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.
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.
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.
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.
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 couldn’t be. Had I somehow turned onto a use trail? Nope, I was on the right trail.
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.
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.
The adventure combines a seven-mile run on the PCT along Blue Ridge with a strenuous 1.5 mile, 1500′ climb up the North Backbone Trail to the summit of Pine Mountain (9648′). The Pine Mountain Juniper, estimated to be 800-1000 years old, is found at the 9000′ level of the North Backbone Trail.
On the way out I was glad to see the PCT had been rerouted around a steep, rocky stretch of trail below Mountain High West’s snow-making pond. I stayed on the PCT except for a very short section of dirt road between the top of the Acorn Trail and the overlook of the huge Wright Mountain landslide scar. The single track is more pleasant, and I didn’t have to worry about vehicles or their dust. I left the PCT when I was directly above the North Backbone Trailhead. A short path descended to the road.
The North Backbone Trail seems to be getting more attention these days. This adventure could be extended to include Dawson Peak and Mt. Baldy. A similar route was part of the 44-mile Big Pines Marathon — possibly the first mountain ultra in the U.S.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.