Yesterday’s atmospheric river event increased the rainfall total for Downtown Los Angeles (USC) since July 1 to 15.50 inches, surpassing the normal annual Rain Year total of 14.93 inches. Last year, as of February 14, Los Angeles had only recorded 1.97 inches of rain.
As a result of all the wet weather, we’ve also been much cooler this December – February than last year. Since December 1 the average high at Downtown Los Angeles has been more than 7 degrees cooler than last year.
The Climate Prediction Center has just issued an El Nino Advisory for the presence of weak El Nino conditions in the equatorial Pacific. However, it is the interaction of the ocean and atmosphere that matters, and the atmosphere is behaving as if stronger El Nino conditions are present.
For the date, Los Angeles rainfall is at about 165% of normal and there’s still more than two months left in the rain season. We’ll see if the wet trend continues!
The title photo is from a recent run at Ahmanson Ranch. This open space area was burned in the November 2018 Woolsey Fire.
It’s been nine years since the Station Fire burned 160,577 acres in Angeles National Forest. The Red Box – Bear Canyon – Gabrielino loop is a long time favorite adventure run that I’ve enjoyed doing many years before and after that 2009 fire.
The loop was the first I did when the area reopened in May 2011. The trails were in poor shape — overgrown and damaged from flash floods. The notorious fire-follower Poodle-dog bush had flourished in the wake of the fire and was particularly bad along the Gabrielino Trail between Switzer’s and Red Box. Thinking I was “immune” to the plant, I brazenly plowed through it, and as a result spent several inflamed nights trying to sleep in a reclining chair.
Each year Bear Canyon and upper Arroyo Seco recover a little more. Poodle-dog bush is in decline and in many areas nearing the end of its life-cycle. The chaparral, bay trees and oaks are all recovering; and the bigcone Douglas-firs that survived the fire have become more fully-foliaged.
This year Bear Canyon was a little drier than last. The creek was a trickle, disappearing in the sand in some areas and creating small pools in others. The path in the upper part of the canyon, above Bear Canyon Camp, was better defined, but still tricky to follow in some spots.
With the dry conditions, most of the poison oak had already turned red. It was easy to spot, but difficult to avoid. The “stinging nettle” creek crossing higher in the canyon wasn’t as overgrown as last year, but I still managed to brush against a plant or two.
Bear Canyon ends at Arroyo Seco, downstream of Switzer Falls. After turning upstream on the Bear Canyon Trail, I hadn’t run far when I encountered a couple of mountain bikers. They asked me, “is this the trail to JPL?”
This wasn’t the first time that I’d encountered misplaced riders or hikers on this section of trail. Some get misplaced looking for the falls and others mistakenly follow the Bear Canyon Trail down into Arroyo Seco instead of continuing high in the canyon on the Gabrielino Trail. Because of the completion of the restoration of the Gabrielino Trail there were a few more riders on the trail than usual.
The smoke in the Owens Valley was as thick as PCH fog, and I wondered if it would extend into the higher elevations of the Sierra.
From Whitney Portal Road I couldn’t see any of the ridges on Lone Pine Peak and the visibility at the bottom of Horseshoe Meadow Road wasn’t much better. Gradually, as I drove up one long switchback and then another, the smoke thinned. At Horseshoe Meadow the sky in the direction of the crest was a decent Sierra blue, but smoke still spoiled the views down the canyons and over the valley.
As usual, I parked at the equestrian and overflow parking area for the New Army Pass Trail. From here, the start of the Cottonwood Pass Trail is a 5 minute walk SSW through the trees and downhill. I prefer to do the loop clockwise, going over Cottonwood Pass first, and then New Army Pass later in the run. Late season, I’ve also done the loop using (old) Army Pass, but that is more of a mountaineer’s route and is often blocked by snow and ice.
New Army Pass is fairly high — 12,300′ — and the east side is quite steep near the top. Depending on the year, snow and ice can be an issue, even in mid-summer. When doing the loop clockwise, confirm in advance that New Army Pass will be passable with your level of experience and the equipment you’ll be carrying.
Yellows, reds and greens marked its location, but the seep above Sheep Camp was dry. As I approached the camp, the uppermost campsite was empty and I wondered if the spring at the camp was also going to be dry. If it was, I was going to have to revise my running plan.
So far the run had gone well. From the Chula Vista parking area (8350′), I’d run the service road up to Mt. Pinos (8831′), then followed the Tumamait Trail west to Mt. Abel Road. Along the way Sawmill Mountain (8818′)and Grouse Mountain (8582′) had been short side trips; and from the end of the trail, the summit of Mt. Abel (8280′) was a short hike up through the pines.
Compared to the triple-digit temperatures in the parched West Valley — as high as 117 °F this July — the temps on the Tumamait Trail had been wonderfully cool. The hotter than average weather seems to have become the new norm, and also — unfortunately — the resulting wildfires.
On a run here Last July, smoke from a fire near Lake Cachuma had nearly enveloped Mt. Pinos. Today several fires were burning in California, and once again smoke could be seen in the valleys and canyons to the north of the mountain.
To get in a bit more mileage and elevation gain the next part of my run was supposed to be an out and back to the sun-baked environs of Lily Meadows (6600′). That wasn’t going to happen if the spring was dry.
When I stopped at the wildflower-accented spring I could see that there was the barest thread of water trickling from the pipe. It didn’t look like much, but it filled my 18 oz. cut-off water bottle in about three minutes. I gulped down most of the first bottle and it took a couple more to fill my Camelbak. In about 10 minutes I was headed downhill.
The North Fork Trail is far less used than the Tumamait Trail. That’s part of the fun. Thunderstorms had not only wiped away any previous tracks, but had severely eroded some sections of the trail as well.
With the loss of elevation came an increase in temperature. By the time I reached Lily Meadows Camp the temp was in the 90s. This time of year there were no lilies or meadows at the campsite, but there was a nice grove of Jeffrey pines and a new camp table!
I didn’t spend much time down there. There was a hill to climb and the cool temps along the crest were only about an hour away.
There seems to have been some carryover from the wet rainy season we had in 2016-17 to this year. The 2017-18 rain season was very dry — the third driest on record at Downtown Los Angeles — but seeps at Waterman Meadow, along the Burkhart Trail below Buckhorn were still wet. In general plant growth along trails has been more than I expected in such a dry year.
Wet and dry periods can be seen in the growth rings of the large Jeffrey pine along the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail just west of the Twin Peaks Trail junction. A more careful count of its rings totaled about 500. No matter how careful the count, because of the various anomalies that occur with tree rings, some form of crossdating is usually required to confidently assess the age of a tree. Even so, it is clear this was an old tree.
The first few miles of the loop were gloriously cool, but by the time I reached Cooper Canyon and was working up to Cloudburst Summit on the PCT, the sun beat down on me in a familiar refrain.