Category Archives: nature

Another Triple-Digit Sunday

Pt. Mugu State Park from Boney Mountain
Sycamore Canyon, Laguna Peak, and the Channel Islands from Boney Mountain.

Update on August 17, 2022. As of today, my West Hills weather station has recorded a high of 100 degrees or higher for 12 consecutive days. 

It was another triple-digit Sunday. Once again the high in the west San Fernando Valley was forecast to hit one-hundred and something. I’d hope to beat most of the heat by getting an early start and running where it wouldn’t be quite so hot.

I hadn’t been able to get out to Stoney Point Saturday morning, so was looking to do a little easy climbing as part of my Sunday run. I was considering three options: Topanga Lookout Ridge, Strawberry Peak, and Boney Mountain.

Boney Mountain from connector trail above Danielson Road
Boney Mountain from connector trail above Danielson Road

While none of the three are difficult by rock climbing standards, all require the use of handholds and footholds, good route-finding skills, and good judgment. It is entirely possible to fall on any of them.

The Topanga Lookout Ridge loop is about 8.5 miles long with 2000′ of gain/loss. There are a few short climbing segments on the crest of the ridge that can be accessed from the  use trail.

The basic loop up the Western Ridge of Boney Mountain and over Tri Peaks to the Backbone Trail and back to Wendy Drive is about 15.5 miles long with 3400′ of gain/loss. It is longer and more difficult than  the Topanga Lookout Ridge loop.

The loop over the top of Strawberry Peak from the Colby Canyon Trailhead is about 12 miles long with 3100′ of gain/loss. There is some class 2/3 climbing on the west side of Strawberry, and it is essential to stay on route. There have been a number of rescues of those attempting to climb the peak.

View along the top of Boney Mountain's western escarpment.
View along the top of Boney Mountain’s western escarpment.

It was a few minutes past six when I pushed the start button on my Garmin and jogged down the hill from the trailhead at Wendy Drive. I’d run about a half-mile when I heard another runner behind me. We chatted for a couple minutes and I learned he was preparing to do the Wonderland Trail around Rainier and then the Bear 100.

We were both going to the same area, but by different routes. I was climbing Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge and then working over to the Backbone Trail. He was doing an out and back to Sandstone Peak via Upper Sycamore, Sycamore Canyon, and the Backbone Trail. We would run into each other again at the Danielson Multi-Use Area on the way back to Wendy Drive.

Morning shadows on Boney Mountain's western escarpment
Morning shadows on Boney Mountain’s western escarpment

As always, the climb up the Western Ridge (Mountaineer’s Route) was enjoyable. The rock climber in me always wants to check out potential lines, but this morning there wasn’t much time for that. The longer it took to get up Boney, the hotter it was going to be later in the run!

The temperature was already in the eighties when I reached the Backbone Trail. Before the fires and floods of past decade,  the run down the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail was one of the better running descents in the Santa Monica Mountains. From the Tri Peaks Trail junction to the Old Boney Trail it drops about 1500′ over three miles. Today, except for the stretch of trail near Chamberlain Rock, it was nearly back to its original form.

Holly-leaved cherries along the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail
Holly-leaved cherries along the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail

As in other areas of the Santa Monica Mountains, the effect of the heavy December rains was evident. The red shanks, and chaparral in general, seemed to be greener. This year there is a bumper crop of holly-leaved cherries, which must make the coyotes happy. Unlike last year, it looks like there should be some Christmas berries this Winter, since a number of Toyon were covered in green berries.

On the way down the Chamberlain Trail I started to fret that the water at Danielson might not be turned on. The water faucets in Sycamore Canyon are usually dependable, but on a run a few years ago the water system was turned off for servicing. Or what if there had been a drought-related water supply issue?

It turned out the water was still on, and I drank a lot of it. The remainder of the run went well, although I was a little surprised that the sensor on my pack recorded temps in the nineties in Sycamore Canyon. I had expected the south-facing stretch on Danielson road to be torrid, but a nice breeze kept the temperature tolerable.

Some related posts: Looking for Boney Mountain, Looking for Boney Bluff, Orange Sun Rising – A Boney Mountain Adventure Run

Bulldog Training Run 2022

Runners east of Corral Canyon on the Bulldog Loop

When I parked at Malibu & Piuma to do the Bulldog Loop on Sunday, I didn’t know that I was going to be swept up in a Bulldog Ultra training run.

I had just started up Bulldog Mtwy fire road when the first group of speedy runners swarmed past. The strenuous climb to the Castro Peak Mtwy gains about 1750 feet over 3.4 miles. Much of its infamy is due to the oven-like conditions typically experienced on the second loop during the Bulldog 50K.

New bridge extension across Malibu Creek on the Crags Road trail, east of the M*A*S*H site.
New bridge extension across Malibu Creek on the Crags Road trail, east of the M*A*S*H site.

This morning, the climb was a little warm in spots, but not bad. There was a good turnout for the training run and nearly everyone was enjoying the run.

On the way up I had an interesting conversation with a runner that had just done their first 100 miler and was going to pace someone in the AC100 this weekend.

In case you haven’t heard, State Parks has finally come up with a solution to the repeatedly washed out footbridge across Malibu Creek, east of the M*A*S*H site. An extension was added to the massive block of concrete that formed the foundation of the old bridge. No more shaky log crossings — at least for a while.

Common Madia (Madia elegans) at the bottom of the Bulldog Mtwy fire road.
Common Madia (Madia elegans) at the bottom of the Bulldog Mtwy fire road.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of the Bulldog loop. 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.

Good luck to all the runners doing Bulldog — especially those doing their first trail race or ultra!

Some related posts: Trees, Bees, and a Washed-Out Footbridge on the Bulldog Loop in Malibu Creek State Park; Bulldog Loop Plus the Phantom Loop; After the Woolsey Fire: Bulldog Loop

Thirsty Mt. Pinos

Towering pines on Mt. Pinos, near the Chula Vista parking area.

A couple leaving the camp saw that I was trying to collect drips of water from the nearly dry spring. I told them I was OK, and had water in my pack — I was just using a makeshift cup to get a couple of mouthfuls of cool water from the slowly dripping spring.

I had stopped at Sheep Camp (8300′) in the Chumash Wilderness, in Los Padres National Forest. The day was warm and the spring at the camp is usually a refreshing stop on the way back to Mt. Pinos and the trailhead at the Chula Vista parking area. Earlier, I’d talked to a runner training for the Kodiak 100, and he’d mentioned that the spring was a key source of water for his dog.

Trying to collect a mouthful of water from the spring at Sheep Camp. July 2022.
Trying to collect a mouthful of water from the spring at Sheep Camp

In recent years water has sometimes been an issue at the Sheep Camp spring. In July 2018, six out of the past seven Rain Years had been dry, and the flow of the spring was just a trickle. But it had been enough to slowly refill my Camelbak (TM) and get me down to Lily Camp (6600′) and back. Not so today.

Even without the water, Sheep Camp is a pleasant and worthwhile detour. Old growth pines tower above and bright yellow sneezeweed and other flowers are sprinkled about the forest floor. In the Spring large patches of iris bloom in the damp areas.

Today, I was returning from Mt. Abel, after having done Mt. Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain on the way to Mt. Abel from the Chula Vista parking area. Here is an elevation profile of the run/hike. The cumulative elevation gain on the 15.5 mile run is about 3700′.

North summit of Grouse Mountain, west of Mt. Pinos.
North summit of Grouse Mountain.

The short side trips to the summits of Mt. Pinos and Sawmill require almost no extra effort, and the view from Sawmill — if it’s not too smoky or hazy — is wide-ranging. Getting to the twin summits of Grouse takes a bit more work, but it’s fun to follow the short use trail up the south summit and then to wander through the pines to the slightly taller north summit.

The descent that follows — down the use trail from Grouse and then down the Vincent Tumamait Trail to Puerto del Suelo, drops about 1000′ in elevation over 1.6 miles. This, of course, must be repaid on the way back!

When you reach the road at the end of the Vincent Tumamait Trail, you might remark, “But there’s no trail to Abel!” And you would be correct. It’s fairly straightforward to trek up through the forest from the road, though care is required due to the debris from forestry work in the area.

Rabbitbrush and paintbrush along the Vincent Tumamait Trail, northwest of Mt. Pinos.
Rabbitbrush and paintbrush along the Vincent Tumamait Trail, northwest of Mt. Pinos.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of the run/hike from Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel, with side trips to Sawmill Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Sheep Camp. 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, snow, ice, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

More photos and info can be found in the related posts and in this post from a 2019 run/hike of this route.

Some related posts: Mt. Pinos Adventure Run to Mesa Spring; Up, Down and Around on Mt. Pinos’ Tumamait and North Fork Trails; Thunderstorm

Regrowth of Trees Along the PCT Following the 2002 Curve Fire

Young pines along the PCT about five miles east of Islip Saddle in an area burned by the 2002 Curve Fire
Tree regrowth along the PCT about five miles east of Islip Saddle

The Curve Fire started on Labor Day Weekend 2002, along Highway 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains. Between Mt. Islip and Throop Peak, the fire burned over the crest and down to Angeles Crest Highway. Between Throop Peak and Mt. Baden-Powell, the fire generally burned up to, but did not breach the crest.

Dead trees on a ridge west of Mt. Hawkins that were burned in the 2002 Curve Fire
Dead trees on a ridge west of Mt. Hawkins that were burned in the 2002 Curve Fire

The Curve Fire killed many trees, including some large, old-growth trees. The most common species along the trail between Mt. Islip and Throop Peak are white fir, Jeffrey pine, sugar pine, and lodgepole pine. Incense cedar also grows in the area, and limber pine is found on and to the east of Throop Peak. Here is a cross-section of a tree along the PCT about 3.0 miles from Islip Saddle. It is representative of the older trees killed in the Curve Fire.

Prior to the Curve Fire, the FRAP geodatabase of California fires has no record of a large fire that burned along the crest of the San Gabriels between Mt. Islip and Mt. Baden-Powell. The FRAP record extends back to the early 1900s, when the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve became Angeles National Forest. A study of mercury levels in Crystal Lake and newspaper accounts suggest the possibility that a large fire occurred in this area in 1878, or about 124 years before the Curve Fire.

I’ve run and hiked the PCT between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell for many years, so have had the opportunity to follow the regrowth of conifers where the Curve Fire burned over the crest. Studying conifer regrowth in this area can provide insights into regrowth in the 2009 Station Fire and 2020 Bobcat Fire burn areas, and in areas burned by more than one of these fires.

The locations of the stands are shown in this Google Earth image, along with the areas burned by the Curve and Bobcat Fires. Of these four areas, Stand #1 is the only one burned by the Curve Fire and Bobcat Fire.

Stand #1

A June 2020 photo of conifer regrowth after the 2002 Curve Fire. These trees were obliterated by the Bobcat Fire.
A June 2020 photo of conifer regrowth after the 2002 Curve Fire. These trees were obliterated by the Bobcat Fire.

This stand of young Jeffrey pines looked very healthy in June 2020. The area is about 1.5 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT, at an elevation of about 7440 ft. At that time a tree adjacent to the trail stood well overhead.

I almost ran past this area in July 2022. I had to double-check the mileage on my watch. Where were the trees? Here is a comparison of the area before and after the Bobcat Fire.

The young trees were more vulnerable than the mature trees in the area. Eighteen years of Curve Fire regrowth were completely obliterated.

Stand #2

This area of young trees is between Windy Gap and Peak 8426, about 3.0 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT, at an elevation of about 7900 ft. Some old-growth Jeffrey pines were killed here. This is what the area looked like on May 30,  2010.

Now the size of the trees ranges from seedlings a few inches tall to this very robust Jeffrey pine that is well over head height.

Stand #3

An assortment of young conifers growing along the PCT west of Mt. Hawkins in an area burned by the 2002 Curve Fire
An assortment of young conifers growing along the PCT west of Mt. Hawkins

This area of young trees is on broad ridge, west of Mt. Hawkins, about 4.2 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT. The Curve Fire ran down the ridge to Hwy 2, killing hundreds of trees. The elevation at the PCT is about 8500 ft.

Stand #4

This area of young trees is on a south-facing slope, just west of Throop Peak, about 5.1 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT. The elevation is about 8900 ft. Because of its aspect, the new trees are taller than in the other areas photographed. Here’s what this area looked like in May 2012, June 2016, and July 2022.

Some related posts: Did Lightning Start the 2002 Curve Fire, 3D Terrain View of Bobcat Fire Soil Burn Severity and Some Angeles National Forest Trails

Poodle-dog Bush Along the PCT Near Islip Saddle

Poodle-dog Bush along the Pacific Crest Trail near Islip Saddle with Mt. Williamson in the background.
Poodle-dog Bush along the Pacific Crest Trail near Islip Saddle with Mt. Williamson in the background.

Nope, my eyes weren’t deceiving me, the hiker was carrying his full-size poodle up the trail.

I was running down the PCT, east of Islip Saddle, after a run/hike to Mt. Hawkins and Throop Peak. I’m guessing the hiker was carrying his dog to keep it out of the Poodle-dog Bush on both sides of the trail.

Poodle-dog bush along the PCT above Islip Saddle in the San Gabriel Mountain
Poodle-dog bush along the PCT above Islip Saddle

Poodle-dog Bush (Eriodictyon parryi) is a fire-follower that can cause severe dermatitis in some people. In this case the plants sprouted following the 2020 Bobcat Fire.

The last big outbreak of Poodle-dog Bush followed the 2009 Station Fire. At that time many people were unfamiliar with its potential effects, and were caught off-guard.

The plant can get you in a couple of ways — the plant’s resin can affect sensitized people in a manner similar to poison oak, and the plant’s numerous hairs can break off and irritate the skin.

My experience with Poodle-dog Bush is described in the posts Contact Dermatitis from Eriodictyon parryi – Poodle-dog Bush and Getting Over Poodle-dog Bush Dermatitis.

Additional related posts: Trail Runners Describe Reactions to Poodle-dog Bush, Poodle-dog Bush Near the Top of the Mt. Wilson Trail

Downtown Los Angeles Ends Rain Year At 87% Of Normal

Sunflowers and Clouds by Gary Valle

Downtown Los Angeles (USC) ended the Rain Year (July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022) with 12.40 inches of rain. This is about 87% of the 1991-2020 Climate Normal of 14.25 inches.

Percent of Average Precipitation Western U.S. July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.
Percent of Average Precipitation Western U.S. July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2022.

In part because of large amount of rainfall during December — nearly 9.5 inches at Los Angeles — and the meager amount of rain the previous year, the area’s vegetation responded as if there had been above average rainfall. Wildflowers bloomed in abundance and some trails became overgrown.

Looking at the broader picture, much of California, Nevada and western Arizona recorded below average precipitation, exacerbating water supply issues in the Southwest.

Some related posts: A Lot of Bluster, But Not Much Rain, Malibu Creek December 2021 Floods, Running Between Storms on the Trippet Ranch Loop, Trippet Ranch Loop Plus the Santa Ynez Trail