Category Archives: trees

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

Return to Ross Mountain

South Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell about a mile from Ross Mountain

When I started up the trail from Vincent Gap (6585′), the thermometer on my pack read 36°F. For the first few switchbacks, the trail was immersed in cloud. Beneath the tall conifers, the sandy soil was dotted with droplets of moisture extracted from the fog.

Google Earth image of GPS track down the South Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell to Ross Mountain
Google Earth image of GPS track down the South Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell to Ross Mountain

I was on my way to Ross Mountain (7402′), one of the most isolated peaks in the San Gabriel Mountains. At the end of a rugged, 3-mile ridge extending south from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell, the peak overlooks the vast canyons of the Sheep Mountain Wilderness.

This morning, the canyons were filled with a 7000′ deep layer of stratus clouds. With a weak upper low over the Southern Sierra, the question of the day was whether the cloud deck would work up the ridge from Ross Mountain and completely envelop Baden-Powell.

Summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. May 16, 2021.
Summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. May 16, 2021.

Well acquainted with the trail up Baden-Powell, a combination of fast-hiking and slow-jogging put me on top in a relatively comfortable 90 minutes. I’d tried not to overdo the pace, knowing from previous experience that the return from Ross Mountain would be the tough part of the day.

From the summit of Baden-Powell, I gazed across the sea of clouds to Mt. Baldy. There was almost no snow on its steep north face. San Gorgonio Mountain was visible in the haze to the left of Pine Mountain and San Jacinto Peak in the gap between Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy.

South Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell with Ross Mountain partially visible in the clouds
South Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell with Ross Mountain partially visible in the clouds

Walking a little down the south side of Baden-Powell, I got my first good look at the South Ridge. Ross Mountain was nearly covered in clouds. Guessing that the deck of clouds might deepen, and a few minutes might make the difference of being in the clouds or out, I started to jog-lope-shuffle down the initial steep slope.

The title photo was taken a bit past Peak 8375, about 1.7 miles from Baden-Powell and 1.2 miles from Ross Mountain. At that time the clouds were spilling over the ridge near Peak 7407 and Peak 7360+, and around Ross Mountain.

Just north of Peak 7407 on the South Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell
Into the clouds near Peak 7407

The clouds added an aesthetic element to the adventure, as well as a little uncertainty. They accentuated and embellished the terrain, while threatening to make the conditions wet, cold and disorienting. Being familiar with the route helped me to enjoy the experience more than the concerns.

After navigating the false summits along the final stretch of ridge, I finally reached Ross. And, of course, it was in the clouds. That was the tradeoff for the spectacular views of the clouds along the ridge.

I didn’t spend much time on the summit. The more time I could spend out of the clouds, the more enjoyable would be the 2200’+ climb back to Baden-Powell.

It took a little over two hours for the clouds to chase me back up the ridge, but only an hour to run the four miles down from Baden-Powell to the foggy trailhead.

Related post: Excursion to Ross Mountain

A Hawkins Ridge Loop Adventure

Twin Peaks and Mt. Waterman from the Hawkins Ridge Trail on South Mt. Hawkins
Twin Peaks and Mt. Waterman from the Hawkins Ridge Trail

Don’t let there be a headwall… Don’t let there be a headwall… That’s what I kept muttering to myself as I climbed up the decomposing granodiorite rib. The topo map showed the rib connecting directly to the crest, but from my vantage point I couldn’t tell if that was actually going to happen.

So far the the difficulties had been manageable. The route had been steep and loose, but for the most part it was at an angle that probably wouldn’t result in a long fall or slide. Probably. But if it got any steeper it could be a problem, and I really didn’t want to downclimb 1200′ of crumbly rock and loose debris.

Working up the rib I had gone from “secure spot to secure spot,” trying to minimize my exposure in between. In a few places a climbing move had been required to avoid disturbing fractured or delicately balanced rocks. On one section it had been necessary to crawl through a mountain mahogany, its stiff limbs poking fun at my route-finding. Higher up, the solid handholds of a massive gray boulder had helped to ascend a particularly loose section.

Crystal Lake Recreation Area from the crest near Peak 8426
Crystal Lake Recreation Area from the crest near Peak 8426

As I climbed, I considered alternative routes, surveying the terrain to my left, right, and along the crest. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better line. But I needed to be patient. The rib was working and I just needed to stay on it.

I tried to recall if I’d ever been on anything like this. I’d certainly done a  few class 2 descents on Sierra peaks that were loose. The closest comparison might be some of the “knapsack passes” in the Sierra. These are usually class 2 or class 3 routes that go over notches and connect one high basin to another. They are often steep, loose and wet, and can hold snow or ice throughout the Summer.

And then suddenly I was on top. There was no more rib to climb. While I enjoyed the problem solving, it’s not a climbing route I would recommend, and I probably won’t repeat it.

South Mt. Hawkins and Sadie Hawkins from the Hawkins Ridge Trail
South Mt. Hawkins and Sadie Hawkins from the Hawkins Ridge Trail

Climbing the rib was my overly-creative way of doing a loop that included the Hawkins Ridge Trail. I’d done Middle Hawkins (Peak 8505′) as a side trip on a run from Islip Saddle to Baden-Powell, but had not gone down the ridge as far as Sadie Hawkins (Peak 8047′).

It was the perfect day to be running the Ridge Trail. The weather was far better than during my last run in the area. Temps were about 20 degrees warmer, and while it was still breezy, the wind was nowhere near the strength of a couple weeks ago. A sea of marine layer stratus filled the valleys and extended into San Gabriel Canyon, providing an “above the clouds” backdrop befitting of a mountain trail.

Pines on Hawkins Ridge that survived the 2002 Curve Fire
Pines on Hawkins Ridge that survived the 2002 Curve Fire

It didn’t take long to get down to Sadie Hawkins and to follow a use trail to its rounded top. From the top, Mt. Islip and Windy Gap could be seen to the northwest, and Mt. Wilson area peaks to the southwest. On the south-facing slopes below Sadie Hawkins there was a stunning number of young pine trees — a veritable tree farm of regrowth from the 2002 Curve Fire.

Winding down the use trail from Sadie Hawkins, I rejoined the main Hawkins Ridge Trail and followed it down to the saddle between Sadie Hawkins and South Mt. Hawkins. Two weeks ago, I’d followed the road up to South Hawkins and then descended the north ridge directly. This time I ascended the Hawkins Ridge Trail, carefully following the trail. I was surprised to find it didn’t ascend the north ridge directly, but wrapped around the west side of the peak.

Later, as I ran down South Mt. Hawkins Trail/Road, I thought about the amount of rocky debris along and on the road. It emphasized the friable nature of the rock above, and how often there are larger rockslides. When I reached the point on the road where I could see the route I’d climbed, I just shook my head. Who the heck would want to go up there?

Related post: Windy Windy Gap and Sunny South Mt. Hawkins