Cheeseboro Canyon is the prominent canyon on the left of the photo. The dirt road is the Cheeseboro Ridge Trail — a power line service road. The Sheep Corral Trail follows the flat-ish terrain in the little valley. It links the Cheeseboro Ridge Trail to the top of the Cheeseboro Canyon Trail about a quarter-mile to the west (right) at Shepherds’ Flat.
There are innumerable trail runs, hikes and rides that pass through here. Here’s a NPS map of the Cheeseboro/Palo Comado area trails (PDF). On this cool, mid-January day I was doing the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon – Cheeseboro Ridge Loop.
For the most part the upper layer of clouds had been above Boney Mountain. Thin wisps of cloud had clung to the ridges in a couple of places, but the ceiling looked like it was going to remain above the peak.
Fog changes the mood and character of a place, particularly a place where airy views and an expansive mindset are the norm. Thoughts turn inward and perceptions more narrowly focused. The big picture becomes entirely virtual.
Earlier in the week the area had been drenched by more than two inches of rain. It had been damp overnight and water filled the profusion of irregular pockets covering the volcanic rock. The rock was plastered with a patchwork of bright green moss and gray-green lichen. Saturated with water, the moss was slippery as ice. I climbed with extra care, especially on the steeper sections.
Where soil collected on tiered steps, obovate leaves of shooting-star and other annuals sprouted, presaging a show of the purple and yellow wildflowers. Chalk liveforever relished the moisture, its drought-scarred leaves rehydrating and recovering.
Higher on the ridge the intricate green foliage of red shanks, still recovering from the 2013 Springs Fire, was heavily-beaded with water. Brushing against it was like being sprayed with ice-cold water.
The last couple of days I’d been checking the weather models to try and get an idea of when the cold front might reach Pt. Mugu State Park. Projections ranged from around 10:00 AM to about 1:00 PM.
A group of us were doing an annual end of the year trail run and scramble over Boney Mountain to the Backbone Trail, and then returning by various routes to the Wendy Drive trailhead. Along the way there are great views of the Boney Mountain Wilderness, Channel Islands, Conejo Valley and Ventura Mountains, but you can’t see very far from inside of a cloud.
It turned out clouds would not be a problem. At least not the first half of the day. When I pulled into the parking area at Wendy Drive the front was little more than a white smudge on the western horizon. The sky was clear and it remained clear the entire time we worked up Boney’s Western Ridge. Everyone enjoyed scrambling up the gullies and rocks to the top of the mountain and then over to Tri Peaks.
We’d reached Tri Peaks about 40 minutes ago. From there I’d run over to Sandstone Peak, the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. From this panoramic vantage point I could see the front was still well to the west, near Santa Barbara. This gave me some time. I was prepared for rain, but didn’t want to miss the wonderful scenery running down the Chamberlain Trail, over to Serrano Valley, and through Serrano Canyon.
Over the remainder of the run I watched as cirrus clouds ahead of the front gradually muted the sun, mid-level clouds began to develop over the peaks, and the wind became more gusty and fitful. Later in the run the clouds started to lower and thicken and the temperature dropped. Eventually it began to smell like rain.
As I crested the hill on Danielson Road I felt a cold drop of rain on my arm and then another on the back of a leg. Clouds covered the sky, and to the west showers draped the ridges and filled the canyons. The front and I were racing the last mile to the trailhead, and I knew who had won.
This morning’s run had started on the southern boundary of the Arroyo Conejo Open Space near Amgen in Thousand Oaks. It was 39°F at the beginning of the run and the chill of dawn and brisk north wind made it feel even colder. The plan was to run north on the Arroyo Conejo Trail and connect to the trails in Wildwood Park.
Running on automatic, and hoping to warm up quickly, I followed the Arroyo Conejo Trail north along the shoulder of the canyon. Known as “La Barranca” the three mile long canyon extends from the 101 Freeway to Hill Canyon near Santa Rosa Road. Rounding a corner and working up and over a little hill I looked to my right and was astonished to see that in this section of the canyon a deep, vertical-walled gorge had been cut into the residential landscape.
The wildness of the gorge set the tone for the remainder of the run. Arroyo Conejo, Wildwood Park and the Western Plateau have a scenic, desert southwest character all their own and an extensive trail system. If a bluff, peak or other feature looked interesting, there was generally a way to get to it. I ran along Stagecoach Bluff, then to Lizard Head, and then over to the Canyon Overlook Trail and down to the Conejo Canyons Bridge at the Hill Canyon trailhead.
After running up Hill Canyon, I was once again headed uphill, this time on the Western Plateau Trail. I’d caught a glimpse of some mountain bikers high on the bluff above and couldn’t resist continuing. I had more than 10 miles in and was planning to go back through Wildwood Park. Each mile added now would add two miles to my growing round trip total.
That’s the difficult thing about doing an exploratory run — deciding where to turn around. You HAVE to see what’s around each corner and what the view is like from the top of every hill. You can’t turn around just anywhere, and I was looking for the right place.
Turning onto the Outlaw/Gnome Trail, in a few minutes I reached the top of the rock outcrop where I’d seen the mountain bikers. But it wasn’t the top of the climb, and it definitely wasn’t the right spot to turn around. A bit higher I could see a sign silhouetted on the skyline and was curious to see what it said.
The sign read “Elliot Mountain Trail.” How could I turn around now? Continuing east, a newly cut trail with a bench en route led to the top of the peak. Recently named in honor of Burt Elliot, “a tireless volunteer, open space advocate and champion of trails,” the peak was the perfect place to spend a few minutes enjoying the great view and then start my circuitous trip back to the car.
Summits that can be accessed by trail are usually busy places, especially in good weather. That was certainly the case this morning. Each of us had encountered someone we knew on or near San Jacinto’s rocky summit.
It seemed everyone on the peak was doing a different adventure. One hiker mentioned he had run out of food at Wellman Divide. That seemed strange until he explained he was doing the “8000 Meter Challenge” — ascending Baldy, Gorgonio and San Jacinto consecutively in 24 hours. The 8000 meters refers to the (approximate) cumulative gain and loss when doing the three peaks. In round numbers Baldy via the Ski Hut would be about 2375 meters of gain+loss, Gorgonio via Vivian Creek 3350 meters and San Jacinto via the Tram about 1500 meters. If you skip the Tram and do San Jacinto from Idyllwild the gain+loss is about 2680 meters.
An ultrarunning friend that reached the summit shortly after we did was doing Cactus to Clouds to Cactus (C2C2C). This arduous route starts in Palm Springs at an elevation of about 460 feet and climbs all the way to the summit of San Jacinto at about 10,834 feet. Including a couple of short downhills along the way, the total elevation gain is around 10,800 feet. Round trip that works out to about 6600 meters of gain+loss.
Ann, Telma and I were doing a route I’ve enjoyed for many years — ascending San Jacinto from the Tram and then running down to the fire lookout on Tahquitz Peak. The route has excellent running and (on a clear day) hundred-mile vistas. The views of Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks bring to mind many fine days spent with friends at these superb rock climbing areas.
When we got our wilderness permit at the Long Valley Ranger Station the ranger had warned us about 45 mph winds and cold temps on the summit. The strong winds had been forecast to moderate before sunrise and the forecast was spot on. The weather on the summit was near perfect — warm in the sun and cool in the shade with light winds.
After ascending San Jacinto we returned to Wellman Divide and then descended the Wellman Divide Trail and PCT to Saddle Junction. From Saddle Junction it is only a couple of (mostly uphill) miles to Tahquitz Peak. This Google Earth image shows my GPS track from Wellman Divide to Tahquitz Peak and back.
A dozen or so hikers were enjoying the warm sun and great weather at the lookout. As always, the fire lookout host was friendly and informative, answering questions about the lookout’s equipment and surrounding landmarks. Want to become a volunteer host? Check this page.
My usual return route from Tahquitz Peak is to go back to Saddle Junction and then follow the Willow Springs Trail to Hidden Lake Divide. With the Willow Springs Trail closed due to the 2013 Mountain Fire it’s necessary to climb back up to Wellman Divide and then descend to the Tram from there. This adds about a mile and 800′ of gain to the usual route. Although we had descended it earlier in the day, the trail going up to Wellman Divide had a different feel to it, and the out and back wasn’t nearly as onerous as I thought it might be.
About an hour after topping out at Wellman Divide we were back at the Long Valley Ranger Station and not long after that on the Tram and headed down the mountain. I smiled as the decades-old recording in the tram car began, “You’ve had a great day…”
It was a little past noon and Downtown Los Angeles was about to hit a high of 100°F for the second consecutive day. From my vantage point I couldn’t quite make out Downtown; it was 80+ miles away, somewhere in the light haze to the west. Across Banning Pass Mt. San Jacinto loomed, massive and pyramidal, and down the spine of the range stood Mt. Baldy, surrounded by its siblings.
Ann, Patty and I were enjoying the summit of 11,503′ San Gorgonio Mountain following a 13+ mile run and hike from the Momyer Creek trailhead in Forest Falls. Although it is nearly four miles longer than the Vivian Creek route and gains an additional 1000′ of elevation (6500′ vs 5500′), this superb alternative is a more runnable way up the mountain, with more of backcounty feel and alpine flavor.
It was cool on the summit, but I was still warm from running what I could of the final couple of miles up the peak. In that last stretch the trail contours around Jepson Peak, passes the Vivian Creek and Sky High Trail junctions, and then works its way up to the blocky summit of Gorgonio — the highest point in Southern California.
Despite the record-setting hot weather, the temperature on the way up the mountain had been pleasant. Our pace had been conversational. Among other topics Ann told of her amazing experiences running the UTMB and Patty talked about photography and her trip to Zion. I spoke of lapse rates & compressional heating, Chinquapin nuts, and Lodgepole & Limber pines . At least for me, the miles passed with distracted ease.
After about 15 minutes on the summit it began to get chilly and it was time to head down. The descent of the Vivian Creek Trail is as much of a challenge as the ascent of Falls Creek. Although I’ve run it many times, I conveniently forget just how convoluted, rocky, and technical it is. Part way down a double-fall of huge trees completely blocked the trail. One tree had broken on impact and the route choice was to either squeeze through the fracture or go the long way around.
We had become spread out on the descent, but were now running together on Valley of the Falls Drive. This 1.4 mile stretch on pavement connects the Vivian Creek trailhead to the Momyer Creek trailhead, completing the 24 mile loop. A short distance past the Fire Station we reached the gravel parking area. No longer obscured by trees, the view opened to a panorama of mountains that looked impossibly rugged and tall. Had we really just been up there?
My legs would answer that question following the two hour drive home.
Dazzlingly bright and a day from full, the moon rose above the trees along the Snow Summit skyline. Ahead of the moon, Pegasus flew effortlessly across the eastern sky. I asked to borrow his wings, but in response heard only our footfalls and the wind in the pines.
We were on the Skyline Trail above Big Bear Lake and about 44 miles into the Kodiak 50 mile — one of four ultra-length running races organized by Matt Smith and crew for this Friday and Saturday.
The Kodiak 100 milers had started their circuit of Big Bear Lake at noon yesterday, and after running through the night, the fastest of the fast had finished the course this morning!
The Front 50K runners started on the heels of the 100 milers and ran the first 31 miles of the course — including the ascent of 10,000′ Sugarloaf Mountain. They finished yesterday evening at the Wildhorse aid station. Runners doing the Back 50K — the last 31 miles of the 100 mile course — started at Snow Valley at 8:30 this morning and most had finished by mid-afternoon.
We had started the 50 mile before sunrise at the Gray’s Peak trailhead, near Fawnskin, on the north shore of Big Bear Lake. Though warmer than normal, the temperature before sunrise was still in the 40s, and many shorts-clad runners huddled around the wheel wells of running cars trying to keep warm before the 6:00 am start. Continue reading Kodiak 50 Mile 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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?”