Category Archives: trails

Kodiak 50 Mile 2015

Runners in the 2015 Kodiak 50 mile race on the Siberia Creek Trail

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.

2015 Kodiak 50 mile elevation profile
Kodiak 50M Elevation Profile.
(Click thumbnails for larger image.)

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!

Dawn on the Gray's Peak Trail about 20 minutes into the 2015 Kodiak 50 Mile run.
Dawn on the Gray’s Peak Trail.
(Click thumbnails for larger image.)

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

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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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The day before the Angeles Crest 100, after checking in for the race in Wrightwood, I drove over to Inspiration Point to have lunch, go for a short hike, and enjoy being in the mountains. The day was exceptional.

Click an image for more info and to display the image full-size.

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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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