The cumulus cloud towered overhead, its size accentuated by a lone oak on the skyline. An extraordinary series of December rainstorms were finally over. The year 2021 would end with Downtown Los Angeles (USC) having recorded the third highest amount of December rainfall on record.
I was running from the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (aka Ahmanson) to Las Virgenes Canyon. With about 5 inches of rain in the area over the past two days, I was curious to see how upper Las Virgenes Creek was flowing.
When I parked at the Wendy Drive trailhead, there was just enough light to see a wide band of high clouds overhead. That was good news. With a well-advertised storm expected to move through the area the next day, I hadn’t been sure what weather to expect for today’s run.
The general forecast was for low clouds and fog in the morning, giving way to partly cloudy skies in the afternoon. I was going to be running one of the more scenic trails in the Santa Monica Mountains — the Ray Miller Trail. High clouds and sunshine were a much better option than running in the fog or with gloomy, overcast skies.
Shortly after leaving the trailhead, the band of high clouds became underlit by the reds, oranges and yellows of the rising sun. It was going to be a good run.
The route-finding on this run is relatively straightforward. From the Wendy Drive trailhead on Potrero Road, run over to the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center (see Satwiwa map). From the Culture Center run 4+ miles on Big Sycamore Canyon Road/Trail toward the beach. Some of this is paved.
Once past the junction of Sycamore Canyon and Wood Canyon fire roads, take either the Wood Canyon Vista Trail (Backbone Trail) or Fireline Trail up to the Overlook fire road. From the top of the Wood Canyon Vista Trail turn left on Overlook fire road, or from the top of Fireline turn right, and follow the road to the top of the Ray Miller Trail. The Fireline option is about 0.4 miles longer. Here’s a map from the State Park website. Note that the La Jolla Canyon Trail is closed.
The Ray Miller Trail drops about 1000′ over 2.6 scenic miles. There is usually water available at the parking lot at the trailhead. Today the conditions were about as good as they get. The trail was in excellent condition. The temperature was in the mid-70s. The marine layer was holding offshore and a few puffy clouds had formed over the higher peaks.
One of the things about the Ray Miller Trail is that run/hike up it is almost as enjoyable as the run down. It is a very popular, and there are almost always runners and hikers on the trail. Running up a section of trail, I thought I recognized someone going down. It was nine-time Badwater finisher Chris Frost. We talked for a while about trails, running and races.
From Overlook Fire road the route back to Wendy was a familiar one — Hell Hill, Wood Canyon Fire Road, Two Foxes Trail, Big Sycamore Canyon Road, Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail, Danielson Road, and the Satwiwa Loop Trail. Including a short jog over to PCH the run was a little over 24 miles with about 3100′ of elevation gain.
Fogbows form opposite the sun in a manner similar to rainbows, except the water droplets that create a fogbow are much smaller than raindrops. Because a fog droplet is so small, the physics of the interaction is different. The result is often a diffuse, primarily white bow.
The photograph of the fogbow was taken Sunday morning on an out and back run from Wendy Drive to Mugu Peak. The sun was about 14 degrees above the horizon. More about fogbows and other atmospheric phenomena can be found on Les Cowley’s Atmospheric Optics website.
When I started up the trail from Vincent Gap (6585′), the thermometer on my pack read 36°F. For the first few switchbacks, the trail was immersed in cloud. Beneath the tall conifers, the sandy soil was dotted with droplets of moisture extracted from the fog.
I was on my way to Ross Mountain (7402′), one of the most isolated peaks in the San Gabriel Mountains. At the end of a rugged, 3-mile ridge extending south from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell, the peak overlooks the vast canyons of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.
This morning, the canyons were filled with a 7000′ deep layer of stratus clouds. With a weak upper low over the Southern Sierra, the question of the day was whether the cloud deck would work up the ridge from Ross Mountain and completely envelop Baden-Powell.
Well acquainted with the trail up Baden-Powell, a combination of fast-hiking and slow-jogging put me on top in a relatively comfortable 90 minutes. I’d tried not to overdo the pace, knowing from previous experience that the return from Ross Mountain would be the tough part of the day.
From the summit of Baden-Powell, I gazed across the sea of clouds to Mt. Baldy. There was almost no snow on its steep north face. San Gorgonio Mountain was visible in the haze to the left of Pine Mountain and San Jacinto Peak in the gap between Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy.
Walking a little down the south side of Baden-Powell, I got my first good look at the South Ridge. Ross Mountain was nearly covered in clouds. Guessing that the deck of clouds might deepen, and a few minutes might make the difference of being in the clouds or out, I started to jog-lope-shuffle down the initial steep slope.
The title photo was taken a bit past Peak 8375, about 1.7 miles from Baden-Powell and 1.2 miles from Ross Mountain. At that time the clouds were spilling over the ridge near Peak 7407 and Peak 7360+, and around Ross Mountain.
The clouds added an aesthetic element to the adventure, as well as a little uncertainty. They accentuated and embellished the terrain, while threatening to make the conditions wet, cold and disorienting. Being familiar with the route helped me to enjoy the experience more than the concerns.
The Hidden Pond – Old Boney Loop is a variation of the XTERRA Boney Mountain Trail Run 21K course. The route is about a half-mile longer and has a couple hundred feet more of elevation gain, but all the key trails are the same. It starts/ends at the Wendy Drive & Potrero Road Trailhead.
Was that thunder? I warily eyed the dark clouds over the mountains and pondered the situation.
I was about halfway to the top of the Chumash Trail and was planning to run along the crest to Rocky Peak. The run had started in short sleeves and sunshine, but it was pretty obvious that wasn’t going to last.
A cold upper-level low had brought badly needed rain to the area for the past two days. The low was moving off to the east, but there was still a chance of afternoon showers and maybe even a thunderstorm.
It was the “thunderstorm” part that I needed to pay attention to. I had enough gear to deal with a downpour and cooling temps, but electrical storms are no fun at all.
I decided to continue to the top of the Chumash Trail and reassess. As I worked up the trail, I pictured the counterclockwise circulation around the low, and how convective cells develop over the mountains and then dissipate as they drift south. The concern was that the cells don’t always dissipate.
It looked like things weren’t getting any better at the top of the Chumash Trail, but it wasn’t worse either. I hadn’t heard any thunder for a while, and most of the activity seemed to be a few miles to the west and east. Having been starved of stormy weather for much of the rain season, I turned right on Rocky Peak Road and headed south toward Rocky Peak.
The run from the Chumash Trailhead to Rocky Peak is a challenging mix of technical single-track trail and hilly fire road. There are wide-ranging views of Simi Valley & Simi Hills, the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica Mountains, Ventura County mountains, and San Gabriel Mountains. On a clear day, the view can extend to the Channel Islands, Saddleback, and San Jacinto Peak.
I felt the first raindrops as I reached the high point on Rocky Peak Road and turned onto the spur trail that leads to the overlook. There was some increased development to the east, but it looked like there would be enough time to get over to Rocky Peak, take a couple of pics, and then head back.
I felt a little exposed on top of Rocky Peak. I hadn’t heard any thunder for the past hour, but a cell to the east was spouting heavy rain over the San Fernando Valley, which meant there was probably enough development to produce lightning. I took the title photo and a couple of others and hurriedly descended from the peak.
Back on Rock Peak Road, the sprinkles increased, and the showers became more steady as I ran north toward the Chumash Trail. Under the dark clouds, a raven perched on a large pinnacle cawed incessantly, either enjoying the rain or complaining about it. In the distance, a siren wailed down in the valley. It was cold, and I was very glad to have an extra shirt, sleeves, gloves and a light rain shell.
As I began the descent of the Chumash Trail, the sun briefly broke through the clouds, reflecting brightly on the wet sandstone rocks. I breathed deeply, relishing the smell of the cleansed air and wet chaparral, and continued down the trail.