The Google Earth image above shows a recent perimeter for the 2018 Woolsey Fire along with GPS tracks of the Backbone Trail and some other trails in the region. The Hill Fire perimeter and 2013 Springs Fire perimeter (purple area) are also shown. Trail and placename locations should be considered approximate. Here is a larger version of the map.
The perimeter was was downloaded from GEOMAC and timestamped November 18, 2018 at 5:59 a.m. If the timestamp of the perimeter of the displayed map doesn’t match, try refreshing/reloading this page. The perimeter has been refined and the acreage is a slightly less than previously specified.
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.
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.
This morning’s run from Mt. Wilson started with striking views of the Southern California’s mountains from the Rim Trail. An extensive marine layer heightened the contrast between the highlands and the lowlands, with peaks such as Mt. Baden-Powell, Mt. Baldy and Monrovia Peak standing starkly above the ocean of clouds. Beyond Mt. Baldy, San Gorgonio Mountain could be seen, more than 75 miles distant.
The Rim Trail connects Mt. Wilson (5710′) to Newcomb Pass (~4100′). A trail and firebreak between Mt. Wilson and Newcomb Pass are shown in the 1934 “Advance Sheet” for the the first USGS 1:24000 map of the area, the Mt. Wilson Quadrangle. The route of the trail depicted in the finalized 1939 edition of the map is essentially the same as the Rim Trail today.
The somewhat primitive and adventurous character of the Rim Trail makes it a favorite. Most often I run the Rim Trail as the first leg of a loop that follows the Gabrielino Trail down to Chantry Flat and then returns to Mt. Wilson on the Upper Winter Creek and Mt. Wilson Trails.
Today, instead of turning right at Newcomb Pass toward Chantry Flat, I turned left on the Gabrielino Trail, . This leads down to Devore Camp — an isolated trail camp along the W.F. San Gabriel River. (Think creek!) From Devore Camp the Gabrielino Trail is followed up-canyon to West Fork Camp and then to the Kenyon Devore Trail. The Kenyon Devore Trail is then used to get back up to Mt. Wilson. There are other variations as well.
While the Gabrielino Trail between Spruce Grove and Chantry Flat is one of the most used in the range, the Gabrielino Trail between Newcomb Pass and West Fork is a rustic trail that sees far less use. On previous outings, I had not seen anyone on this segment of the trail. Today, I was surprised to find a backpacker at Devore Camp. I had to laugh when the first thing he said was, “Man, there is a lot of poison oak around here!”
The weather was surprisingly cool for a Memorial Day weekend in the San Gabriel Mountains. At Three Points (5925′) the temperature was a brisk 43°F when I started my run, and it remained in the 40s as I worked up the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail toward Twin Peaks and Mt. Waterman. The trail from Three Points is a long-time favorite and part of an adventurous — and scenic — 20 mile loop around Waterman Mountain.
In 2009 the Station Fire ran up the ribs and gullies of the south face of Mt. Waterman, ravaging some slopes, but leaving others untouched. Many trees were killed, including some old growth incense cedars and Jeffrey pines. On a run in March 2017 I counted more than 40 dead trees down on the trail. At that time a few trees had already been cleared from the trail and in the following months many more would be.
One particularly hard hit area is about a half-mile west of the Twin Peaks Trail junction. Last Summer dead trees blocked the trail in this area and in places were stacked one on top of another. The title photo is of the same area after the trail was cleared.
On this run the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail was almost entirely clear of trees and in the best condition I’ve seen since the Station Fire. Many thanks to Alan and the SoCal Hikers & Trail Builders for restoring this trail!