Category Archives: weather

Out and Back Trail Run from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell – July 2024 Update

Mt. Baden-Powell from the PCT near Throop Peak.
Mt. Baden-Powell from the PCT near Throop Peak.

When I reached the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell (9,399′), it was empty, save an opportunistic raven who was evaluating the chances that the Larabar I was eating might fall to the ground.

On top, the heat of the strong Summer sun was offset by a cooling breeze. There was still a few thin ribbons of snow in the chutes on Mt. Baldy. With the excellent visibility, San Jacinto Peak could be seen in the notch between Mt. Baldy and Dawson Peak, and San Gorgonio Mountain was sharply visible to the left of Pine Mountain.

Poodle-dog bush (Eriodictyon parryi) along the PCT just east of Islip Saddle. (thumbnail)
Poodle-dog bush along the PCT just east of Islip Saddle.

Other than a few people at Little Jimmy hike-in camp, I saw no one on the way up from Islip Saddle. A quarter-mile from the trailhead, there was an astonishing display of Poodle-dog bush along the PCT. In 2011, when a large part of Angeles National Forest reopened following the Station Fire, I developed an extensive rash after bushwhacking through Poodle-dog on overgrown trails. After that experience I’ve been more careful around the plant, and haven’t had a bad case since.

Trees were across the trail in a few places. Most were fairly easy to bypass, but a couple were “inconvenient,” such as this big log, about 0.75 mile east of Windy Gap.

Bright red beaked penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus) along the PCT above Windy Gap. (thumbnail)
Bright red beaked penstemon along the PCT above Windy Gap

As I worked up the switchbacks above the log, to the southwest I could see the observatory and towers on Mt. Wilson. As a result of the damage to Chantry Flat in the Bobcat Fire, Mt. Wilson was on the Angeles Crest 100 Mile course last year, and will be again this year. As the raven flies, Mt. Wilson was only about 16 miles away, but for someone running the AC100, the miles along its challenging course would total well over 50!

For several years I’ve been following the regrowth of conifers in four places along the PCT that were burned in the 2002 Curve Fire. What has been underscored in my informal study is a) trees take a long time to regrow, and b) frequent fires in an area are particularly devastating. Stand #1 (1.5 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT) was recovering nicely from the 2002 Curve Fire when it was burned in the 2020 Bobcat Fire. This comparison shows the result. The other three stands continue to recover well, with south-facing Stand #4, west of Throop Peak, growing particularly vigorously.

View WNW along Mt. Baden-Powell's west ridge. (thumbnail)
Limber pine (left) along Mt. Baden-Powell’s west ridge.

Ascending the final 400′ of gain on Baden-Powell’s west ridge, I was surprised to see a couple of small patches of snow remained on the north side of the ridge. The snowpack here was nowhere near as big as in 2023, but it was still pleasing to see that a little of the white stuff survived until July.

No out and back to Baden-Powell is complete without a quick stop at Little Jimmy Spring. Today, the water from spring was so cold it was painful to hold my hand in the water flowing from the pipe!

Some related posts:
It’s Mid-July And There Is Still Snow in Los Angeles County!
A Cool and Breezy Out and Back Trail Run from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell
Contact Dermatitis from Eriodictyon parryi – Poodle-dog Bush
Regrowth of Trees Along the PCT Following the 2002 Curve Fire

Hot Weather on the Three Points Loop

Approaching Waterman Meadow on the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail.
Approaching Waterman Meadow on the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman.

When Angeles Crest Highway opened between Upper Big Tujunga Road and Islip Saddle last Fall, I jumped on the chance to do the Three Points loop around Mt. Waterman. When in good condition and with good weather, the 20+ mile loop is one of my favorites. That day, the trail conditions could have been better.

Twin Peaks from the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail, about 1.5 miles from Three Points. (thumbnail)
Twin Peaks from the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail, about 1.5 miles from Three Points.

Turn the clock forward to this Spring, and once again, road closures were limiting access to Three Points. Angeles Crest Highway was still closed between Red Box and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, and the alternate route — Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road — was “Only Open To Contractors, Residents, & Emergency Vehicles.” Recently, the Los Angeles County Road Closures website updated the status of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road to “Access Limited, Expect Delays.”

An easy-to-follow stretch of the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail. (thumbnail)
An easy-to-follow stretch of the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail.

Excited to get back on the Three Points Loop, on Sunday I found myself motoring up Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, headed for the Three Points Trailhead. There were no problems or delays getting to Angeles Crest Highway, and I pulled into the Three Points parking lot at about 6:30 a.m.

Beardtongue penstemon accommodates the bulbous shape of its pollinator -- bumblebees. (thumbnail)
Beardtongue penstemon accommodates the bulbous shape of its pollinator — bumblebees.

Having done the Three Points Loop many times and in a variety of conditions, I didn’t think much about the difficulties on the loop in November. Like others that relish the outdoors, my brain is very good at shaping memories so as to emphasize the positive and downplay — or outright ignore — the negative.

I’d checked the weather — a Heat Advisory had been issued for the San Gabriel Mountains, and there was a chance of thunderstorms from a dissipating tropical storm. A key part of the loop, Cooper Canyon, has a rep for being hot. Much of the PCT on that stretch is on sparsely-forested, south-facing slopes. My thought was that maybe there would be enough clouds to take the edge off the heat.

Downed trees across the PCT in Cooper Canyon. (thumbnail)
Downed trees across the PCT in Cooper Canyon.

Nope! The in the sun temperature in Cooper Canyon was around 100 degrees. The good news was Buckhorn Campground was open and my favorite water faucet had plenty of water. Plus, the creek in Cooper Canyon was running, so I could cool off and supplement my water.

The trail conditions were virtually identical to those last November, but with heat added. The Three Points — Mt. Waterman Trail was a bit overgrown, and there were many downed trees across the trail. In November there was a particularly inconvenient tree blocking the PCT on the north side of the creek, just west of the Burkhart Trail junction, and it was still there today.

Postcard clouds belie the hot weather on the PCT in Cooper Canyon. (thumbnail)
Postcard clouds belie the hot weather on the PCT in Cooper Canyon.

There seemed to be more Poodle-dog bush than back in November, or maybe it was easier to spot because it was blooming. The big winner among the multitude of wildflowers was beardtongue penstemon, which was blooming profusely on some of the slopes burned in the Bobcat Fire. Other wildflowers I saw along the trail included bigleaf lupine, little paintbrush, scarlet monkeyflower, narrow-leaved lotus, golden yarrow, gilia, wallflower, and red columbine.

Because of the trail conditions, heat, and altitude, the Three Points Loop today was more difficult than the 50K I ran two weeks ago!

This high resolution, photorealistic, 3-D terrain view shows the Three Points Loop (yellow) along with a couple of options (red). The side trip to the summit of Mt. Waterman adds about 1.75 miles to the run.

Some related posts:
Three Points Loop Following the Reopening of Angeles Crest Highway
Cool Weather, Old Trees, Grape Soda Lupine and a Restored Trail
Three Points Loop Adventure – July 2020

Deerweed Carpets Hills and Canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains

Deerweed (Acmispon glaber) blooming near the Encinal Canyon Trailhead of the Backbone Trail. May 2024.
Deerweed (Acmispon glaber) blooming near the Encinal Canyon Trailhead of the Backbone Trail.

A deerweed superbloom has emerged in the western Santa Monica Mountains this May, covering hillsides with a multitude of small yellow flowers.

The extensive bloom is occurring near the end of a two-year period that is the wettest in Los Angeles in over a century.

Mugu Peak – Wood Canyon – Hidden Pond Loop

Hidden Pond from the Hidden Pond Trail in Point Mugu State Park. Photography by Gary Valle'.
Hidden Pond from the Hidden Pond Trail in Point Mugu State Park.

It had rained a few hundredths overnight, and even though it was May, the weather was decidedly March-like.

Raindrops glistened in the grass, and a little mud caked my shoes as I ran across Satwiwa. To the south, rugged Boney Mountain captured the first rays of the rising sun, a remnant cloud hiding its summit. I breathed deeply and thought, “This is going to be an outstanding run…”

Here’s an interactive, 3D-terrain view of the GPS track of the Mugu Peak – Wood Canyon – Hidden Pond Loop.

Some related posts:
Soggy Shoes, Soppy La Jolla Valley, and Sensational Wildflowers
Busy Mugu Peak
Hidden Pond – Old Boney Loop

Spring Fever Running the Phantom Loop in Malibu Creek State Park

Coast live oak along the Talepop Trail. Photography by Gary Valle'

One of the e-mountain bikers commented, “That’s a lot of water!”

The three of us had arrived at the bank of Malibu Creek at the same time. There was a lot of water. The crossing must have been a real monster during some of this year’s storms, but this morning the creek was slow-moving and maybe 30-40 yards across. The main concern getting across would be slipping on the algae-covered rocks along the bottom and taking an unintended bath. I waded in.

Crags Road Trail crossing of Malibu Creek - March 2024 (thumbnail)
Malibu Creek – the trail continues on the other side.

How did I find myself wading across Malibu Creek on this brisk March morning? I was doing a convoluted variation of the Phantom Loop, enjoying the Spring scenery, and going where the trails and terrain took me.

What is the Phantom loop? For me, it’s any loop that starts at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway and ends at the Phantom Trailhead on the other side of the highway. Or vice versa. And since it’s a loop, it could start/end at any trailhead on or near the loop.

There are many ways to complete this loop. Here’s an interactive 3D-terrain view of the shortest version I’ve done (7.3 miles), and here is a longer variation (24 miles).

Rising sun on the Lake Vista Trail in Malibu Creek State Park. (thumbnail)
Lake Vista Trail

My run started on the Cistern Trail shortly after dawn. I’d run through Reagan Ranch and then up the Lake Vista Trail to the overlook for an early morning view of Malibou Lake. From the overlook, I’d continued east on the Lake Vista and Deer Leg Trails, enjoying the blooms of the Ceanothus, Hummingbird Sage, and bush poppy along the way.

Just before the Deer Leg Trail descends from the crest, I stopped at another overlook to take in Malibu Creek’s stunning terrain. From the viewpoint, I could see the coast redwoods along Century Lake. A few of the tall trees survived the 2011-205 drought and the 2018 Woolsey Fire, including one young naturally germinated tree. Now we’re in a rare wet cycle. The past two years are among the wettest on record for Los Angeles — good news for the remaining trees!

From the overlook of Malibu Creek, I ran down to the Yearling Trail, turned right (east), and in about a hundred yards was at the top of the Cage Creek Trail. I followed this short trail down to Crags Road and Malibu Creek.

Improvised bridge across Malibu Creek. (thumbnail)
Runner crossing a makeshift bridge across Malibu Creek.

I thought there was a chance the seasonal bridge on the way to the M*A*S*H site might have already been reinstalled. It hadn’t, but a pile of limbs and logs spanned the gap across the creek.

From the matchstick bridge, I turned around and ran east on Crags Road, past the Cage Creek Trail and Century Lake, and then down the road to the junction of High Road and Crags Road.

When doing the Phantom Loop, I usually continue east under the oaks on High Road to the Grassland Trail. But this morning, in keeping with today’s theme, I headed across the bridge — in the direction of the Visitor Center — and looked for a sign marking the start of the Chaparral Trail.

Goat Buttes and Planet of the Apes Wall from the Chaparral Trail. (thumbnail)
Goat Buttes and Planet of the Apes Wall from the Chaparral Trail.

Only about a half-mile long, this obscure trail starts about 60-70 yards northeast of the Visitor Center and links to Mott Road/Century Mtwy, near Crags Road. It has unique views of Planet of the Apes Wall, Malibu Creek, and Goat Buttes. When I reached the trail’s end, I turned left on the road and followed it to the flooded crossing on Crags Road.

Wading into a stream is always a bit awkward. I decided to follow a rocky shoal where the water was about calf deep. As expected, the rocks were rounded and slimy. I didn’t have poles and the footing wasn’t the best, but I managed to get across without incident.

In a few steps, I was headed east and back on the route of the “standard” Phantom Loop. In about a tenth of a mile, I forked left off the main road and onto the Grasslands Trail.

I’m always surprised how quickly the squishiness of wet running shoes and socks goes away. (Today, I was running in Hoka Challenger ATR 7s with Injinji socks.) By the time I reached Mulholland Highway, my shoes and socks had air-dried and felt more or less normal. Crossing Mulholland Highway, I walked east a few yards and continued north on the North Grasslands Trail to the Liberty Canyon Trail.

I hadn’t run far in Liberty Canyon when I came to the Talepop Trail. It had been a long time since I had done the Talepop – Grasslands (Las Virgenes Fire Road) Loop. The hills were green, the sun shining, and the temperature perfect for running. What better time than now to get on it again? With the cool conditions, I had plenty of water to do the extra three to four miles and wouldn’t have to make a side trip to De Anza Park.

Las Virgenes Fire Road Trail (thumbnail)
Las Virgenes Trai/Fire Road

The loop was as pretty as I remembered it. Initially following an undulating ridge, the Talepop Trail eventually winds down to the grassy valley to the east and intersects Las Virgenes Fire Road. A left (north) turn here goes to De Anza Park; a right turn traverses classic oak grassland and leads back to the southern end of the Liberty Canyon Trail.

After completing the Talepop Grasslands loop, the remainder of the run followed the usual route of the Phantom Loop. It continues about 1.5 miles north on the Liberty Canyon Trail, but before reaching the trailhead, it jogs left (west), goes over Liberty Creek, and around to a short trail that connects to the Phantom Trail at a group of eucalyptus trees. My route in this area can be viewed by using our high-resolution, interactive 3D viewer and zooming in on the area near the Liberty Canyon Trailhead.

Hillside covered in wildflowers in Malibu Creek State Park
Hillside covered in wildflowers

The Phantom Trail goes west up a canyon and then turns south, eventually reaching Mulholland Highway near the Cistern Trailhead. Once out of the canyon, the main trail crosses a use trail several times, so care must be taken to stay on route. The use trail more or less follows the ups and downs on the crest of the ridge, while the main trail switches from one side of the ridge to the other, avoiding unnecessary elevation gains.

The last time I ran this segment of trail — October 2023 — it was VERY overgrown (video). This time, thanks to the work of SMMTC volunteers, nearly all of the trail had been cleared. Many colorful wildflowers were in bloom on this stretch, including Ceanothus, Encelia, Wishbone bush, California poppy, owl’s clover, and paintbrush.

Here are a few photos (and notes) from the trail run, including some of the wildflowers seen along the trail.

Some related posts:
Bulldog Loop Plus the Phantom Loop
Redwoods, Raptors, and the Phantom Loop
Malibu Creek State Park Scenic Loop

Goldfields, Silt Slides, Oak Leaves, Invasive Thistle, Rough Trails, and a Reminder to be Watchful

Goldfields blooming on Lasky Mesa - March 2024
Goldfields blooming on Lasky Mesa

Following are some notes and photos from runs in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch) during March 2024.  Spring is here! The hills are green, goldfields and other wildflowers are blooming, and Las Virgenes Creek is flowing.

Goldfields and Other Wildflowers

The first goldfields (Lasthenia gracilis) of 2024 began to bloom on Lasky Mesa at the end of February. Now, bright yellow patches of these “belly” flowers are scattered across the mesa, adding a brush of color to the roads and trails of Ahmanson Ranch. The cheery flowers usually disappear with the first spell of hot and dry weather. Looking ahead, more rain and cool weather are forecast Easter weekend, and extended temperature outlooks are mixed. Hopefully, the goldfields will be around for a few more weeks.

Catalina mariposa lily at Ahmanson Ranch. March 27, 2024. (thumbnail)
Catalina mariposa lily. Click to enlarge.

Some other wildflowers are also blooming. Blue Dicks usually flourish following a wet Winter, but this March are less widespread than usual. Red maids are also less numerous than normal and their flowers somewhat smaller. The elegant white flowers of Catalina mariposa lily are just starting to bloom.

Thanks to T.S. Hilary’s false Spring and copious Winter rain, the hills of Ahmanson Ranch have been green since early October.

Silt Slides
Slides of silty soil in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (thumbnail)
New (left) and old slides of silty soil. Click to enlarge.

With all the rain, small, shallow mudslides have been common along road cuts and other steep slopes of Ahmanson Ranch. The area has fine-grained silty soil. When saturated, it can generate a slurry of silt and debris. The numerous scars on the hillsides suggest this is a primary mechanism of erosion in the area.

Valley Oaks

After losing their leaves in December, the Valley Oaks at Ahmanson are now budding and sprouting. Some trees already have new leaves, while others are still bare-limbed. The period valley oaks are without leaves varies from year to year depending on rainfall, temperature, sunshine, and other factors.

Invasive Milk Thistle
Milk thistle in Las Virgenes Canyon
Milk thistle. Click to enlarge.

Milk thistle thrives during wet years, and it’s been very wet. We’ve had two consecutive wet years, plus a tropical storm thrown in for good measure. The invasive is sprouting in areas where it doesn’t normally grow and growing prolifically in areas where it is established. In a few months, milk thistle may look like it did in May 2005, following the record 2004-2005 rain year.

Rough Trails
Upper Las Virgenes Creek (thumbnail)
Upper Las Virgenes Creek. Click to enlarge.

Profuse rainfall is a two-edged sword. It revitalizes the ecosystem, turns the hills green, recharges the creeks, preserves the trees, produces wildflowers and more. But it can also be problematic — triggering slides, washing out and damaging trails, and promoting plant growth that chokes trails and increases the fire hazard.

At the moment, the roads and trails at Ahmanson are a bit rougher than normal, particularly in East Las Virgenes Canyon. Use and drier weather will gradually smooth out the ruts and rugosities, but we’re going to be picking foxtails from our socks for some time to come.

Upper Las Virgenes Creek is still flowing — including in the canyon’s upper reaches. Sometimes, there will even be a log or two in place to help keep your shoes dry.

And A Reminder to be Watchful
Baby rattlesnake at Ahmanson Ranch (thumbnail)
Baby rattlesnake. Click to enlarge.

I sometimes stretch at the info kiosk at the Victory trailhead before running. Today, as I placed my hands against one of the kiosk posts and started to stretch, I glanced down. Disturbingly close to my feet was a small snake. Adrenaline flowing, I checked the head and tail and then checked them again. I stepped back and began to breathe. It was a gopher snake. But it could have just as easily been a rattlesnake. In fact, later on that run, I encountered a baby rattlesnake. That day and the next (March 20 and 21), I saw a total of four gopher snakes and two Southern Pacific rattlesnakes.

Some related posts:

Ahmanson Ranch  and Las Virgenes Creek After Six Days of Rain
East Las Virgenes Canyon After a Seventh Day of Rain
A Second Spring at Ahmanson Ranch
Looking For Local Impacts of Tropical Storm Hilary