Category Archives: wildfire

Three Points Loop Following the Reopening of Angeles Crest Highway

Bracken fern turning color at Waterman Meadow is a sure sign of Autumn.
Waterman Meadow

I was beginning to wonder if I would get a chance to do the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman this year. Angeles Crest Highway had been closed from Red Box to Vincent Gap for many months, and CalTrans projected it might not open until Thanksgiving.

That’s why Friday (November 3) I was excited to hear Angeles Crest Highway had reopened between Upper Big Tujunga Rd. and Islip Saddle.

Alpenglow on the San Gabriels' Front Range peaks.
Alpenglow on the San Gabriels’ Front Range peaks.

At dawn, a couple days later, I pulled into the Three Points parking lot, put on some sunscreen, grabbed my pack, and set out to see what was happening on the Three Points loop around Mt. Waterman.

I’d done the loop many times and in many situations — clockwise, counterclockwise, after the Station Fire closure, after the Bobcat Fire closure, with snow at the higher elevations, in hot weather and in cold. When the trails are in good shape and the weather isn’t too hot, the 20-mile loop is an outstanding trail run. Today, it was a challenge just to complete the loop.

Gilia along the Burkhart Trail. November 2023.
Gilia along the Burkhart Trail.

In many areas of Southern California, a wet 2022-2023 rainy season and Tropical Storm Hilary’s rain produced two seasons of Spring-like growth. One of the effects of the rain was the growth of wildflowers usually seen in the Spring, including seep monkeyflower, golden yarrow, gilia, grape soda lupine, and little paintbrush. It was strange to see a bumblebee buzzing from flower to flower of a Grinnell’s penstemon at 7250′ on Mt. Waterman in November.

At lower elevation, sections of Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail (10W04) were overgrown with mountain whitethorn — requiring several “grin and bear it” passages. Higher, long stretches of the little-used path were covered with a second season of grass. This made route-finding difficult, particularly where the trail descends to the Twin Peaks Trail junction.

Twin Peaks from the Buckhorn - Mt. Waterman Trail.
Twin Peaks from the Buckhorn – Mt. Waterman Trail.

It was an intriguing puzzle to solve, and eventually I made it to the junction of the summit trail and the trail down to Angeles Crest Highway, near Buckhorn (10W05). The trail down to Buckhorn sees much more use than the trail from Three Points and is much better defined. Besides a couple of downed trees, the run down was one of the more enjoyable parts of the loop. The trail is usually very busy, but I didn’t encounter anyone coming up the trail.

As expected, Buckhorn Campground was closed and no water was available. It was a warm day — around 75 degrees — but with the November sun low in the sky, not as warm as 75 degrees in July. If I needed more water, there were several places I could refill.

Cooper Canyon Falls, November 2023.
Cooper Canyon Falls (video)

The Burkhart Trail (below Buckhorn) was the only place I encountered a few hikers. They were returning from Cooper Canyon Falls. When I got down to the PCT and saw how much water was in the creek, I did the short side trip to the falls and took this video snapshot. It’s unusual for the falls to be flowing this time of year.

After checking out the falls, I resumed my westward journey on the PCT. Within feet of the creek crossing, an ugly tangle of fallen trees completely blocked the trail. This was just the first of several problems on the PCT between the Burkhart Trail junction and Cooper Canyon Camp. There were the usual downed trees, but there were also several sections of badly overgrown trail. These green thickets were generally adjacent to the creek, where the trail had been (or still was) wet.

Willows along the creek near Cooper Canyon Trail Camp.
Willows along the creek near Cooper Canyon Trail Camp.

Needing water, and to empty the debris from my shoes, I stopped for a few minutes at Cooper Canyon Trail Camp. Several campsites are nestled in a pleasant area along the creek. With Angeles Crest Highway open, I thought I might see someone here, but like Buckhorn Campground, it was empty.

After reaching Cloudburst Summit, the remainder of the run was more or less usual for the loop. There was some Poodle-dog bush and a small rockslide along the PCT on the way to Camp Glenwood, but neither were an issue. The run was more challenging than usual — and a bit slower — but it had been (mostly) fun and fascinating to work through it.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts:
After the Bobcat and Station Fires: Three Points Loop Around Mt. Waterman (Slideshow, 3D Terrain Maps)
Cool Weather, Old Trees, Grape Soda Lupine and a Restored Trail
Lemon Lilies, Tree Rings and More Heat Training on the Three Points Loop
Three Points Loop Adventure – July 2020

Three Bighorn Sheep, a Solar Eclipse, and a New Peak

Bighorn sheep blend into the rocky terrain near Windy Gap in the San Gabriel Mountains
Bighorn sheep blend into the rocky terrain near Windy Gap

Had they not dislodged some rocks, I doubt I would have seen the three bighorn sheep in the photo above.  They are easier to see in this zoomed-in photo of the sheep descending the rocky slopes just below Windy Gap (7,588′) in the San Gabriel Mountains. They crossed a brush-covered rib and disappeared from view.

A partially-eclipsed sun crests a ridge east of Windy Gap.
The partially-eclipsed sun crests a ridge east of Windy Gap.

A few minutes after seeing the sheep, I reached Windy Gap and stopped to put my arm sleeves away. It had been cool at the trailhead — about 40 degrees — but the temperature had warmed as I worked up the trail. As its name suggests, the wind can be fierce at Windy Gap, but this morning there was almost no wind, foretelling nearly ideal weather for today’s adventure.

Windy Gap was still in shade, and the sun was just peeking over the ridge to the east. You couldn’t tell, but the eclipse had already begun. The eclipse would be nearly total in parts of Oregon, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas. In the Los Angeles area, the moon would obscure more than 70% of the sun’s disc.

Partially eclipsed sun from the PCT in the San Gabriel Mountains
Partially eclipsed sun.

From Windy Gap, I headed east on the Pacific Crest Trail toward Mt. Hawkins. From time to time, I would stop and check the progress of the eclipse using eclipse sunglasses. In sunny areas, I looked for lensed images of the sun in the shadows of trees but didn’t see any. Having needles instead of leaves, conifers don’t produce the myriad images of the eclipsed sun seen under trees with leaves.

A few minutes before the eclipse reached maximum, I took this photo of the eclipse with my iPhone, using eclipse glasses as a filter.

With nearly three-quarters of the sun obscured, the light from the sun had become enfeebled. The feeling was more than that of a cloud passing in front of the sun. I stopped and listened… to nothing. It was eerily quiet. No birds called or sang, and only chill zephyrs of wind wafted about the area. Somehow, the sun was broken.

The south ridge of Mt. Lewis can be accessed from the CalTrans shed at Dawson Saddle.
The south ridge of Mt. Lewis can be accessed from the CalTrans shed at Dawson Saddle.

As the eclipse slowly waned, I continued east in the corrupt light, past Mt. Hawkins and Throop Peak, to the PCT’s junction with the Dawson Saddle Trail. In what seemed fitting for the day, instead of continuing to Baden-Powell, I turned left and headed down the trail toward Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2).

Why? Angeles Crest Highway was closed from Red Box to Vincent Gap, transforming Dawson Saddle into one of the more isolated areas of the Angeles National Forest. I hadn’t been on the Dawson Saddle Trail in years, and with Highway 2 closed, it would be a quirky way to climb Mt. Lewis. Instead of having one of the shortest approaches in the San Gabriels — a few feet from the CalTrans shed at Dawson Saddle — it would involve a trail run of nearly eight miles just to get to the base of the peak.

Angeles Crest Highway from the shoulder of Mt. Lewis.
Angeles Crest Highway from the shoulder of Mt. Lewis.

The eclipse was nearly over when I reached the bottom of the Dawson Saddle Trail on Highway 2. From the trailhead, I ran up an empty Angeles Crest Highway a short distance to Dawson Saddle. Mt. Lewis’ south ridge was accessed from here.

Only about a half-mile long, the south ridge isn’t technical, but the first third is steep and rocky. The elevation gain from the saddle to the summit is about 500′. Offset from the crest of the San Gabriels, the flat summit of Mt. Lewis has unique views of the crest extending from Mt. Baden-Powell to Mt. Islip and beyond.

After a few minutes enjoying the summit, I turned southward and began working my way back down to Angeles Crest Highway, up to the PCT, over to Windy Gap, and back down to the trailhead in the Crystal Lake Recreational Area.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts:
Solar Eclipses, Saros Cycles and Chumash Rock Art
Boney Mountain Eclipse Run
It’s Mid-July And There Is Still Snow in Los Angeles County!

Ahmanson Blue Oak Succumbs to Climate Change

Rare at this latitude, this blue oak at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space preserve succumbed to drought, fire, and above average temperatures.

When I rounded the corner on the Lasky Mesa Trail, I could hardly believe my eyes. The Ahmanson Blue Oak was gone. Where there had been a sprawling oak, there was nothing.

Crossing an eroded section of trail and walking over to the edge of the old roadbed, I looked down the slope. Much like this valley oak along Rocky Peak Road, the entire Ahmanson blue oak  had fallen from its hillside perch near the bottom of the canyon.

Oaks in the oak-grasslands of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve have had a tough time with climate change. The five-year drought from July 2011 to October 2016, increasing temperature, and the 2018 Woolsey Fire have combined to kill a large number of trees.

This blue oak was one of very few found at the southern extent of its range.

Related posts: Ahmanson Blue Oak, Ahmanson Valley Oaks Battling Drought, After the Woolsey Fire: Ahmanson Ranch, Fallen Oak, Valley Oak Savanna

Twin Peaks East, Plus Mt. Waterman

Twin Peaks from low on the Twin Peaks Trail, following the Bobcat Fire

Seeing Twin Peaks while doing the Three Points Loop a couple of weeks ago reminded me that I hadn’t done Twin Peaks in quite a while. The last time had been in 2012, when I did a spur of the moment exploration down the southeast ridge of Twin Peaks, toward Triplet Rocks.

As long as I was in the neighborhood, I also wanted to do the short side trip to Mt. Waterman’s summit and see how it fared in the Bobcat Fire. (I’d skipped that side trip on the most recent Three Points Loop run.)

My general impression of Bobcat Fire impacts in the Mt. Waterman – Twin Peaks area is of varying severity. In some areas nearly all the trees were killed, while in other the trees are virtually untouched. Perhaps the most common scenario is a mix of burned, partially burned, and unburned trees.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain version of the Bobcat Fire Soil Burn Severity Map that is zoomed in on Mt. Waterman – Twin Peaks area. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen.

Overall, I was surprised to find that there were so few fallen trees on the Twin Peaks Trail. I think I had to step over one log, go around another, and a couple others had been cleared from the trail. The most serious obstacle was some Poodle-dog bush completely blocking the trail. Poodle-dog bush causes dermatitis in many people.

There was little damage from the heavy December storms. The elevation ranges from about 6540′ at the low point of the Twin Peaks Trail, up to 7761′ on Twin Peaks East, so much of the precipitation must have fallen as snow.

A couple of trees were burned on the perimeter of Twin Peaks East’s flat summit, but the tops of both Twin Peaks East and Mt. Waterman were pleasant places to be.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Three Points Loop Around Mt. Waterman, Toward Triplet Rocks, Twin Peaks Trail Run

After the Bobcat and Station Fires: Three Points Loop Around Mt. Waterman (Slideshow, 3D Terrain Maps)

Mt. Waterman Trail

Most of the time, when I do a trail run in the San Gabriel Mountains, it starts from a trailhead along or near Highway 2 — Angeles Crest Highway.

There are many fine point-to-point and out-and-back runs along Hwy 2, but not very many loops. Of the handful of loops that are currently open and accessible, two start and end at Three Points.

One is the Three Points – Mt. Hillyer Loop and the other is the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman. The Three Points – Mt. Hillyer Loop was not affected by the Bobcat Fire and is described in this April 2021 post.

On the other hand, significant parts of the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman were burned in Bobcat Fire, and the trails that comprise the loop were closed until April of this year (2022).

A large area on Mt. Waterman was burned by both the Bobcat and Station Fires. This can be seen in this interactive, 3D terrain view of the area. The Bobcat Fire is yellow and the Station Fire is red. Where they overlap near Mt. Waterman is orange.

The Three Points Loop is the loop I do most often in the San Gabriel Mountains. The basic loop, not including the side trip to the summit of Mt. Waterman, is about 20 miles long and has about 4000′ of gain/loss. The terrain and trails are varied and interesting, and Buckhorn Campground is conveniently placed near the halfway point of the course. Water is USUALLY — BUT NOT ALWAYS — available when the campground is open.

Doing the side trip to Mt. Waterman adds about 1.7 miles and 350′ of elevation gain. The side trip to Cooper Canyon Falls is even shorter — only about a quarter-mile.

Fire perimeters and burn severity maps don’t tell the whole story, and I’ve been curious to see how the area was affected by the Bobcat Fire; how the Station Fire recovery is continuing; and how the area burned by both fires has fared.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of the Three Points Loop. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned using the navigation control on the right. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

This slideshow includes photos from the August 2022 run of the loop, as well as additional information.

Some related posts: Twin Peaks East, Plus Mt. Waterman; Three Points Loop Adventure – July 2020: Bobcat Fire Perimeter and Some Angeles National Forest Trails: 3D Terrain View of Bobcat Fire Soil Burn Severity and Some Angeles National Forest Trails

Regrowth of Trees Along the PCT Following the 2002 Curve Fire

Young pines along the PCT about five miles east of Islip Saddle in an area burned by the 2002 Curve Fire
Tree regrowth along the PCT about five miles east of Islip Saddle

The Curve Fire started on Labor Day Weekend 2002, along Highway 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains. Between Mt. Islip and Throop Peak, the fire burned over the crest and down to Angeles Crest Highway. Between Throop Peak and Mt. Baden-Powell, the fire generally burned up to, but did not breach the crest.

Dead trees on a ridge west of Mt. Hawkins that were burned in the 2002 Curve Fire
Dead trees on a ridge west of Mt. Hawkins that were burned in the 2002 Curve Fire

The Curve Fire killed many trees, including some large, old-growth trees. The most common species along the trail between Mt. Islip and Throop Peak are white fir, Jeffrey pine, sugar pine, and lodgepole pine. Incense cedar also grows in the area, and limber pine is found on and to the east of Throop Peak. Here is a cross-section of a tree along the PCT about 3.0 miles from Islip Saddle. It is representative of the older trees killed in the Curve Fire.

Prior to the Curve Fire, the FRAP geodatabase of California fires has no record of a large fire that burned along the crest of the San Gabriels between Mt. Islip and Mt. Baden-Powell. The FRAP record extends back to the early 1900s, when the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve became Angeles National Forest. A study of mercury levels in Crystal Lake and newspaper accounts suggest the possibility that a large fire occurred in this area in 1878, or about 124 years before the Curve Fire.

I’ve run and hiked the PCT between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell for many years, so have had the opportunity to follow the regrowth of conifers where the Curve Fire burned over the crest. Studying conifer regrowth in this area can provide insights into regrowth in the 2009 Station Fire and 2020 Bobcat Fire burn areas, and in areas burned by more than one of these fires.

The locations of the stands are shown in this Google Earth image, along with the areas burned by the Curve and Bobcat Fires. Of these four areas, Stand #1 is the only one burned by the Curve Fire and Bobcat Fire.

Stand #1

A June 2020 photo of conifer regrowth after the 2002 Curve Fire. These trees were obliterated by the Bobcat Fire.
A June 2020 photo of conifer regrowth after the 2002 Curve Fire. These trees were obliterated by the Bobcat Fire.

This stand of young Jeffrey pines looked very healthy in June 2020. The area is about 1.5 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT, at an elevation of about 7440 ft. At that time a tree adjacent to the trail stood well overhead.

I almost ran past this area in July 2022. I had to double-check the mileage on my watch. Where were the trees? Here is a comparison of the area before and after the Bobcat Fire.

The young trees were more vulnerable than the mature trees in the area. Eighteen years of Curve Fire regrowth were completely obliterated.

Stand #2

This area of young trees is between Windy Gap and Peak 8426, about 3.0 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT, at an elevation of about 7900 ft. Some old-growth Jeffrey pines were killed here. This is what the area looked like on May 30,  2010.

Now the size of the trees ranges from seedlings a few inches tall to this very robust Jeffrey pine that is well over head height.

Stand #3

An assortment of young conifers growing along the PCT west of Mt. Hawkins in an area burned by the 2002 Curve Fire
An assortment of young conifers growing along the PCT west of Mt. Hawkins

This area of young trees is on broad ridge, west of Mt. Hawkins, about 4.2 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT. The Curve Fire ran down the ridge to Hwy 2, killing hundreds of trees. The elevation at the PCT is about 8500 ft.

Stand #4

This area of young trees is on a south-facing slope, just west of Throop Peak, about 5.1 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT. The elevation is about 8900 ft. Because of its aspect, the new trees are taller than in the other areas photographed. Here’s what this area looked like in May 2012, June 2016, and July 2022.

Some related posts: Did Lightning Start the 2002 Curve Fire, 3D Terrain View of Bobcat Fire Soil Burn Severity and Some Angeles National Forest Trails