Category Archives: weather

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

Windy Windy Gap and Sunny South Mt. Hawkins

As shown on fire maps, Windy Gap was not burned in the 2020 Bobcat Fire.
Windy Gap

There was hardly any wind on the drive out to Azusa, and I wondered if the offshore wind event forecast to peak this morning was going to happen. But after winding up Highway 39 to the Windy Gap Trailhead, all doubts vanished. The wind was blowing in powerful gusts that shook the car and my enthusiasm.

Morning light on Islip Ridge from low on the Windy Gap Trail in Crystal Lake basin
Morning light on Islip Ridge

Not only was it windy, it was cold. I briefly debated going down to warmer climes — temps were forecast to be in the 80s and 90s in the valleys — but decided to at least run up to Windy Gap and see what it was like there.

As is often the case, once I got moving, it wasn’t too bad on the Windy Gap Trail. It was very windy in some spots and nearly calm in others – just what you would expect on the lee size of a mountain ridge. One thing was consistent — there was almost no sunlight on the trail.

A ribbon of sunlight illuminates conifers along the Windy Gap Trail
Ribbon of sunlight on trees along the Windy Gap Trail.

I’d been curious to see how the run/hike to Windy Gap (7588′) from the Windy Gap Trailhead (5836′) in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area compared to starting at the Islip Saddle Trailhead (6650′) on Hwy 2. It turns out the distance using either approach is the same — a little over 2.5 miles. But, the Windy Gap Trailhead is lower, so starting there adds a little over 800′ of gain. Today, that extra gain was helping to keep me warm.

As I worked up the last long switchback I could see and hear the trees on the crest being buffeted by the wind. Reaching Windy Gap I’d was relieved to see that it looked the same as it always has. As shown on fire maps, Windy Gap was not burned in the Bobcat Fire.

Working up toward Windy Gap (7588') on the Windy Gap Trail
Mt. Islip (left) from the Windy Gap Trail

That relief was short-lived as I was just about knocked down by a gust of wind. I’ve passed by Windy Gap many times, and the wind this morning was the strongest I’ve experienced there.

Later I found that several gusts over 50 mph were recorded at Chilao that morning. Because of terrain effects, I would not be surprised if the gusts at Windy Gap were 60 mph or more. The gusts were “stop you in your tracks, blow you over” strong. And it was cold. The temperature sensor on my pack read 34°F.

Twin Peaks and Mt. Wilson from the South Mt. Hawkins Trail
Twin Peaks and Mt. Wilson from the South Mt. Hawkins Trail

Out of curiosity, I ran a short distance along the PCT to see if conditions improved. That was a bad idea. I turned around and got the heck off the crest.

Running back down the Windy Gap Trail, I wasn’t ready to call it a day. It occurred to me that I could run down to the South Mt. Hawkins Trail — the old South Hawkins Lookout service road — and then run up to South Mt. Hawkins. Maybe the old road would be more wind-protected than the Windy Gap Trail.

Path through Jeffrey pine cones along the South Mt. Hawkins Trail/Road
Jeffrey pine cones along the South Mt. Hawkins Trail

And maybe not! Looking at the topography, I could not figure out why the wind on some sections of the South Mt. Hawkins road was so strong. Some gusts were as strong as at Windy Gap. The noise from the wind in the trees was deafening, and amplified my concern about falling trees and flying debris. I did not want to have a “Weather Channel” moment.

Although the wind was strong, the sun was now higher, and some sections of the road were warmed by the sun. This made a big difference. As I wound into and out of the side canyons, the temperature varied from the high 30s to the low 50s. In two places there were small, dirty patches of icy snow.

The old lookout service road follows a circuitous path to South Mt. Hawkins
South Mt. Hawkins

The South Mt. Hawkins Lookout was destroyed in the 2002 Curve Fire. Many, many thousands of trees were killed in that fire and the process of (natural) reforestation can be seen on the slopes above the road.

Ironically, the wind and temperature were relatively moderate on the summit of South Mt. Hawkins! After taking a few photos, I descended the “Ridge Trail” to the South Mt. Hawkins trail/road, and made my way back to the Windy Gap Trail and the trailhead.

Some related posts: Did Lightning Start the 2002 Curve Fire?, Crest of the Angeles

Hidden Pond – Old Boney Loop, Pt. Mugu State Park

Boney Mountain From the Hidden Pond Trail, Pt. Mugu State Park
Morning on the Hidden Pond Trail, Boney Mountain in the distance.

The Hidden Pond – Old Boney Loop is a variation of the XTERRA Boney Mountain Trail Run 21K course. The route is about a half-mile longer and has a couple hundred feet more of elevation gain, but all the key trails are the same. It starts/ends at the Wendy Drive & Potrero Road Trailhead.

Here is an interactive 3D terrain view of the Hidden Pond – Old Boney Loop and a few photos taken along the way.

Related post: Boney Mountain Half Marathon

Running Between Raindrops: Chumash Trailhead to Rocky Peak

Rain in the San Fernando Valley from Rocky Peak. March 12, 2021.
Rain in the San Fernando Valley from Rocky Peak

Was that thunder? I warily eyed the dark clouds over the mountains and pondered the situation.

I was about halfway to the top of the Chumash Trail and was planning to run along the crest to Rocky Peak. The run had started in short sleeves and sunshine, but it was pretty obvious that wasn’t going to last.

Chumash Trail about a mile from the trailhead
Chumash Trail about a mile from the trailhead

A cold upper-level low had brought badly needed rain to the area for the past two days. The low was moving off to the east, but there was still a chance of afternoon showers and maybe even a thunderstorm.

It was the “thunderstorm” part that I needed to pay attention to. I had enough gear to deal with a downpour and cooling temps, but electrical storms are no fun at all.

I decided to continue to the top of the Chumash Trail and reassess. As I worked up the trail, I pictured the counterclockwise circulation around the low, and how convective cells develop over the mountains and then dissipate as they drift south. The concern was that the cells don’t always dissipate.

Rocky Peak Road near Rocky Peak
Rocky Peak Road near Rocky Peak

It looked like things weren’t getting any better at the top of the Chumash Trail, but it wasn’t worse either. I hadn’t heard any thunder for a while, and most of the activity seemed to be a few miles to the west and east. Having been starved of stormy weather for much of the rain season, I turned right on Rocky Peak Road and headed south toward Rocky Peak.

The run from the Chumash Trailhead to Rocky Peak is a challenging mix of technical single-track trail and hilly fire road. There are wide-ranging views of Simi Valley & Simi Hills, the San Fernando Valley, Santa Monica Mountains, Ventura County mountains, and San Gabriel Mountains. On a clear day, the view can extend to the Channel Islands, Saddleback, and San Jacinto Peak.

NOAA radar mosaic Rocky Peak March 12, 2021.
NOAA radar mosaic at the time I was on Rocky Peak

The actual turnaround point for a run to “Rocky Peak” varies. Some like to turnaround at the high point of Rocky Peak Road that is near Rocky Peak. Most of the time, I turnaround at a viewpoint that is at the end of a spur trail that branches off from the high point of Rocky Peak Road. From time to time, it’s fun to hike over to Rocky Peak and scramble to the top. That’s a bit more involved and requires some route-finding.

I felt the first raindrops as I reached the high point on Rocky Peak Road and turned onto the spur trail that leads to the overlook. There was some increased development to the east, but it looked like there would be enough time to get over to Rocky Peak, take a couple of pics, and then head back.

Oat Mountain, shrouded by rain
Oat Mountain, shrouded by rain

I felt a little exposed on top of Rocky Peak. I hadn’t heard any thunder for the past hour, but a cell to the east was spouting heavy rain over the San Fernando Valley, which meant there was probably enough development to produce lightning. I took the title photo and a couple of others and hurriedly descended from the peak.

Back on Rock Peak Road, the sprinkles increased, and the showers became more steady as I ran north toward the Chumash Trail. Under the dark clouds, a raven perched on a large pinnacle cawed incessantly, either enjoying the rain or complaining about it. In the distance, a siren wailed down in the valley. It was cold, and I was very glad to have an extra shirt, sleeves, gloves and a light rain shell.

Mix of sun and rain on the Chumash Trail
Mix of sun and rain on the Chumash Trail.

As I began the descent of the Chumash Trail, the sun briefly broke through the clouds, reflecting brightly on the wet sandstone rocks. I breathed deeply, relishing the smell of the cleansed air and wet chaparral, and continued down the trail.

Here’s an interactive 3D terrain view of my GPS track. Over the run, the temperature sensor on my pack recorded a drop of about 30 degrees — from around 70°F at the start of the run to about 40°F when the showers began! Here’s what a NOAA Radar Mosaic looked like at the start of the run and when I was on Rocky Peak.

Related: Chumash Trail, Rocky Peak, Thunderstorm

Blue Skies, Sunshine and Windstorm After Windstorm

blue sky, sunshine, high clouds and a trail on a hill

It looks like Downtown Los Angeles (USC) is going to end February — one of the wettest months of the rain year — with only a trace of rain. The current rain year total for Los Angeles is 4.39 inches, which is about 39% of the normal total for this date.

It’s been one of those years where missed rain opportunities have often turned into strong offshore wind events. This chart from MesoWest shows the wind speed and direction for the past 30 days for the Malibu Hills RAWS. Since mid February there has been five wind events with sustained wind speeds over 30 mph and gusts over 50 mph.

Current forecasts suggest Los Angeles will see at least some rain in March, with the first chance around midweek. We’ll see!

Related post: A Dry and Dusty Start to the Los Angeles Rain Year