Category Archives: trees

Condor Peak Out and Back Adventure Run

East Ridge of Condor Peak

“Condor Peak-Elevation 5430 ft. – 1 Day
By Vogel Canyon Trail.
Drive Big Tujunga Canyon road to Vogel Flat
Ranger Station and park auto. Hike trail starting
opposite station for short distance up Vogel Canyon,
then around mountain slope west of Big Tujunga
Dam to summit of Condor Peak. Return by
same route. Carry water and cold lunch. No fires
permitted. Total hiking distance, 12 miles.”

— Trails Magazine, VOL 1 NO. 4, Trail Trips, Autumn 1934

The relocation of Big Tujunga Canyon Road in the 1950s shifted the starting point, and some other details have been updated, but the route from Vogel Flat to Condor Peak is pretty much the same as it was in 1934.

It’s telling that hikers of that era would have estimated the round-trip distance to Condor Peak at 12 miles. This was probably a “feels like” estimate of distance, based on time. The mileage in the description is far less than the presently accepted distance of 15.5-16.0 miles. Back then, the trail would have been relatively new and in better condition than it is now. Even so, they must have been fit and fast!

The “Vogel Flat” trailhead for the Condor Peak Trail is now a little to the east and above its original location, and is not obvious. If traveling up-canyon on Big Tujunga Canyon Road, it is just past Vogel Flat Road, directly across the highway from the second turnout on the right.

Note: Even in the best of circumstances, hiking, running, or riding a mountain trail involves risks. The nature of the terrain this trail navigates is such that the risk from falling while running, hiking or riding, crossing washouts, and from heat-related illness is high. There are some sketchy sections with large drop-offs. In particular, below Fox Mountain there was a very exposed washout at the top of a steep sandy chute that required extra care to cross.

As was the case last week on the Stone Canyon Trail, it looked like some sections of the Condor Peak Trail had been trimmed in the last year or two. And like the Stone Canyon Trail, the trailwork ended partway to the peak. In this case, it ended about two-thirds of the way to Condor Peak, as the trail turns northwest and contours around Fox Mountain. The bushwhacking wasn’t nearly as bad as on the Stone Canyon Trail, and things improved once up on Fox Divide.

Prior to this outing, I’d only attempted to do the peak in December and January. There is almost no shade, and the trail traverses several south and south-east facing canyons that act like solar ovens. The last time I did Condor Peak, in December 2007, the overnight low at Clear Creek had been 34 degrees and the high 52. That day was chilly in the shade, but about right in the sun. Today, the overnight low at Clear Creek was 63 degrees and the high 75. It was warm, but with an early morning start, was OK.

It was a relief to finally reach Fox Divide. In 2007 we climbed Fox Mountain from this point. Today I was running alone and thought the ascent of Fox, as short as it is, might result in me running short of water. I didn’t do Fox, and as things worked out, I finished the last of my water about a half-mile from the end of the run. (There is a spring, but the flow was just a trickle.)

I had not reread my notes from 2007 and had conveniently forgotten the nature of the final 1.5 miles between Fox Mountain and Condor Peak. I won’t spoil the adventure here.

There was a fairly well-defined path up the steep, east ridge of Condor Peak. As in 2007, the red register container was on the western summit. The eastern summit, marked by a robust yucca, is about the same height. Viewed from the summit of Condor Peak (5440+’), Mt. Lukens (5074′) was clearly lower in elevation.

Like last Sunday on the Stone Canyon Trail, I did not see anyone on the way up or down the Condor Peak Trail. Ironically, just a couple miles away, there were over a hundred cars parked along Big Tujunga Canyon Road at the Gold Canyon/Trail Canyon access.

Here’s a 3D Cesium interactive view that shows a GPS track of my route up and down the Condor Peak Trail to Condor Peak. The view can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. Placemark and track locations are approximate and subject to errors.

And here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Condor Peak Trail Run, Back to the Stone Canyon Trail

Goldfields Are Blooming and Valley Oaks Greening!

Goldfields blooming on Lasky Mesa, March 7, 2020

Goldfields are tiny wildflowers, but their bright yellow color more than makes up for their diminutive size.

New leaves on a valley oak in East Las Virgenes Canyon. March 11, 2020.
New leaves on a valley oak in East Las Virgenes Canyon.

Goldfields bloomed a little early on Lasky Mesa this year. Depending on the conditions, they usually begin to bloom in mid-February. Because of this rain year’s wet December and dry January-February, the goldfields began to bloom a little early — around February 4. The flowers aren’t as numerous as last year, but there are still a few small patches of goldfields to be seen.

Usually, about the same time goldfields begin to bloom, valley oaks are starting to sprout new, bright green leaves. This Winter, the foliage on valley oaks at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch) began to turn brown in mid-December and I saw the first new leaves begin to sprout at the end of February. This sprawling valley oak is in East Las Virgenes Canyon.

An Out-of-the-Way Trail, Two Peaks, a Wheelbarrow, and Washington’s Monument

Forsee Creek canyon from the John's Meadow Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

Wow, what a fantastic trail, canyon, and morning!

The view above is from the John’s Meadow Trail, a circuitous trail that winds its way through a less-traveled part of the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

Sugar pine cones
Sugar pine cones along the John’s Meadow Trail.

The prominent canyon in the photo is home to Forsee Creek. During the last ice age, it held one of San Gorgonio’s small glaciers. I’d just crossed the Forsee Creek a few minutes before, and in a few hours would run past its source high on the crest — Trail Fork Springs.

The peak at the head of the canyon is East San Bernardino Peak (10,691′). Its summit marks the crest of the divide and the location of the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail. That’s where I was headed, but the path would be anything but direct.

From the Forsee Creek crossing at 7270′, the John’s Meadow Trail climbs about 1000′ in 2.3 miles to join the Divide Trail at “wheelbarrow junction,” about 5 miles west of East San Bernardino Peak. From that point I worked up the popular and scenic Divide Trail, visiting Limber Pine Bench (9330′), Washington Monument (10,290′), and San Bernardino Peak (10,649′) along the way to East San Bernardino Peak.

A weather-beaten lodgepole pine at Limber Pine Bench on the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail.
Weather-beaten lodgepole pine.

Using this roundabout — but very scenic — route, it took me about the same time to reach San Bernardino Peak from the Forsee Creek Trailhead as it does to do San Gorgonio Mountain from the South Fork Trailhead. From San Bernardino Peak it’s a little less than a mile to East San Bernardino Peak and from there only about 0.75 mile to the lateral to Trail Fork Springs.

From the westernmost Trail Fork Springs junction with the Divide Trail the theme was downhill, downhill, and more downhill — about 3800′ of downhill over 6.7 miles.

The running on the Forsee Creek Trail was generally very good. I was glad I did the loop counterclockwise. The John’s Meadow Trail and its extension are enjoyably primitive — they appear to be “use” trails that have evolved over time. On the other hand, the Forsee Creek Trail is a constructed trail. It was designed as a pack trail, so is generally well-behaved. Great for going down, but a long haul up with a heavy pack!

San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak from East San Bernardino Peak.
San Gorgonio and San Jacinto from East San Bernardino Peak.

Here are a few photos taken along the way, and here is an interactive Cesium ion view of the GPS trace of my route. The 3D view can be zoomed, tilted and panned.

Note: Water is generally more reliable and accessible on the John’s Meadow Trail than on the Forsee Creek Trail. Trail Fork Springs and Jackstraw Springs are seasonal water sources that may not have water. Check with the Mill Creek Ranger Station for the current conditions and more info.

Guardian Oaks

Young valley oaks and coast live oaks at the edge of the canopy of large valley oak in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.

One day while running at Ahmanson Ranch, I was admiring the stately limbs of a large valley oak, and noticed that along the margin of the canopy were several sapling oaks. As I continued my run, I found that only a few other valley oaks hosted a brood of young trees.

That oaks would sprout on the margin of the canopy made sense. There is an abundance of acorns at the ends of the limbs. It is also where water drips from the oak’s leaves on foggy days or when there is light rain or drizzle. The mix of sun and shade on the edge of the canopy is the perfect place for a young oak to thrive.

The surprise came when I took a closer look at the young trees. Most were valley oaks — the same as the shepherding tree — but in some cases the young trees were coast live oaks! And sometimes there was no obvious parent coast live oak nearby.

Of course, there are plenty of coast live oaks at Ahmanson and several ways for their acorns to find their way under a valley oak. Birds and squirrels love to stash acorns, and gravity is good at moving round things downhill.

Time is at a different scale for a tree. In my mind’s eye I accelerated time and watched as the young oaks surrounding a guardian oak grew in stature. Fire sweeps through the frame on several occasions. During one fire the old brood tree collapses and in another fire, the collapsed tree disappears from the frame. Of the young oaks that have survived, one dominates, spreading its limbs and growing large and robust. Along the margins of its canopy, I can see several sapling oaks…

Note: The young oaks in the title photo are an older brood that survived the Woolsey Fire, but many younger sapling oaks were killed. Introduced grasses, black mustard, and other introduced plants produce higher fuel loads than native equivalents and increase fire mortality.

After the Woolsey Fire: Malibu Creek State Park March 2019

Malibu Creek State Park following the Woolsey Fire and heavy Winter rains.

Parked in a turnout on Mulholland Hwy, I finished putting on sunscreen and then pushed the Start/Stop button on my watch to dial in the GPS and pair my HRM. Outside, it was a chilly 43 degrees. Sunrise was nearing and the strengthening March sun was forecast to push temps well into the 70s.

In the aftermath of Woolsey Fire, I’d returned to Malibu Creek State Park to see the wildflowers; gauge the response of the creek to heavy Winter rains; check on the health of the redwoods along the Forest Trail, and assess the ongoing recovery of the burned chaparral.

Today’s run of the Bulldog Loop would be a follow-up to two runs in the park in December 2018, which found a fire-ravaged landscape just beginning the long process of recovery.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: After the Woolsey Fire: Bulldog Loop, After the Woolsey Fire: Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods, M*A*S*H Site and Bulldog Climb

After the Woolsey Fire: Sprouting Live Oak Leaves

Sprouting live oak leaves following the Woolsey Fire.

Many of the live oaks and valley oaks in the Woolsey Fire burn area have withered, brown, scorched leaves. As bad as they look, most of these trees will replace their foliage and recover.

Today I was excited to see foliage replacement occurring on several live oaks in the northeastern area of the fire. This also happened about a month after the 2005 Topanga Fire.

Sprouting valley oak leaves following the Woolsey Fire. January 2, 2019.
Sprouting valley oak leaves following the Woolsey Fire.

Back in 2005, valley oaks also started replacing their leaves about the same time as the live oaks. That might not happen this time. Valley oaks are deciduous and the Woolsey Fire occurred later in the Fall than the Topanga Fire. Now is about the time valley oaks would be losing their leaves. That may affect the timing of their foliage replacement. We’ll see!

Update January 2, 2019. Some valley oaks in the northeastern part of the Woolsey Fire area are starting to sprout new leaves!