Category Archives: old trees

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

Inspiration Point to the Pine Mountain Juniper and Pine Mountain

Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from Pine Mountain
Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy from Pine Mountain

This 17 mile trail run and hike is a longer version of the Inspiration Point to the Pine Mountain Juniper adventure run. Additional details and photos can be found in that post.

The adventure combines a seven-mile run on the PCT along Blue Ridge with a strenuous 1.5 mile, 1500′ climb up the North Backbone Trail to the summit of Pine Mountain (9648′). The Pine Mountain Juniper, estimated to be 800-1000 years old, is found at the 9000′ level of the North Backbone Trail.

Massive trunk of the Pine Mountain Juniper
Trunk of the Pine Mountain Juniper. Click for larger image.

On the way out I was glad to see the PCT had been rerouted around a steep, rocky stretch of trail below Mountain High West’s snow-making pond. I stayed on the PCT except for a very short section of dirt road between the top of the Acorn Trail and the overlook of the huge Wright Mountain landslide scar. The single track is more pleasant, and I didn’t have to worry about vehicles or their dust. I left the PCT when I was directly above the North Backbone Trailhead. A short path descended to the road.

The North Backbone Trail was as steep as it has always been. It’s not a constructed and maintained trail, but one that has evolved through use. Stretches of it are very steep, loose and rocky. The tree on Point 8555 that was struck by lightning in 2006 has finally fallen. There must be a lot of lightning activity here because a nearby pine had been recently struck by lightning.

The North Backbone Trail seems to be getting more attention these days. This adventure could be extended to include Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy. A similar route was part of the 44-mile Big Pines Marathon — possibly the first mountain ultra in the U.S.

Pine Mountain Juniper

Ancient Sierra Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis var. australis) on the rocky slopes of Pine Mountain.

Updated September 19, 2010.

This Sierra Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis var. australis) resides at an elevation of 9000′ on the rocky slopes of Pine Mountain in the Sheep Mountain Wilderness of Southern California. It is an impressive and aged tree. The question is, how old might it be?

Junipers are very slow growing and seem to prefer the dry and difficult conditions that can produce very long-lived trees. Two junipers more than 2000 years old are listed in OLDLIST, a database of scientifically supported tree ages maintained by Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, Inc.

Both of these trees are located in the Sierra near Sonora Pass. OLDLIST lists the age of the Bennett Juniper, a living tree, at an extrapolated age of 2200 years. This estimate is based on a crossdated incremental core. The Scofield Juniper, a tree that died in 1165, has been crossdated at an age of 2675 years.

The Bennett Juniper is a massive tree. The National Register of Big Trees lists its circumference at 481 inches, and height at 78 feet. The juniper on Pine Mountain is not nearly as large, but it is still a sizeable tree.

Update 9/19/2010. I measured the circumference of the Pine Mountain juniper at 14′ 6.5″ or 174.5 inches. This works out to an average diameter of 55.5 inches. The tree is more or less elliptical in cross section, with the major axis aligned along the ridgeline. The tree’s diameter along the major axis is estimated to be 65-70 inches.

If the Bennett Juniper’s diameter is about 153 inches and its age is 2200 years, its average growth in diameter would be 0.0695 inch a year. Applying this same growth rate to the average diameter of the Pine Mountain tree, and its estimated maximum diameter, yields an age range estimate of 800 to 1007 years.

But relative size may not be indicative of relative age. The Pine Mountain Juniper’s shorter rain season and rocky, ridgetop location likely resulted in a slower growth rate than the Bennett tree. The Wally Waldron Limber Pine on nearby Mt. Baden-Powell is estimated to be 1500 years old, and some other Limber Pines on Baden-Powell are thought to be 2000 years old. Whatever its exact age the Pine Mountain Juniper is an extraordinary tree.

The photographs in this post (except for the Wally Waldron tree) were taken on the Mt. Baldy North Backbone Trail and North Backbone Trail Revisited run/hikes.

Some related posts: Inspiration Point to the Pine Mountain Juniper, Mt. Baldy Run Over the Top