It’s been more than six and a half years since the devastating Station Fire burned 160,577 acres in Angeles National Forest.
The pine seedling above is on the Three Points – Mt. Waterman trail (10W04) in an area burned by the Station Fire. It’s 3.5 miles from Three Points and at an elevation of about 7000′. It’s about three years old.
How long will the seedling have to grow to replace the mature trees lost in the fire?
A couple more miles up the trail, near the Twin Peaks Trail junction, is a Jeffrey pine burned by the Station Fire and then cut by fire fighters. The tree is representative of the mature trees in this area of the forest. An inexact, but conservative, count of its growth rings is in the neighborhood of 325.
So the burned tree was a seedling sometime around 1690. If the seedling survives the drought, increasing temperatures, subsequent fires and droughts, and other maladies that can befall a tree, it will reach the age of the burned tree around 2340.
Here’s hoping that it does, and that the forests will be as enjoyable then as they are now…
A couple of weekends ago we had cool weather for a 28 mile Angeles Crest 100 training run from Islip Saddle to Chilao Flat. It was a bit windy and chilly at Islip Saddle, but once we were up and over the shoulder of Mt. Williamson the wind settled down and the weather for the remainder of the run was near perfect.
This was the second of four supported AC100 training runs, each covering a different section of the course. These organized runs account for just a tiny fraction of the total mileage a runner does to prepare for this event, and much of the mileage is done on the AC100 course.
Where is the AC100 course? Incorporating segments of iconic trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail, Silver Moccasin Trail and Gabrielino Trail, the AC100 starts in the mountain community of Wrightwood, California and ends in Altadena near JPL, traversing a large part of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Mountain weather — even Los Angeles County mountain weather — can be extremely varied and changeable. At about mile 18 the AC100 course reaches an elevation of more than 9,200′, near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. On the same day temperatures on the course can differ by 50 degrees or more. One section can be inundated by a flash flood while another is bone dry. During a Spring training run it might be 100 in the sun at Echo Mountain, while it is snowing on Baden-Powell.
The Mt. Wilson Towercam is usually pointed in the direction of the Angeles high country. When it is, it provides a great overview of about two-thirds of the AC100 course. The view extends from the top of the Acorn Trail at about mile 4 (in the distance on the far right), along the crest past Mt. Baden-Powell, Throop Peak, Twin Peaks and Waterman Mountain to Three Points at about mile 43. Chilao is hidden from view, but the Charlton Flat area and a section of Edison Road is visible on the left. Newcomb Saddle, at about mile 68, is on the lower right. Here’s an annotated Towercam image that shows the approximate location of these features.
Bill Westphal’s Altadena Weather & Webcam gives a lower elevation view of the San Gabriels, near the AC100 Finish. The view is NE toward the Sunset Ridge Trail and Mt. Lowe Road, around mile 93 or 94. The course goes from the right of the photo to the left, but is mostly hidden from view.
If you are willing to jump through some Java security hoops the Mountain Hardware Live Interactive Cam in Wrightwood is a couple blocks from the AC100 Start. It has views of downtown Wrightwood, Wright Mountain, the Heath Canyon landslide, Blue Ridge and several other locations. I temporarily enabled Java and followed the troubleshooting info linked on the web cam page. I’ve been able to get it to work on a desktop system using Firefox or Internet Explorer. Note that enabling Java and adding non-secure URLs to the Java exceptions list decreases the security of your computer.
Following are several Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS) and Weather Underground Personal Weather Stations (PWS) along or near the AC100 course, in order from Start to Finish.
It is important to note that the air temperature given by RAWS stations is the temperature inside a sun-shielded, ventilated enclosure 4-8 feet off the ground. Basically it’s the temperature in light shade. The temperature in full sun can be 15°F higher. I’ve found the “Fuel Temperature” to be a better gage of how hellish it’s going to be on exposed areas of trail. (The Fuel Temperature is the temperature of a ponderosa pine dowel in direct sun.)
Big Pines BPNC1 RAWS (6964′) – Off Hwy 2 near Mountain High Ski Area. Top of Mt. Baden-Powell can be 12+ degrees cooler and much more windy. Was 64°F at 6:54 a.m. for 2015 AC100. Fuel temp at 11:54 a.m. was 92°F.
Mt. Wilson MWSC1 (5710′) – Approximately 1.5 miles NW of and 780′ above the top of Mt. Wilson Toll Road (~4930′). Compare to KCAMOUNT12 WU 5655′ and JPL 5600′. Was 69°F at midnight for 2015 AC100. As of May 13, appears to be out of service. Hopefully will be back online soon.
Henninger Flats HNGC1 RAWS (2800′) – Approximately 0.8 miles WSW of Idlehour Aid (~3168′). Marine layer can increase humidity on this section of the course. Was 69-70°F from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. for 2015 AC100. Fuel temp was 89°F by 11a.m.
Altadena KCAALTAD18 PWS (1214′) – Approximately 0.6 miles S of Finish. For 2015 AC100 temp ranged from 66°F at 2 a.m. to 63°F at sunrise. Temp was 79°F at 9 a.m., 82°F at 11 a.m., and 86°F at 1 p.m. Humidity was high with dew point about 70°F.
I stepped on top of the waist-high rock and with some effort pressed upward. It felt like my leg was going to blow apart at the seams. We were hiking up a steep section of Strawberry Peak, and were about a mile from the summit. I’d done Strawberry from Red Box innumerable times, but my legs had never felt like this.
Trail runners — and all of us that love the outdoors — are very good at finding ways to spend a little extra time outside. The first half of the day Skye and I had done the Bear Canyon loop and now we were climbing Strawberry Peak.
On its own the Red Box – Bear Canyon – Gabrielino loop is a demanding run. Because the canyon has been subject to numerous flash floods the Bear Creek Trail is a mix of classic mountain trail and segments of “use trail” through washouts and flood debris. Add in the elevation gain going from Red Box to Mt. Disappointment and from Switzer Falls back up to Red Box and you’ve got an adventurous run.
About halfway through the canyon is Bear Canyon Trail Camp. Perched on a bench above the creek this idyllic camp was spared by the 2009 Station Fire. Because of the camp’s popularity the section of trail between Bear Camp and Arroyo Seco sees the most use and generally is in better condition than the section between Tom Sloan Saddle and Bear Camp.
The 16 mile loop we did today is the shortest that goes through Bear Canyon. The loop can be extended by linking in the Valley Forge Trail or circuit around Strawberry Peak, or doing what we did today — the out and back to the summit of Strawberry Peak.
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.
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.
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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?”
Following a two year hiatus the challenging Mt. Disappointment 50K was run today in near perfect weather conditions.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.