Category Archives: trails|san gabriels

Record Heat for the 2017 Mt. Disappointment 50K & 25K

Record Heat for the 2017 Mt. Disappointment 50K and 25K

The heat was oppressive. The air was sweltering and still, reminding me of hot nights in the South, when heat lightning flashed on the horizon, and any movement was an effort. An adductor muscle in my left leg started to cramp and I jumped up from the reclining chair. Heat, and more heat had been the theme of this day. I had returned home from running my eleventh, and hottest, Mt. Disappointment 50K, only to be caught in a widespread power failure caused by a transformer explosion and fire in a Northridge distribution station.

How hot was it for the 2017 Mt. Disappointment races on Mt. Wilson?

In the sun temps recorded by the Clear Creek RAWS for all the Mt. Disappointment races
In the sun temps recorded by the Clear Creek RAWS for all the Mt. Disappointment races. Click for larger image.

– Between 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. the in the sun temps recorded by the Clear Creek RAWS (on the 50K course) ranged from 115 °F to 121 °F. Out of the sun temps ranged from 94 °F to 98 °F.

– Between 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. an ANF portable weather station adjacent to the Mt. Wilson Observatory recorded in the sun temps ranging from 106 °F to 114 °F. Out of the sun temps ranged from 92 °F to 96 °F.

– The temperature (inside a ventilated instrument housing) on Mt. Wilson at CBS Radio reached a high of 103 degrees. This appears to be the highest temperature at that location since it came online in 2008 and may have been the hottest temperature on Mt. Wilson in several decades.

– Downtown Los Angeles (USC) reached a record high for the date of 98 degrees, breaking a 131 year old record.

Even more remarkable than the weather were the performances of the top runners. Ruperto Romero was the overall winner of the 50K with an astounding time of 4:38:44. This was only a couple of minutes slower than his winning 2015 time — when temps were 20-30 degrees cooler. In what must have been an exciting finish in the Women’s division, Elizabeth Ochoa cranked out a 6:19:45, just edging out Ana Guijarro by eight seconds. Victor Martinez won the 25K in 2:08:01, with Jay Nadeau taking the top women’s time in 3:05:13. All the Mt. Disappointment results are available on UltraSignup.

The heat continued to build past noon, peaking between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. This made for a long day for those of us in the back of the pack. At 1:00 p.m Red Box Road was a blast furnace, facing directly into the sun. I was very glad to have scouted the final seven miles of the course last weekend. The creeks crossing the road really helped to keep from becoming over-heated. Strayns Creek on the Kenyon Devore climb also helped me to cool down.

Many thanks to Gary and Pam Hilliard and all the Mt. Disappointment staff, volunteers, sponsors and runners. The aid station personnel were phenomenal, and all their assistance was much appreciated. The efforts of the Forest Service were also much appreciated. ANF personnel were on the trails and at the aid stations, helping runners.

Some related posts: The Kenyon Devore Trail and Mt. Disappointment 50K,  Mt. Disappointment 50K Returns, Mt. Disappointment 50K 2012 Notes

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The Kenyon Devore Trail and Mt. Disappointment 50K

Strayns Canyon from the Kenyon Devore Trail in Angeles National Forest

The photograph above was taken a little more than a mile from the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail, in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Mt. Wilson. The deep canyon seen through the trees is Strayns Canyon, which the trail follows on its way from the West Fork San Gabriel River to the shoulder of Mt. Wilson.

Bright green Bigcone Douglas fir cones
Bigcone Douglas fir

Today, I’d run down the Kenyon Devore and Gabrieleno Trails to West Fork and then up the Red Box – Rincon Road to point on the map marked Camp Ah-DA-Hi. (A former Woodcraft Rangers Camp.) With hot weather forecast next Saturday for the Mt. Disappointment 50K, I’d been glad to see the small streams that had been dry during the drought were running again.

Trails have stories to tell and when I run or hike a trail I’m always curious about its history. A trail between the West Fork San Gabriel River and Mt. Wilson is shown in the 1:62500 1897 edition of the USGS 1894 Los Angeles Sheet. Like many trails of the era, it followed a ridge, in this case a ridge just east of Strayns Canyon.

Antennae on Mt. Wilson at the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail.
Antennae on Mt. Wilson at the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail.

The first USGS map to show a trail along Strayns Creek was the 1:24000 1934 Mt. Wilson Advance Sheet. The trail remained unnamed in USGS maps until the 1966 edition of the 1:24000 Mt. Wilson Quadrangle, when it was labeled the Rattlesnake Trail. The trail was renamed the Kenyon Devore Trail in the 1995 edition of the map in tribute to Forest Service patrolman, hydrographer, and Angeles National Forest volunteer, Kenyon DeVore.

The Kenyon Devore Trail is part of the Mt. Disappointment 50K course. It is one of several trails maintained by runner-volunteers under the guidance of Forest Service volunteer and Mt. Disappointment Race Director, Gary Hilliard. Today, as I was on my way back up to Mt. Wilson, I ran into Gary and two volunteers cutting logs from the trail in preparation for next Saturday’s event.

Gary Valle and Gary Hilliard on the lower Kenyon Devore Trail.
Gary and the Other Gary on the lower Kenyon Devore Trail.

The grueling 5 mile, 2650′ climb from West Fork to Mt. Wilson on the Gabrieleno & Kenyon Devore Trails comes at about mile 26.5 of the 50K and is the highlight of the run.

I have to laugh about what happened on the Kenyon Devore climb one hot year. I’d jammed my Camelbak(TM) with so much ice at the West Fork aid station that when water was added, it melded and froze into one large chunk. I didn’t discover this until about halfway up the climb, when I ran out of water. You can’t drink a chunk of ice and even at 90 degrees, the ice was melting at an agonizingly slow rate. At best I could only get a minuscule sip of water from the pack every few minutes, and it nearly imploded from my efforts.

Some related posts: Mt. Disappointment 50K Returns!, Mt. Disappointment 50K 2012 Notes

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Along the Crest

Trees and clouds along the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains. Photography by Gary Valle.

I rounded the corner, driving from deep shade into the golden glare of the rising sun. There was almost no traffic on Angeles Crest Highway. Up ahead, in the shade of some trees, there was something in the road. Was it a rock or a pine cone? Driving into the sun it was hard to tell. At this time of the morning — before the CalTrans truck has swept the road — one small rock can ruin your whole day. Getting to the trailhead unscathed is always the first challenge of the day.

Middle Hawkins from the Pacific Crest Trail. Photography by Gary Valle.
Middle Hawkins from the Pacific Crest Trail.

Today, Craig and I were planning to do a point to point run from Inspiration Point to Islip Saddle — one of the best stretches of trail in the San Gabriel Mountains.

PCTA volunteer Ray Drasher often takes care of clearing the trees from this section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s quite an undertaking to get the required stock and equipment to the trailhead and then cut trees spread over several miles of trail. Because of conflicting reports, Ray wasn’t sure whether there were trees still on the trail or not. We’d let him know after the run.

On the drive up you could see it was going to be a spectacular day in the Angeles high country. A low pressure trough moving through central California had pulled in the marine layer and a tumultuous ocean of cloud reached from the south-facing canyons far out over the Pacific.

Trail runner descending the PCT near Mt. Burnham.
Craig descending the PCT near Mt. Burnham.

I drove through the double tunnels at Mt. Williamson and then around a left-hand curve. Up ahead I could see the northwest ridge of Mt. Islip dropping down to Islip Saddle. What the heck? Orange cones? The gate is closed? The HIGHWAY is closed? That didn’t make sense; the Winter closure had ended weeks before.

After parking, I talked to a hiker who said it was closed for “road work.” I assumed there must have been a rock slide in one of the problematic areas between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap. Later I learned the problem was a “sink hole” west of the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center.

After Craig arrived we discussed route options to Mt. Baden-Powell. Either we did the South Fork loop, which I’d done a couple weeks before, or we did an out and back on the PCT. We opted for the out and back.

Weather-beaten limber pine near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. Photography by Gary Valle.
Weather-beaten limber pine near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell.

The run was as spectacular as expected. The visibility above the deck of stratus was at least 100 miles. San Bernardino Peak, San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto were easy marks to the east and Owens Peak and the Southern Sierra could be seen to the north. Before it was immersed in a tide of cloud, the summit of Santiago Peak (Saddleback) had been visible to the south. High clouds and a gusty westerly wind kept the temperatures moderate. Only one very small patch of snow remained on the trail.

I’d hoped to be able to tell Ray the trees had been cleared from the trail, but no — they were still there. He said the next time I ran there, they would be gone. Thanks Ray!

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Say Goodbye to the Snow in the San Gabriel Mountains

Patches of snow on the PCT west of Mt. Baden-Powell

Each year around Memorial Day weekend I like to do a run that includes Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′). It’s a good time to check how much snow remains at the higher elevations of the San Gabriel Mountains. In a heavy snow season, such as 2004-2005, higher sections of trail may still be buried in snow and drifts can persist into July. In below average years, such as we experienced from 2013 to 2016, there may be little or no snow.

South Fork Trail below Islip Saddle
South Fork Trail below Islip Saddle

There are several good runs that summit Mt. Baden-Powell. If Hwy 2 is still closed between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap, I’ll usually do an out and back from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell. If Hwy 2 is open, then a point to point run from Inspiration Point to Islip Saddle or Eagles Roost is a good option. Today the choice was one of my favorite loops in the San Gabriels. It starts at Islip Saddle, descends to South Fork Campground, then climbs about 5000′ to the summit Mt. Baden-Powell. From Baden-Powell the route follows the Pacific Crest Trail back to Islip Saddle.

Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell.
Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell.

This was my third time on the PCT between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell this Spring. The first was at the beginning of April and was more of a snow hike than a run. The micro spikes went on at 7000′, less than 0.7 mile from the Islip Saddle trailhead. The second trip was two weeks later, in mid-April. Micro spikes were still helpful in a couple of places and there was still plenty of snow on the north side of the crest. Based on other seasons with a similar amount of snow, I thought some patches of snow might last into June, or even early July. Today (May 27) only a few patches remain on Baden-Powell and along the crest, and these will soon be gone.

Manzanita Trail between South Fork Campground and Vincent Gap
Manzanita Trail between South Fork Campground and Vincent Gap

Except for being a little disappointed there wasn’t more snow, the run went well. The South Fork Trail was rocky and rough — as usual. The Manzanita Trail, which connects South Fork Campground to Vincent Gap, has seen a lot of work in recent years and is in relatively good shape. Even the gnats weren’t bad. I saw no one on the South Fork and Manzanita Trails. As might be expected on a Saturday on Memorial Day Weekend, there were “a few” hikers, thru-hikers and runners on the PCT.

The South Fork Trail is part of a long and little-used “official” PCT detour around the mountain yellow-legged frog closure at Eagles Roost. Based on the number of thru-hikers I see on Hwy 2, most opt to hike the 2.7 road miles between Eagles Roost and Buckhorn Campground and then descend the Burkhart Trail to the PCT. It’s been more than 11 years since the initial “temporary” closure of the Williamson Rock area in December 2005. Hopefully it won’t be too many more years before the proposed plan to reopen the PCT and partially reopen Williamson Rock is completed.

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Misplaced on Mt. Wilson

View from the Rim Trail on Mt. Wilson

I’d just finished an 18 mile loop from the top of Mt. Wilson and was changing my shoes, when I noticed a group of six hikers walking down the Mt. Wilson loop road toward me. I’d started my run before the Mt. Wilson gate was open and was parked in a turnout near the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail.

Poodle-dog bush along the Rim Trail on Mt. Wilson.
Poodle-dog bush along the Rim Trail on Mt. Wilson.

The run over to Newcomb Pass, down to Chantry Flat, and then back up to Wilson had gone well. If you don’t mind a little Poodle-dog bush and a lot of poison oak, the Rim Trail is one of the hidden gems of the San Gabriels. And the Gabrielino Trail’s excursion through the forests and along the creeks of Big Santa Anita Canyon is a classic.

When the group reached me, one of them asked,”We’re looking for the Winter Trail, do you know where that is?” I did know where the Upper Winter Creek Trail was, because I’d just been at the top of it about 45 minutes earlier.

With its maze of antennae, telescopes and other facilities, it’s not uncommon for hikers and runners unfamiliar with the top of Wilson to become temporarily misplaced. The trails are, of course, on maps — including Google Maps — and described in various online and offline resources.

Bigleaf maple along the Gabrielino Trail in Big Santa Anita Canyon.
Bigleaf maple along the Gabrielino Trail in Big Santa Anita Canyon.

In this case the hikers didn’t know where they had parked and they didn’t know the route that had taken up the mountain. If you don’t have a clue where you need to go, a map isn’t very useful.

When I described where they needed to go, there were groans all around.

It was midday, the weather was good, it wasn’t hot, they had water and a phone, they would be hiking mostly downhill, and there were plenty of other hikers on the trail. Unless they did something really stoopid, it was just going to be a long day.

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Front Range Duo: San Gabriel Peak and Strawberry Peak

Bigcone Douglas-fir on San Gabriel Peak
Bigcone Douglas-fir on San Gabriel Peak

The two highest peaks in the front range of the San Gabriels, Strawberry Peak (6164′) and San Gabriel Peak (6161′) are about three miles apart as the raven flies and about 6 miles apart by trail. If you don’t mind running/hiking a third of a mile on Mt. Wilson Road, you can do both of them from Red Box as a 12 mile run/hike with a total gain of about 3000′.

Strawberry Peak and Mt. Lawlor from San Gabriel Peak.
Strawberry Peak and Mt. Lawlor from San Gabriel Peak.

Earlier this morning, I’d done San Gabriel Peak. It’s the shorter of the two ascents — from Red Box it’s about 2.4 miles to the summit. While the elevation gain is nearly the same as climbing Strawberry, it is a less strenuous and more straightforward peak. Except for a short stint on the service road below Mt. Disappointment, the grade of the San Gabriel Peak Trail is relatively constant — and the trail goes all the way to the summit.

Josephine Peak (5558') and Mt. Lukens (5074') from the summit of Strawberry Peak.
Josephine Peak and Mt. Lukens from the summit of Strawberry Peak.

The route up Strawberry Peak is distinctly different. The initial 2.5 miles follows the Strawberry Peak Trail to Lawlor Saddle, gaining a moderate 500′ along the way. From there a steep, rough and sometimes rocky use trail ascends 950′ in a little over a mile to Strawberry’s summit.

That’s where I was now — nearly at the end of that brutal mile-long climb. My heart was racing and my legs felt like Jello. Reaching the crest of Strawberry’s final false summit, I jogged across the shoulder of the peak and on uncooperative legs climbed the final few feet to the summit.

To the southeast, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment stood across the canyon and further to the east, indistinct in the morning haze was snow-capped Mt. Baldy. To the west, the view extended past Josephine Peak and Mt. Lukins to the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica Mountains and Santa Susana Mountains.

The southwest side of San Gabriel Peak was burned in the 2009 Station Fire.
The southwest side of San Gabriel Peak was burned in the 2009 Station Fire.

Recovery from the devastating 2009 Station Fire continues on both peaks. The amount, extent and size of Poodle-dog bush (Eriodictyon parryi) in the burn area is slowly diminishing. Some plants have died, but there are still viable plants of which to be wary. These plants were on the San Gabriel Peak Trail, above the notch, on the final climb to the summit of the peak. I don’t recall seeing any Poodle-dog bush on the ascent of Strawberry from Red Box, but it is still present on the west side of the peak.

Some related posts: Strawberry Peak, Switzer’s and the Old Colby Trail, Bear Canyon Loop Plus Strawberry Peak, After the Station Fire: Ten Miles – Four Peaks

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Savoring the Snow Between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell

Snow on the PCT east of Mt. Burnham.
Snow on the PCT east of Mt. Burnham.

The two hikers stopped on one side of the broad chute and I stopped on the other. We were on the Pacific Crest Trail about a half-mile from Little Jimmy Campground and had paused to put on micro spikes before crossing the icy slope. It was the same chute that had been so unnerving for a couple hiking down from Little Jimmy on a chilly morning two weeks before.

http://www.photographyontherun.com/content/binary/SanJacintoDawsonBaldy1020343c.jpg
Mt. San Jacinto from Mt. Baden-Powell. Click for a larger image.

After the hikers crossed we chatted for a moment about the snow. They were doing the PCT and I asked them what gear they used on Fuller Ridge — an infamous section of the trail on Mt. San Jacinto. They said they’d used micro spikes and ice axes. The segment had gone well, but at one point it had taken them four hours to do two miles!

It’s not often there’s this much snow in April in the mountains of Southern California. After venturing to Mt. Hawkins a couple of weeks ago, I had wanted to get back to the San Gabriels and check out the snow on the higher part of the crest between Mt. Burnham (8997′) and Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′).

Mt. Burnham (near) and Throop Peak (behind) from just west of Mt. Baden-Powell.
Mt. Burnham (near) and Throop Peak (behind) from just west of Mt. Baden-Powell.

The photo on the left is a view west along the crest from the shoulder of Mt. Baden-Powell to Mt. Burnham and Throop Peak. Strong, southerly winds that accompany Winter storms blow from left to right across the crest, depositing extra snow in the wind-shadowed lee of the ridge. Snow accumulates along the ridge in dense, deep drifts, which in a big snow year can persist well into Summer.

Snow at 9100 feet along the crest just west of Mt. Baden-Powell
Snow at 9100′ along the crest just west of Mt. Baden-Powell.

The PCT between Mt. Baden-Powell and Throop Peak generally follows along the crest, tending to the north (right) side of the ridge and detouring around Mt. Baden-Powell and Mt. Burnham on their north slopes, and around Throop Peak on its southeast side.

Today, I stayed more or less on the crest between the summit of Baden-Powell and the PCT’s junction with the Dawson Saddle Trail, using the trail and snow where possible, but avoiding big drifts and steeper snow slopes. Between Throop Peak and Islip Saddle I stayed on the trail, and used micro spikes in a couple of places.

Lower elevation snow is melting relatively rapidly, but snow on the north-facing slopes at higher elevation could be around for weeks. Some patches and drifts may last into June or July. We’ll see!

Snow-capped Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powe;;

On the summit of Baden-Powell I pondered Mt. Baldy and thought about Sam and his love of the outdoors and Mt. Baldy. His effusive spirit will linger there always, and we’ll smile when we encounter it.

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Warming Up for the PCT

Snow on the Pacific Crest Trail near Little Jimmy Spring. April 2, 2017.

Seasonal snowfall in the mountains of Southern California is inconsistent at best. According to Tony Crocker’s Your Guide to Snowfall, in the past 20 years SoCal snowfall has ranged from a record high of 267 inches during the strong El Nino of 1997-98, to a low of 29 inches in 2013-14 during our prolonged drought.

Snow-covered slopes from the Pacific Crest Trail near Little Jimmy Spring. April 2, 2017.
Snow-covered slopes from the PCT near Little Jimmy Spring.

So far this season, Your Guide to Snowfall’s total for SoCal is 143 inches, which is a bit above average and far more than we’ve had in recent years. After seeing the amount of snow on the higher peaks of the San Gabriels from Mt. Waterman a couple weeks ago, I was curious to see what the conditions were on the PCT between Islip Saddle (6650′) and Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′).

Joining me on today’s adventure was Patty Duffy. An avid outdoorsperson and ultrarunner, Patty did the JMT last year, and will soon be embarking on an epic border-to-border journey on the Pacific Crest Trail. Epitomizing the “hope is not a strategy” approach to challenges, today she was using much of the gear she would be using on the PCT — and in addition — carrying a sleeping bag, tent, stove and two days food!

Icy stretch of snow on the PCT at 7100', about 0.7 mile from Islip Saddle.
Icy stretch of snow on the PCT at 7100′, about 0.7 mile from Islip Saddle.

Even though we started an hour later than normal, and temperatures had warmed  the past couple of days, the snow on the shaded, north-facing slopes was still icy. Two hikers on their way down from Little Jimmy had trouble crossing one slippery slope. They had no crampons or micro-spikes and threw dirt on the snow to get by. It was obvious when we reached the area they described – a northeast facing gully. The slope was steep enough that a fall would have been very serious. Steep slopes, chutes and gullies are common along the trail between Islip Saddle and Baden-Powell.

Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from near Mt. Hawkins.
Pine Mountain, Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from near Mt. Hawkins.

The question of what is appropriate gear for hiking an icy trail in this kind of terrain doesn’t have a simple answer. Boots, “real” crampons, and an ice axe provide a lot of security when crossing a steep, icy slope; but many other combinations of footwear, traction devices, poles, and self-arrest tools are commonly used. Conditions can rapidly improve or deteriorate and equipment can fail. Whatever combination of equipment is selected it’s important to understand its use and limitations.

After reaching an elevation of about 8000′, we stayed on the crest all the way to Mt. Hawkins (8850′) and the Mt. Hawkins lightning tree. The ridge route had the advantage of being mostly snow-free, but in places is quite rocky and steep. There are also a number of downed trees scattered across the ridge — vestiges of the 2002 Curve Fire.

Summit of Mt. Hawkins (8850').
Patty on the summit of Mt. Hawkins (8850′).

In middle of Winter in 2014 there was so little snow on the PCT between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell it was possible to run to Baden-Powell and back, do Mt. Hawkins, Throop Peak and Mt. Burnham along the way, and be back to Islip Saddle in the early afternoon. Not today. Winter’s storms had left more of the trail snow-covered than snow-free — and not with just a little snow.

A little beyond the Hawkins – Throop Peak saddle we stopped at a sunny, wind-protected spot with a nice view of Mt. Baldy for a few minutes, and then headed down. The snow conditions had improved considerably, and at one point we glissaded down a short slope.

It had been another outstanding day in the mountains, and I could only sigh, thinking of the many great days and experiences that Patty would have on the Pacific Crest Trail.

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Downed Trees, Melting Snow and a Waterfall

Snow-covered slopes from the Mt. Waterman Trail

Climbing up the slope and around the big incense cedar I stopped for a moment to enjoy the smell of the splintered wood. There had been so trees across the trail I’d lost count, but this was in the neighborhood of the 35th tree I’d had to work around on my way to Mt. Waterman.

Trees near Three Points burned in the 2009 Station Fire
Trees burned in the 2009 Station Fire

My run on the Mt. Waterman & Twin Peaks Trail had started at Three Points. Initially, I’d been encouraged to see some trees had been cut and removed from the trail. But the area was hard hit by the 2009 Station Fire and the combination of fire, years of drought, and rough winter weather seemed to be felling an increasing number of trees each year.

Across the canyon the north face of Twin Peaks was still blanketed in snow. On this warm, south-facing slope the snow was almost gone, exposing a veneer of pine needles, last Summer’s gray and wilted ferns, and the Winter excavations of industrious moles. In every gulch and gully water spilled down the mountainside; splashing, bubbling and burbling downslope under gravity’s spell.

Snow-covered Mt. Baldy from the Mt. Waterman Trail
Mt. Baldy from the Mt. Waterman Trail

This was supposed to be a recovery run, following last Saturday’s abridged — but arduous — run on the Backbone Trail. (Many thanks to Howard & Mike and all the volunteers!) The plan was to just go to the summit of Waterman and then back down the same way. But… the idea of crawling over, through or around more than 40 trees a second time just didn’t sound that appealing.

When I reached the junction with Mt. Waterman’s summit trail it took about a millisecond to make the decision to continue on the loop. It would be longer, and would have more elevation gain, but it was a beautiful day and my legs felt OK. Who knew when there would be another opportunity to do the loop in these conditions?

Snow along the Mt. Waterman Trail about a half-mile from Buckhorn
Snow along the Mt. Waterman Trail

Much of the trail down to Buckhorn was covered with snow. Not so much snow as to be a problem, but enough to be interesting and scenic. The weather was great and snow conditions excellent. Following the tracks of hikers, my socks didn’t even get wet!

Reaching Angeles Crest Highway, I ran east a short distance to the entrance of Buckhorn Campground. The gate was locked and the campground still closed for the Winter. Patches of snow, deadfall and other debris littered the area. When the camp is open, I top off my water here. Today the faucets were dry, but with the cool weather that would not be an issue.

Most of the hikers on the Burkhart Trail were going to see Cooper Canyon Falls. Seeing the falls was one of the reasons I’d decided to continue on the loop. My thoughts drifted back to April 1995 when Gary Gunder and I carried our kayaks down this trail and paddled Little Rock Creek from Cooper Canyon to the South Fork. (We put-in below the falls.)

The flow over the falls was the most I’d seen in several years and was probably nearing its peak. After enjoying the falls for a few minutes I scrambled out of the gorge and headed up the PCT. Like all that visit the falls, I now had to climb out of Cooper Canyon.

Drought-stressed young pine in Cooper Canyon
Drought-stressed young pine in Cooper Canyon

The effects of a prolonged drought don’t just disappear overnight, no matter how much it rains or snows. This was particularly evident on the sun-baked segment of the PCT above Cooper Canyon Camp. Just above the camp a large, green-needled Jeffry Pine had collapsed, leaving a large crater where its roots had been. In the year since I’d been on the trail, trees on the warmest, south-facing slopes had become more drought-stressed. It seemed additional trees had died and more had yellowing and brown needles.

Cooper Canyon can be hot, but today the temperature was pleasant. Eventually I reached Cloudburst Summit and clambered over a final steep patch of snow to reach the saddle. Three Points was now just a few miles away. I crossed Hwy 2 and started running down the trail.

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After the Station Fire: Strawberry Peak Summit Regrowth

Chaparral regrowth near the summit of Strawberry Peak

Did the Colby Canyon – Strawberry Peak – Red Box loop again over the Thanksgiving holidays. While taking some photos near Strawberry’s summit I was struck by the regrowth that has occurred since the 2009 Station Fire. What caught my eye were the bare limbs of the old growth, burned in the fire, projecting from the new, dense, green growth.

The growth of the chaparral over the seven years since the fire does not appear to have been noticeably impaired by the 2011-2015 drought in Southern California. (In the photograph above note the height of the regrowth compared to my friend near the summit.)

This conclusion is based in part on the observation of chaparral regrowth following other fires, such as the 2005 Topanga Fire, but is also supported by comparing the amount of new growth to the pre-Station Fire growth. This can be inferred by the length of the burned limbs and the approximate age of the chaparral when burned by the Station Fire.

According to the FRAP California geodatabase of fire perimeters, the last fire to burn the summit of Strawberry Peak was the 1979 Sage Fire, which burned approximately 30,000 acres. Before that you have to go back to 1896 to find another fire in the database that burned Strawberry’s summit.

In the absence of fire, it appears that in another 23 years the chaparral in the title photo could reach a similar height and extent to the old growth.

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Mt. Lukens, Then and Now

View of the San Gabriels from the Stone Canyon Trail
View of Josephine, Strawberry and other peaks from the Stone Canyon Trail

The last time I climbed Mt. Lukens was in the 70s. Drawn by its classic line, Phil Warrender and I climbed Lukens’ west ridge — a long, trailless ascent that started near the probation camp on Big Tujunga Canyon Road. Many years and many adventures later I was back on Lukens — this time on the Stone Canyon Trail.

Curious about the current condition of the trail, last night I read a few recent trip reports. It was a bit like reading tabloid news. If the reports were to be taken at face value, it would be a hellish, impossible to find, unmaintained, horribly overgrown, washed out trail that was lined with poison oak and poodle dog bush, and writhing with rattlesnakes.

Google Earth image of Mt. Lukens and the Stone Canyon Trail
Mt. Lukens and the Stone Canyon Trail

It was evident in the first mile that the Stone Canyon Trail is a classic, no nonsense, ear-popping trail. First shown on the 1933 La Crescenta Quadrangle Advance Sheet, the route of the trail is pretty much the same now as it was then, starting near Wildwood in Big Tujunga Canyon and zig-zagging up the ridge just east of Stone Canyon to the summit of the peak.(The 1933 topo also shows a trail along the route Phil and I climbed.)

The Stone Canyon Trail tops out about a half-mile northwest of Mt. Lukins’ summit. Like many urban peaks, the summit is cluttered with electronics, but there are still worthwhile views on and near the top of the peak.

View from Mt. Lukens of the Crescenta Valley, the Verdugo Mountains and beyond.
Crescenta Valley, the Verdugo Mountains and beyond.

While on the summit, a LASD’s Air Rescue 5 helicopter flew by to the east — I guessed on the way to the Barley Flats staging area. But part way down the peak I heard the airship to the northeast and noticed a cloud of dust being stirred up from a turnout on Angeles Forest Highway. Once again Air Rescue 5 was at work. It’s astonishing how many calls they get.

Continuing to run down the trail I thought about some of the online comments I’d read the night before.

Hellish? Well, sure, on a hot day. Unless you’re looking to get in some heat training, don’t climb it on a hot day. Climb it when the weather is clear and cool!

Bottom of the Stone Canyon Trail
Bottom of the Stone Canyon Trail

Impossible to find the trail? Except for the big sign at the trailhead parking lot, I didn’t see any trail markers. But if you have a “big picture” view of where the trail is in relation to the parking lot, it’s not too hard to find.

Unmaintained? These days most trail maintenance is done by volunteers. A trail like the Stone Canyon Trail is kept alive through use, sporadic organized trailwork, and an occasional snip here and snip there.

Horribly overgrown? The higher you go the more overgrown it is, but today it was not yet to the point that serious bushwhacking was required. I wore running shorts. (But I almost always wear running shorts.)

Washed out? Yes, there were a few small washouts, and the margin of the trail has collapsed in a number of places. With care, all were passable. One of the washouts was a little larger, and required a bit more care than the others.

Slopes at the head of Stone Canyon on Mt. Lukens.
Slopes at the head of Stone Canyon

Poison oak and poodle dog bush? Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see any poison oak. There was a minuscule amount of dried up PDB. (Ask me about the PO later in the week.)

Rattlesnakes? Always a possibility, even in Winter. But this is true in most areas of Southern California. In my experience the chance of encountering a rattlesnake is less from November through February, but there’s still a chance.

Ear-popping? The trail gains about 3,270 feet in 3.8 miles. My ears “popped” a couple of times on the way up.

Theoretically the gate on Doske Road is open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. The Angeles National Forest web site showed the status of the Wildwood Picnic Site to be open, but the gate was not open today. I parked in the large turnout on Big Tujunga Canyon just west of the gate and ran about a half-mile on Doske and Stonyvale Roads to the parking lot and trailhead.

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