Category Archives: trails|san gabriels

Plan B: Barley Flats

Pines and pine seedlings at Barley Flats
Pines and pine seedlings at Barley Flats

Nearing the junction I debated what to do — turn left on a well-used trail and climb Strawberry Peak or continue straight on an abandoned, overgrown road and go to Barley Flats? If I continued on the road it would be my second bush-whacking adventure of the day. Earlier, I’d abandoned an exploration in upper Colby Canyon when frequent rifle fire made the canyon feel confined and dangerous. This adventure was my plan B.

Overgrown Forest Service fire road connecting Red Box and Barley Flats, built in 1926.
Overgrown Forest Service fire road built in 1926.

Each time I’ve done Strawberry Peak from Red Box I’ve wondered about that overgrown old road. In the book The San Gabriels, John Robinson mentions that it was a Forest Service fire road built in 1926. It’s shown on the USGS 1934 Mt. Lowe and Mt. Wilson Advance Sheets connecting Red Box Gap and Barley Flats and then continuing to Charlton Flats, Chilao and the high country. Back then Angeles Crest Highway didn’t go to Shortcut Saddle, it turned at Red Box and went to the top of Mt. Wilson.

At the junction, I stepped over the rocks marking the left turn toward Strawberry Peak and started up the old road. After about five yards, I almost turned back. The trail was so overgrown it seemed nearly impassable. Yucca and whitethorn conspired to block the way, or at least make it too painful to proceed.

Having done my share of bush-whacking I’ve learned that it’s usually not as bad as it looks. With a little patience the determined hiker can usually find a tolerable way through. That was the case here, but not only was the trail overgrown, there were downed trees and limbs from the 2009 Station Fire, and several small rock slides and wash outs partially blocking the trail.

Barley Flats with Waterman Mountain and Twin Peaks in the background and Mt. Baldy in the distance.
Barley Flats

For 2.5 miles I kept repeating, “That wasn’t that bad. I’ll just see what’s around the next corner.” After nearly an hour and a half of seeing what was around the next corner — and almost turning back several times — I finally reached Barley Flats.

Like many places in the San Gabriels, Barley Flats has a colorful history. In the middle 1800s the site was a favored hideout of horse thieves and cattle rustlers. During the cold war it was one of the many Nike defense sites surrounding Los Angeles. More recently it was a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Probation Camp and Retreat and today continues to be used as a staging area for LASD’s Air Rescue 5. Much of Barley Flats and the surrounding area was burned in the Station Fire.

Air Rescue 5 airlifts a traffic accident victim from a tight spot on Angeles Crest Highway.
Air Rescue 5 in action on Angeles Crest Highway

Air Rescue 5 has conducted numerous life-saving missions in Angeles National Forest, including countless air ambulance evacuations from “nearly every corner” of Angeles Crest Highway.

Even before reaching Barley Flats I had decided to take an alternate route back to Red Box. Barley Flats sits on the divide between Upper Tujunga Canyon and the West Fork San Gabriel Canyon. Doing a loop through West Fork sounded a lot more appealing than running the thorny gauntlet back to Red Box on the old road.

It took about one-third of the time to run three miles down paved — and brush-free — Barley Flats Road as it had to bushwhack from Red Box to Barley Flats. There were a few hunters out on Barley Flats road, but all had their rifles shouldered. Since leaving Red Box I had heard only one very distant rifle shot — a big change from the far too frequent rifle fire in Colby Canyon.

From the intersection of (gated) Barley Flats Road and Angeles Crest Highway it was only about 0.7 mile over to Shortcut Saddle. At Shortcut I picked up the Silver Moccasin Trail. As I began to run down the trail toward West Fork, I reached around with one hand and lifted my pack. How much water remained?

Spring at West Fork
Spring at West Fork

The plan was to run down to West Fork, get water, and then run up the Rincon-Red Box fire road to Red Box — completing a loop. The spring at West Fork is usually reliable, but with the drought I couldn’t be 100% sure. Nearby Mt. Wilson was recently forced to close its restrooms and turn off the water spigots used by hikers and runners because of insufficient water.

I was surprised to find the spring was running as strong as it had been in early July during the Mt. Disappointment Endurance Runs. Water was not going to be an issue on the five mile run up to Red Box.

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Ducking for Cover

Sunrise in Colby Canyon
Sunrise in Colby Canyon

When I heard the rifle shot, I was a couple hundred yards off the Colby Canyon Trail, trying to find a way through some thick brush and across a ravine. I reacted to the shot before I heard it, an involuntary spasm of fight or flight snapping me to attention. The high-powered report filled the canyon, echoing off its walls and then continuing to ring for several seconds. Another echoing shot followed and then another.

As I worked back toward the trail, I starting searching for the source of the gunfire. About 100 yards up the canyon, wearing a bright orange vest, a hunter stood in the brush at the edge of the ravine. We waved, each surprised to see the other. Now I understood. Deer hunting season had opened.

A few minutes later more shots followed. What the heck was he shooting at? With the frequency of gunfire, any animal in the canyon would be ducking for cover.

That included me. It was time to give up on this adventure, run down to the trailhead, and go for Plan B.

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The Big Pines Trail Marathon — First Organized Mountain Ultra in the U.S?

Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail
Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail

What would you think of a 44 mile trail race with 10,000 feet of gain that climbs Mt. Baden-Powell… and Mt. Baldy… by the North Backbone Trail… at night… by the light of a full moon… with the requirement to carry 10 percent of your body weight, NOT including the additional weight of food and water?

Paul V. Engelhardt, winner of the Big Pines Trail Marathon in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation
Paul V. Engelhardt, winner of the Big Pines Trail Marathon in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation

The Big Pines Trail Marathon was first run on August 23-24, 1934. Based on the description in the Autumn 1934 edition of Trails Magazine, the course would rank high among the toughest mountain courses we run today.

“Starting at Jackson Lake at an elevation of 6,000 feet, it leads over the Blue Ridge Range at 7,800 feet, down to the Big Rock-Vincent Gulch divide, 6,500 feet, up 4 miles by 38 switchbacks to the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell, 9,389 feet, back to the head of Big Rock, and east along the summit of Blue Ridge, over Lookout Peak, 8,505 feet, east over Wright Mountain to the Prairie Fork-Lytle Creek divide at 7,800 feet, over Pine Mountain, 9,661 feet, and Mt. Dawson, 9,551 feet, to the summit of Mt. San Antonio, 10,080 feet. Turning back here, crossing again the saddle at the head of Lytle Creek to the Oak Canyon trail, down through Wrightwood and up to Big Pines Park, where the finish line is at the Davidson Arch, elevation 6,864 feet.”

The winner of the inaugural 41 mile race was 24 year old Paul V. Engelhart, an Assistant Scout Master, in 14 hours, 45 minutes, 15 seconds. Second place went to 17 year old Fairfax High School track team member Bain J. Bain in 14 hours, 48 minutes.

Trails Magazine Big Pines Trail Marathon Trophy. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Trails Magazine Big Pines Trail Marathon Trophy. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

In 1935 the Start was moved to coincide with the Finish at Davidson Arch, increasing the mileage to 44 miles. According to the Trails Magazine report, the race began at 5 p.m., the seven contestants starting at 10-minute intervals.

“This year’s preparations were most complete with nine checking stations, four of which checked two ways, and patrol cars covering all roads which closely paralleled the course for 18 miles. At Guffey Camp, which the contestants passed twice, at 24 miles and 38 miles, there was a field hospital station with a doctor in constant attendance, and on the summit of Mt. San Antonio, 10,000 feet in the air and 32 miles from the start, a four man team from the First Aid and Rescue Division, Disaster Unit, Alhambra Red Cross…”

Engelhardt won again in 1935 in a time of 13 hours and 32 minutes and for the third time in 1936 in a time of 13 hours and 13 minutes. In the Fourth Annual event in 1937 Engelhardt’s record for the 44 mile course was broken by Ray Ebel, who finished in a time of 13 hours 3 minutes.

“In this year’s race, as in those that have gone before, it was decidedly demonstrated that a thorough knowledge of the course is essential to win or even to finish. Of the four who passed Pine Mountain, three were off the course at some point, two of them seriously.”

Winners of the 1938 Fifth Annual Big Pines Trail Marathon. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Winners of the 1938 Fifth Annual Big Pines Trail Marathon. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Perhaps in an effort to make the course more straightforward, it was changed for the Fifth Annual race in 1938. Instead of returning from Mt. Baden-Powell and climbing Mt. Baldy via the North Backbone trail, the course continued west along the route of the present day Pacific Crest Trail (and AC100) to Windy Gap. At Windy Gap (then called Islip Saddle) the course descended to Crystal Lake Recreation Camp, turning around at the Ranger Headquarters for the 20 mile return to the Finish at Big Pines.

“It was a wild night on the mountain top, with winter temperatures and a gale of wind, a night which will be long remembered by both the contestants and those in charge of the checking and radio stations. Out of thirteen starters only six finished…”

Even in bad weather, the new forty mile course was more runnable and faster-paced. The report in Trails Magazine describes a competitive race that Big Pines Ski Club member Charles Melhorn won in 9 hours and 23 minutes — just 17 minutes ahead of Marine Reservist Don Wood. That works out to an average pace of 14 min/mile, with much of the running at night!

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Strawberry Peak, Switzer’s and the Old Colby Trail

Strawberry Peak and Colby Canyon
Strawberry Peak and Colby Canyon

The Colby Canyon Trail is one of the historic trails of the San Gabriel Mountains. When Switzer Camp was established in 1884, Colby Canyon was an irresistible gateway leading deeper into the wilderness. The compelling and sometimes snow-covered peak at its head was one of Switzer’s many attractions.

Jason and Owen Brown (1884). Photo: Los Angeles Public LIbrary
Jason and Owen Brown (1884). Photo: Los Angeles Public LIbrary

In the History of Pasadena Hiram A. Reid recounts the story of how the peak was named in 1886 “by some wags at Switzer’s camp” because of its resemblance to a strawberry. He goes on to describe how one of them irreverently added, “We called it Strawberry peak because there weren‘t any strawberries on it.”

While Strawberry may have been climbed previously, the establishment of Switzer’s made it possible to climb the peak recreationally. In Early Mountain Ascents in the San Gabriels (100 PEAKS Lookout, Jul-Aug 1971) John Robinson notes an 1887 ascent of Strawberry Peak by Owen and Jason Brown — sons of abolitionist John Brown. Robinson describes the “Brown Boys” as the first local “peak baggers.”

Colby Canyon and Arroyo Seco from high on Strawberry Peak.
Colby Canyon and Arroyo Seco from Strawberry Peak.

Climbing Strawberry via Colby Canyon has been a long-time favorite. Last Saturday I’d done Strawberry via Colby Canyon as part of loop — ascending the Colby Canyon Trail to Josephine Saddle, climbing over Strawberry Peak, running down to Red Box and then down the Gabrieleno Trail to Switzer’s. A 0.3 mile connection along Angeles Crest Highway completed the route.

Today I did a variation of the same loop, this time bypassing Josephine Saddle and following (more or less) the route of the old Colby Trail up the ridge at the head of Colby Canyon to Strawberry’s main west ridge.

Overview of the route of the old Colby Trail from Strawberry Peak
Overview of the route of the old Colby Trail

As shown on this USGS Tujunga topo map from 1900, a century ago the Colby Trail was much more direct. It linked Switzer’s Camp in upper Arroyo Seco to the Colby Ranch and other ranches and holdings in Big Tujunga Canyon. It was a much shorter alternative to the roundabout route that ascended to the head of Arroyo Seco (then Long Canyon), and then continued past present day Red Box to Barley Flats and down to Wickiup Canyon. More on the history of Colby Ranch and Big Tujunga Canyon can be found in the Winter 1938 edition of Trails Magazine (12.6 MB PDF).

Ridge that was the route of the old Colby Trail.
Ridge that was the route of the old Colby Trail.

A well-used game trail wanders up “Colby” ridge, but the path is far from ideal and not always distinct. Our four-legged friends don’t necessarily follow one path, especially where the route is steep and loose. Deer are well-suited to this kind of terrain, their long, skinny legs being perfect for following an overgrown path lined with thorny buck brush. In a couple of places there were short segments of trail that look like they might be remnants of the trail indicated on the 1900 topo.

Bear tracks on the west side of Strawberry Peak.
Bear tracks on the west side of Strawberry Peak.

It’s easy to understand why the old route on the ridge was abandoned; the route to Josephine Saddle is far better and MUCH faster!

These sections of the 1934 Mt. Lowe Quadrangle advance sheet and 1939 Mt. Lowe Quadrangle shows the dramatic changes in the area with the construction of Angeles Crest Highway (LRN 61) between La Canada and Colby Canyon. The 1934 sheet shows the reroute of the Colby Canyon Trail to Josephine Saddle and then contouring around Strawberry, as well as the trails along the west and east ridges of Strawberry and connecting from Lawlor Saddle to Colby Ranch. The updated 1939 sheet includes the Josephine Fire Lookout and the Josephine Fire Road.

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What’s the Fastest Route Up Mt. Baldy?

Baldy Bowl

There’s no getting around it. Sometimes it just feels good to go all out and push the pace up a peak. Just ask the 500+ that do the Mt. Baldy Run to the Top each year.

There are three routes up Mt. Baldy from Manker Flat on which I like to push the pace: the Ski Hut Trail, Register Ridge and the Run to the Top route via the Notch.

The 3.5 mile Register Ridge route is the shortest of the three routes. Since all three routes gain about 3900 feet in elevation, Register Ridge is also the steepest. From where the Register Ridge route leaves the Ski Hut Trail to where it joins the Devil’s Backbone Trail, it gains about 2600′ over about 1.5 miles — an AVERAGE grade of nearly 33%.

Since the Register Ridge route is about a half-mile shorter than the Ski Hut Trail, and the Ski Hut Trail is about 3 miles shorter than the R2T, it might seem either Register Ridge or the Ski Hut Trail would have to be the fastest route to the top of Baldy. For someone equally adept at running and steep hiking, this isn’t necessarily the case.

For a “short” ascent for which fatigue is not a major factor, it’s the elevation gain and not the distance that determines the time. Basically it’s a matter of the rate of climb the runner or hiker can sustain. The winning time of the Baldy R2T is usually just over an hour, which works out to about 3900 ft/hour. Pikes Peak Ascent winners average about 3600 ft/hour.

In round numbers to do Baldy in an hour you need to average:

• 7 mph or 9 min/mile on the R2T course.

• 4 mph or 15 min/mile on the Ski Hut Trail.

• 3.5 mph or 17 min/mile via Register Ridge route.

Following are some Strava Segments associated with these routes and the current Course Records:

Mt Baldy Summit via Ski Hut Trail (3.9 mi)
Brad Harris CR 1:06:58 Apr 17, 2015
Segment starts at Falls Road gate.

Mt. Baldy Run to the Top (6.8 mi)
Lucas Matison CR 1:05:24 Sep 5, 2016
Records are 1:00:49 by Matt Ebiner (1987), and 1:15:32 by Carrie Garritson (1988).
Segment starts at the ski area parking lot. Subtract about 1:00 to compare to the Ski Hut Trail time. This adjusts for running down to the Falls Road gate from the R2T start and for the R2T finish not being quite on the top.

Register to Summit (From base of Register Ridge)
Erik Schulte CR 1:08:56 Jun 19, 2015
Segment starts at the Register Ridge – Ski Hut Trail junction. Add about 10:00 to adjust for the time from Falls Road gate.

So even though the R2T course via the Notch is about 3 miles longer than the Ski Hut Trail route, the fastest (reported) times up Baldy have been by the R2T route. The Ski Hut Trail route is a close second, with the Register Ridge route is a distant third.

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Old Forest, New Forest

Regrowth near Grassy Hollow following the 1997 Narrows Fire

Each time I’ve run the segment of the Pacific Crest Trail between Inspiration Point and Vincent Gap I’ve been curious about a cluster of young pines in a burned area near Grassy Hollow. The trees appear to be older than similar areas of regrowth along the PCT between Mt. Baden-Powell and Little Jimmy Spring, which burned in the 2002 Curve Fire.

In turns out the area near Grassy Hollow was burned in the 18,186 acre Narrows Fire in 1997. That would make these trees about five years older than the Curve Fire regrowth.

Considering our huge precipitation deficit in Southern California over the past five years, the young trees in the Curve and Narrows fire areas seem to be doing surprisingly well.

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Crest and Clouds

Crest and clouds on the Pacific Crest Trail at 8900' near Mt. Burnham.

Crest and clouds on the Pacific Crest Trail at 8900′ near Mt. Burnham in the San Gabriel Mountains. From Saturday’s 30 mile training run on the PCT and AC100 course.

Cirrocumulus undulatus clouds above the San Gabriel Mountains. June 18, 2016.
Cirrocumulus undulatus clouds

Temps were a bit more manageable on Saturday than Sunday. Saturday the Big Pines RAWS (6964′) recorded a high of 79°F with an “in the sun” temperature of around 101°F. Sunday the Big Pines high was 89°F with a sizzling “in the sun” temperature of about 109°F.

In addition to the air temperature many Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS) report the fuel temperature. The air temperature is the temperature inside a ventilated, sun-shielded enclosure approximately 6 ft. off the ground. The fuel temperature is the temperature of a pine dowel in full sun near the ground. The fuel temperature is a good indicator of the much higher temperature runners and hikers can experience in exposed areas facing the sun.

Some related posts: Postcard Weather on the Pacific Crest Trail, What’s the Current Weather on the AC100 Course?

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After the Station Fire: Pine Seedling Along the Mt. Waterman Trail

Pine seedling along the Mt. Waterman Trail

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?

Jeffrey pine on the Mt. Waterman Trail burned in the 2009 Station Fire
Jeffrey pine burned in the 2009 Station 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…

Some related posts: Lemon Lily Along the Mt. Waterman Trail, After the Station Fire: Three Points – Mt. Waterman Loop, Three Points Loop Plus Mt. Waterman

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What’s the Current Weather on the AC100 Course?

Pacific Crest Trail on Kratka Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains

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.

Annotated Mt. Wilson Towercam Image
Annotated Mt. Wilson Towercam Image

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.)

Wrightwood KCAWRIGH7 PWS (5996′) – Approximately 0.25 mile W of Start. Was 55°F at 5 a.m. for 2015 AC100.

Wrightwood KCAWRIGH9 PWS (6000′) – Approximately 0.6 mile SE of Start. Was 59°F at 5 a.m. for 2015 AC100.

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.

Mountain High Ski Area Base & Top Conditions – Approximate elevation of Base is 7000′ and top is 8000′. Compare Base temp to Big Pines temp.

Chilao CHOC1 RAWS (5450′) – Approximately 1.25 miles WNW of Chilao aid. Fuel temp at 1:53 pm was 95°F for 2015 AC100. Air temp at 6:53 pm was 79°F.

Clear Creek CEKC1 RAWS (3000′) – Approximately 6.8 miles W of Shortcut Aid (~4793′). Was 71°F at 8:54 p.m. for 2015 AC100.

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.

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.

Altadena KCAALTAD41 PWS (1348′) – Approximately 0.4 miles NW of Finish.

It’s not on the AC100 course, but the Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts Web Cams and Weather can be useful for estimating mountain temps and for Baldy area training runs. The weather conditions are for the Notch at 7800′. 24 hour plots of temperature, wind, and barometric pressure are also available.

Related post: The Ups and Downs of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run

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Bear Canyon Loop Plus Strawberry Peak

San Gabriel Mountains from Strawberry Peak

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.

Bear Canyon from above Tom Sloan Saddle
Bear Canyon

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.

Skye running on a nice section of the Bear Canyon Trail near Arroyo Seco.
Bear Creek Trail near Arroyo Seco

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.

Some related posts: Red Box – Bear Canyon – Gabrielino Loop Revisited, Red Box – Bear Canyon – Gabrielino Loop, Red Box – Bear Canyon Loop, Strawberry – Bear Canyon Loop

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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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