Category Archives: drought

Downed Trees, Melting Snow and a Waterfall

Snow-covered slopes from the Mt. Waterman Trail

Climbing up the slope and around the big incense cedar I stopped for a moment to enjoy the smell of the splintered wood. There had been so many trees across the trail I’d lost count. This was in the neighborhood of the 35th tree I’d had to work around on my way to Mt. Waterman.

Trees near Three Points burned in the 2009 Station Fire
Trees burned in the 2009 Station Fire

My run on the Mt. Waterman & Twin Peaks Trail had started at Three Points. Initially, I’d been encouraged to see some trees had been cut and removed from the trail. But the area was hard hit by the 2009 Station Fire and the combination of fire, years of drought, and rough winter weather seemed to be felling an increasing number of trees each year.

Across the canyon the north face of Twin Peaks was still blanketed in snow. On this warm, south-facing slope the snow was almost gone, exposing a veneer of pine needles, last Summer’s gray and wilted ferns, and the Winter excavations of industrious moles. In every gulch and gully water spilled down the mountainside; splashing, bubbling and burbling downslope under gravity’s spell.

Snow-covered Mt. Baldy from the Mt. Waterman Trail
Mt. Baldy from the Mt. Waterman Trail

This was supposed to be a recovery run, following last Saturday’s abridged — but arduous — run on the Backbone Trail. (Many thanks to Howard & Mike and all the volunteers!) The plan was to just go to the summit of Waterman and then back down the same way. But… the idea of crawling over, through or around more than 40 trees a second time just didn’t sound that appealing.

When I reached the junction with Mt. Waterman’s summit trail it took about a millisecond to make the decision to continue on the loop. It would be longer, and would have more elevation gain, but it was a beautiful day and my legs felt OK. Who knew when there would be another opportunity to do the loop in these conditions?

Snow along the Mt. Waterman Trail about a half-mile from Buckhorn
Snow along the Mt. Waterman Trail

Much of the trail down to Buckhorn was covered with snow. Not so much snow as to be a problem, but enough to be interesting and scenic. The weather was great and snow conditions excellent. Following the tracks of hikers, my socks didn’t even get wet!

Reaching Angeles Crest Highway, I ran east a short distance to the entrance of Buckhorn Campground. The gate was locked and the campground still closed for the Winter. Patches of snow, deadfall and other debris littered the area. When the camp is open, I top off my water here. Today the faucets were dry, but with the cool weather that would not be an issue.

Most of the hikers on the Burkhart Trail were going to see Cooper Canyon Falls. Seeing the falls was one of the reasons I’d decided to continue on the loop. My thoughts drifted back to April 1995 when Gary Gunder and I carried our kayaks down this trail and paddled Little Rock Creek from Cooper Canyon to the South Fork. (We put-in below the falls.)

The flow over the falls was the most I’d seen in several years and was probably nearing its peak. After enjoying the falls for a few minutes I scrambled out of the gorge and headed up the PCT. Like all that visit the falls, I now had to climb out of Cooper Canyon.

Drought-stressed young pine in Cooper Canyon
Drought-stressed young pine in Cooper Canyon

The effects of a prolonged drought don’t just disappear overnight, no matter how much it rains or snows. This was particularly evident on the sun-baked segment of the PCT above Cooper Canyon Camp. Just above the camp a large, green-needled Jeffry Pine had collapsed, leaving a large crater where its roots had been. In the year since I’d been on the trail, trees on the warmest, south-facing slopes had become more drought-stressed. It seemed additional trees had died and more had yellowing and brown needles.

Cooper Canyon can be hot, but today the temperature was pleasant. Eventually I reached Cloudburst Summit and clambered over a final steep patch of snow to reach the saddle. Three Points was now just a few miles away. I crossed Hwy 2 and started running down the trail.

Savanna Green

View west, down East Las Virgenes Canyon, toward Las Virgenes Canyon

Green is what you get when so much rain falls on a valley oak savanna. This is a view west, down East Las Virgenes Creek, toward Las Virgenes Canyon. The ridge in the distance is between Las Virgenes and Cheeseboro Canyons.

Related post: Valley Oak Savanna

Kanan to Mishe Mokwa and Back

Rock formations along the West Fork Arroyo Sequit near the Grotto

As I rounded the rib extending down from Peak 2658 — the site of the old Triunfo Lookout — I peered down into the deep canyon of the West Fork Arroyo Sequit and the towering rock formations above the Grotto. As is the case along many sections of the Backbone Trail the view was superb.

Marker recognizing the significant contributions from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Betty Weider in the creation of the Backbone Trail
Marker recognizing the significant contributions from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Betty Weider in the creation of the Backbone Trail.

Earlier, from the Etz Meloy fire road, Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands had seemed to be magnified by the ocean haze — the lighter-colored rocks of San Pedro Point clearly visible on the east end of Santa Cruz. To the south, Santa Barbara Island, the smallest of the Channel Islands, had been visible near the horizon.

I was doing an out and back run on the Backbone Trail from the Kanan Road trailhead, and wondering if I had enough water to go to Mishe Mokwa and then the 15 miles back to Kanan. The irony was that, following several years of drought, this Winter it had rained and rained. Water was everywhere, but I had not thought to bring a UV pen or filter.

Padre's shooting star (Primula clevelandii) along the Backbone Trail below the Mishe Mokwa Trailhead.
Shooting stars near the Mishe Mokwa Trailhead.

Reaching the point where the trail turns to the north and has a great view of Sandstone Peak, Circle X and the Mishe Mokwa trailhead I again debated turning around. Across the canyon, sunlight gleamed from the cars parked at the Mishe Mokwa Trailhead. The rocky knolls below the trailhead were green with rain and though I couldn’t see them from here, would be covered with a spectacular patchwork of purple and yellow shooting stars.

Hmm… I’d run a little over 13 miles, so Mishe Mokwa was less than two trail miles away. Going there would add about 3.5 miles to my run.  I lifted my pack to see how much water I had left, and then continued down the trail.

Between January Storms

Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

From Saturday afternoon’s rain-free run to check out upper Las Virgenes Creek. The nearby Cheeseboro Remote Automated Weather Station (RAWS) had recorded about 2.0 inches of rain the previous three days and would record another 2.4 inches on the following two. The weather station is on top of the prominent hill in the distance. January was the wettest at Downtown Los Angeles (USC) since January 2005.

Los Angeles Rainfall Above Normal, But…

Study of mud on the Musch Trail in Southern California

As of yesterday Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded 8.80 inches of rainfall for both the Rainfall Year (July 1 – June 30) and Water Year (October 1 – September 30). By either measure Los Angeles rainfall is well above normal, and with three well-advertised storms in the forecast it looks like Los Angeles rainfall could remain above normal for at least a few weeks.

Even if it has been a bit wet — and muddy — it’s been great to have a more normal rain season. The rain has been very beneficial and has impacted the drought, at least in the short term. Just how much a continued wet rain season would impact the drought in the long term is a question that has to wait for future analysis.

There has been a five year precipitation deficit of nearly 36 inches at Downtown Los Angeles (USC). It’s hard to appreciate the size of this deficit while running in the rain, splashing through puddles, and trying not to slip in the mud. One tangible indicator of this deficit is that despite above average rainfall, many creeks in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills have remained dry or are barely flowing. Some have been dry for years.

Update Wednesday, March 1, 2017. The atmospheric river event on February 17 produced high flows on many local streams and many of these streams continue to flow. Rainfall totals in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties for the storm generally ranged from 4 to 8 inches with some higher totals recorded. On subsequent trail runs flooding, debris flows and erosion were noted in Upper Sycamore and Blue Canyons in Pt. Mugu State Park. Remarkably, some groundwater monitoring stations in Santa Barbara and San Bernardino Counties remain well below normal.

As of February 28, 2017, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) had recorded 18.50 inches of rain for the Rain Year and Water Year. This is 165% of the normal amount of 11.24 inches for the date, and 124% of the normal amount of rainfall for an entire year. This is the wettest Rain Year (July 1 – June 30) and Water Year (October 1 to September 30) to date since the very wet year of 2004-2005.

Update Tuesday, January 24, 2017. From Wednesday, January 18 through Monday, January 23, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded 5.53 inches of rain, bringing the Rain Year and Water Year precipitation totals to 14.33 inches. This is 217% of the normal amount of 6.65 inches for the date, and 97% of the normal amount of rainfall for the entire Rain Year. It has been the wettest start to the Rain Year (July 1 – June 30) and Water Year (October 1 to September 30) since the very wet year of 2004-2005. There were high rain rates on Sunday, January 22, and Upper Las Virgenes Creek did finally flow for a period of time.

Update Saturday, January 21, 2017. From Wednesday, January 18 through Friday, January 20, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded 2.53 inches of rain, bringing the Rain Year and Water Year precipitation totals to 11.33 inches. The average annual rainfall for Downtown Los Angeles is 14.93 inches. The rain, which was heavy at times on Friday, produced some flooding, rockslides and debris flows. Both branches of upper Garapito Creek are flowing as a result, but Saturday afternoon Upper Las Virgenes Creek was still not flowing.

Upper Las Virgenes Creek – February 22 the flow on Upper Las Virgenes Creek near the Cheeseboro connector and the two downstream crossings was enough that you couldn’t cross without getting your shoes wet. Previously, on January 24, there was no flow near the connector and only a slight trickle downstream. On January 21 the creek was not flowing and there was no evidence it had flowed during a recent storm.

Garapito Creek – On Saturday, January 21, 2017, both branches of upper Garapito Creek were nice burbling brooks. Previously, on January 15, the north branch was just starting to flow, but the south branch was dry.

Upper Sycamore Creek – Flash flooding, debris flows and erosion occurred on this creek following the heavy rain on February 17-18. Nearly 6 inches of rain was recorded at Circle X Ranch, which is also in the western Santa Monica Mountains. Previously, was flowing on February 4, but not on January 1, 2017.

Serrano Creek – Was flowing on February 4, but not on January 1, 2017.

If the wet forecast holds will these streams start to flow? We’ll see!

Rainy December for Los Angeles

Century City and Downtown Los Angeles

Updated January 4, 2017.

Not since the beginning of the drought has Downtown Los Angeles experienced such a wet December. As of December 31, 2016:

• December rainfall was 2.22 inches above the monthly normal of 2.33 inches.

• The 4.55 inches of rain recorded was the wettest December since December 2010 and the most for any month since January 2010.

Since the Rain Year began July 1, 5.95 inches of rain has fallen at Downtown Los Angeles (USC). This is 1.63 inches above the normal July-December rainfall of 4.32 inches. It is the best start to the Rain Year (Jul 1-Jun 30) and Water Year (Oct 1-Sep 30) since 2010.

The photograph of Century City and Downtown was taken from Temescal Ridge while doing the Will Rogers – Temescal Canyon loop from the End of Reseda Saturday (December 24). According to NWS records Downtown Los Angeles recorded 2.32 inches of rain from December 21 to December 24..