Category Archives: los angeles

Ahmanson Ranch Hot Seat

Ahmanson Ranch Hot Seat. Photography by Gary Valle'.

It was a little past 3:00 in the afternoon when I passed this straight-backed wooden chair along an Ahmanson Ranch trail. The Tempe thermometer clipped to my pack read over 100 degrees.

It gets REALLY hot at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve). In the direct sun the temperature can be 10°F-15°F hotter than in the shade, and there is very little shade at Ahmanson. In-the-sun temperatures of 100°F or more are common in the Summer but can occur just about any time of the year.

There are two weather stations I use to get an idea of the weather conditions at Ahmanson Ranch — the Cheeseboro RAWS and Valley Circle Estates Weather Underground station. Weather station thermometers are usually shielded from the direct sun by a white, ventilated enclosure. The Cheeseboro RAWS includes a measurement of the “Fuel Temperature.” This is generally a better indication of the temperature experienced by a runner, hiker, or rider in the direct sun.

Update on July 29, 2023. Rounding the temperature to whole degrees, my West Hills weather station recorded a high of 100°F, or higher, for 15 consecutive days this July (7/13/23 to 7/27/23). The station is about three miles from the Victory Trailhead at Ahmanson Ranch.

Some related posts: Some Summers Are Hotter than Others, Run to the Cheeseboro Remote Automated Weather Station

It’s Mid-July And There Is Still Snow in Los Angeles County!

Snow in the lee of the West Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell.
Snow in the lee of the West Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell.

You might not see it from the Los Angeles side of the mountains, but there is still some snow on the higher, north-facing slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains.

During and after storms, snow-laden southerly winds dump their load on the backside of the crest, creating deep drifts, cornices, and compacted slabs of snow. This snow is often the last to melt, not only because it doesn’t face the sun, but because there is more of it.

Mt. Burnham, Peak 9086, and Mt. Baden-Powell from near Throop Peak.
Mt. Burnham, Peak 9086, and Mt. Baden-Powell from near Throop Peak.

This morning, I was doing an out-and-back from the Windy Gap Trailhead in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area to Mt. Baden-Powell. The Windy Gap Trail climbs 1730′ in 2.6 miles, joining the PCT at Windy Gap. From there the trail follows the spine of the San Gabriels past Mt. Hawkins, Throop Peak, and Mt. Burnham to Mt. Baden-Powell.

I usually do this run from Islip Saddle, but with Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) closed between Red Box and Vincent Gap, the Islip Saddle trailhead isn’t accessible.

Snow on the west ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell. July 9, 2023.
Snow at about 9100′ on the west side of Mt. Baden-Powell.

Whether you start at Crystal Lake or Islip Saddle, the length of the run is about the same — a bit over 16 miles. The main difference is that the Windy Gap Trailhead is about 800′ lower in elevation. On the plus side, the Windy Gap Trail is very scenic; on the minus side, it faces south and can bake in the midday sun.

On today’s run, I encountered the first snowbanks at an elevation of 8870′, near the Dawson Saddle Trail junction. Out of curiosity, I tried to follow the trail and soon realized that was a mistake. I was more or less forced to skirt the downhill side of a lengthy and deep drift — it being too steep and icy to cross directly.

Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. July 9, 2023.
Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. July 9, 2023.

For the remainder of the run, I switched to the early season tactic of staying on the crest when the trail deviated onto shaded, north-facing slopes. These areas might have significant snow on the trail. This only happens in a few places, such as when the PCT works around Mt. Burnham. There is a use trail that ascends the west ridge of Mt. Burnham, and then returns to the PCT.

The conditions today are reminiscent of those found here in early July 2005. July 3rd of that year there was still snow on the summit of Baden-Powell, and there was deeper snow in the areas where there was snow today. We had a lot of storms this rain season, but in Rain Year 2004-2005 Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded about 9 inches more rain than during the 2022-2023 rain year!

Here is a short slideshow of some photos taken on the run. I’ve also included a few photos from the run to Baden-Powell in 2005 for comparison.

Soggy Shoes, Soppy La Jolla Valley, and Sensational Wildflowers

Approaching Mugu Peak from La Jolla Valley
Approaching Mugu Peak.

After doing a climbing /trail running combo in Pt. Mugu State Park last Sunday, I headed back to Wendy Drive this morning to do a trail run to Mugu Peak and back.

The plan was to get in a long run (20 miles) with fewer “get your feet wet” stream crossings, and also check out the conditions on several trails I hadn’t done this year.

Boney Mountain (left skyline) from Mugu Peak
Boney Mountain (left skyline) from Mugu Peak

So much for keeping the feet dry! The temp was in the mid-30s when I turned off Big Sycamore Canyon fire road and onto Wood Canyon fire road. The main creek draining Sycamore Canyon cuts across the fire road here, and there was no way I was going to get across it without wading. Some smaller stream crossings followed, ending with Wood Canyon Creek.

My shoes were squish-squashing loudly as I started up Hell Hill. The 600′ climb was almost enjoyable with the cool temperatures. Partway up, a slurry of rock and mud had flowed from the hillside onto the road — the soil saturated from storm after storm.

California poppies mixed with lupine along the Mugu Peak Trail
California poppies mixed with lupine along the Mugu Peak Trail

Several trails/roads converge at the top of Hell Hill, and I turned right onto the fire road that leads to the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail. I like to do Mugu Peak as part of a counterclockwise loop that combines segments of the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail and Mugu Peak Trails.

Long stretches of the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail between the walk-in camp and Mugu Peak were sopping wet. I’ll be curious to see how quickly it dries out, but today (April 2) it was really, really wet.

La Jolla Loop pond in La Jolla Valley in Pt. Mugu State Park.
La Jolla Loop pond is rarely this large — or even a pond.

Mugu Peak was pretty much as it always is on this side — busy and steep. The steepness of the “Direct” trail helped wring the water from my Ultraglides and Injinji socks. By the time I reached the top, my feet were only damp.

Mugu Peak is VERY popular, and there are almost always a few people taking in the wide-ranging views from the summit. Most do the short, steep hike from PCH on the Chumash Trail. A few start at the Ray Miller Trailhead — or like I was doing today — the long route from Wendy Drive.

Vivid red paintbrush along the La Jolla Loop Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park.
Vivid red paintbrush along the La Jolla Loop Trail

Although I usually climb the peak, two other options are worthwhile: the loop around the ocean-facing side of Mugu Peak and
the loop around La Jolla Valley.

The wildflowers along the Mugu Peak Trail and La Jolla Loop Trail were fantastic. California poppies were plentiful on the south-facing slopes. The vibrance of the bright orange poppies could not have been better accentuated than by purple lupine. Yellow bush sunflower, royal blue phacelia, and rich red paintbrush also decorated the trail.

Bright yellow collarless poppies along Danielson Road.
Bright yellow collarless poppies along Danielson Road.

I followed my usual route on the way back to Wendy — returning to the Hub, descending Hell Hill, retracing my steps in Wood Canyon, then following the Two Foxes single-track trail north to a short connector to Sycamore Canyon Road. This is near the Danielson Multi-Use Area. Once on Sycamore Canyon Road, the route back was the same as last week — up 1.8 miles of paved road and then onto the Upper Sycamore Trail. After that, up Danielson Road and across Satwiwa to the Wendy Drive trailhead.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain map of my GPS track to Mugu Peak and back from Wendy Drive. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Also, see the archived maps of Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa and Pt. Mugu State Park from the NPS website, and the maps of Pt. Mugu State Park on VenturaCountyTrails.org.

Some related posts: Out and Back Trail Run to Mugu Peak, Running to Serrano and La Jolla Valleys from Wendy Drive, Busy Mugu Peak

Backbone Trail Mystery

Pt. Mugu State Park from Boney Mountain
Pt. Mugu State Park from Boney Mountain

The morning was beautiful and sunny. It hadn’t rained for two days, and except for a few contrails, the sky was nearly cloudless.

Earlier in the morning, I’d climbed the Western Ridge of Boney Mountain, then worked my way over Tri Peaks to the Backbone Trail. I’d been on cruise control running down the Chamberlain/Backbone Trail, enjoying the pleasant weather and wide-ranging views.

Hines Peak and other Ventura County Mountains from the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail
Hines Peak and other Ventura County Mountains from the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail

Passing a gap in the ridge, I was surprised to see a person on the hillside, a few yards below the trail. It was an odd place to be.

The person was partially hidden by grass and brush, and all I could see was their head and shoulders. They were wearing an odd helmet and were busy working on something that looked like a pack. I didn’t see a mountain bike.

None of it made sense. Was it someone doing the Backbone Trail? Had they slept there overnight? What was with the helmet? Reaching the end of the Chamberlain Trail, I turned right on the Old Boney Trail and continued the descent toward Blue Canyon.

California poppies and bush sunflowers along the Old Boney Trail
California poppies and bush sunflowers along the Old Boney Trail

Partway down, I heard the clap-clap-clap of helicopter blades approaching the canyon, and that’s when it all fell into place. The mysterious person along the Chamberlain Trail was a SAR crew member.

The helicopter was yellow, probably from the Ventura County Sheriff Search and Rescue Aviation/Medical Team. I’ve seen them in the area a number of times doing exercises.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen something strange from the Chamberlain Trail. A few years ago, I’d noticed an odd-looking object below the Chamberlain and Old Boney Trails junction. It turned out to be a rescue manikin strapped onto a litter. Practice makes perfect, and exercises help ensure the safety and success of demanding SAR operations.

Stream crossing on the Blue Canyon segment of the Backbone Trail.
One of several stream crossings in Blue Canyon.

Farther down the Backbone Trail, there was a striking display of California poppies and bush sunflowers on the hillside above the junction of the Backbone and Old Boney Trails. After photographing the poppies, I returned to the Backbone Trail and entered Blue Canyon. To this point, I’d managed to keep my shoes and socks dry. But that was going to end.

I’d done a similar route in January, partly to see the condition of the Chamberlain, Blue Canyon, and Upper Sycamore Trails. That was the case again today. In the two months since the January run, nearby Circle X has recorded over 13 inches of rain. Not surprisingly, that has resulted in more water in the streams, more wildflowers along the trails, and a bit more eroded and rougher trails.

Some related posts: Looking for Storm Damage in Point Mugu State Park, Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods (2014)

Rainy Weather Running on Rocky Peak Road

San Fernando Valley from Rocky Peak Road.
San Fernando Valley from Rocky Peak Road.

I like splashing through streams as much as anyone does, but today I wanted to try and keep my shoes and socks dry. This Winter that’s been surprisingly hard to do.

Weekdays, I often run from the Victory trailhead at Ahmanson Ranch over to Las Virgenes Canyon and back. But it had rained in the Los Angeles area for four days straight. There was just no question that Ahmanson was going to be wet and muddy, and Las Virgenes Creek would be too wide to jump. I’d have to wade the creek crossings — again.

Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis) along Rocky Peak Road
Paintbrush (Castilleja affinis) along Rocky Peak Road

That’s why this afternoon, I was doing an out-and-back run on Rocky Peak Road from the 118 Frwy trailhead. As a result of the area’s sandstone geology, Rocky Peak Road is usually a pretty good place to run during periods of wet weather. For one thing, there are no creeks to cross. Plus, the rocky and sandy road doesn’t have many areas of “glob on your shoes” mud. It also has excellent views of the San Fernando and Simi Valleys and surrounding mountains.

My turnaround point today was the top of the Chumash Trail, which is a little less than four miles from the Rocky Peak trailhead. I sometimes continue past the Chumash Trail another mile to Fossil Point.

Today, there was one short, muddy stretch that could be mostly avoided and a few large mud puddles I could walk around. At the end of the run I didn’t have to switch shoes to drive home!

Some related posts: A Bear on Rocky Peak Road, Chilly Rocky Peak, Mountain Lion Tracks on Rocky Peak Road, Rocky Peak Vernal Pool

Snow-Covered San Gabriel Mountains From Lasky Mesa

Snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains from Lasky Mesa in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch)

It had rained another inch overnight, and my shoes were soaked from the wet grass along the trail. Seeking some relief from the 20 mph northwest wind, I descended a single-track trail to an old paved road east of the ranch house on Lasky Mesa.

Motivated more by staying out of the wind than anything else, I did two sets of hill repeats on different sections of the road. Then, on tired legs, I jogged up to Lasky Mesa and was greeted by an Arctic blast. The temperature had dropped to the mid-40s, and the wind was blowing a steady 20 mph, gusting to around 30 mph. I didn’t need a wind chill chart to tell me the effective temperature was in the 30s.

I was so focused on dealing with the cold I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings. Deciding to do one more hill, I rounded a corner, and the brilliantly sunlit, snow-covered San Gabriel Mountains came into full view. It was just jaw-dropping!

Here is a wider view of most of the Front Range of the San Gabriels, white with snow.

Some related posts: Chasing Rainbows at Ahmanson Ranch, Looking for Snow on Topanga Lookout and Saddle Peak