Category Archives: trees

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!

Revitalized Valley Oak at Ahmanson Ranch

Sunlit valley oak in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch)

Revitalized by December’s copious rainfall and temperatures in the mid-80s in February, this valley oak at Ahmanson Ranch has produced a lush crown of new leaves.

(Officially named Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, most users refer to the open space area as Ahmanson Ranch, or simply, Ahmanson.)

Clearing Skies at Ahmanson Ranch

Towering cumulus cloud and an oak on a ridgeline

The cumulus cloud towered overhead, its size accentuated by a lone oak on the skyline. An extraordinary series of December rainstorms were finally over. The year 2021 would end with Downtown Los Angeles (USC) having recorded the third highest amount of December rainfall on record.

I was running from the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (aka Ahmanson) to Las Virgenes Canyon. With about 5 inches of rain in the area over the past two days, I was curious to see how upper Las Virgenes Creek was flowing.

Here are a few photos from the December 31st trail run and several other trail runs at Ahmanson over the past couple of wet weeks.

Running Between Storms on the Trippet Ranch Loop

Musch Trail steaming in the early morning sun.
A wet (and muddy) section of the Musch Trail.

Update January 4, 2022. Did the Garapito Trail again this weekend as part of a longer run through Santa Ynez Canyon. The debris from the fallen oak tree was much easier to get through this time. Some people coming down the trail after me had a small saw, and said they were planning to work on it.

Update December 31, 2021. It turns out that a lot more rain was on the way! Los Angeles recorded 9.46 inches of rain this month, making it the third wettest December on record, going back to 1877. This puts Los Angeles at 10.40 inches for the Rain Year to date, which is about 237% of the normal.

It had rained the past three days, including Christmas. Today was the 26th, and Downtown Los Angeles (USC) had recorded nearly 150% of the rainfall normally recorded in December. And more was on the way.

Early morning light on Eagle Rock
Early morning light on Eagle Rock.

I clicked START on my Garmin as I passed the gate at the Top of Reseda. It was about twenty minutes before sunrise. The temperature was around 40 and the eastern sky was brightening with the advancing sun. As I worked up the initial trail to dirt Mulholland, thousands of lights twinkled across the San Fernando Valley.

The chaparral was soaked with overnight rain; and befitting the Holiday season, was ornamented with thousands of silvery water drops.

I took my usual route, turning off Mulholland onto Fire Road #30, and then following it to the Hub. From the Hub, Eagle Springs Fire Road led down to Eagle Springs, then beneath the sunlit face of Eagle Rock to Eagle Rock Fire Road and the top of the Musch Trail. In the Palisades Fire burn area there was some significant erosion along the fire road where the runoff wasn’t controlled.

I’d be doing the Musch Trail later in the run, but for now continued down Eagle Springs Fire Road toward Trippet Ranch.

Erosion along Eagle Springs Fire Road. December 26, 2021.
Erosion along Eagle Springs Fire Road.

Mud — slippery, cake-on-your-shoes mud — isn’t normally much of an issue until past the Musch Trail and on the steeper downhill that leads to the top of the Santa Ynez Trail and Trippet Ranch. Today there were some slippery spots, but it wasn’t too bad. Remarkably, I didn’t see anyone until I reached the Trippet Ranch parking lot.

My return route from Trippet Ranch was mostly on trails, beginning with the Musch Trail. There are usually a few muddy sections on the Musch Trail after a good rainstorm. Today, one wet, muddy section of trail was steaming in the morning sun. Once I was on the steep climb up to Eagle Rock Fire Road, most of the significant mud was left behind.

Oaks along Eagle Springs Fire Road, above Trippet Ranch.
Oaks along Eagle Springs Fire Road, above Trippet Ranch.

At the top of the Musch Trail, I turned left on Eagle Rock Fire Road and worked up past Eagle Rock and over to the top of the Garapito Trail. I run this trail often, and know it well. Winding down through decades-old chaparral, I became lost in thought, immersed in the outdoor experience, and enjoying every aspect of the trail.

That was why it was such a shock when, at the bottom of the mile and a half descent, the trail suddenly ended in a wall of brush.

That couldn’t be. Had I somehow turned onto a use trail? Nope, I was on the right trail.

Garapito Trail blocked by fallen oak. (12-26-2021)
Garapito Trail blocked by fallen oak.

That’s when I noticed the “brush” was the top branches of a large oak. The fallen tree had COMPLETELY blocked the trail. I took a quick look around for an alternate route and didn’t see anything obvious. Working through the mishmash of foliage and branches was a bit like bushwhacking through dense manzanita. With some effort, and some rock climbing moves, I eventually emerged on the other side of the mass. The fallen tree was part of an old, multi-trunked oak that has been collapsing over a period of weeks.

The remainder of the run was uneventful, but enjoyable. Continuing up the Garapito trail to Fire road #30, I crossed the fire road and picked up the Bent Arrow Trail. This connects to dirt Mulholland, which leads west to the Top of Reseda.

Some related posts: Trippet Ranch Loop After the Palisades Fire, Trippet Ranch Wildflower Run, The Heavenly Ranch in the Hills

Rabbitbrush Along the PCT Near Mt. Hawkins

Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) along the PCT, near Mt. Hawkins

From mid Summer into Fall, the vibrant yellow flowers of rabbitbrush add a refreshing hit of color to the greens, grays, and browns of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The title photo was taken along the PCT, at an elevation of about 8600′, near Mt. Hawkins. The area was burned in the 2002 Curve Fire. Here, and elsewhere in the burn area, new trees — now in their teens — are slowly replacing some of the trees lost in the fire.

Related post: Bumblebee Feeding on Rabbitbrush

San Bruno Mountain and Windy Hill Trail Runs

California bay trees in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve near the bottom of the Razorback Ridge Trail.
California bay – Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

With vaccinations on the increase and Covid on the decline, it was wonderful to once again be able to visit family.

As we always try to do, Brett and I got in a couple of runs. We usually do at least one run that is new to me, and there are certainly plenty from which to choose in the Bay Area.

Oxeye Daisy along the Old Ranch Trail in San Bruno Mountain Park
Oxeye Daisy along the Old Ranch Trail

Our first run was on San Bruno Mountain. We’d previously done the Ridge Trail, so this time opted to do a variation of the Summit Loop. The parking lot at the base was was closed, so we started the run using the Old Ranch Road Trail. This was a plus because it added a little mileage and there were a lot of wildflowers along the trail, including monkeyflower, iris, lupine, yellow paintbrush, daisy, and foxglove.

Brett running up the Summit Loop Trail on San Bruno Mountain
Summit Loop Trail, near the top.

It was an excellent run on single-track trail. As is the rule on San Bruno, it was a bit breezy, with hazy views of the surrounding communities and the Pacific. An island of open space in an urban sea, San Bruno Mountain is a miracle of land conservation, and an area to be relished. Here is a map of trails in the area.

The next day, after watching a spirited youth soccer match, we headed south on 280. On the way, Brett filled me in on the runs he likes to do in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve and Huddart Park. We couldn’t go wrong with either choice but finally decided to save Huddart Park for another day.

Brett running through thimbleberry on a lush section of the Razorback Ridge Trail
Razorback Ridge Trail

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve is on the northeast-facing slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Portola Valley. We parked near the Alpine Trailhead and ran up the road to the Eagle Trail. Corte Madera Creek was running, but low. Although the grasses along the trail were green and the undergrowth was relatively lush, I suspect the conditions were more like July than May. Open hillsides looked mid-Summer dry and the lichen on the trees was drab and desiccated.

Like the rest of California, the Santa Cruz Mountains have seen well below average precipitation this rain season. One station near Windy Hill, Woodside 3.4 S, recorded only about 28% (12″) of normal precipitation from October 1 to May 19. Another station, Skyline Ridge Preserve, recorded about 41%  of normal (16.5″) from October 1 to May 3.

Western columbine along the Lost Trail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
Western columbine

From the Eagle Trail/Private Road we turned onto the Razorback Ridge Trail. According to my Garmin track, the Razorback Ridge Trail gains 1000′ or so over 2.4 miles to its junction with the Lost Trail. It’s all runnable, switch-backing up a thimbleberry and fern-lined trail, shaded by California bay trees.

While the Razorback Ridge Trail continues up another 0.4 miles to Skyline Blvd., we turned right onto the Lost Trail. This trail parallels Skyline as it works in and out of the tributary ravines of Jones Gulch, on its way over to the Hamms Gulch Trail. Along the way there were views across the valley to Mt. Diablo, some 40 miles distant. Western columbine was blooming along the trail, its bright red color complimenting the green theme.

Large Douglas-fir along the Lost Trail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
Large Douglas-fir along the Lost Trail

At the top of Jones Gulch, there is an impressive, old-growth Douglas-fir. At chest height, it is about as wide as Brett is tall. This would put its diameter at over 72″ and its circumference at over 220″, suggesting an age in the neighborhood of 350 years.

The run down the Hamms Gulch Trail was as good as the run up Razorback Ridge. Given the weather was nearly perfect for a hike or run, we were surprised to see only a dozen or so people on the trail.

From where we were parked the run worked out to about 8 miles, with about 1500′ of gain/loss. Here is a trail map of the area, and here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of my GPS track of the loop. The interactive map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. For help controlling the view, click/tap the “?” icon in the upper right corner of the screen.

Some related posts: Breezy San Bruno Mountain Ridge, San Francisco Sights Trail Run, Miwok Wanderings