It was a little past 3:00 in the afternoon when I passed this straight-backed wooden chair along an Ahmanson Ranch trail. The Tempe thermometer clipped to my pack read over 100 degrees.
It gets REALLY hot at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve). In the direct sun the temperature can be 10°F-15°F hotter than in the shade, and there is very little shade at Ahmanson. In-the-sun temperatures of 100°F or more are common in the Summer but can occur just about any time of the year.
There are two weather stations I use to get an idea of the weather conditions at Ahmanson Ranch — the Cheeseboro RAWS and Valley Circle Estates Weather Underground station. Weather station thermometers are usually shielded from the direct sun by a white, ventilated enclosure. The Cheeseboro RAWS includes a measurement of the “Fuel Temperature.” This is generally a better indication of the temperature experienced by a runner, hiker, or rider in the direct sun.
Update on July 29, 2023. Rounding the temperature to whole degrees, my West Hills weather station recorded a high of 100°F, or higher, for 15 consecutive days this July (7/13/23 to 7/27/23). The station is about three miles from the Victory Trailhead at Ahmanson Ranch.
You might not see it from the Los Angeles side of the mountains, but there is still some snow on the higher, north-facing slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains.
During and after storms, snow-laden southerly winds dump their load on the backside of the crest, creating deep drifts, cornices, and compacted slabs of snow. This snow is often the last to melt, not only because it doesn’t face the sun, but because there is more of it.
This morning, I was doing an out-and-back from the Windy Gap Trailhead in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area to Mt. Baden-Powell. The Windy Gap Trail climbs 1730′ in 2.6 miles, joining the PCT at Windy Gap. From there the trail follows the spine of the San Gabriels past Mt. Hawkins, Throop Peak, and Mt. Burnham to Mt. Baden-Powell.
I usually do this run from Islip Saddle, but with Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) closed between Red Box and Vincent Gap, the Islip Saddle trailhead isn’t accessible.
Whether you start at Crystal Lake or Islip Saddle, the length of the run is about the same — a bit over 16 miles. The main difference is that the Windy Gap Trailhead is about 800′ lower in elevation. On the plus side, the Windy Gap Trail is very scenic; on the minus side, it faces south and can bake in the midday sun.
For the remainder of the run, I switched to the early season tactic of staying on the crest when the trail deviated onto shaded, north-facing slopes. These areas might have significant snow on the trail. This only happens in a few places, such as when the PCT works around Mt. Burnham. There is a use trail that ascends the west ridge of Mt. Burnham, and then returns to the PCT.
An unusually wet rain season not only increases the population of many wildflowers, it can produce wildflowers not usually seen in an area.
The Farewell to Spring (Clarkia amoena) pictured above was one of very small population found in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (aka Ahmanson Ranch) in June 2023. The California native is much more common in the Bay Area and coastal Northern California. It probably found its way to Ahmanson by way of a local garden.
On June 1, Angeles National Forest reduced the size of the Bobcat Fire Closure, opening up most of the upper West Fork San Gabriel River area. Curious to see how the West Fork area is recovering from the Bobcat Fire, today I ran a slightly shortened version of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 25K course.
Since the Mt. Wilson parking lot is usually closed until mid-morning, this morning’s run started and ended at a small turnout near the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail on the loop road on Mt. Wilson. The ANFTR Trail Races start at the main Mt. Wilson parking lot.
I’d recently done the San Gabriel Peak and Bill Riley Trails and knew they were in reasonable condition. And I’d read that AC100 Trail Work Teams led by Gary Hilliard and Ken Hamada had cleared the Gabrielino and Kenyon Devore Trails earlier this year. So, I didn’t expect to have a repeat of the epic fallen-tree obstacle course that I experienced doing this course in 2020.
Starting at the Wendy Drive Trailhead, I’d crossed Satwiwa, run down Danielson Road, rock-hopped across Upper Sycamore Creek, and picked up the Old Boney Trail. The condition of the Old Boney Trail between Danielson Road and the Fossil Trail junction was better than expected. Maybe the trail was going to be in good shape after all.
Wrong! Once I passed the turnoff to the Fossil Trail, the vegetation closed in. In places it was so thick I couldn’t see the trail at my feet, much less a few yards ahead. All I could do is smile and work my way through it. Everything was overgrown — bushes, grasses, wildflowers. And everything was wet with dew. A hundred yards past the Fossil Trail, I was soaked from head to toe.
I tried to see the positive. It was an amazing display of the effect of a wet rainy season. Without trail work and use, it wouldn’t take long for the trail to be completely consumed.
The Old Boney Trail continued to be a tangle of chaparral for about two miles — until I reached the Backbone Trail at Blue Canyon. At that point, it becomes part of the Backbone Trail system, and I was relieved to see that some work had recently been done on the trail.
As I worked up the Backbone Trail toward the Chamberlain Trail junction, I recalled other times I’d run to Serrano Valley using Old Boney. What would the condition of the trail be beyond this point? I’d been on that part of the Old Boney Trail following a wet rain season and knew how overgrown it could be. Some refer to that section of trail as “tick alley.”
But when I got to the junction, surprise, surprise, the Old Boney Trail had been trimmed. More than two miles of trail were groomed. It was good all the way to the Serrano Valley Trail and partway into Serrano Valley. The trail in Serrano Valley was a little overgrown, but NOTHING like the Old Boney Trail between the Fossil and Backbone Trails.
Part of the fun of doing this route is all the stream crossings in Serrano Canyon — what is it 13 or 14? Today, most of these could be done without getting your shoes wet — especially if you have poles. I didn’t have poles, and my shoes and socks were already wet, so I didn’t worry about keeping them dry. Some sections of the Serrano Canyon Trail were also overgrown, but not bad. However, there was a lot of poison oak, some of which wasn’t avoidable.
After getting a drink of water at the faucet at the junction of the Serrano Canyon Trail and Sycamore Canyon Fire Road, I headed up-canyon. Almost immediately, the fire road crossed Big Sycamore Canyon Creek. I did this first crossing without getting my shoes wet, but nine more crossings followed, and most resulted in soaked shoes. The water crossings and wildflowers helped distract me from the five mile run up Sycamore Canyon to the Upper Sycamore Trail.
Getting off Sycamore Canyon Road and onto the Upper Sycamore Trail was a relief. Whatever run I do from Wendy Drive, I always finish it via this trail. The trail gets enough use that it was in good shape. This time all the creek crossings could easily be rock-hopped.