Category Archives: geology

A Warm Day on Blue Ridge and the North Backbone Trail

Clouds, pines, and Pine Mountain from Blue Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains

Angeles Crest Highway was still closed between Red Box and Vincent Gap, and the heatwave continued. I was trying to decide where to run.

I briefly considered the Circuit Around Strawberry Peak, but yesterday at 10:00 a.m., the “in-the-shade” temperature at Clear Creek was already 92°F, and the “in-the-sun” fuel temperature 109°F. By 1:00 p.m., the fuel temp reached a scorching 122°F!

Although trailheads such as Three Points and Islip Saddle couldn’t be accessed using Angeles Crest Highway, the highway was open from Wrightwood to Inspiration Point and Vincent Gap. After seeing the temps at Clear Creek, it took about two seconds to make the decision to head to the San Gabriels’ high country.

 sulfur flower-lined section of the PCT east of Inspiration Point
sulfur flower-lined section of the PCT east of Inspiration Point

From Inspiration Point (7,365′), I ran east on the PCT about 7 miles to the North Backbone Trailhead on Mt. Baldy. Over most of that stretch, the temperature was a blissful 60-something degrees. Other times, I’ve driven to this trailhead — which requires a high-clearance vehicle — or run to the trailhead from Wrightwood. But the run along Blue Ridge is a favorite. It is especially scenic, with fantastic views of Mt. Baden-Powell, Iron Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Mt. Baldy.

About a quarter-mile east of the top of the Acorn Trail, the PCT passes within a few feet of one of the Wright Mountain landslides. The canyon-size landslide is prehistoric, but smaller landslides and mudflows occur periodically within the primary scar. The debris cone of a dramatic 1941 mudflow is an unmistakable feature on satellite photos.

Peak 8555 and Pine Mountain from the PCT.
Peak 8555 and Pine Mountain from the PCT.

Less than a mile beyond the overlook of the landslide, I left the PCT and jogged down to the North Backbone Trailhead. After a short descent, I started up the steep use trail toward Peak 8555. On the way up, San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak were visible in the haze to the east.

Peak 8555 is the first high point on Baldy’s North Backbone. It is an idyllic spot with a great view of Mt. Baden-Powell and the surrounding terrain. But you might not want to linger here in a thunderstorm — spiral scars on the trunks of trees suggest the point is repeatedly struck by lightning.

Crossing the top of a chute on Mt. Baldy's North Backbone.
Crossing the top of a chute on Mt. Baldy’s North Backbone.

Following a short descent, I resumed climbing the steep, somewhat loose ridge. After about ten minutes, I scrambled onto the crest of the ridge and crossed the top of a prominent, rocky chute. More than a thousand feet below, avalanche-hardened snow gleamed white in the sun at the base of the chute.

Another 10 minutes of climbing and I reached the Pine Mountain Juniper. Straddling the rocky crest at an elevation of about 9000′, this stalwart tree is estimated to be 800 – 1000 years old. It is a remarkable tree in a remarkable location. Except for one short, steep, eroded section, the remainder of the trail to the top of Pine Mountain (9648′) was relatively straightforward.

Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from Pine Mountain's south summit.
Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from Pine Mountain’s south summit.

Pine is the second-highest peak in the San Gabriels and has excellent views of the surrounding terrain. It is higher than Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′) and Dawson Peak (9575′) but a few hundred feet lower than Mt. Baldy (10,064′).

From Pine Mountain, the North Backbone trail continues over Dawson Peak another 2.5 miles to Mt. Baldy. There was still a long ribbon of snow along the east side of the upper North Backbone, but it looked like the trail might avoid it. I would have liked to confirm that, but today the top of Pine was my planned turnaround point. As it was, with the warm weather, I thought I might run short on water on the return to Inspiration Point.

Leaving Pine behind, I started back down — jogging when it made sense — but trying not to do anything stoopid. On the way down, I kept reaching behind me and squeezing the bladder in my hydration pack. I guess I was hoping that it would magically be more full than the last time I checked. It never was.

San Gabriel beardtongue along the PCT on Blue Ridge.
San Gabriel beardtongue along the PCT on Blue Ridge.

Back at the North Backbone Trailhead, and definitely low on water, I decided it was a good time to run the dirt road back to the top of the Acorn Trail and see how much shorter it was than the PCT. The answer was not much — only about a tenth of a mile.

I’d been willing to push the water envelope because it had been a heavy snow year. I expected the spring near Guffy Camp would probably be running. I’d passed the side trail to the spring a bunch of times but never ventured down the steep slope. My impression was that the spring was often low or nearly dry. This time when I reached the side trail, I headed down.

Pumphouse at Guffy Spring, surrounded by giant larkspur.
Pumphouse at Guffy Spring, surrounded by giant larkspur.

And down and down… It sure seemed like a long way to the spring, but when I checked the track, it was less than a quarter-mile with an elevation loss of about 200′.

As I walked up to the spring, a flurry of birds scattered in every direction. Eight-foot-tall larkspurs surrounded the spring, and an old pump house was adjacent to it. While not exactly gushing, the flow from the spring was more than adequate and refreshingly cold. I drank several cups of water and added some to my hydration pack.

Clouds over Mt. Baden-Powell from the PCT east of Inspiration Point
Clouds over Mt. Baden-Powell

Back on the PCT, the temperature was generally in the mid-eighties but was warmer on south-facing slopes. At about 1:00 p.m., the in-the-sun fuel temperature at the Big Pines RAWS was 109°F. I was very happy to have the extra water.

Here are a few photos from the out and back trail run to Pine Mountain from Inspiration Point.

Explore the terrain of this out-and-back trail run and hike from Inspiration Point to Pine Mountain using our interactive, 3D trail run visualizer. It’s like being there! The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Some related posts: Inspiration Point to the Pine Mountain Juniper and Pine Mountain, Mt. Baldy from Wrightwood Via the Acorn and North Backbone Trails, North Backbone Trail Revisited

Red Rock Canyon – Hondo Canyon – Saddle Peak Loop (3D Terrain Map)

Red Rock Canyon, near Topanga, California.

It was clear and cool when I started up Calabasas Peak fire road from the trailhead on Stunt Road.

Several good trail runs and hikes start here; among them are out and backs to Calabasas Peak and Saddle Peak and an adventurous loop up Topanga Lookout Ridge to Topanga Lookout and Saddle Peak. This morning’s trail run was also going to be a loop, and it was a loop that I hadn’t done before.

Two-thirds of a mile of uphill on the dirt road brought me to a bench and the top of Red Rock Canyon. This is also where the use trail up Topanga Lookout Ridge begins. This time, instead of starting up the ridge, I turned right onto the fire road and began the winding descent into Red Rock Canyon.

Sandstone rock formation in Red Rock Canyon.
Sandstone rock formation in Red Rock Canyon.

In the canyon, there are Sespe Formation sandstone rock outcrops with a variety of intriguing shapes and colors. About a mile from Calabasas Peak Mtwy is the parking area for Red Rock Canyon Park. From here, the road continues a little less than a mile to Old Topanga Canyon Road.

Running 1.5 miles on a narrow canyon road with little or no shoulder can be hazardous to your health. Doing the run early on a Sunday morning helped. There were about the same number of cyclists as cars, and there weren’t that many of either. The diciest part was a section of road with no shoulder on a blind curve. I was glad to get past that and to the Hondo Canyon Trailhead.

Hondo Canyon from the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Hondo Canyon from the Backbone Trail

Hondo Canyon is one of the many memorable sections of the Backbone Trail. From Old Topanga, the trail climbs through oaks, grassland, chaparral, and California bay for about four miles to the Fossil Ridge Trail. The trail hides the 1600′ elevation gain well, and long sections of the trail are runnable.

Just below Saddle Peak Road, the Backbone Trail turns right and follows along Fossil Ridge three-quarters of a mile to the service road used to access Topanga Lookout. A left turn leads to the intersection of Saddle Peak Road, Schueren Road, and Stunt Road at the Lois Ewen Scenic Overlook.

The antennae-festooned west summit of Saddle Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains
Antennae-festooned west summit of Saddle Peak.

The remainder of the loop follows the same route as the Topanga Lookout Ridge – Saddle Peak loop. Initially, it follows the Backbone Trail west, past a large water tank to a spur trail that goes to the twin summits of Saddle Peak. The West summit, with all the electronics, is slightly higher, but is now closed. The flat East summit is about a quarter-mile from the Backbone Trail.

Returning to The Backbone Trail and continuing west, it’s about 1.25 miles down to the Stunt High Trail junction. From there, it’s another 2.6 miles on the Stunt High Trail down to the Calabasas Peak/Stunt High trailhead and the end of the 14.3 mile loop.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of the Red Rock Canyon – Hondo Canyon – Saddle Peak loop. The Topanga Lookout Ridge route is also shown. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned using the navigation control on the right. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Some related posts: Red Rock Canyon from the Red Rock Trail; July Fourth Trail Run to Trippet Ranch, Hondo Canyon and Saddle Peak; Topanga Lookout Loop, Plus Saddle Peak

Exploring the Santa Clarita Ultra & Trail Runs 50K Course

Bigcone Douglas-fir along East Canyon Mtwy fire road
Bigcone Douglas-fir along East Canyon Mtwy fire road.

I hadn’t seen a hiker, runner, or mountain biker since turning off East Canyon Mtwy fire road. That was about 2 miles ago. I checked my watch — it read 18 miles. Had I’d made a wrong turn?

Today’s plan was to do the first 25 miles of the Santa Clarita Ultra & Trail Runs 50K. A week ago I’d run the first (blue) and third (yellow) sections of the course, and today’s run would theoretically combine the first (blue) and second (orange) sections.

Oat Mountain (3747'), the highest peak in the Santa Susana Mountains.
Oat Mountain from the Towsley Canyon Loop Trail

So far, the run had gone well. It had started with an extended version of the popular Towsley Canyon Loop in Ed Tavis Park. After climbing up oil-rich Wiley Canyon to a view point at an elevation of about 2450′, the course descended a series of long switchbacks, and passed through a gap in Towsley Canyon known as the Narrows. A mile down the canyon from the Narrows I’d used segments of the Elder Loop and Taylor Loop trails to run over to Lyon Canyon.

Entrance to the Narrows on the Towsley Canyon Loop Trail
Entrance to the Narrows in Towsley Canyon

Following an out and back up the canyon to the top of a prominent hill, the course continued on the Taylor Loop nearly to the Old Road, eventually circling back to the parking area at Ed Davis. At the parking lot my watch read a bit over 9 miles.

After switching from a bottle to a pack, I’d run on the Old Road over to the East Canyon Trailhead. From there the course followed East Canyon and Sunshine Canyon fire roads to Mission Point. The climb up to Jones Junction gains about 1300′ in 3 miles, then it’s another 1.5 miles over to Mission Point (2771′), the high point on the course.

A very green stretch of the Taylor Loop Trail
Green along the Taylor Loop Trail.

One of the highlights of the run up East Canyon was the very healthy-looking Bigcone Douglas-firs higher on the road. Now relegated to the cooler climes of steep, north-facing mountain slopes, the species used to be far more widespread in Southern California.

On the way to Mission Point, the views of the San Fernando Valley from the crest were outstanding, and gave a perspective of the Valley I had not seen before. Apart from having to detour along fence lines bordering private property, and continuous gunfire in a section of the canyon that is near a popular gun club, the run to Mission Point was excellent.

The first of three short detours along fencelines on the way to Mission Point.
Detour around private property on the way to Mission Point.

Returning from Mission Point there was another part of the course I needed to do — an out and back on Weldon Mtwy. Which brings me back to mile 18 of today’s run. After turning off East Canyon Mtwy on what I thought was Weldon Mtwy, I had expected the fire road to loose elevation relatively quickly. But that wasn’t happening.

Instead of running down a canyon, I was running along a ridge — a long ridge. Below and to my right was what looked like a landfill. Below and to my left I could see the Old Road and Santa Clarita. They seemed a long way down.

Mission Point, Three Trees and the San Fernando Valley.
Mission Point, Three Trees and the San Fernando Valley.

There were several ways I could have checked where I was — my watch has maps; my phone had maps; and I had a map in my pack. But I wasn’t in trouble and was already two miles down this road — whatever it was. If I wasn’t on Weldon Mtwy, it would still be a trail I hadn’t done.

After a couple of “I’ll just go a little farther down and see what I can see” episodes, I eventually turned around and headed back up the fire road. When I got back to East Canyon Mtwy, I checked the yellow pole marking the junction of the fire roads — it was marked “WELDON.” Later, I checked my track and found I had turned around a half-mile from the Newhall Pass Trailhead. Now I know.

Overall, I’d enjoyed the course, and decided I would register for the 50K. But registration closed early, and now I see the event has been postponed until November. Oh well, I still got to run in a new area and check out some interesting trails!

Goat Peak and the High Point Trail From the Top of Reseda

Goat Peak and the High Point Trail
The High Point Trail

Like many that enjoy our local mountains, I’m always on the lookout for new trails, new peaks, and interesting loops. A couple of months ago, after running to “The Oak Tree” on the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail, I checked out the upper part of the High Point Trail.

This 2-mile long unofficial, unmaintained, use trail connects the Backbone Trail to the Rivas Canyon Trail. My thought was that I could use the trail to do a variation of the Will Rogers – Temescal Canyon Loop. Instead of running down the lower half of Rogers Road Trail to Will Rogers SHP, I could descend the High Point Trail, pick up the Rivas Canyon Trail, and then finish the loop by the usual route. On paper it made perfect sense.

Steep step in Cretaceous-age cobble on the High Point Trail
Steep step in Cretaceous-age cobble on the High Point Trail

As sometimes happens, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as it looked on the map. Blame the dinosaurs. The trail has several steep sections where eroding Cretaceous-age cobble does its best to take you for a ride. Plus, I happened to be using shoes worn smooth by nearly 500 miles of running.

More than one hiker going up the trail commented about my choice to descend the trail. Being careful not to do anything stoopid, the descent — and the rest of the loop — worked out OK.

Since doing the High Point Trail in the wrong direction and with worn-out shoes, I’ve wanted to go back and do a different loop that climbs UP the trail. That’s what I was doing this morning.

Hazy view of Santa Monica Bay from the High Point Trail
Santa Monica Bay from the High Point Trail

The first half of the run was the same as the Will Rogers – Temescal Canyon Loop. However, instead of continuing to Temescal Canyon on the Rivas Canyon Trail, I picked up the High Point Trail at the “cactus garden.” This is about 11.5 miles into the run. (The start of the High Point Trail has closely-spaced steps that have been eroded by runoff.)

As you might expect, going up the High Point Trail was much better than going down. Care was still required, but it was a far more enjoyable experience. Between the steep sections there was a surprising amount of runnable trail.

Chaparral on the High Point Trail.
Running through chaparral on the High Point Trail.

This time my shoe choice was the HOKA Speedgoat. These have a full-length, sticky-rubber outsole. I’ve had many pairs, and it’s my trail running shoe of choice for more difficult terrain.

From the top of Reseda, the Goat Peak High Point Trail keyhole loop worked out to about 20 miles, with about 3300′ of elevation gain. Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS track of the route, zoomed in on the keyhole part of the loop. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side 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.

Modelo Mustard

Mustard flowering in Cheeseboro Canyon reveals the underlying structure of a hill.

Mustard flowering in Cheeseboro Canyon reveals the underlying structure of a hill.

According to the Dibblee geologic map of the area, the strata are part of the Modelo Formation. And… the Modelo Trail passes directly over the top of the hill.

The photo was taken on a run from the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve to the Cheeseboro Ridge Trail and back.