When one of the runners coming down the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail saw me coming up the trail, he commented, “At least now we know the trail goes through!”
He was only half-joking. With all the wet weather, trails may not only be wet and muddy but might be flooded, severely eroded, blocked by trees and debris, or destroyed by runoff, mudslides, or slope failures.
It had rained the previous two days, and more rain was forecast in a day or two. I was on this stretch of the Backbone Trail because I wanted to check out a use trail near High Point (Goat Peak) in the Santa Monica Mountains. I could do that by slightly modifying the route described in “Racing the Weather to High Point (Goat Peak) and Back.”
Two use trails connect to the High Point trail near High Point. Both are on the east side of the ridge. When traveling northbound from High Point, the first trail encountered is the “Rivas Ridge Trail.” Its junction with the High Point trail is on a hilltop, a bit more than a tenth of a mile north of High Point. The junction with the other trail — aptly named the “Great Escape” — is about a tenth of a mile north of the Rivas Ridge trail junction and a quarter-mile north of High Point.
Instead of doing the run as a pure out and back, on the way back, I took the Great Escape down to the Backbone Trail. This short use trail connects to the Backbone Trail about 0.4 mile south of “The Oak Tree.” It was an interesting trail to explore and only added about a third of a mile to the regular out-and-back route.
The condition of the Backbone Trail between Fire Road #30 and The Oak Tree was about what you would expect during such an active rain season. There were a few slimy, slippery spots and some eroded stretches of trail. My shoes and socks were already soaked from the wet grass along the trail by the time I reached The Mud Puddle. This was good because I didn’t waste any time looking for a way around the flooded section of trail — I just waded right in. Nearby, a short section of trail had collapsed in a slide, but there was enough of a shoulder to easily go around it.
With the wet rain season, everything is growing like crazy. This includes poison oak, which was already dangling into the trail in several places. More wildflowers were beginning to bloom. This scarlet-red Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry was blooming along the Backbone Trail near its junction with the High Point Trail.
It had rained another inch overnight, and my shoes were soaked from the wet grass along the trail. Seeking some relief from the 20 mph northwest wind, I descended a single-track trail to an old paved road east of the ranch house on Lasky Mesa.
Motivated more by staying out of the wind than anything else, I did two sets of hill repeats on different sections of the road. Then, on tired legs, I jogged up to Lasky Mesa and was greeted by an Arctic blast. The temperature had dropped to the mid-40s, and the wind was blowing a steady 20 mph, gusting to around 30 mph. I didn’t need a wind chill chart to tell me the effective temperature was in the 30s.
I was so focused on dealing with the cold I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings. Deciding to do one more hill, I rounded a corner, and the brilliantly sunlit, snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains came into full view. It was just jaw-dropping!
The paved turnout where I usually park at the Stunt Road trailhead was covered with mud, rocks, and debris. And near the entrance of Calabasas Peak fire road, two large boulders had been dragged to the shoulder to clear the road.
Following another big storm in a Winter of big storms, I was doing the Topanga Lookout Ridge Loop — curious to see what I could see. Nearby Stunt Ranch Reserve had recorded over 10 inches of rain the past three days, and there had been numerous reports of low elevation snow.
I don’t know why. But for some reason, I had it in my head that the turnaround point for the Placerita Canyon 30K was the halfway point of the course.
I had just passed the third aid station and was climbing a short — but steep — hill. From there, it was at least a couple of miles to the turnaround, and my projected time to that crucial point was adding up to more than I expected.
The thing was, I felt good and was enjoying the race. Everything seemed to be going well. It’s fun to run new trails, and I hadn’t run any of these.
The temp had been near freezing at the start, but the initial steep climb and energetic descent took care of that. The course would continue in this vein as a series of ups and downs on fire roads, single-track trails, and a bridle path. A few of the hills were slow and strenuous, but those were offset by fast-paced running on a mile and a half of bridle path. The longest hill was out of Aid Station #2 — 700 feet of gain over about 1.6 miles.
My confusion about the turnaround point could have been easily remedied by simply checking the mileage on my watch. It’s on the second data screen, and I only had to push a button to see it. But like a small, annoying rock in my shoe, it just didn’t seem to matter that much.
Eventually, somewhere around the Fair Oaks Aid Station, I checked my average pace. It was about at my goal pace. That’s when I realized the halfway point had to be behind me. When I reached the “Turn Back!” sign, I checked the mileage. It was 11.7 miles. A bit more than 6 miles to go. That was better!
As it turns out, the halfway point on the way out had been near Uncle Remi Trail junction. This outstanding single-track trail is a direct route down to Placerita Canyon and would be our route on the way back.
About 40 minutes later, I was running down the flowing turns of the Uncle Remi Trail. It didn’t take long to get to Placerita Canyon Road, and I soon found myself chugging up the last (long) hill. There were a couple of runners ahead of me that I’d been chasing for miles. Although I didn’t catch them, the attempt seemed to shorten the final 1.5-mile climb.
Partway down the subsequent descent, I heard a cheer in the distance as the pair crossed the finish line. A couple of minutes later, I also enjoyed the finish-line applause.
This was the inaugural running of the Placerita Canyon Trail Runs 10K, Half Marathon+, and 30K. As you would expect at a KH Races event, everything was well done – from the marking of the course to the aid station fare. The hills were green, the trails in good shape, and the weather invigorating. All the runners were super-friendly, and the aid station and course volunteers were very helpful. Thank you!