Category Archives: wildfire

A Hawkins Ridge Loop Adventure

Twin Peaks and Mt. Waterman from the Hawkins Ridge Trail on South Mt. Hawkins
Twin Peaks and Mt. Waterman from the Hawkins Ridge Trail

Don’t let there be a headwall… Don’t let there be a headwall… That’s what I kept muttering to myself as I climbed up the decomposing granodiorite rib. The topo map showed the rib connecting directly to the crest, but from my vantage point I couldn’t tell if that was actually going to happen.

So far the the difficulties had been manageable. The route had been steep and loose, but for the most part it was at an angle that probably wouldn’t result in a long fall or slide. Probably. But if it got any steeper it could be a problem, and I really didn’t want to downclimb 1200′ of crumbly rock and loose debris.

Working up the rib I had gone from “secure spot to secure spot,” trying to minimize my exposure in between. In a few places a climbing move had been required to avoid disturbing fractured or delicately balanced rocks. On one section it had been necessary to crawl through a mountain mahogany, its stiff limbs poking fun at my route-finding. Higher up, the solid handholds of a massive gray boulder had helped to ascend a particularly loose section.

Crystal Lake Recreation Area from the crest near Peak 8426
Crystal Lake Recreation Area from the crest near Peak 8426

As I climbed, I considered alternative routes, surveying the terrain to my left, right, and along the crest. I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better line. But I needed to be patient. The rib was working and I just needed to stay on it.

I tried to recall if I’d ever been on anything like this. I’d certainly done a couple of class 2 routes on Sierra peaks that had been loose. The closest comparison might be some of the “knapsack passes” in the Sierra. These are usually class 2 or class 3 routes that go over notches and connect one high basin to another. They are often steep, loose and wet, and can hold snow or ice throughout the Summer.

And then suddenly I was on top. There was no more rib to climb. While I enjoyed the problem solving, it’s not a climbing route I would recommend, and I probably won’t repeat it.

South Mt. Hawkins and Sadie Hawkins from the Hawkins Ridge Trail
South Mt. Hawkins and Sadie Hawkins from the Hawkins Ridge Trail

Climbing the rib was my overly-creative way of doing a loop that included the Hawkins Ridge Trail. I’d done Middle Hawkins (Peak 8505′) as a side trip on a run from Islip Saddle to Baden-Powell, but had not gone down the ridge as far as Sadie Hawkins (Peak 8047′).

It was the perfect day to be running the Ridge Trail. The weather was far better than during my last run in the area. Temps were about 20 degrees warmer, and while it was still breezy, the wind was nowhere near the strength of a couple weeks ago. A sea of marine layer stratus filled the valleys and extended into San Gabriel Canyon, providing an “above the clouds” backdrop befitting of a mountain trail.

Pines on Hawkins Ridge that survived the 2002 Curve Fire
Pines on Hawkins Ridge that survived the 2002 Curve Fire

It didn’t take long to get down to Sadie Hawkins and to follow a use trail to its rounded top. From the top, Mt. Islip and Windy Gap could be seen to the northwest, and Mt. Wilson area peaks to the southwest. On the south-facing slopes below Sadie Hawkins there was a stunning number of young pine trees — a veritable tree farm of regrowth from the 2002 Curve Fire.

Winding down the use trail from Sadie Hawkins, I rejoined the main Hawkins Ridge Trail and followed it down to the saddle between Sadie Hawkins and South Mt. Hawkins. Two weeks ago, I’d followed the road up to South Hawkins and then descended the north ridge directly. This time I ascended the Hawkins Ridge Trail, carefully following the trail. I was surprised to find it didn’t ascend the north ridge directly, but wrapped around the west side of the peak.

Later, as I ran down South Mt. Hawkins Trail/Road, I thought about the amount of rocky debris along and on the road. It emphasized the friable nature of the rock above, and how often there are larger rockslides. When I reached the point on the road where I could see the route I’d climbed, I just shook my head. Who the heck would want to go up there?

Related post: Windy Windy Gap and Sunny South Mt. Hawkins

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

3D Terrain View of Bobcat Fire Soil Burn Severity and Some Angeles National Forest Trails

3D terrain snapshot of Bobcat Fire Soil Burn Severity and some Angeles National Forest trails

The 3D terrain image above shows an overlay of the Bobcat Post-Fire BAER Soil Burn Severity Map from the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) Imagery Support website. The burn severity classes are high (red), moderate (yellow), low (light green), unburned/very low (dark green), and no data (black).

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain version of the Bobcat Fire Soil Burn Severity Map. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. For help controlling the view, click the “?” icon in the upper right corner of the window.

GPS tracks (yellow) of the Pacific Crest Trail and some other trails and routes in the area have been added. An unofficial version of the Bobcat Fire closure boundary (purple) has also been added. The closure boundary data is from CalTopo and appears to be based on Forest Order 05-01-21-03 (PDF). Locations of GPS tracks, placenames, soil burn severity, and the closure boundary are all approximate and subject to errors.

Below are some starting points in the 3D terrain viewer:

Twin Peaks – Mt. Waterman – Buckhorn

Shortcut – West Fork – Mt. Wilson – Red Box

Mt. Wilson – Chantry Flat – Monrovia Peak

Little Jimmy – Islip Saddle – South Fork – Burkhart Saddle – Devils Punchbowl

For official information regarding Bobcat Fire closures, contact Angeles National Forest.

Three Points – Mt. Hillyer Loop

Trail runner on the Mt. Hillyer Trail in the San Gabriel Mountains
Mt. Hillyer Trail

Snow — if there has been snow — disappears quickly from the middle elevations of the San Gabriels this time of year. Activity increases with the rising snowline, as visitors eye their favorite trails and peaks.

I was driving up Hwy 2 to Three Points to do a run with Skye. In a normal year we would be doing the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Loop, but for the second time in 11 years, the trails in the Mt. Waterman area had been closed by a wildfire. In 2009, the Station Fire burned 160,557 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains, and just last year, the Bobcat Fire burned 115,796 acres. In several places, including Mt. Waterman, the Bobcat Fire burned terrain that had been burned in the Station Fire.

Coulter pine cone, heavy with resin
Coulter pine cone, heavy with resin

With entry prohibited in most of the Bobcat Fire burn area, the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman was out for now. Instead, we decided to do a segment of the traditional AC100 course from Three Points to Chilao, and then return to Three Points using the Silver Moccasin Trail.

Here’s an overview of both the Three Points – Mt. Hillyer Loop (yellow) and the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Loop (red). An overlay of the Bobcat Fire BAER Soil Burn Severity has ben added to the Google Earth image. The burn severity classes are high (red), moderate (yellow), low (light green), unburned/very low (dark green), and no data (black). Trail and placemark locations are approximate.

Trail runner on the PCT near Sulphur Springs Road
PCT near Sulphur Springs Road

On today’s run we followed the Pacific Crest Trail northbound from Three Points toward Sulphur Springs Trail Camp. Just before the camp, the PCT splits. We followed the left fork (uphill), and then around to the South Fork Little Rock Creek drainage and Sulphur Springs Road. The PCT parallels the road for about a half-mile, then crosses the road. At this point we left the PCT behind and continued up the road (5N04) to Alder Saddle and forest road 3N17. We continued left (south) on 3N17, bearing left on Santa Clara Divide Road at a fork, and going uphill to Rosenita Saddle.

At Rosenita Saddle we turned right (southwest) onto the Mt. Hillyer Trail. The trail starts at the back of a small parking area. The trail climbs to the high point of Mt. Hillyer, and then descends through large granite boulders in the Horse Flats bouldering area. (If you are a rock climber, bring your shoes!) The Mt. Hillyer Trail intersects the Silver Moccasin Trail near the Horse Flats Campground.

To add a little mileage and elevation gain, we turned right (south) on the Silver Moccasin Trail and continued to Chilao Campground. After saying hi to Chilao, we turned around and followed the Silver Moccasin Trail north, back to Three Points.

The trail run was a little over 13 miles, with a cumulative elevation gain of about 2100′. The high point was about 6200′, on Mt. Hillyer. The route-finding on the loop can be a bit tricky the first time around.

Two Sides of Strawberry Peak – Spring 2021 Update

Josephine Peak and Mt. Lukens from the northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak
Josephine Peak and Mt. Lukens from the northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak

The photo above — of Josephine Peak — is the reciprocal view of this photo of Strawberry Peak. The photo of Strawberry from Josephine shows the dogleg approach along the ridge that connects Josephine Saddle to the northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak.

Strawberry has always been popular, but because of the Pandemic and fire closures, there has been an increase in the number of people doing the peak. Not having done the peak for a couple of years, I was curious to see if the condition of the use trail on Strawberry’s northwest ridge had changed.

Google Earth image of Strawberry Peak from Josephine Peak, with GPS track of route from Josephine Saddle to summit
Google Earth image of Strawberry Peak from Josephine Peak, with GPS track

Given my early start, I was surprised to find the small parking area for the Colby Canyon Trail nearly full. I don’t know where all those people went, because I passed only one small group on the way to Josephine Saddle, and I didn’t see anyone between Josephine Saddle and the summit. There was a group on the summit, but they had hiked the trail from Red Box.

The last time I did the loop over Strawberry was April 2019. At that time sections of the use trail along the ridge leading to the upper northwest ridge of Strawberry were badly overgrown. This time around, increased usage has generally improved the path along the approach ridge. Plus, there has been some work done on the section of trail that was the most overgrown. However, to benefit, you have to stay on the trail. It wanders all over the place, and if you get impatient, you’ll be fighting your way through thick, thorny brush.

Upper northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak.
Upper northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak.

There was a little patchy snow on the steep, deeply shaded, north face of the peak. The snow was generally left of the normal rock climbing route up the northwest ridge. The patch or two on the route were easily avoided. Early or late season, this more technical section can be like a deep freezer. Today, it was cool, but comfortable. As mentioned in other posts, the steep, upper part of Strawberry’s northwest ridge requires good route-finding and some rock climbing skill. It is important to stay on route.

The steep section of the ridge ends a little below the top of Strawberry. I paused there for a moment to enjoy the view… Was that music I heard coming from the summit?

It was. The group that was on the summit was kind of encamped there. It looked like they might be a while, so I just said hi, and started down the east side of the peak.

I expected a lot of people to be on the trail up Strawberry from Red Box. It was busy, but seemed about normal for a Sunday in Spring with idyllic weather. There were fewer large groups coming up from Red Box than in April 2019.

Upper West Fork near Red Box following the Bobcat Fire
Upper West Fork near Red Box from the Strawberry Trail. Mt. Wilson is in the distance.

At Red Box I stopped to take a look at how the 2020 Bobcat Fire had impacted the upper part of the West Fork drainage. There was a substantial fire scar on the left side of the canyon, but the right side of the canyon looked better than I expected. An upcoming post will include an interactive 3D visualization of the Soil Burn Severity in the Bobcat Fire area, along with the GPS tracks of some popular trails.

For the first time in a long time, I didn’t encounter any mountain bikers on the Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Switzer’s. There were plenty of tire tracks, so I must have been between groups. I did encounter two misplaced hikers. They stopped me and asked how much farther it was to the falls. Unfortunately, they had gone the wrong direction on the trail from Switzer’s, and were several miles from Switzer Falls.

At Switzer’s, I chugged up the access road to Hwy 2, and then ran on the verge next to road back to the Colby Trailhead. Somehow, more cars were packed into the small parking area.

Starting and ending at the Colby Trailhead, the loop is a little over 12 miles with about 3200′ of elevation gain/loss. Starting at Clear Creek adds about a mile to the loop. Some prefer to do it as keyhole loop, returning to Josephine Saddle from Lawlor Saddle using the Strawberry and Colby Trails. I haven’t done it that way, but the mileage looks to be only slightly less than the full loop through Red Box.

Some related posts: Strawberry Peak

Redwoods, Raptors, and the Phantom Loop

Coast redwood near Century Lake in Malibu Creek State Park
A coast redwood stands above the other trees near Century Lake.

It was a chilly 45°F as I crossed algae-covered Malibu Creek on a foot-worn log. Following a brutally hot Summer with temps in the West San Fernando Valley reaching 121°F, the chill of the cold air felt especially good.

The plan was to do the Phantom Loop, but first, I was going to run over to the Forest Trail. The side trip was not only to check on the coast redwoods along the trail but to enjoy the calm beauty of the area. To say 2020 has been unsettling is like saying a rattlesnake bite is a little annoying — and the year isn’t over yet.

Coast redwood near the Forest Trail and Crags Road junction in Malibu Creek State Park
Coast redwood near the Forest Trail and Crags Road junction

After crossing the creek, I stopped to photograph the redwood near the junction of the Forest Trail and Crags Road. The sun had just risen, and behind the tree, orange-tinted sunlight illuminated the rocky ridge above the M*A*S*H site.

Continuing along the Forest Trail toward Century Lake, I counted four healthy-appearing redwoods and two struggling trees. Redwoods sometimes grow in a group of two or mote trees, and these were counted as a single “tree.” Near the end of the trail is a naturally-germinated redwood that has grown to about 5.5 inches in diameter. Remarkably, this young tree survived the 2011-2015 drought and the 2018 Woolsey Fire, and appears healthy!

I had just finished photographing the young tree when a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk flew from a nearby oak and through the trees along the trail. It landed on the limb of an oak ahead of me but was in deep shade. In a much-enlarged image, the bird looks like a Sharp-shinned Hawk, but distinguishing the two species can be challenging.

Red-tailed hawk atop a coast redwood in Malibu Creek State Park.
Red-tailed hawk atop a coast redwood.

A few yards down the trail, a much larger raptor — a Red-tailed hawk — was perched at the top of the tallest redwood. The huge bird had its wings pulled back to expose more of its body to the warming sun. It looked like a giant penguin sitting atop a tree. As I approached, it began to preen its feathers, comfortable with its lofty position.

With a sigh, I left the Forest Trail behind and returned to Malibu Creek. This time I crossed the creek on a plank near the washed-out bridge. This was a more direct route than the fallen tree upstream but only worked because the creek was low. At the crossing, a passing runner asked if he was on the Bulldog Loop. I assured him he was and was a little envious that he was getting to experience that excellent run for the first time.

Morning view of Goat Buttes in Malibu Creek State Park
Morning view of Goat Butte and stream course of Malibu Creek

As usual, Crags Road and the High Road were busy thoroughfares. The easy running under the sprawling coast live oaks was pleasant, and the morning view of Malibu Creek and Goat Buttes outstanding.

In a few minutes, I’d reached Mulholland Highway and then followed the Grasslands Trail to the Liberty Canyon Trail. From Liberty Canyon, the Phantom Trail gains about 750′ in elevation over about 1.5 miles to a high point and ridgeline with excellent views of Saddleback Peak, Las Virgenes Canyon, Brents Mountain, Goat Buttes, Castro Peak, Ladyface, and Boney Mountain.

The air quality this morning hadn’t been too bad. From up on the ridge, I could see there was far less smoke to the west of Las Virgenes Canyon than to the east. Yesterday, I’d done a run in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains and had to cut the run short because of smoke. That wasn’t a problem today, and the run had been a good one.

Some related posts: Coast Redwoods Along the Forest Trail, Urban Highlands, Saddle Peak from the Phantom Trail