Kodiak 50K 2019

Runners on the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail during the 2019 Kodiak Ultra Marathons.
Runners on the Sugarloaf Mountain Trail

Working up the rocky trail, I looked to my left across the broad valley to San Gorgonio Mountain. Almost glowing in the early morning sun, there was still a narrow strip of snow near its summit.

I was about 5.5 miles into the Kodiak 50K and nearing the top of 9952′ Sugarloaf Mountain. There wasn’t any snow on the ground, but the morning had been cool — at least by Southern California summer standards.

San Gorgonio Mountain from the Sugarloaf Trail.
San Gorgonio Mountain from the Sugarloaf Trail.

This was my sixth time running Kodiak. Four of the finishes were at the 50M distance and this was my second year running the 50K. Whatever the distance, a long run at elevation that includes an ascent of a (nearly) 10,000′ peak is going to be an adventure.

There have been a lot of changes in the Kodiak Ultra Marathons since the first 100M & 50M were run in 2013. Initially held in late September, the event moved to an August date in 2017. 50K options were added in 2015. For the first three years the Kodiak courses were run in the counterclockwise direction. In 2016 the direction switched to clockwise and then alternated direction each year through 2018. This year the direction was the same as in 2018 — clockwise.

The general idea has remained the same. The 100 milers run a loop around Big Bear Lake. On the way, they ascend Sugarloaf Mountain, and also descend thousands of feet into the dank depths of Bear Canyon. The 50 milers run from the north side of the lake to the Finish, climbing either the Siberia Creek Trail if the course direction is counterclockwise, or Sugarloaf Mountain if the course is run clockwise. The options for 50Kers have varied from year to year.

Big Bear SAR volunteers on the top of Sugarloaf Mountain. during the Kodiak Ultra Marathons.
Big Bear SAR volunteers helped out on the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

This year the 100M start time was moved to 6:00 p.m. This put 100M runners starting the descent into Bear Canyon between about 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. — a much cooler time of day. The trade-off was that they would be doing the 3000′ climb up Sugarloaf Mountain with about 67 miles on their legs, and many of the runners would run into a second night.

There were two notable changes in the 50K this year. One adjustment is that it started two hours earlier — at 6:00 a.m. The other is that it was a couple of rocky miles longer than last year. The mileage was added on the descent of Sugarloaf — with runners looping down Wildhorse Meadow Road instead of retracing their route on the Sugarloaf Trail. My watch recorded a distance of about 34.5 miles and corrected elevation gain of about 6800′.

Because of the change in the 100M and 50K start time, we were ahead of many of the 100M and 50M runners, but we did get to see the 100M leaders flying down Sugarloaf.

2019 Kodiak 50K Elevation Profile
2019 Kodiak 50K Elevation Profile

The weather was cool in the morning and warm in the afternoon. At Big Bear Airport the overnight low Friday night was 37°F and the high on Saturday was 77°F. With the clear skies, it was hot on exposed, south-facing trails. The Converse RAWS (5618′) recorded a high (inside a ventilated instrument housing) of 84°F; however the “fuel temperature” of a pine dowel in direct sun hit 106°F. In my experience, the fuel temperature is a better indicator of the temperature runners might encounter on sun-baked sections of trail.

My run went well. Even though this 50K is longer, has more elevation gain, is at higher elevation, and is generally more technical than the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment course, I had zero problems with leg cramps. That’s the riddle of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC). Sometimes you get leg cramps and sometimes you don’t. In this race I made sure that I stayed well-hydrated and fueled. I also used poles on the steeper climbs.

San Gorgonio Mountain from Radford Road.
Near the top of the four mile Radford Road descent, with San Gorgonio in the background.

This was one of those races that I could just run and enjoy. It was great to talk with Diana, Gloria and Greg along the way. The runners you meet during races are often very accomplished and usually have some unique stories to share!

Many thanks to Kodiak Race Director Susie Schmelzer, Course Director Harald Zundel, and Communications Director John Emig and to Team Kodiak, all the volunteers, sponsors, Bear Valley SAR, HAM operators, medical personnel, City of Big Bear Lake, US Forest Service, Big Bear Trails Foundation, RIM Nordic and Open Air Big Bear, and everyone that helped put on the event.

See the Kodiak Ultra Marathons web site and Facebook page for more info, results and photos. All the results for the Kodiak Ultra Marathons since 2013 can be found on Ultrasignup.com.

Some related posts: Kodiak 50K 2018, San Gorgonio Mountain Snow, Kodiak 50 Mile 2017 – Smiling at the Finish

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Rogue Weekday Wildflowers

Non-native black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (formerly Ahmanson Ranch)
Black-eyed Susan

The most recent additions to my Weekday Wildflowers photo album include two non-native wildflowers seldom seen at Ahmanson Ranch — black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and bachelor’s button (Centaurea cyanus).

Bachelor's button (Centaurea cyanus), found along East Las Virgenes Creek. July 9, 2019.
Bachelor’s button

Both were found along the Lasky Mesa Trail near the dry streambed of East Las Virgenes Creek. They likely escaped cultivation or were part of a seed mix scattered in the area.

Weekday wildflowers are flowers I’ve encountered during 2019 on weekday runs from the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (formerly Ahmanson Ranch).

Some related posts: More Weekday Wildflowers, Weekday Wildflowers

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San Gorgonio Mountain Snow, Avalanches and Glaciers

Snow on the Sky High Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain on July 27, 2019.
Snow on the Sky High Trail on San Gorgonio on July 27. San Jacinto Peak is in the distance.

The weather was Southern California perfect. Shorts and short-sleeves were the dress of the day. Winds were light, no thunderstorms were in the forecast and no large wildfires polluted the air. Although temps in the valleys were nearing 100 degrees, the weather on the summit of 11,499′ San Gorgonio Mountain was altitude-conditioned bliss.

I’d spent about 15 minutes enjoying the summit, then run back down the Summit Trail. Turning left onto the Sky High Trail, I continued a keyhole loop that had ascended the South Fork Trail, Dollar Lake, and San Bernardino Divide Trails. Altogether, the route was about 21 miles long and the approximate elevation gain/loss was 4700′.

San Gabriel beardtongue (Penstemon labrosus) along the South Fork Trail.
Penstemon along the South Fork Trail.

From the start of the run, the effects of the wet 2018-19 Winter and big snowpack were everywhere. Wildflowers bloomed in profusion, seeps and small streams greened the landscape, and grasses and ferns grew thick beneath the trees. The roar of the streams at South Fork Meadows left little doubt as to what kind of Winter it had been.

On the way up the Dollar Lake Trail, I’d seen elongated patches of snow in the chutes along the crest. While there was no snow directly on the trail between Dollar Lake Saddle and the summit, there was more snow than usual on the north side of the peaks.

But there was snow on the Sky High Trail. Topping out at over 11,300′, the Sky High Trail is one of the most spectacular trails in Southern California. I marvel at its airy location every time I run it. Near the top of the trail, I’d crossed a small patch of snow and thought, “Well, at least there was a little snow on the trail.”

Large patch of snow on the Sky High Trail at an elevation of about 11,100' on July 27, 2019.
Large patch of snow on the Sky High Trail at an elevation of about 11,100′ on July 27, 2019.

A little disappointed, I’d put my poles away and continued running down the trail. At around 11,100′ I rounded a corner and surprise, surprise — there was a much larger patch of snow on a southeast-facing section of trail. It was about 100 yards across and steep enough that a fall would be a bad idea. Fortunately, the snow conditions were perfect. A few hikers had recently traversed the snowfield, and I followed in their footsteps.

However, that wasn’t the last of the snow. At an elevation of about 10,200′, not far past the C-47 crash site, the trail crosses a long chute that extends nearly to the top of Gorgonio. The snow in that chute had melted just enough that a thin strip of trail was exposed.

Thinking that had to be the last of the snow, I continued the traverse to Mineshaft Saddle (9936′) and began the descent of the Dry Lake Trail. Once past a rocky section of the trail, I picked up the pace, energized by the increased oxygen at lower elevation. Enjoying the downhill, I descended into an area of converging chutes and gullies, when the path through the lodgepole forest abruptly ended.

Avalanche debris on the Dry Lake Trail above Dry Lake. July 27, 2019.
Avalanche debris on the Dry Lake Trail above Dry Lake.

The trail was obliterated. Large trees were ripped from the ground, broken, tossed, and piled up as if they were matchsticks. Underneath the debris were mounds of dense, icy snow — the remnants of an avalanche. This report on SoCalSnow.org includes photos of an avalanche in February 2019 on the north face of San Gorgonio and mentions previous avalanches.

That snow, at an elevation of about 9400′, had finally been the last on the trail. Because the compressed snow is effectively a big block of ice, it could be around for a while.

In the area of the avalanche, the Dry lake Trail enters a large area of rocky rubble that extends into the Big Draw. According to the Dibblee Geologic Map for San Gorgonio Mountain, this rubble is glacial till, produced by the largest of several pocket glaciers that existed on San Gorgonio Mountain, Shields Peak, and San Bernardino Peak.

San Gorgonio Mountain's summit, on the left of the crest, is more than 2400' above Dry Lake.
This is the first time Dry Lake has been full this time of year since 2011.

Continuing down the trail to Dry Lake I saw where some of this season’s meltwater had gone — for the first time since 2011, Dry Lake was full in late July.

Last Saturday’s run was so enjoyable that yesterday I went back to Gorgonio and did it again. As might be expected during a Southern California Summer heatwave, the snow on the Sky High Trail, and elsewhere, is melting fast and won’t be around for long.

Here are a few photos taken along the way. The album includes photos from both the July 27 and August 3 runs.

Some related posts: Still a Little Snow in Southern California; San Gorgonio Mountain: Falls Creek Loop, August 2017; After the Lake Fire: The Dollar Lake – Dry Lake Loop on San Gorgonio Mountain

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Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel Out & Back – Plus Sawmill Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Sheep Camp

Paintbrush along the Vincent Tumamait Trail near Mt. Pinos.

The out and back trail run from the Chula Vista parking area on Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) is a long-time favorite. It combines subalpine summits, beautiful pine and fir forests, and a unique flora with uncrowded trails that are fun to run and explore.

The basic out and back to Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) with a stop on the way back at Sheep Camp for water is around 14 miles with an elevation gain/loss of about 3400′. The side trips to Sawmill Mountain and Grouse Mountain are short and add about 0.75 mile to the distance and around 250′ to the elevation gain.

As in other areas of Southern California, the wet 2018-19 Winter has resulted in an abundance of wildflowers in the Mt. Pinos region. Paintbrush, mariposa lily, larkspur, penstemon, lupine, phlox, iris, yarrow and many other plants are blooming in profusion. Limber pines in the area are full of cones and the spring at Sheep Camp is flowing well.

Floras and checklists for Mt. Pinos have been compiled by Tom Chester, CalFlora, Mount Pinos Ranger District, David L. Magney and others.

Here is a Juicebox album of a few photos taken on the run.

Some related posts: Up, Down and Around on Mt. Pinos’ Tumamait and North Fork Trails, Thunderstorm, Pinos to Abel Plus

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Upper Las Virgenes Creek Still Flowing in Mid-July

Upper Las Virgenes Creek, July 17, 2019.

Following our five year drought, Downtown Los Angeles and many neighboring areas recorded above-average rainfall in two of the last three rain years. This has had obvious and observable effects on the area’s plants and animals and aided in the ongoing recovery of habitats affected by drought and wildfire.

This is the first time since the Summer of 2011 that there has been flowing water in upper Las Virgenes Creek in mid-July at the crossing near the Cheeseboro connector. It’s just a trickle, but keep in mind that during some of the drought years, this section of upper Las Virgenes Creek never flowed.

Update August 7, 2019. Upper Las Virgenes Creek is still trickling.

Notes: In rain year 2016-17 Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded 19.00 inches of rain from July 1 to June 30, and in 2018-19, 18.82 inches. During the intervening rain year, 2017-18, only 4.79 inches was recorded.

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ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 2019 and the Riddle of EAMC

Runners working up Josephine Fire Road during the 2019 Angeles National Forest Trail Races.
Runners working up Josephine Fire Road from the Clear Creek Aid Station.

The race was going well. We’d made the 3:05 p.m. cutoff at West Fork (Mile 26.5 of the 50K) with an hour to spare and I was feeling good. One reason was that temps for the race were not nearly as hot as in 2017 and 2018. For the most part heat had not been an issue. Even so, with the clear sky and strong sun, it had still been toasty on the climb up to Lawlor Saddle and descent from Red Box.

High at Clear Creek for the 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races.
High at Clear Creek for the 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races. Click to enlarge.

On the way down from Red Box, I’d started running with German, who was running the Angeles National Forest Trail Race (ANFTR) as his first 50K. He’d run the Los Angeles Marathon a few months before and was curious to see what ultras were all about. He knew he’d picked a good one. I told him the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K was a favorite, and one of the best organized races that I had run.

Born in the ingenious mind of RD Gary Hilliard in 2005, the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races are unique. Most mountain ultras start low, climb to one or more high points, and eventually descend to the finish. The ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment courses do the opposite. They start on top of Mt. Wilson, and many miles later, finish with a grueling 5.5 mile, 2600′ climb from West Fork back to the top of Mt. Wilson.

We’d refilled at West Fork, taken a couple of minutes to cool down, and then had continued west on the Gabrielino Trail, jogging the level stretches and avoiding the poison oak prevalent on that section of trail. Reaching the Kenyon Devore Trail, I said something like, “The fun begins!” and we headed up the steepening trail. Both of us had done Kenyon Devore recently in training, and I’d done it many times in previous ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races.

60K, 50K and 25K runners at the Starting line for the 2019 Angeles National Forest Trail Races
60K, 50K and 25K runners at the Starting line for the 2019 Angeles National Forest Trail Races.

I felt the first twinge around mile 29. Just a little flicker in an adductor. I’m used to this. Although I’ve not had any chronic mechanical issues with my knees and feet, in about two-thirds of my 50K and longer races I’ve been hit with leg cramps. Researchers refer to this type of cramping as Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC).

EAMC is no fun at all. The cramps, usually in the active leg muscles, can be intense and painful. They often occur late in a race — right around the time you’re getting excited about finishing and want to pick up the pace on the final few miles of the course. They are disconcerting and frustrating.

Working up the San Gabriel Peak Trail on the first uphill of the ANFTR course.
Working up the San Gabriel Peak Trail on the first uphill of the ANFTR course.

I’ve researched EAMC for many years, followed the science, and tried many remedies and solutions. Everyone has their favorites. Two of mine are pickle juice and jalapeño chips. Nothing I’ve tried has worked reliably and the research I’ve reviewed suggests there is no magic bullet for dependably preventing this type of cramping.

Much has been written about EAMC. Following are links to a couple of papers that summarize some of the research:

A Narrative Review of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps: Factors that Contribute to Neuromuscular Fatigue and Management Implications

Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps – A Current Perspective

This VeloNews Fast Talk podcast from August 2017 discusses the physiology, prevention and treatment of cramps with experts in the field:

Fast Talk podcast, ep. 26: Cramping myths debunked

Like many who experience EAMC, I seldom get cramps in training runs — even very long and difficult training runs. For those of us that are prone to cramping, there are a multitude of interrelated factors that determine if cramping occurs, and if it does, how severe the cramps will be.

Strawberry Peak looms in the background as a runner works up Josephine Fire Road during the 2019 ANFTR.
Strawberry Peak looms in the background as a runner works up Josephine Fire Road.

The most common scenario for me is that somewhere in the last few miles of a race I will feel a twinge in an adductor or hamstring. I’ll stretch; drink more water; maybe take an electrolyte tab or two and continue. Sometimes that will be that, but more often than not, the twinges develop into a familiar cycle of disruptive cramping — a sequence of the adductor and hamstring muscles in one leg cramping, followed sometime later by the adductor and hamstring in the other leg.

Once cramping starts, I walk. In my experience, walking usually helps to alleviate the cramping, particularly on level and downhill sections. If I can keep moving the cramps will often resolve in a few minutes. Then I can continue more or less normally, and can go back to running. Once the cramps have cycled through both legs, they usually don’t reoccur.

This time around I’d continued to feel various twinges, and then around mile 30, WHAM! It felt like every muscle in both legs cramped at once. I had no choice, but to sit down in the middle of the trail.

2019 ANFTR Josephine Aid Station
Josephine Aid Station

I’d been telling German about my cramping woes, so he wasn’t caught totally off guard. In the middle of all the drama, I kept saying I had to get up and get moving — not because I was worried about the time — but because I thought it would help resolve the cramps. At one point the cramping started to subside, but just trying to stand up was enough to trigger them again.

Eventually I was able to stand and slowly start hobbling up the trail. It seemed like I had been sitting for a long time, but according to my GPS track, we were only stopped for about 5 minutes.

At first, I had to be very careful about re-triggering the cramps. There were a few places where the trail steepened, and I could feel I was on the brink of cramping again. Keeping a constant, easy pace that didn’t overtax any individual muscle group was key. Gradually, I was able to resume a more normal gait. Not wanting to cramp again, I kept the pace slow.

German and me at the Finish. It was German’s first 50K.

My legs behaved for the remainder of the climb, and German and I happily reached the top of Mt. Wilson and crossed the finish line with a smile. We even jogged the last few steps! I congratulated him on finishing his first 50K and thanked him for hanging with me through the cramping episode. After finishing, I walked around for about 10 minutes. In my experience this helps to keep the post-race cramps at bay, and they didn’t reoccur.

As in every race in which I’ve cramped, I’ve asked myself what I might have done differently. I was heat-acclimated. I did several ANFTR-specific training runs starting and finishing at the top of Mt. Wilson. Maybe these runs could have been longer, done at a faster pace, or in combination with another strenuous run — with the idea of being more fatigued on the climb back up the peak. My fueling and hydration seemed to be pretty good, but maybe I need more carbohydrates and fluids than I think. I tapered normally, but have noticed in other races that less of a taper may help with cramping. One thing that might have really helped on this course is the use of trekking poles.

Elevation profile of the 2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K.
Elevation profile of the 2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K.

This was my twelfth finish of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K. It is a challenging, superbly organized race on a spectacular course. Many, many thanks to RDs Gary & Pam Hilliard; the aid station and ham radio volunteers; Sierra Madre SAR; Angeles National Forest; the race sponsors; and all those that make this such an outstanding event.

See the ANFTR web site, Facebook page and Facebook group for more info. All the results for the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races since 2005 can be found on Ultrasignup.com.

Some related posts: Warming Up for the ANFTR Trail Races, Another Scorching Angeles National Forest/Mt. Disappointment Trail Race

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Images taken on trail runs, and other adventures, in the Open Space and Wilderness areas of California, and beyond. All content, including photography, is Copyright © 2006-2019 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.