Category Archives: nature

Mt. Baldy North Backbone Trail

Lodgepole Pine and distorted mountain wave clouds.

Lodgepole Pine and Distorted Mountain Wave Clouds

As I drove under the ski lift on the narrow dirt road, I wondered if I was in the right place. I had turned off of Angeles Crest Highway a few minutes before, and hoped I was still on Blue Ridge Road. My intended destination was an isolated turnout that serves as the trailhead for the North Backbone Trail. This classic trail follows a roller-coastering ridgeline to Mt. Baldy’s broad 10,064′ summit.

Bouncing along the dirt road, I surveyed the sky. The forecast had been for partly cloudy skies, but the morning had dawned overcast and crimson red, and now there was talk of rain. Autumn in the mountains is like that.

The North Backbone Trail is the least popular of the usual routes that ascend Mt. Baldy (Mt. San Antonio). One of the reasons is the bumpy six mile, back country drive to the trailhead. Another is the undulating round-trip route gains (and loses) about 4500′ over about eight miles, climbing over – or nearly over – three highpoints: Point 8555, Pine Mountain (9648′), and Dawson Peak (9575′).

Rounding a corner, I’m surprised to see a small turnout jammed with cars. It’s not hunting season yet, so there must be a group already on the ridge. Squeezing into the last available space, I check that I’m not blocking the road or the car behind me, grab my pack, and jog down the trail to a saddle. To the east Mt. San Jacinto is sandwiched between low clouds and high, and I wonder what the day will bring…

As I reach the summit, the sun breaks through the clouds for the briefest instant. As if driven by my efforts on the ups and downs of the trail, the blues, whites and grays of the sky and clouds have been continuously changing. In turn, the intricacy of the clouds and their motion has energized me. It has been a extraordinary ascent, full of exertion, discovery, wonder, and awe.

A hiker on the summit smiles and waves, and walks over to me. Excited, he tells me that he is 57 and just started climbing peaks two years before. This is his 57th summit. Days like today are why.

The route is a treat for the fit and experienced adventurer. In fair weather, and without any snow and ice, it is a strenuous, but relatively straightforward climb. The ups and downs are generally quite steep and there are a few loose, rubbly sections. I hiked the ups, and jogged the flats and downhills. It is not a place to be in a thunderstorm.

The photograph of a Lodgepole Pine and mountain wave cloud was taken on the slopes of Dawson Peak, on my way back from Mt. Baldy. About an hour later, as I descended from Peak 8555, it started to rain. Autumn in the mountains is like that.

Here’s a Google Earth image of a GPS trace of the route from North Backbone Trail Revisited. Also see Mt. Baldy Runner.

Poison Oak

Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)

Vibrant green with lustrous leaves in the Spring, Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) generally becomes less vivid with age, eventually turning red in the late Summer and Fall. The red color is due to anthocyanin pigments in the plant’s sap that become unmasked as the leaf loses chlorophyll.

Anthocyanin pigments are responsible for the reds and purples in Autumn leaves, and in common fruits and vegetables such as apples, plums, cranberries, grapes, tomatoes and strawberries. Some studies suggest anthocyanin pigments may contribute to the health benefits of these foods.

While the chemistry of Fall colors is fairly well understood, the role the yellow and red pigments play in the physiology of plants is not as clear. In The Warm Hues of Fall Foliage (2002), Geoff Brumfiel summarizes competing theories, ranging from sun and frost protection to acting as a bug repellent — or attractant.

As a starting point for more information regarding poison oak and it’s allergen urushiol, see Poison Oak: More Than Just Scratching The Surface (Wayne’s Word) and Allergies: Poison Plant Allergies: Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac (WebMD).

The photograph of poison oak is from a run in Dayton Canyon in the Simi Hills northwest of Los Angeles.

Related post: Poison Oak Along the Garapito Trail

Rocketdyne – Sage Ranch Pollution

Refuse in the creek bed between Santa Susana Field Laboratory and Sage Ranch.

Updated 02/21/08.

In late September 2005, the Topanga Fire burned many thousands of acres in the Simi Hills. One of the side effects of the fire was to reveal the extent of the refuse that was in the creek bed that runs east-west between Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory and Sage Ranch Park.

The rusty storage drum in the photograph above is just one of several drums and other refuse I saw partially buried in the sediments of the creek.

These photographs are from a run at Sage Ranch on October 21, 2005. In March and April 2006 some restoration and other environmental work was done in this area, and some of the refuse pictured may have been removed. The area is recovering from the fire, and the section of the creek bed pictured is now so overgrown it is difficult to tell.

This topographic map shows the location of the creek relative to Sage Ranch and Rocketdyne, and (in red) the Sage Ranch loop trail. The creek is part of the Meier Canyon drainage, which flows into Simi Valley.

Here are some additional sources of information regarding environmental issues in the area:

Department of Toxic Substances Control Santa Susana Field Laboratory Site Investigation and Cleanup Web Site

Department of Toxic Substances Control Project Documents: Santa Susana Field Laboratory

Boeing: About Us – Environment – Santa Susana Field Laboratory

Wikipedia: Santa Susana Field Laboratory

Milk Thistle Seed Heads

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) seed heads.

A native of the Mediterranean, Milk Thistle is an invasive weed that appears to be increasingly profuse in roadside areas of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve. Generally considered detrimental in the wild, the plant has been used medicinally for at least 2000 years, and is cultivated in Texas, Canada and Argentina.

According to the Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board, Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) produces about 190 seeds per flower, and over 6000 seeds per plant. Dense stands are reported to produce 1.4 million viable seeds and four tons of vegetation per acre! Here is a closer look at an individual Milk Thistle seed.

This photograph was taken on a run at Ahmanson Ranch on July 13, 2006. The posting Convoluted includes a photograph of the white-veined leaf, and a photo of a dense stand of Milk Thistle in Las Virgenes Canyon. Additional information regarding Milk Thistle, including its history, laboratory studies, clinical trials, and adverse effects can be found in the National Cancer Institute’s Milk Thistle (PDQ®).