Category Archives: trails|san gabriels

The Rattlesnakes Are Blooming

Rattlesnake on the PCT east of San Francisquito Canyon.

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.

Hard to see rattlesnake on the PCT a few miles west of Bouquet Canyon.
See the rattlesnake? Click for larger view.

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.

Some related posts: Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, Big Southern Pacific Rattlesnake at Ahmanson Ranch

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Hitting the (Big) Hills of Southern California



Comparison of Whitney (Trail), San Gorgonio (Vivian Creek) and San Jacinto (Devils Slide)

Updated November 12, 2014. Added Register Ridge on Mt. Baldy and the Siberia Creek Trail in Big Bear.

Southern California is noted for its foothills and mountains. It’s so hilly here that most trail runs have at least one good climb. Even if you aren’t a high mileage runner, the elevation gained on those hills can add up fast. So far this year SportTracks puts my cumulative elevation gain at about 320,000 feet.

I was curious to see how some of the “hills” in Southern California compare, so I wrote a Flash application that interactively displays the elevation profiles of a selection of SoCal ascents. Generally trails were picked that could be done in day from L.A. The selection includes some East Side Sierra ascents, routes up most of the major Southern California peaks, and some hills from some Southern California races.

The profiles and other stats are based on DEM corrected data from GPS tracks. All distances, elevations, elevation gains and elevation profiles are approximate. Elevations have been corrected and elevation gains (conservatively) calculated using SportTracks.

The Flash app is loading a lot of data, so it may take a while to load. The app is best viewed on a desktop, laptop, or tablet. It can’t be viewed on an iPad/iPhone unless a browser that supports Flash, such as Photon, is used. Here is the updated selection of elevation profiles and the selection from 2012. The “Fit Selected” button is used to fit the chart to the currently selected set of elevation profiles. The “Fit Elev/Distance” button is used to format the chart according to user specified elevations and distances.

In this selection of hills Cactus to Clouds is the longest (14.7 miles) and has the most altitude gain (10,812 feet). Register Ridge on Mt. Baldy has the steepest mile (1745 fpm) and is the steepest overall (1127 fpm). Mt. Whitney has the highest finishing elevation (14,505 feet).

Following are some additional details about each of the ascents, including the length of the climb, elevation gain, average gradient and steepest mile. The distance specified is just for climb described — not the entire run. The headings below are the shorthand name of the climb used in the legend of the app.

Whitney

Mt. Whitney via the trail from Whitney Portal.
Distance: 10.5 mi – Gain: 6657 ft – Avg Gradient: 632 fpm – Steepest Mile: 900 fpm @ mile 4.5

Requires permit. The 1991 Los Angeles Times story about Marty Hornick’s 2:08:30 ascent of Whitney via the Mountaineers Route mentions a 2:17 time via the trail. According to the China Lake Mountain Rescue Group’s Talus Pile December 2002, Issue # 126, Jason Lakey did the roundtrip via the Mountaineer’s Route in a record 3:10:07.

Related post: East Face Mt. Whitney, Tower Traverse

Langley

Mt. Langley via Army Pass from Horseshoe Meadow Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead.
Distance: 10.2 mi – Gain: 4161 ft – Avg Gradient: 408 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1275 fpm @ mile 8.8

Army Pass is often choked with snow. New Army Pass is used as an alternative. Last couple of miles is on use trails and depending on your route could involve a little scrambling.

Related post: Mt. Langley in a Day from L.A.

New Army Pass

New Army Pass from Horseshoe Meadow Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead.
Distance: 8.4 mi – Gain: 2409 ft – Avg Gradient: 274 fpm – Steepest Mile: 617 fpm @ mile 7.4

Related post: New Army Pass – Cottonwood Pass Loop

Olancha

Olancha Peak via the Sage Flat Trail and “cow driveway”.
Distance: 9.2 mi – Gain: 6213 ft – Avg Gradient: 676 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1437 fpm @ mile 8.2

Last mile or so to the summit is not on a trail and involves some scrambling up rocks.

Related post: Olancha Peak Sierra Panorama

Kearsarge Pass

Kearsarge Pass from Onion Valley.
Distance: 4.9 mi – Gain: 2610 ft – Avg Gradient: 531 fpm – Steepest Mile: 641 fpm @ mile 1.0

Various runs can be done from the pass.

Related post: Up and Over Kearsarge Pass

High Line

Mt. San Gorgonio via Momyer and San Bernardino Divide Trail.
Distance: 15.0 mi – Gain: 7146 ft – Avg Gradient: 478 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1119 fpm @ mile 4.0

Requires permit. Total distance starting/ending at Momyer is about 26 miles.

Related post: San Gorgonio High Line 2009

Momyer

The Momyer Trail to the San Bernardino Divide Trail.
Distance: 7.1 mi – Gain: 5023 ft – Avg Gradient: 707 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1119 fpm @ mile 4.0

Requires permit. Once up to the San Bernardino Divide Trail there is a choice of around ten peaks over 10,000′.

Related post: San Gorgonio High Line

Falls Creek

Mt. San Gorgonio via Momyer and Falls Creek Trails.
Distance: 15.0 mi – Gain: 6397 ft – Avg Gradient: 481 fpm – Steepest Mile: 872 fpm @ mile 1.7

Requires permit. Total distance starting/ending at Momyer is 24 miles.

Related post: San Gorgonio Mountain – Falls Creek Loop 2011

Vivian Creek

Mt. San Gorgonio via Vivian Creek Trail.
Distance: 9.4 mi – Gain: 5464 ft – Avg Gradient: 585 fpm – Steepest Mile: 920 fpm @ mile 7.7

Requires permit. This is the descent route for High Line and Falls Creek loops.

Cactus to Clouds

Mt. San Jacinto via the Skyline Trail, Round Valley Trail and San Jacinto Peak Trail.
Distance: 14.7 mi – Gain: 10812 ft – Avg Gradient: 736 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1499 fpm @ mile 7.3

Requires permit. The biggest hill in Southern California.

Devils Slide

Mt. San Jacinto from Humber Park via Devils Slide Trail, PCT and San Jacinto Peak Trail.
Distance: 7.8 mi – Gain: 4407 ft – Avg Gradient: 566 fpm – Steepest Mile: 716 fpm @ mile 2.9

Requires permit.

San Jacinto

Mt. San Jacinto from the Long Valley Tram Station via the Round Valley Trail and San Jacinto Peak Trail.
Distance: 5.4 mi – Gain: 2520 ft – Avg Gradient: 470 fpm – Steepest Mile: 709 fpm @ mile 4.4

Requires permit.

Related post: Summery San Jacinto, Smoky Tahquitz Peak

Baldy South Ridge

Mt. Baldy from the Village via Bear Canyon and South Ridge on the Old Mt. Baldy Trail.
Distance: 6.8 mi – Gain: 5811 ft – Avg Gradient: 850 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1273 fpm @ mile 2.1

Related post: Up & Down Mt. Baldy’s South Ridge

Baldy Run to the Top

Mt. Baldy from base of ski lift parking lot.
Distance: 6.9 mi – Gain: 3868 ft – Avg Gradient: 558 fpm – Steepest Mile: 799 fpm @ mile 4.9

Last 0.6 mi to summit is approximately 1090 fpm.

Related post: Mt. Baldy Run to the Top 2009

Baldy Ski Hut

Mt. Baldy from Manker Flat via the Baldy Bowl Trail — aka the Ski Hut Trail.
Distance: 4.4 mi – Gain: 3883 ft – Avg Gradient: 891 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1201 fpm @ mile 2.8

Related post: Back to Baldy

Baldy Register Ridge (New)

Mt. Baldy from Manker Flat via the Register Ridge Trail.
Distance: 3.5 mi – Gain: 3909 ft – Avg Gradient: 1127 fpm – Steepest Mile: 1745 fpm @ mile 0.9

SFBadenPowell

Mt. Baden-Powell from South Fork Campground via Manzanita Trail and PCT. Vincent Gap is at about mile 5.75.
Distance: 10.0 mi – Gain: 5074 ft – Avg Gradient: 510 fpm – Steepest Mile: 805 fpm @ mile 8.6

Part of a 23.5 mile loop from Islip Saddle

Related post: San Gabriel Mountains Running Adventure

Siberia Creek (New)

The Siberia Creek climb starts at Bear Creek and climbs to Forest Service Road 2N11 via the Siberia Creek Trail and a short segment of the Champion Lodgepole Trail. It is part of the Kodiak 100M and 50M courses.
Distance: 6.9 mi – Gain: 3008 ft – Avg Gradient: 435 fpm – Steepest Mile: 698 fpm @ mile 1.4

Related post: Kodiak 50 Mile 2014

Holy Jim

Holy Jim Trail from Trabuco Canyon to Santiago Peak. Was part of Twin Peaks 50K.
Distance: 8.0 mi – Gain: 3921 ft – Avg Gradient: 489 fpm – Steepest Mile: 691 fpm @ mile 5.3

Related post: Blue Skies and Sunshine for the 2010 Twin Peaks 50K & 50M Trail Runs

Wilson Trail

Mt. Wilson from Sierra Madre via the Mt. Wilson Trail. Orchard Camp is at about mile 3.5.
Distance: 7.1 mi – Gain: 4720 ft – Avg Gradient: 662 fpm – Steepest Mile: 925 fpm @ mile 4.0

Edison Road (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Edison Road from the West Fork San Gabriel River to Angeles Crest Highway at Shortcut Saddle. Part of Mt. Disappointment 50K.
Distance: 5.5 mi – Gain: 2027 ft – Avg Gradient: 372 fpm – Steepest Mile: 520 fpm @ mile 3.3

Related post: Mt. Disappointment 50K 2011 Notes

Kenyon Devore

Gabrielino and Kenyon Devore Trails from West Fork to Mt. Wilson. Part of Mt. Disappointment 50K.
Distance: 4.9 mi – Gain: 2622 ft – Avg Gradient: 532 fpm – Steepest Mile: 801 fpm @ mile 1.9

Related post: Trail Work and Tree Rings

SaddlePeakMalibuCyn (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Saddle Peak from Piuma Road near Malibu Canyon via the Backbone Trail.
Distance: 6.3 mi – Gain: 2350 ft – Avg Gradient: 372 fpm – Steepest Mile: 680 fpm @ mile 4.9

Related post: Bulldog Loop or Saddle Peak Out & Back?

Bulldog

Bulldog Lateral and Motorway from Crags Rd. to Castro Motorway. Part of Bulldog 25K/50K, XTERRA Malibu Creek Challenge and other races.
Distance: 3.4 mi – Gain: 1727 ft – Avg Gradient: 514 fpm – Steepest Mile: 732 fpm @ mile 2.0

Related post: Bulldog 50K 2010 Notes

CorriganvilleRockyPk (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Corridor Trail from Corriganville to Rocky Peak Rd. Then Rocky Peak Rd to high point near Rocky Peak. Part of Bandit 15K/30K/50K. Does not include initial loop in Corriganville. 50K descends to Santa Susana Pass.
Distance: 3.3 mi – Gain: 1547 ft – Avg Gradient: 464 fpm – Steepest Mile: 836 fpm @ mile 0.6

Related post: Bandit 30K 2009

SantaYnezEagleRock (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Eagle Rock from Vereda De La Montura via the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail, Musch Trail and East Topanga Fire Road.
Distance: 5.6 mi – Gain: 1292 ft – Avg Gradient: 230 fpm – Steepest Mile: 643 fpm @ mile 1.0

Related post: Clouds, Canyons and Wildflowers

TemescalBackbone (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Temescal Canyon to the Backbone Trail Junction via Temescal Canyon and Temescal Ridge Trails.
Distance: 5.4 mi – Gain: 1709 ft – Avg Gradient: 318 fpm – Steepest Mile: 760 fpm @ mile 0.8

Related post: Will Rogers – Temescal Loop

Las Llajas (In 06/08/2012 selection.)

Las Llajas Canyon from near Evening Sky Drive to high point above oil field. Part of Bandit 30K/50K
Distance: 4.9 mi – Gain: 1418 ft – Avg Gradient: 290 fpm – Steepest Mile: 625 fpm @ mile 3.1

Related post: Bandit 50K 2011 Notes

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Mountain Weather II

Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail

Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail

According to my car’s thermometer the temperature in the west San Fernando Valley was 86 degrees. To the east a large patch of middle-level clouds had morphed into a large lenticular cloud. Over the course of a few minutes the wave cloud continued to transform, dividing into a train of alto-cumulus waves.



I just shook my head. A few hours earlier and 60 miles away, I had been freezing. The plan had been to do a “Baldy Over the Top” run to the old juniper on the north side of Pine Mountain. Around 8:45 am, as running partner Ann Ongena and I crested the cloud-capped, 10,064′ summit of Mt. Baldy, the wind chill temperature had been around 30 degrees. The air temperature was in the low 40s, but with the wind blowing at least 40 mph and gusting to over 50 mph it had been brutally COLD. Especially in running shorts.

Spending zero time on the summit, we waved to the hikers huddled in the rock windbreaks as we sprinted by.  The hope had been that the wind (and temperature) would moderate as we descended the North Devil’s Backbone on the back side of Baldy.



It didn’t. Wind-driven clouds continued to sweep past the ridge as we ran down the steep path. At the first opportunity we stopped in the wind shadow of a clump of stunted lodgepole pines and put on wind/rain shells. The shells were three ounces of magic — without them it would have been foolhardy to continue.

As we descended to the Baldy – Dawson Saddle and then climbed up to Dawson Peak I kept looking back over my shoulder to the cloud-shrouded summit of Mt. Baldy. Were there more clouds? Was the ceiling lower? Was there more vertical development?



The day before I had checked the forecast from the NWS and the forecast models. A dissipating cold front was approaching the area from the north, but wasn’t expected to pass through until sometime tonight. No measurable rain was forecast for the Los Angeles area. The last time I had checked no clouds had been forecast for Saturday morning — but there they were. I had expected some southwesterly winds ahead of the front, but nothing like this.

I didn’t like being on the back side of the mountain in potentially bad weather knowing that “home” was on the front side. We had just enough gear to deal with the current conditions. I didn’t think it was very likely, but if the weather deteriorated…



Many of the incidents that occur in the outdoors are the result of a series of misjudgments. If you’re already on the edge it’s usually best to call it before things get REALLY complicated.

And that’s exactly what we did. After descending a short distance down the ridge from Dawson Peak we turned around. Even if the outing was going to be a bit shorter than planned, it was still going to be an outstanding hike and run in extraordinary conditions with over 6000 feet of elevation gain.

It was just as windy, cold and cloudy on the second trip over the top of Baldy as it had been on the first and we spent about the same number of milliseconds on the summit before picking up the Devil’s Backbone trail and running down.

Some related posts: Mountain Weather, Atmospheric Dynamics

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Inspiration Point to the Pine Mountain Juniper

Pacific Crest Reservoir, a snow-making pond at Mountain High Resort in the San Gabriel Mountains

At an elevation of nearly 7400′ Inspiration Point is one of the most exhilarating places in the San Gabriel Mountains to start a trail run. Here the Pacific Crest Trail follows along Blue Ridge, an exceptionally scenic ridge with views of the range’s tallest mountains and deepest canyons.

Today I was looking to do something at higher altitude and it occurred to me that I could run east on the PCT from Inspiration Point  and add a bit of adventure by ascending Mt. Baldy’s North Devil’s Backbone to the Pine Mountain Juniper. I’d first noticed this old tree on a climb of the North Devil’s Backbone in 2006. In 2010 I hiked and ran over the top of Mt. Baldy from Manker Flat and measured the girth of the tree. It’s rocky, ridgetop location and relatively arid environment might have significantly slowed its growth and it could be older than the 800 years or so its size suggests.

Even though it was Labor Day weekend, and the weather was perfect, no one was on the North Devil’s Backbone trail.

Here are a few photos from the run.

Some related posts: Pine Mountain Juniper, Lightning Tree, Mt. Baldy North Backbone Trail, North Backbone Trail Revisited, Mt. Baldy Run Over the Top

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Strawberry Peak Summit Loop

View down west ridge of Strawberry Peak

It was about 8:30 a.m. and I was nearly to the top of the steep, rocky ridge on the west side of Strawberry Peak. I gazed over the rocks and ridges to the layer of stratus that partially filled the Los Angeles basin and valleys and tried to find Saddle Peak or Castro Peak. These peaks would mark the location of Malibu Creek State Park. Today some friends were doing the Bulldog 50K and I wondered if the marine layer was too shallow to take the edge off the heat forecast for later in the day.



The loop over the top of Strawberry Peak is a more adventurous variation of the Strawberry Peak Circuit. Closed for 4 1/2 years by the Station Fire, the trails necessary to do the circuit and approach the peak — Josephine Peak Fire Road, Strawberry Spur Trail, part of the Colby Canyon Trail and Strawberry Peak Trail — reopened in late May. The trails from Josephine Saddle to the summit of Strawberry and from the summit down to Lawlor Saddle are unofficial paths created by use.

I’d done the circuit around Strawberry in July a couple of weeks before the Angeles Crest 100. Today’s hike, run and climb over the top of the peak was a fun way to continue to recover from the exertions of that event. As was the case with the Strawberry Peak Circuit, I started the loop at Clear Creek, but it is also possible to start at Switzer’s Picnic Area or Red Box.



Like anything adventurous, if it’s in your comfort zone the challenges can be fun; if not, the adventure can quickly turn into a nightmare. This route requires rock climbing and route-finding skill and a bad choice can ruin your whole day.  Strawberry Peak has been the site of numerous search and rescue operations. The rock on the west side of the peak is of variable quality and if you go off-route it’s easy to become trapped in a spot where you can’t safely go up or down.

Not only is the route-finding tricky on the rock climbing sections. As a result of the growth of Poodle-dog bush following the Station Fire, the use trail on the upper ridge on the west side of the peak is more circuitous than it used to be. Although much of the Poodle-dog bush was wilting and in some cases dying, it can still cause dermatitis. By staying on the use trail it was mostly avoidable. There was a bear track on this section of the ridge and I wondered if the tracks I’d seen on the Strawberry Peak Circuit were from the same bear.

The last section of rock climbing ends abruptly just below the summit. The use trail on the east side of the summit involves no rock climbing and sees much more traffic. Though steep and loose, by fell-running standards it is mostly runnable. At Lawlor Saddle the maintained trail begins and continues to Red Box. From there the loop is closed using the Gabrielino Trail and Nature’s Canteen Trail. Since I was last on the trail in July, the Nature’s Canteen Trail had been re-cut and was in great shape.

Some related posts: Strawberry Peak Traverse, Strawberry Peak Circuit

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Monsoon Weather for the 2014 Angeles Crest 100

As I chugged up the Acorn Trail the eastern sky kept pace, becoming increasingly brighter with each stride. Dawn revealed a red-tinged layer of high clouds illuminated by a muted sun. This was good news. As late as Thursday afternoon the NWS forecast for the Los Angeles County Mountains on race day had been for typically hot AC100 weather:



.SATURDAY…SUNNY. HIGHS FROM 90 TO 100 AT LOW ELEVATIONS TO THE
UPPER 70S TO MID 80S AT HIGH ELEVATIONS. SOUTHWEST WINDS 15 TO 25
MPH IN THE AFTERNOON.
.SATURDAY NIGHT…MOSTLY CLEAR IN THE EVENING THEN BECOMING PARTLY
CLOUDY…

But even in Southern California in the dog days of Summer the weather forecast isn’t a given. One wildcard was the summer monsoon. A surge of subtropical moisture was forecast to move into Southern California over the weekend and it wasn’t clear just how much of Los Angeles County would be affected. Another wildcard was a low pressure wave that computer models showed rotating up into the Los Angeles area Saturday night. This feature would destabilize the airmass, increasing the chance of precipitation. As things turned out, both wildcards came into play.



After topping out on the Acorn Trail and following the PCT to Inspiration Point the layer of high clouds continued to gradually thicken as I worked my way over to Vincent Gap, up Mt. Baden-Powell, and down to Islip Saddle. With the sun heavily shrouded, the temperature was a non-issue, neither too warm or cool, and perfect for running. At around 11:00 AM the Big Pines RAWS near Mountain High reached a high of 79 degrees and then dropped back down into the 60s between noon and 1:00 PM.

A bit past noon I ran across Hwy 2 and into the parking lot at Islip Saddle (mile 26). It looked and felt like it might start to rain at any time.  The wind blew in fits and starts — as it does before a thundershower — and a few rogue sprinkles dotted the windshield of my car. I skipped the ice-water shower planned for this checkpoint, expecting that Mother Nature would probably take care of that all on her own.

Rather than an indicator of how hot and challenging the day was going to be, the climb from Islip Saddle to the Mt. Williamson summit trail was straightforward and in some sections actually a little breezy and chilly.

The somber skies accented the forms of the wind-shaped sugar pines along Kratka Ridge, and as I passed above Williamson Rock I wondered if ten years would be enough to get the climbing area and the closed segment of the Pacific Crest Trail open again. Running the final few yards into the Eagle’s Roost I was caught totally off-guard by the incredible aid station volunteers cheering, “Gary, Gary, Gary!”.



I didn’t think much about the weather between Eagle’s Roost and Cloudburst Summit. AC100 veterans had drilled into my head that the cutoff at Cloudburst was key. Make it through Cloudburst (mile 39) and you have a good chance of playing in the second half of the game.

With the cool weather the climb up Cooper Canyon was almost pleasant. The day before the high temperature at Chilao had been a warm 89 degrees, and the “in the sun” temp had been around 100 degrees. Race day it was much cooler and at a little before 3:00 PM, when I started up Cooper Canyon, the temperature at Chilao was in the low 70’s.

Of course there was a trade-off to all the subtropical clouds. About halfway between Cloudburst Summit and Three Points I heard a low rumbling to the east. I waited for it to transform into the muted roar of a jet flying overhead, but instead was treated to an even louder and more distinct rumble of thunder. As I ran down the PCT from time to time I would feel a large, cold drip of water on the back of a leg, and couldn’t quite tell if it was from my water bottle or the sky. The rumbles and raindrops continued on and off the remaining miles to Three Points.



At Three Points (mile 44) I debated stuffing my three ounce shell into my waist pack. Several times I’ve experienced the fury and might of a big thunderstorm and know how quickly balmy temperatures can turn frigid in a deluge of rain, sleet and hail. About a half-mile after leaving Three Points it started to shower, and I hoped that leaving my shell there wasn’t a mistake.  It continued to shower on and off over the next few miles, but gradually the rumbles of thunder decreased in frequency and so did the rain. (Had a strong cell developed in the Mt. Hillyer area it could have been a real problem, like it was for a number of runners in this year’s Tahoe Rim Trail 100.)

Another runner and I joined forces on the road up to Mt. Hillyer. Once we were through the aid station the main concern became getting down through Horse Flats and to Chilao before dark. We had headlamps, but not using them before Chilao was a benchmark we both wanted to make. Things still looked gnarly to the east. Beyond Mt. Waterman and Twin Peaks dark gray skies were decorated with obvious streamers of heavy rain. To the west a thin ribbon of cloudless sky brightened the horizon.

As we worked our way down to Horse Flats Campground and then over and down to Chilao the sun dropped lower and lower in the sky, eventually finding the horizon and illuminating the underside of the clouds with an increasingly saturated crimson red. There was just enough light to run as Dave and I pulled into the Chilao aid station (mile 54) and at least for the moment, it wasn’t raining.



Judging from the rumble of thunder we heard just before leaving Chilao, the rain was not far behind. By the time Gary (my pacer) and I reached Poodle-dog Avenue on the way to the Charlton Picnic Area the showers were nearly continuous. The temperature was warm enough that it was a toss-up whether my rain shell helped or hurt. Here’s a NEXRAD radar animation of the rain from 7:00 PM to 10:00 PM Saturday evening as it swept across Los Angeles County. The red arrow is the approximate location of Shortcut Saddle.

It was still raining at 11:00 PM when we crossed a very wet Hwy 2 at Shortcut Saddle (mile 60.5) and started the never-ending descent to the West Fork San Gabriel River. Eventually reaching the nearly dry river, we laughed and thought back to March 2003, when we kayaked this stretch of river. Record rainfall had occurred the day before and we were worried the river would be too high. After carrying 70-80 lbs. of kayak and gear down the Silver Moccasin Trail we discovered the flow was perfect, and were able to complete the whitewater run from West Fork to Cogswell Reservoir and Hwy 39 before sunset.

Working up the hill to Newcomb Saddle it felt like I was carrying a kayak and it was definitely past sunset. Ideal running weather or not, my legs were just not cooperating. I would have several months to think about the run and what I’ve might have done differently. So many things have to come together to run a hundred miles.

The showers would continue sporadically through the night. One heavier shower occurred at about 3:15 AM at Newcomb Saddle (mile 69), after I had slept for an hour and just as we were getting ready to leave the aid station. It didn’t last long and most of our hike down to Chantry Flats (mile 75) was rain free.

Showers and thunderstorms continued in the San Gabriels on Sunday. One runner told me that leaving the Sam Merrill aid station he experienced the strongest winds he could recall encountering in the San Gabriels. From his description it sounded like it could have been the outflow of a downburst associated with a convective cell. Though runners did see some showers, the heaviest rain was in the high country in the area of Mt. Baldy and Mt. Baden-Powell. Mt. Baldy recorded 4.38 inches of rain from Saturday evening to Sunday evening. This resulted in flash flooding and numerous problems. The Big Pines RAWS recorded 1.53 inches and Crystal Lake 2.09 inches of rain over the same period. Here are some rainfall totals from the NWS (PDF) from around the area.

As you might guess the cool temperatures and showery weather were generally a big help to runners. The finishing rate this year was 66%, compared to about 60% in 2012 and 60.5% in 2013.

Related post: Why the Angeles Crest 100?

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Why the Angeles Crest 100?

Sitting on the bench at Inspiration Point, I gazed across mile deep Vincent Gulch to the towering northeast face of Mt. Baden-Powell. My eye traced the peak’s right-hand skyline from near Vincent Gap up, up and to a small step just below Baden-Powell’s summit. At that small step, marked by a gnarled and ancient Limber pine, was the 9,225′ high point of the Angeles Crest 100 course.

Tomorrow about 140 of us would pass this bench, descend to Vincent Gap, and then climb the switchbacks of Mt. Baden-Powell to that tree. Over the course of 100 miles, those that finished the AC100 would ascend the equivalent of nearly eight Mt. Baden-Powells and would descend the equivalent of around ten — a daunting task by any standard.

During this year’s AC100 training runs a question that has inevitable come up is “How many times have your run AC?” When I’ve responded that the AC100 would be my first attempt at running 100 miles the reaction has often been one of polite surprise and concern. Why at age 66 — or any age — would I choose such a challenging event as my first 100?

The answer is a simple one. My goal isn’t to run a 100 miles. If that were the goal I’m pretty sure I could pick an event with a less demanding course and click off the miles. My goal is to become fully enveloped in the experience of running 100 miles through a mountain range that I have enjoyed for more than 40 years.

Over that time I’ve run, hiked, climbed, skied, and kayaked the San Gabriel Mountains. I’ve soared above its peaks in a hang glider. I’ve worked on its trails. On every visit I try to learn more about its flora, fauna, geology and weather. Photography from its peaks and within its canyons is a passion.

This year my dream of running the AC100 ended at Newcomb Saddle. I could not have had better conditions for running the race or a better crew or pacers. Quads and mind blown, I felt I couldn’t continue. After sleeping an hour at Newcomb, and with the help of my pacer, I was able to hobble down to Chantry Flat.

It is one thing to know something intellectually and quite another to know it from personal experience. It was amazing and humbling. I learned a lot, and look forward to participating in the event again next year.

Many thanks to Hal Winton, Ken Hamada and everyone that helped to make the event happen. And a special thanks to the aid station personnel at Newcomb Saddle that did their best to get me moving before the cutoff!

Some related posts: Monsoon Weather for the 2014 Angeles Crest 100Crest of the Angeles, Mid January Trail Run from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell, Mt. Wilson – Newcomb Pass – Chantry Flat Loop

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Strawberry Peak Circuit

North face Strawberry Peak

After being closed 4 1/2 years because of the 2009 Station Fire, Strawberry Peak and the trails comprising the Strawberry Peak loop reopened on May 25, 2014. Today, I finally got a chance to get back on the 15+ mile circuit around Strawberry, and was excited to find that much of it was in better shape than before fire.



I’d heard that COBRA was instrumental in the restoration of the loop, but that is only part of the story. The preservation and maintenance of trails is now largely a community effort — in this case CORBA, Mount Wilson Bicycling Association, Sierra Club, Los Angeles Conservation Corps, National Forest Foundation, REI, Bellfree Contractors, and the BSA all contributed to the effort. See the post Strawberry Peak Restoration Update on the COBRA web site for additional details.

The loop, which was part of the Mt. Disappointment 50K from 2005 to 2009, circumnavigates Strawberry Peak. The trails that comprise the loop are Josephine Fire Road, Strawberry Spur Trail, Colby Canyon Trail, Strawberry Peak Trail, Gabrielino Trail, and Nature’s Canteen Trail. The loop can be started at Red Box, Switzer’s or Clear Creek. I usually start it at Clear Creek so I can refill my hydration pack from the water faucet at the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center at Red Box. (Note: Water might not be available here, especially in winter!)



Some things to note. The Colby Canyon Trail and the use trail up Strawberry Peak are somewhat hidden from view when you first get to Josephine Saddle. The trails are on the east side of the saddle, and well used. The Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Switzer’s Picnic area is generally in good shape, but watch out for Poodle-dog bush. The start of Nature’s Canteen Trail is not currently marked. It can be picked up near the top of the paved road that climbs up from Switzer’s, near the telephone/power line poles. It starts on the west side of the road. Most of the trail was overgrown, but it looked like it was being restored, starting at its west end.

I was glad to see that most of the bigcone Douglas-fir on the north side of the peak survived the fire and that Strawberry Potrero was mostly intact. There was a nice set of bear tracks between Strawberry Potrero and the steep section of the Strawberry Peak Trail above the Colby Canyon Trail junction.

Here’s an overview of the Strawberry Peak circuit and an interactive Google Earth browser view of the route that can be zoomed, panned, tilted and rotated.

Some related posts: Strawberry Peak Traverse, Blue Skies and Short Sleeves on Strawberry Peak

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Three Points Loop: Lemon Lily Along the Mt. Waterman Trail

Lemon lily along the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail. border=0 src=

The bright yellow lemon lilies marked the trail. I hopped up on the log, followed it to it’s end, and stepped off. An ill-defined path through thick ferns gradually became more distinct and after a few yards became easier to follow.

I was on the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail (10W04) and doing a clockwise circuit of the 20 mile Three Points – Mt. Waterman loop. Counterclockwise because it was a way I could get in some additional training on the Cooper Canyon section of the AC100 course and also check how the south-facing slopes of Mt. Waterman were recovering from the 2009 Station Fire.

The Mt. Waterman Trail is less used than the major trails in the area, such as the PCT and Silver Moccasin Trail.  While it has seen some post-fire maintenance, it has more of the character of a “use trail” — as it did before the Station Fire. The trail is indistinct at times, winding its way around fallen trees and simply defining its route through use.

Some sections of the Mt. Waterman Trail near Three Points were severely burned. Higher up the mountain the fire made long runs up parallel ravines and ridges, creating a patchwork of burned understory and trees. The chaparral in the severely-burned areas appears to be recovering at a more or less normal rate. Of course the trees will take longer to grow, and it was great to see some pine seedlings and incense cedar seedlings have sprouted in the burn area.

The loop joined the AC100 course at Buckhorn Campground, descending the Burkhart Trail and then following the PCT up Cooper Canyon to Cloudburst Summit. From here it is nearly all downhill to Three Points.

Some related posts: Lemon Lily Along the Burkhart Trail, Three Points Loop Twice, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail, After the Station Fire: Three Points – Mt. Waterman Loop

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Crest of the Angeles

Runners on the PCT west of Mt. Hawkins

Between Vincent Gap and Islip Saddle the Pacific Crest Trail follows one of the most scenic stretches of trail in Southern California, skirting the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′) and passing Mt. Burnham, Throop Peak and Mt. Hawkins before leaving the crest at Windy Gap (7600′), just east of Mt. Islip. It has long been a favorite of hikers and runners.

There are several ways this classic stretch of trail can be incorporated into a run or hike. Today we were doing the segment as part of a training run for the 2014 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run. The AC100 starts at Wrightwood, California; then using parts of the PCT, Silver Moccasin, Gabrielino and several other trails, the AC100 works west through the peaks and canyons of the San Gabriel Mountains to Loma Alta Park near JPL.



The AC100 training runs, organized and supported by AC100 co-director Hal Winton, cover the 100 mile course in approximately 25 mile segments. With the help of AC100 Racebook editor/photographer Larry Gassan and a host of generous volunteers, “Uncle Hal” makes it happen and always seem to be where runners need him to be. Today’s training run was the fourth, and last, of the 2014 series.



Just a few days before we’d done the third AC100 training run from Chantry Flats to the finish at Loma Alta Park. Beginning at Mile 75 of the AC100, this difficult segment includes the Wintercreek and Idlehour climbs and some of the most technical trails on the course. As a result of the drought water wasn’t easily accessible at Idlehour Creek, so Hal and 2013 AC100 finishers Dave Tan and Rainer Schultz were at the “Cape of Good Hope” on Mt. Lowe fire road to provide much-needed water to thirsty runners.



This morning’s run from Wrightwood had begun with an ascent of the Acorn Trail — a climb that matches foot for foot the 2650′ elevation gain of the PCT up Baden-Powell and is every bit as strenuous. After climbing up the Acorn Trail we’d joined the PCT and followed it along spectacular Blue Ridge, past the top of Mountain High Ski Resort, to Angeles Crest Highway at Inspiration Point. From there it had taken less than an hour to reach Vincent Gap and Hal’s aid station. A quick stop to refill my hydration pack and I was back on the PCT and chugging up Baden-Powell.

Far too many switchbacks later, far too much of the peak remained. I was maxed out and doing my best to keep up with Skye’s brisk pace. Finally we rounded a corner and I could see the Wally Waldron tree a 150 yards ahead. Just 150′ in elevation from the top of Baden-Powell, the gnarled and weathered limber pine — estimated to be 1500 years old — stands sentinel at the juncture of Mt. Baden-Powell’s summit trail and the PCT.



I’d pushed the pace up the Acorn and Baden-Powell climbs and now was paying the penalty. My legs were toast. When I’d reached the Wally Waldron tree the decision whether or not to go to the summit of baden-Powell had been very easy — one trail led steeply up and the other gently down. As we turned west onto the PCT I told Skye I was going to have to take it easy for a bit. She had already started to pick up the pace and it didn’t take long for her to disappear into the forest on the trail ahead.

After a while I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see that it was already 3:00 pm. Because of the long shuttle to Wrightwood we hadn’t started running until 9:20 am. After skirting Baden-Powell, I’d run past Mt. Burnham, struggled up to the shoulder of Throop Peak and now was near Mt. Hawkins. Here, the beginning of the descent to Windy Gap is marked by a prominent Jeffrey pine that has been struck by lightning.



West of Mt. Hawkins the Pacific Crest Trail passes through a ghost forest of large trees burned in the 2002 Curve Fire. Recovery in the area is progressing well, and amid the dead trees are numerous pine and fir saplings. I ran this segment in mid-January and again at the end of May. Sometime between the two runs a large number of the dead trees had been blown down. During the May run it had been necessary to crawl over or work around a log jam of fallen trees. The trees likely blew down during a storm on February 28th, when Chilao recorded winds as high as 91 mph. That wasn’t necessary today, thanks to the expert trail work of PCTA volunteer Ray Drasher and his equine crew.



Most of the trail maintenance in the San Gabriels (and elsewhere) is now done by volunteers. One of the requirements to run in the AC100 is eight hours of trail work. This year AC100 entrants have worked on the Idlehour and Wintercreek Trails and will be working on the Gabrielino Trail below Newcomb Saddle in a couple of weeks. For more info about Hal and volunteering see the April 2014 issue of the VOLUNTEER TODAY newsletter (PDF).

Once through the ghost forest on Mt. Hawkins, it didn’t take long to get down to Little Jimmy Spring and from there over to Islip Saddle. It had been another tough training week in a series of tough training weeks. As I descended the final short switchbacks to the Islip Saddle parking area on Highway 2 I tried to visualize what it would be like on race day. How would I feel compared to today? Would I make here before noon? How hot would it be on Cooper Canyon? Would the cutoff at Cloudburst be a problem? Would I make it to Horse Flats before dark? On what trail would I be when sun rose for the second time during the run? All these and many other questions would be answered in just a few weeks.

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