Earlier, as I was running up Las Llajas Canyon, I thought of a conversation I had with a runner during a 50K. The runner was from southern Florida, and talked about the difficulty of finding a good hill to run. It sounded like the main options are overpasses, bridges, buildings and stadiums.
In Southern California we have the opposite problem. It’s hard to find a trail run that doesn’t have hills. And the longer the run, the more likely it is you’re going to be running some hills.
The out and back in Las Llajas Canyon is one of the flatter runs that I do. From Evening Sky Drive it’s about 3.5 miles up to where the trail forks. There is a sign at the split indicating that the left fork leads to a private ranch, and the right fork connects to Rocky Peak Road.
On rested legs, the run up Las Llajas from Evening Sky Drive seems pretty flat. Over the 3+ miles up the canyon, the elevation gain is around 565′. That’s not a huge amount, but it’s roughly the equivalent of climbing 56 floors or 900 stairs. After leaving the Marrland aid station at 20 miles, runners doing the Rocky Peak 50K discover that the run up the canyon isn’t as flat as it looks!
If you want more distance or elevation, there are a couple of ways to extend the Las Llajas out and back. One is to take the right fork at the sign and continue up to the top of the hill just before Rocky Peak Road. This adds about 2 miles and 600 feet of elevation gain.
Another interesting way to extend the run, is to do the variation I was doing this morning. About halfway down the canyon on the way back, on the right, is a use trail. The use trail is about 1.6 miles from the turnaround point at the fork at the ranch sign. It is just past the area where steep cliffs tower above the road on the right, and is very easy to miss.
After turning right onto the use trail, about a half-mile up the trail splits. One trail switchbacks to the right and continues up to the top of cliffs and an old seashell grit mine; the other trail continues up the canyon to a pass between Las Llajas and Chivo Canyons.
The trail over the pass leads to a well-used trail that connects Chivo Canyon to Las Llajas Canyon near Evening Sky Drive. Some refer to this trail as the “Marr Ranch Trail.” This variation adds about 1.3 miles and 500′ of elevation gain.
Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS track of today’s route, as well as the variation that continues to Rocky Peak Road. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. For help controlling the view, click/tap the “?” icon in the upper right corner of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.
After I got back from the run, I was curious to see what hilly trails there are in Florida. A quick search turned up the Hilly Trails In Florida page of the Florida Hikes web site. Anybody up for doing Mount Cockroach?
The nasal bellowing of a bullfrog shook the morning, but didn’t disturb the mirror-like surface of Century Lake. I had paused along the Forest Trail in Malibu Creek State Park to take in my surroundings. Here and there glimmers of sunlight reflected from the base of the reeds along the opposite shore. Birds called, flowers bloomed and Nature continued to work in its wonderous way.
My run had started at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway and then wandered about the Reagan Ranch area. The Lookout and Yearling Trails had been thick with mustard and badly overgrown. The plants had been wet with dew, and my black sleeves and shorts had been liberally sprinkled with the bright yellow flowers. A few ticks had also hitched a ride, but were removed before they could bite.
It had been a relief to get back to the Cage Creek Trail and descend to the Crags Road Trail and Malibu Creek. The logs extending across the creek from the washed out bridge had been rearranged, making it easier to cross.
No other trail in the Park is quite like the Forest Trail. The trail isn’t part of a loop, doesn’t connect to other trails, and is only a half-mile long; but it feels like a trail you might find in Big Sur, Santa Cruz or the Bay Area. The forest is comprised primarily of coast live oak, California bay, and sycamore, but at several spots along the trail you’ll find coast redwoods.
Coast redwoods are not endemic to Southern California. All but one of the Forest Trail redwoods were planted over 100 years ago. The trees were severely impacted by the 2011-2015 drought, and only a few have survived. Even so, they are easy to spot — the large, deeply-furrowed, copper-brown trunk of a coast redwood is unmistakable.
Note: There is some poison oak along the Forest Trail, and this year some was protruding onto the trail.
I checked my watch — it was 6:13 a.m. I was part way up the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park, and had stopped to see if I could hear the launch of the Falcon 9 at Vandenberg Space Force Base.
I’d hoped to see the launch, but low clouds obscured the view skyward. Even so, there was a chance that a thin spot in the cloud deck might reveal the ship, as it propelled its classified payload into orbit.
All was quiet, except for the dawn songs of waking birds and the occasional car or motorcycle on Mulholland Highway. But then, just above the ambient sounds, I heard it — a constant dull roar somewhere to the west. I scanned the sky for any hint of an exhaust plume.
None was evident, but I suspect that if I had looked at the right spot at the right time, I might have glimpsed the rocket’s sun-bright flame. After searching and listening for a couple of minutes, I resumed working up the trail.
Ka-boom! Even though my attention had turned to the trail, the distinctive, two-syllable report of a sonic boom broke my reverie. It had to be the Falcon 9 booster returning to the launch site. The boom wasn’t very loud at my location, but some living closer to Vandenberg apparently mistook the launch and sonic boom as an earthquake.
The remainder of the run went well. I’d run the Ahmanson 12K the day before, and the Phantom Loop (clockwise) was a good follow-up to that run.
With the cloudy, cool start to the day, the poppies were mostly closed, but several other species of wildflowers added color along the trail. Among them were Elegant Clarkia, Owl’s Clover and Chinese Houses.
Note: A little higher in the Santa Monica Mountains and farther to the west, Jonathan Stewart captured this video of the NROL-85 launch from Boney Mountain.
The bush sunflowers (Encelia californica) above are along the Secret Trail in Calabasas. While there have sometimes been showy displays of bush sunflowers along this trail, I don’t recall any quite as prolific as this. There were many other wildflowers as well (slideshow).
It’s been another bizarre rain year. While California water managers worry about water supplies, chaparral plants in the Santa Monica and Santa Susana Mountains seem quite happy with this season’s rainfall. There is a lot of new growth and plants appear to be playing catchup from last year’s dismal rain season. From the trail it looks more like an above average rain year, rather than the somewhat below normal rain year actually recorded.
I hadn’t seen a hiker, runner, or mountain biker since turning off East Canyon Mtwy fire road. That was about 2 miles ago. I checked my watch — it read 18 miles. Had I’d made a wrong turn?
Today’s plan was to do the first 25 miles of the Santa Clarita Ultra & Trail Runs 50K. A week ago I’d run the first (blue) and third (yellow) sections of the course, and today’s run would theoretically combine the first (blue) and second (orange) sections.
After switching from a bottle to a pack, I’d run on the Old Road over to the East Canyon Trailhead. From there the course followed East Canyon and Sunshine Canyon fire roads to Mission Point. The climb up to Jones Junction gains about 1300′ in 3 miles, then it’s another 1.5 miles over to Mission Point (2771′), the high point on the course.
One of the highlights of the run up East Canyon was the very healthy-looking Bigcone Douglas-firs higher on the road. Now relegated to the cooler climes of steep, north-facing mountain slopes, the species used to be far more widespread in Southern California.
On the way to Mission Point, the views of the San Fernando Valley from the crest were outstanding, and gave a perspective of the Valley I had not seen before. Apart from having to detour along fence lines bordering private property, and continuous gunfire in a section of the canyon that is near a popular gun club, the run to Mission Point was excellent.
Returning from Mission Point there was another part of the course I needed to do — an out and back on Weldon Mtwy. Which brings me back to mile 18 of today’s run. After turning off East Canyon Mtwy on what I thought was Weldon Mtwy, I had expected the fire road to loose elevation relatively quickly. But that wasn’t happening.
Instead of running down a canyon, I was running along a ridge — a long ridge. Below and to my right was what looked like a landfill. Below and to my left I could see the Old Road and Santa Clarita. They seemed a long way down.
There were several ways I could have checked where I was — my watch has maps; my phone had maps; and I had a map in my pack. But I wasn’t in trouble and was already two miles down this road — whatever it was. If I wasn’t on Weldon Mtwy, it would still be a trail I hadn’t done.
After a couple of “I’ll just go a little farther down and see what I can see” episodes, I eventually turned around and headed back up the fire road. When I got back to East Canyon Mtwy, I checked the yellow pole marking the junction of the fire roads — it was marked “WELDON.” Later, I checked my track and found I had turned around a half-mile from the Newhall Pass Trailhead. Now I know.
Overall, I’d enjoyed the course, and decided I would register for the 50K. But registration closed early, and now I see the event has been postponed until November. Oh well, I still got to run in a new area and check out some interesting trails!