early July, it’s been a record two mud run Summer at Ahmanson Ranch!

The first mud run day was on July 18, when the Cheeseboro RAWS recorded 1.32 inches of rain. That day I ran in the San Gabriels, where the main issue was thunderstorms.

Mud in upper Las Virgenes Canyon following record rainfall on September 15, 2015.
Muddy Upper Las Virgenes Canyon

Tuesday (September 15) was a different story. It rained hard overnight — more than three-quarters of an inch — and in the afternoon I did one of my standard weekday loops from the Victory Blvd. trailhead — out East Las Virgenes Canyon, through Las Virgenes Canyon, and up the Beast to Lasky Mesa. It felt more like November than September. After running through a particularly muddy section in Las Virgenes Canyon, heavy plates of mud had built-up on my shoes. Normally I would curse, but on this run I just laughed. It was great to be out in the wet and muck.

Western Regional Climate Center map of the percentage of normal precipitation in the West for the period July 1 to September 16, 2015.
WRCC Percent of Normal Precipitation

Both days set rainfall records at Downtown Los Angeles (USC). July 18 was the wettest day in July and July 2015 the wettest July since recordkeeping began in 1877. September 15 set a new rainfall record for the date and was the second wettest day in September on record. To date, September 2015 is the third wettest September on record. The rain year (July 1 to June 30) is off to a great start in Southern California and the 2015 El Nino has continued to strengthen.

Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI) for the seven strongest El Nino events since 1950 vs. 2015.
MEI for Seven Strongest El Ninos Since 1950

Based on the July-August Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI), for the time of year the 2015 El Nino is one of the three strongest El Ninos since 1950. A survey of dynamical and statistical ENSO models by the IRI & CPC suggests continued warming in the central equatorial Pacific with a peak of the temperature anomaly in the Nino 3.4 region in the OND or NDJ season.

The 2015 El Nino is being compared to the “Super” El Ninos of 1997-98, 1982-83 and 1972-73. It’s too early to tell how the 2015 event will stack up against 1997-98 and 1982-83, but it already has exceeded the strength of the 1972-73 event. How might a Super El Nino affect Southern California rainfall? Historically, they have produced some of the wettest rain years on record. Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded 31.01 inches of rain in 1997-98 and 31.25 inches in 1982-83.

Climate Preciction Center's Winter Precipitation Outlook for December-January-February 2015-16
CPC Winter Precipitation Outlook

The climate context is different than it was decades ago, but very strong El Ninos are different beasts and rev up the atmosphere in a way that dominates global weather. Assuming the 2015 El Nino maintains (or increases) its strength into November or December, it should produce above average precipitation in Southern California this rain season, and perhaps result in an above average rain year for the southern half of the state. This is reflected in the Climate Prediction Center’s latest round of 3-Month Seasonal Precipitation Outlooks, including the Winter outlook for December, January & February 2015-16. We’ll see!

Related post: July Deluge a Preview of Southern California’s Upcoming Rain Season?

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Waterman Mountain: Fallen Trees, Forest and Ferns

Area burned by the Station Fire on Waterman Mountain

The area in the image above was burned by the Station Fire on September 7, 2009. That morning I’d just crossed the peak-top finish line of the Baldy Run to the Top and using a tiny point and shoot camera took this snapshot of the Station Fire burning on Mt. Waterman.

Station Fire burning on Waterman Mountain the morning of September 7, 2009
Station Fire on Mt. Waterman

The image of the fallen trees and ferns is from today’s counterclockwise circuit of Waterman Mountain from Three Points. It was taken at an elevation of about 7100′ about 3.5 miles from Three Points and about 1.5 miles west of the Twin Peaks Trail junction. Here the Station Fire burned swaths of forest, running up steep gullies and ridges on the south slopes of the mountain.

Part of a Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) image taken of the Station Fire Burn Area by the NASA Ikhana remotely piloted aircraft
Ikhana BAER Burn Intensity

The purple hues in this Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) image taken by the NASA Ikhana remotely piloted aircraft in 2009 are indicative of the burn severity in the vicinity of Three Points and Mt. Waterman. (Ikhana image courtesy of NASA Dryden and NASA Ames. Composite image created using Google Earth Pro.)

Coulter pines burned in the Station Fire along the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail
Pines Burned by the Station Fire

The yellow track in the BAER image is of the Three Points – Mt. Waterman loop. The track includes a side trip to the summit of Mt. Waterman I didn’t do today. About one-third of the approximately 20 mile loop was impacted by the fire. If the loop is done counterclockwise the first couple of miles are the most severely burned and have the most downed trees and Poodle-dog bush. Use trails have developed around the fallen trees, but it seems a new tree or two has fallen each time I do the route. With care the Poodle-dog bush is generally avoidable.

Some related posts: After the Station Fire: After the Station Fire:Three Points – Mt. Waterman Loop, Three Points – Mt. Waterman Loop, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail, Twin Peaks Trail Run

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South Fork Adventure

South Fork Trail, between Islip Saddle and South Fork Campground

I asked Skye what her watch had for the mileage. Had we gone two miles yet? We were running down the South Fork Trail from Islip Saddle and hoping to do one of my favorite adventure runs in the San Gabriel Mountains. The 23.5 mile loop descends to South Fork Campground,  then climbs to the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell via the Manzanita Trail and PCT; and then continues on the PCT back to Islip Saddle.

Rock slides on the South Fork Trail between Islip Saddle and South Fork Campground.
Rock slides on the South Fork Trail

A few days before there had been a report on Facebook that the South Fork Trail “was gone” about two miles down from Islip. With the heavy rains we’d seen in July that was certainly a possibility. Even without the rain it was a possibility. The South Fork Trail is under constant bombardment and it is normal for some sections of the trail to be covered by rock slides. I can’t think of an “official” trail in the San Gabriel Mountains with a more primitive character.

The condition of the South Fork Trail wasn’t the only possible problem. Earlier in the week I’d run the Manzanita Trail most of the way to South Fork Campground to be sure that if the South Fork Trail was passable, we would be able to complete the loop. There were two things to check. Was the spring running 1.4 miles from Vincent Gap? It was. And had the heavy July rain washed out the trail in the landslide area above Paradise Springs? It hadn’t. So if we could get to South Fork Campground we were good to go.

As things worked out the condition of South Fork Trail was about the same as it always is. I’ve seen it in better condition and I’ve seen it worse. With care it was passable — but that isn’t a recommendation. It’s the kind of trail some love and others hate.

Elevation profile of the Islip Saddle - South Fork - Vincent Gap - Mt. Baden-Powell Loop
Elevation Profile

Once down at South Fork Campground the adventure isn’t over. There are some rock and boulder strewn washes to navigate and there’s the small matter of the nearly continuous 10 mile, 5000′ climb to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell. Having recently completed the Angeles Crest 100 and climbed Mt. Whitney, the tough climb from the South Fork was a piece of cake for Skye. On the other hand, I was very happy to round the final corner and see Baden-Powell’s busy summit come into view. On the way up  we ran into Mt. Disappointment race organizers Gary & Pam Hilliard, getting in a little work after doing the Julian Station Full Moon run the previous weekend. Next year will be Mt. Disappointments’ 10th running.

Regrowth of lodgepole pines along the PCT near peak 8426 following the 2002 Curve Fire.
Lodgepole pine saplings

Between Baden-Powell and Windy Gap the weather was cool and the running comfortable on the PCT. Perhaps because of the heavy July rain the pines and firs seemed to be especially green. In several areas young, healthy trees grew in nursery-like stands amid the bleached trunks of trees burned in the 2002 Curve Fire.

I was just about out of water when we pulled into Little Jimmy Spring, and as always, the water was clear, cold and rejuvenating. Another 2.5 miles and the loop would be done. Although it’s difficult for its length, it’s also very enjoyable. If the weather holds I’ll probably do it again this Fall before Winter settles in.

Some related posts: Trail Running Weather, San Gabriel Mountains Running Adventure, Islip Saddle – Mt. Baden-Powell South Fork Loop

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July Deluge a Preview of Southern California’s Upcoming Rain Season?

Pines and clouds in the San Gabriel Mountains

It wasn’t so much a surprise that there was thunder or that it was starting to shower again. It was that I was hearing thunder all around me — to the east toward Mt. Waterman and Twin Peaks, to the south toward Mt. Wilson and the San Gabriel Valley, and to the west toward Big Tujunga Canyon and the San Fernando Valley. This was clearly more than an isolated summer build-up. Pockets of showers, some light and some heavy, could be seen in the distance and I wondered just how wet I was going to get.

Mt. Waterman (left) and Twin Peaks from near Mt. Hillyer in the San Gabriel Mountains
Mt. Waterman (left) and Twin Peaks from near Mt. Hillyer

The answer was “pretty wet!” That was on a run in the San Gabriel Mountains on Saturday, and was the result of the first wave of moisture and instability associated with tropical system Dolores and a strong monsoonal flow from Baja. An even stronger surge of moisture followed Sunday afternoon with rain rates exceeding an inch an hour. From 5:15 p.m. to 5:25 p.m. a CBS Radio weather station on Mt. Wilson recorded a half-inch of rain in just 10 minutes!

NEXRAD regional composite radar image for Southern California at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, July 19, 2015.
Composite radar image for Southern California at 5:00 p.m. Sunday

Though the heavy rain created its own problems — including flash floods, debris flows and rock slides — the soaking rains helped quell the Pines Fire near Wrightwood and the North Fire near Cajon Pass. Over the three day period from Saturday to Monday the Big Pines Remote Automated Weather Station (RAWS), near the Pines Fire, recorded 3.12 inches of rain. Several stations in the San Gabriels recorded more than three inches of rain, including Clear Creek and Opids Camp.

Many locations set new records, not only for the date, but for any day in July. Downtown Los Angeles (USC) set rainfall records for the date on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Downtown Los Angeles recorded 0.36 inch of rain Saturday. This is more rain than any day in any July since recordkeeping began in 1877. That one day of rainfall even broke the monthly record for July in Los Angeles! Prior to this event the wettest July on record was in 1886, when 0.24 inch was recorded.

Strengthening El Nino conditions and the active phase of the Madden-Julian Oscillation contributed to the development of Dolores in the Eastern Pacific, enhancing convection. Anomalously warm SSTs in the tropical and sub-tropical Eastern Pacific also played a role, helping to maintain the strength of Dolores and increasing the amount of water vapor entrained by the system.

This year’s El Nino is very different than last year’s on again, off again event. This year’s El Nino is already established, well-coupled with the atmosphere and growing in strength. It’s firing on all cylinders and at this point it appears the only question is, “How strong will it get?”

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Mt. Disappointment 50K Returns!

Runners work up the San Gabriel Peak Trail toward Mt. Disappointment.

Following a two year hiatus the challenging Mt. Disappointment 50K was run today in near perfect weather conditions.

Temperature at Clear Creek for Mt. Disappointment 50Ks from 2005-2015
Temperature at Clear Creek for Mt. Disappointment 50Ks

How did the temperature today compare to the torrid conditions in 2012? The HIGH temperature today at Clear Creek — 76 °F — was 7 degrees COOLER than the temperature BEFORE SUNRISE in 2012 — 83°F! It was warm in the sun in a couple of places today, but nothing compared to the 115°F in the sun in 2012.

Runners at the starting line on top of Mt. Wilson for the 2015 Mt. Disappointment 50K & 25K
Runners at the Start line on Mt. Wilson

This was the ninth running of the event, which began in 2005, and the first time since 2008 that the 50K was run on the original course. In 2009 a rockslide closed the Mueller Tunnel, resulting in a detour down the Mt. Wilson Road. In 2010, 2011 & 2012 portions of the course were closed as a result of the devastating Station Fire and subsequent flash floods. This required a rerouting the course and adding the infamous climb up Edison Road to Shortcut Saddle. The iconic climb up the Kenyon Devore Trail has been a hallmark of the event every year in which it has been run.

Elevation profile for the 2015 Mt. Disappointment 50K
Elevation profile for the 50K

Here’s an elevation profile and an experimental Cesium browser view of a GPS trace of the course, with mile splits generated by SportTracks. The view can be zoomed in & out, rotated and tilted. Mileages and placemark locations are approximate. It does not require a plug-in and should work on most devices.

Gary Hilliard (with wife Pam) briefs the runners on the details of the 50K and 25K courses.
Gary & Pam Hilliard

Many thanks to Gary & Pam Hilliard, Fausto & Cindy Rowlan, and all of the Mt. Disappointment 50K Staff, volunteers, HAM radio operators, Sierra Madre SAR personnel, runners, and sponsors that have helped make all nine Mt. Disappointment 50Ks such outstanding events! I’m already looking forward to running number 10!

Photos and results can be found on the Mt. Disappointment web site.

Some related posts: Mt. Disappointment Notes: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.

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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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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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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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Just Me and the Meadowlarks

La Jolla Valley from Mugu Peak

I had to stop running and take it all in. Soaked by recent rains, La Jolla Valley was renewed and green. To my right a meadowlark warbled its silvery call, and in the distance at first one and then another bird followed in song.

Isolated for weeks by the closure of Pacific Coast Highway and Pt. Mugu State Park, the La Jolla Loop Trail was trackless and in places overgrown. Wet with dew, the mustard choking the trail had soaked my shoes and socks.

Sprinkled among the greens were whites, purples, pinks, reds and yellows of the first stage of a wildflower explosion. A sweet scent drifted on the breeze. Running in the valley was like running in a remote and seldom-visited wilderness.

There had been much to see on the run from Wendy Drive. Before the Park closed in December I had surveyed the aftermath of the December 12 flash floods in Sycamore Canyon, Blue Canyon and Upper Sycamore Canyon. One of the reasons for today’s run was to see what had happened in this part of the Park.

Wood Canyon parallels Sycamore Canyon and is probably its largest tributary. Based on the height of the debris piled against the trees, the flash flood that roared down Wood Canyon must have been astounding! Looking down the stream course reminded me of flash floods I’d seen on creeks and streams during the El Nino’s of 1997-98 and 2004-2005.

Bowl-shaped La Jolla Valley is an independent drainage, separate from Sycamore and Wood Canyons and their tributaries. It acts like a huge rain collector and funnels all the runoff down deeply cut La Jolla Canyon to the ocean. In La Jolla Valley all the creeks were scoured by the flash flooding and the small footbridge west of the group campground was washed out. The vernal stock pool on the Loop Trail above La Jolla Canyon was once again full.

It’s no surprise that the December flash floods washed out the trail in La Jolla Canyon. I can’t think of a steeper and more narrow canyon in the park.  The flow must have been phenomenal! The La Jolla Canyon Trail is closed and barricaded at its juncture with the Loop Trail. Here is a trail map of the area from the La Jolla Valley Natural Preserve web site.

In recent years the drought has dramatically reduced the number and variety of wildflowers blooming in the Santa Monica Mountains. Not so this year. Since October 1 Camarillo Airport has recorded 7.0 inches of rain, which is about 92% of normal. Last year over the same period only 0.84 inch had been recorded.

Many species are already blooming and many more will be blooming soon. On today’s run I saw shooting stars, encelia, lupine, nightshade, monkeyflower, paintbrush, California poppy, bladder pod, wild hyacinth, phacelia, wishbone bush and more. A small patch of chocolate lilies were in bloom along the eastern segment of the Loop Trail.

La Jolla Valley and Mugu Peak can be busy places, but today it was just me and the meadowlarks.

Update February 3, 2015. According to the Ventura Star six miles of Pacific Coast Highway from Las Posas Road to the Sycamore Cove Day-use Area reopened today providing access to Pt. Mugu State Park from the south. Note that the La Jolla Canyon Trail is still closed and likely to be for some time.

Some related posts: Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods, Wendy Drive – Mugu Peak Challenge, Laguna Peak, La Jolla Valley, and the Channel Islands

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