Several segments of the Backbone Trail are spectacular and have superb scenery, but one of my favorites is the stretch between the Encinal Canyon and Mishe Mokwa Trailheads. Accentuated by dramatic rock faces and outcrops, expansive mountain views are at every turn.
Done as an out and back run, the 21-mile route has a modest 2500′ of elevation gain. This translates to a relatively moderate and runnable course with more than 18 miles of single-track.
I had not run this stretch since the Woolsey Fire ravaged the Simi Hills and western Santa Monica Mountains, a little more than a year ago. While I was discouraged to see the burned limbs of what had been 8′-12′ tall red shanks, it was heartening to see that the area was recovering, and was no longer a barren and blackened “moonscape.”
The view above is from the John’s Meadow Trail, a circuitous trail that winds its way through a less-traveled part of the San Gorgonio Wilderness.
The prominent canyon in the photo is home to Forsee Creek. During the last ice age, it held one of San Gorgonio’s small glaciers. I’d just crossed the Forsee Creek a few minutes before, and in a few hours would run past its source high on the crest — Trail Fork Springs.
The peak at the head of the canyon is East San Bernardino Peak (10,691′). Its summit marks the crest of the divide and the location of the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail. That’s where I was headed, but the path would be anything but direct.
From the Forsee Creek crossing at 7270′, the John’s Meadow Trail climbs about 1000′ in 2.3 miles to join the Divide Trail at “wheelbarrow junction,” about 5 miles west of East San Bernardino Peak. From that point I worked up the popular and scenic Divide Trail, visiting Limber Pine Bench (9330′), Washington Monument (10,290′), and San Bernardino Peak (10,649′) along the way to East San Bernardino Peak.
Using this roundabout — but very scenic — route, it took me about the same time to reach San Bernardino Peak from the Forsee Creek Trailhead as it does to do San Gorgonio Mountain from the South Fork Trailhead. From San Bernardino Peak it’s a little less than a mile to East San Bernardino Peak and from there only about 0.75 mile to the lateral to Trail Fork Springs.
From the westernmost Trail Fork Springs junction with the Divide Trail the theme was downhill, downhill, and more downhill — about 3800′ of downhill over 6.7 miles.
The running on the Forsee Creek Trail was generally very good. I was glad I did the loop counterclockwise. The John’s Meadow Trail and its extension are enjoyably primitive — they appear to be “use” trails that have evolved over time. On the other hand, the Forsee Creek Trail is a constructed trail. It was designed as a pack trail, so is generally well-behaved. Great for going down, but a long haul up with a heavy pack!
Note: Water is generally more reliable and accessible on the John’s Meadow Trail than on the Forsee Creek Trail. Trail Fork Springs and Jackstraw Springs are seasonal water sources that may not have water. Check with the Mill Creek Ranger Station for the current conditions and more info.
Following our five year drought, Downtown Los Angeles and many neighboring areas recorded above-average rainfall in two of the last three rain years. This has had obvious and observable effects on the area’s plants and animals and aided in the ongoing recovery of habitats affected by drought and wildfire.
This is the first time since the Summer of 2011 that there has been flowing water in upper Las Virgenes Creek in mid-July at the crossing near the Cheeseboro connector. It’s just a trickle, but keep in mind that during some of the drought years, this section of upper Las Virgenes Creek never flowed.
Update November 19, 2019. Increased surface water and pooling in Upper Las Virgenes Creek. See the post Running Into Fall.
Update August 28, 2019. The surface flow of Upper Las Virgenes Creek near the Cheeseboro connector is down to a bare trickle and some small pools.
Update August 7, 2019. Upper Las Virgenes Creek is still trickling.
Notes: In rain year 2016-17 Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded 19.00 inches of rain from July 1 to June 30, and in 2018-19, 18.82 inches. During the intervening rain year, 2017-18, only 4.79 inches was recorded.
The Mt. Wilson – Chantry Flat loop is a favorite that I run a couple times a year. Including a little bonus mileage to get to the Mt. Wilson parking lot before the gate opens, the run is about 18 miles long and gains/loses about 4500′ of elevation. The main trails in the loop are the Rim Trail, Gabrielino Trail, Upper Winter Creek Trail and Mt. Wilson Trail.
The weather was perfect for today’s run. Sunny at the beginning, then partly cloudy for the 4000′ climb from the “green bridge” below Chantry to the parking lot on Mt. Wilson. Although there was a lot of poison oak on the Rim and Gabrielino Trails, it was mostly avoidable. About 30 minutes into the run, I was surprised to hear the unmistakable gobble and rustling of a wild turkey high on the Rim Trail.
Near the end of the loop, on the section of the Mt. Wilson Trail above the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, I saw two solo hikers brush against new, vigorously growing patches of Poodle-dog bush (Eriodictyon parryi). I spoke to them, and they were unaware that, like poison oak, Poodle-dog bush can cause an itchy rash. Some people don’t react at all to the plant and others can have a severe reaction. My own experience is described in this post.
One day while running at Ahmanson Ranch, I was admiring the stately limbs of a large valley oak, and noticed that along the margin of the canopy were several sapling oaks. As I continued my run, I found that only a few other valley oaks hosted a brood of young trees.
That oaks would sprout on the margin of the canopy made sense. There is an abundance of acorns at the ends of the limbs. It is also where water drips from the oak’s leaves on foggy days or when there is light rain or drizzle. The mix of sun and shade on the edge of the canopy is the perfect place for a young oak to thrive.
The surprise came when I took a closer look at the young trees. Most were valley oaks — the same as the shepherding tree — but in some cases the young trees were coast live oaks! And sometimes there was no obvious parent coast live oak nearby.
Of course, there are plenty of coast live oaks at Ahmanson and several ways for their acorns to find their way under a valley oak. Birds and squirrels love to stash acorns, and gravity is good at moving round things downhill.
Time is at a different scale for a tree. In my mind’s eye I accelerated time and watched as the young oaks surrounding a guardian oak grew in stature. Fire sweeps through the frame on several occasions. During one fire the old brood tree collapses and in another fire, the collapsed tree disappears from the frame. Of the young oaks that have survived, one dominates, spreading its limbs and growing large and robust. Along the margins of its canopy, I can see several sapling oaks…
Note: The young oaks in the title photo are an older brood that survived the Woolsey Fire, but many younger sapling oaks were killed. Introduced grasses, black mustard, and other introduced plants produce higher fuel loads than native equivalents and increase fire mortality.
The sun had not yet risen and the poppies along Danielson Road were still tightly furled against the morning’s chill. The purl of Upper Sycamore Creek resonated in the canyon below — a wonderful tone that in recent years has too often been squelched by drought.
I was running to the Old Boney Trail and the start of the ridge that follows along Boney Mountain’s western escarpment to the massif’s huge summit plateau. Several of the Santa Monica Mountains highest peaks are on this plateau, including the range’s highest peak, Sandstone Peak.
In December I’d climbed this route to check the impact of the Woolsey Fire on the area. From the top of the ridge I’d been disheartened by what I saw. Tri Peaks and Sandstone Peak and much of the top of the Boney Mountain massif were a blackened, barren mess.
Now, three months later, I was headed back to Boney Mountain and would continue to Sandstone Peak for the first time since the fire.