Developing thunderstorm over the Acton area, north of Los Angeles, from Ahmanson Ranch near the Los Angeles County – Ventura County border. The photo was taken about 4:10 p.m. PDT today, during another hot and humid Ahmanson run.
Cloud tops were reported to be over 50,000 feet. The distance from Ahmanson Ranch (now Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve) to Acton is about 35 miles.
I was glad I didn’t turn around and head back to the car. At the beginning of the run smoke from the Whittier Fire (near Lake Cachuma) covered Mt. Pinos in an ugly shroud. Fortunately, a couple of hours into the run, the wind shifted to the north, removing the smoky veil and greatly improving the visibility and air quality.
Even it was smoky, at least the weather was cool. Following the torrid conditions at the Mt. Disappointment 50K the previous Saturday, and hot weather during the week, cool was good.
Mt. Pinos is often a good choice for escaping the triple digit heat of a Los Angeles heatwave. The elevation of the Chula Vista trailhead (8350′) is higher than the highest trailhead on Angeles Crest Highway — Dawson Saddle (7909′) and about 1000′ higher than the popular Inspiration Point (7370′) trailhead on the PCT.
My usual “Pinos to Abel” run starts at the Chula Vista trailhead and follows a dirt service road to the summit of Mt. Pinos (8831′). At the nearby wildlife viewing area it picks up the Vincent Tumamait Trail and heads west, taking a short detour to Sawmill Mountain (8818′) and the Chumash spirit tower, and then continues toward Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste). The trail ends at Cerro Noroeste Road, but a short climb up through the pine trees leads to the summit of Mt. Abel (8280+’) and Campo Alto. On the way back I usually run down the North Fork Trail to the spring at Sheep Camp, and sometimes extend the run by descending to Lily Meadows Camp (6250′).
It’s rare to see other runners doing the Pinos to Abel run. Dan and Dameon first passed me descending from Mt. Pinos. Our paths would cross several times over the course of the morning. They were running in the Mt. Pinos area for the first time and having a great time exploring the trails.
One of those times was on the top of Mt. Abel. They were thinking about hitting Grouse Mountain (8582′) on the way back to Pinos and asked about the route. The use trail to Grouse branches off the Vincent Tumamait Trail near a saddle ENE of the peak and about 0.3 mile west of the North Fork Trail junction. It leads to the northern summit of Grouse’s twin summits in about a quarter-mile.
I didn’t do Grouse Mountain today, but did take the North Fork Trail down to Sheep Camp. Today, the plan was to just go a “little way” down the trail below Sheep Camp to see if a particular plant was flowering. Beyond Sheep Camp the North Fork Trail drops like a rock, and it turned into one of those, “I’ll just go a little farther down” kind of things. Before I came to my senses I’d lost nearly 1000′ in elevation while looking for the plant.
After chugging back up to the spring at Sheep Camp, I refilled my Camelbak(TM) and then continued up to the Vincent Tumamait Trail and headed east, retracing my steps to Mt. Pinos, and back to the trailhead.
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?
– 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We were nearly to the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail and the South Ridge Trail and about a half-mile from Tahquitz Peak (8846′). It was hot. In the shade the temp was in the high 80s, but in direct sun the temperature was close to 100°F.
A few hours earlier Skye and I had grabbed the first car up on the Palm Springs Tram and done the 5 mile, 2435′ ascent of San Jacinto Peak. At 10,800’+ at 10:00 in the morning it had been 70°F — warm for one of the higher mountains of Southern California. Remarkably, a couple of small patches of snow remained on the south side of the summit.
Where we were now, 70 degrees would feel like a refrigerator. We’d given up that cooler clime and all the elevation we’d gained, and run five miles down the Wellman Divide Trail and PCT to Saddle Junction — a descent of about 2700′. The temperature had increased all the way down.
We might as well have been in a drying oven. The combination of the hot weather, a high sun, low humidity and higher altitude had desiccated me. At the turn-off off from the PCT to Tahquitz Peak I lifted my pack and squeezed the reservoir — again. In the few minutes since I last checked, no water had magically found its way into my pack. There was less than 20 ounces remaining and that wasn’t going to be enough.
After running over to Tahquitz Peak and visiting the lookout, there was still the minor detail of getting back to the Tram. The Mountain Fire closure was still in effect, which meant we could not use the Willow Springs Trail and would have to retrace our steps and climb all the way back up to Wellman Divide.
During the drought I would bring extra water when doing this route, and stash it along the trail. With this year’s good snowpack it seemed we should be able to find water if we needed it.
Prior to the Mountain Fire I’d used Willow Creek as a water source, but since the Willow Springs Trail was closed, that was out. The seep at Wellman Cienaga was too far up and the flow was low. Skunk Cabbage Meadow and Tahquitz Valley were a possibility. Originally included in the Mountain Fire closure area, they had reopened. I recalled a water source in Skunk Cabbage Meadow, but didn’t remember much about it.
When we got to Tahquitz Peak we asked Joe, the volunteer Ranger at the Tahquitz Peak Lookout, what he thought would be a good water source. He suggested Tahquitz Creek in Tahquitz Valley. I hadn’t been to Tahquitz Valley, so this was a great time to check it out.
Although small in its upper reaches, Tahquitz Creek had plenty of water. Using a UV Pen, we refilled our packs and drank until we couldn’t drink any more. Continuing, we found there was also water available at Skunk Cabbage Meadow. At least for now. I wouldn’t hazard a guess how long these water sources will last.
Ah water, wonderful water. With water the hike and run back to Wellman Divide was just a sweaty, strenuous and scenic climb, and not the hellish ascent it might have been.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I was covered with bright yellow mustard petals and soaked from head to toe. It had been raining, and I’d just wrestled my way through another tangle of 10 foot high mustard plants. On some parts of the Old Boney Trail the mustard was so thick it was almost impenetrable. The pestilent species becomes especially prolific in wet years, growing rapidly and overwhelming native species and habitats.
After turning onto the Serrano Valley Trail and climbing up to the overlook of Serrano Valley the trail wasn’t quite so overgrown — at least I could run. In the grasslands below the greens of the rainy season were gone, replaced with the straw-colored hues of dried grass gone to seed.
Like mustard, foxtails are bad this year. In recent weeks I’ve picked a multitude of the barbed grass seeds from my socks and shoes. Today, I’d worn ankle gaiters hoping to ward off the expected seed-storm in Serrano Valley. The seed-storm turned out to be more of a seed-shower, but the gaiters did help.
Part way through Serrano Valley I happened on a hiker, coming up from Serrano Canyon. We said hi to each other and then after he passed, he turned around and dramatically exclaimed “Don’t go down Serrano Canyon!!”
What?? Were there ogres down there? He’d obviously made it through the canyon OK. All limbs were intact and I didn’t see any cuts or bruises. I quickly ran through the possibilities and rejected most of them. One possibility that seemed plausible was that the trail had been washed out.
One of the reasons I was doing this run was to see how Serrano Canyon had fared during the February 17 atmospheric river event. I’d seen the damage caused by high flows in Blue Canyon and Upper Sycamore Canyon. This was the first chance I’d had to investigate Serrano Canyon since the flooding, so the hiker’s warning had the opposite of its intended effect — it just made me more curious about what was going on in the canyon.
All the way down the canyon I kept an eye out for X-Files monstrosities, but saw none. Serrano Canyon did not appear to have had as severe flooding as Blue Canyon and Upper Sycamore Canyon. Some sections of the trail were very overgrown and a short section of the trail was partially washed away, but with care and a bit of mustard-whacking the trail was passable.
I’d had my fill of mustard and was happy to reach the dirt road in Big Sycamore Canyon. I returned up canyon using a combination of Big Sycamore Canyon Road and the Two Foxes Trail. This was much more straightforward than Old Boney and it took only about an hour to reach the Upper Sycamore Trail.
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.
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′).
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.
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!
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.
When I emerged from Garapito Canyon my shoes, socks, shorts and shirt were soaking wet. A group of hikers were nearby and one asked if it rained while I was down in the canyon. It hadn’t, but it might as well have.
Our wetter than normal rain season has produced a lush crop of annual grasses — some as tall as waist high — that have overgrown sections of many local trails.
Overnight, light rain had coated every blade of grass and every leaf and limb of brush along the Garapito Trail with water droplets. Running through the wet grass was like passing through the wet brushes of a refrigerated car wash.
I happened to be wearing Gortex-lined running shoes, which was laughable considering the amount of water that had run down my legs and into the shoes. They were just as wet as if I had waded through a creek. Well-fitting gaiters might have helped, and at least would have kept the foxtails out of my saturated socks.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
My plan had been to check on the MCSP redwoods and then do the Phantom Loop. Running along Crags Road west of Century Lake I started noticing flood debris along the trail, but it wasn’t until I reached the bridge across Malibu Creek that the magnitude of the flooding became evident. Most of the bridge’s wooden railings had been swept away and debris hung in the trees 10-15 feet above the creek.
The flooding resulted from heavy rainfall associated with an atmospheric river that hit the area on February 17. Between 4:00 a.m. and midnight the Remote Automated Weather Station near Malibu Canyon Road and Piuma Road recorded 4.45 inches of rain. Runoff was increased by the soil being nearly saturated from the above average rainfall we’ve experienced this rain season.
Many streams in the area experienced high flows on February 17. According to provisional USGS data Sespe Creek near Fillmore peaked at 34,000 cfs at 7:45 p.m.; the Ventura River near Ventura peaked at 20,400 cfs at 5:45 p.m. and the Los Angeles River at Sepulveda Dam peaked at 16,700 cfs at 4:30 p.m.
Eventually I returned to the Forest Trail and checked on the redwoods. My impression is that the trees in trouble have continued to degrade and the trees in better condition are holding their own. I will be curious to see how much new foliage there is later in the growing season.
I never did make it to the Phantom Trail but did have a nice run over to the Tapia Spur Trail.