Category Archives: nature|clouds

Chumash Clouds

Sunset view of Simi Valley, with Boney Mountain and Conejo Mountain in the distance.

Clouds moving onshore ahead of a low pressure system that is expected to produce rain in Southern California Christmas Eve into Christmas Day. Track of the low is now projected to be a little more to the west, so the heaviest rain may occur just offshore.

From an out and back run yesterday to “fossil point” via the Chumash Trail and Rocky Peak fire road. View is of Simi Valley, with Boney Mountain and Conejo Mountain in the distance.

Clearing Clouds from Sage Ranch

Clearing clouds, northwest of Los Angeles, following the passage of an upper low storm system that resulted in widespread rainfall in Southern California.

Clearing clouds, northwest of Los Angeles, following the passage of an upper low storm system that resulted in widespread rainfall in Southern California. Several rainfall records for November 26 were broken in Los Angeles County.

Update 12/5/08 P.M. High amplitude flow continues to wreak havoc with forecasts. Our on-again, off-again chance of a shower this weekend might be on again. Original cut-off upper low center is still well offshore, but another low center has developed on the downstream side of high amplitude ridge, and this one is much closer to the Southern California coast. The low appears to be entraining some moisture, and could produce some showers, particularly as the low moves onshore and is absorbed in the main flow. We’ll see!

Update 12/5/08 A.M. No rain is expected in SoCal this weekend… The cut-off upper low set up much further west than suggested by models Tuesday and now is spinning out in the eastern Pacific, nearly halfway to Hawaii. At the moment, it looks like it could be mid-month before our next chance for significant rain.

Update 12/2/08. Computer models have been having a tough time with both the short and medium term forecasts for Southern California. Recent runs have been hinting at the possibility of some rain Saturday or Sunday. This would depend on the strength, position and behavior of an upper low that is forecast to form off the Southern California coast Thursday.

From a run at Sage Ranch Park, near Simi Valley, California.

Three Points Loop Plus Mt. Waterman

If you spend much time in the mountains, sooner or later you’re going to get caught in a severe thunderstorm. I don’t mean you’re going to hear a little thunder and get a little wet. I mean you’re going to find yourself in the middle of a heart-pounding, ear-splitting, ozone-smelling, sense-numbing storm that drenches you through and through and wrings the nerves from your body.

Having been caught in such thunderstorms while climbing in Yosemite, running in the San Gabriels, and running at Mt. Pinos, I do my best to avoid the beasts. Sometimes, it is not an easy thing to do.

Take this weekend for example. I have a 50K race coming up, and in addition to increasing my weekday mileage, I needed to do a Sunday run of about 20-25 miles — preferably in the mountains.

The Sierra was out. A monsoon pattern virtually assured widespread, and possibly severe, thunderstorms. Some forecast models were saying that the focus on Sunday might be the Ventura County mountains, so Mt. Pinos — the site of my most recent thunderstorm adventure — was also out. Both San Gorgonio and San Jacinto had been hit pretty hard on Saturday. That left the San Gabriels, and thunderstorm activity was expected there as well.

The choices were A — get up really early and try to beat the heat and humidity and run local; or B — get up really early and try to get in a mountain run before the weather OD’d…

Running up the Mt. Waterman Trail, one of my ever-optimistic running partners voiced, “Hey, have you heard about the unusual number of lightning deaths recently?” So far it had been a spectacular day. A broken layer of mid-level clouds — remnants of yesterday’s storms — shrouded the sky. By keeping things a little cooler, the clouds had delayed the development of today’s thunderstorms.

We had started at Three Points and run up the Pacific Crest Trail to Cloudburst Summit, then down into Cooper Canyon, where we left the PCT and ascended the Burkhart Trail to Buckhorn Campground. In Cooper Canyon it was obvious there had been heavy rain the day before. Everything was wet, and the willows and lupines along the creek glistened in the muted morning sun. Rivulets of rainwater had incised rills in the trail, pushing pine needles and other debris into patterned waves.

I had already lost the “when it would start raining” bet. I had said 11:00. It was 11:00 now, and still there was very little cloud development. So little in fact, we decided to do a quick side trip to Mt. Waterman (8038′), and jokes were being made about the rain gear in my pack. (My GoLite 3 oz shell made a huge difference in the severe thunderstorm on Mt. Pinos.)

About the time we summited Waterman, things started to cook. The canopy of protective clouds was beginning to thin and dissipate and some cumulus cells were starting to build. I wondered if we would make it back to the car before it dumped.

We didn’t. About 30 minutes later, as we worked down the back side of Mt. Waterman toward the junction with the Twin Peaks trail,  we heard our first grumbling of thunder. In another 30 minutes it started to rain; slowly at first, with large icy drops, then building in intensity, as prescribed in long established thunderstorm protocols. Periodic claps of thunder echoed overhead, and to the north and east.

About 3 or 4 miles of trail remained. Here, the trail winds in and out of side-canyons and for the most part is well below the main ridge, but at some points it is very exposed. Minutes before, we had run past a lightning scarred Jeffrey Pine. Burned and blackened, the bolt had killed the tree. I pick up the pace and try to put the tree out of mind.

It rained hard for a while and then the intensity diminished. The air temperature didn’t drop and the wind wasn’t strong. It seems most of the lightning is cloud-to-cloud and away from us. I’m drenched, but happy — instead of being fierce and frightful, this thunderstorm has been almost puffy-cloud friendly.

In steady rain, we cross Hwy 2 and jog up the trail toward the Three Points parking lot (5920′). As we near our cars, we’re startled by a loud boom of thunder directly over our heads — a not so gentle reminder that thunderstorms come in all sizes, and none come with a guarantee.

Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of the loop, including the side trip to the summit of Mt. Waterman.

Some related posts: Manzanita Morning, Three Points – Mt. Waterman Loop

Clearing Clouds on Boney Mountain

Clearing clouds on Boney Mountain in Southern California's Santa Monica Mountains.

Clouds still covered the rocky summit of Boney Mountain as we scrambled up the steep trail on its northern flank. A few hours before a weak front had passed through the area, thickening the clouds and generating a few showers.

Now the clouds were lifting and dissipating, and the just-bathed chaparral glistened in the intermittent sun. This morning, like many mornings in recent weeks, was remarkable. The mountains were alive with the color and vitality of Spring. Purple shooting stars and wild hyacinth adorned the trail, and groves of manzanita and red shanks shone electric green in the warm light.

What better way to begin a day?

Related post: Boney Mountain – Big Sycamore Canyon Circuit

Google search: $g(landscape photography), $g(trail running), $g(Boney Mountain), $g(red shanks)

Strawberry Peak Traverse

Josephine Peak from the northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak.

When I broke through the top of the stratus layer, bright sun glared from the jagged granitic rocks along the ridge. To the west, Josephine Peak (5558′) was nearly immersed in an ocean of clouds.

The route I was doing was a variation of the Strawberry Peak Circuit described in the posting Spring Growth. Instead of going around the peak on the Colby Trail, this 13-mile loop climbs up and over Strawberry’s summit (6164′), ascending the class 3 northwest ridge, and then rejoins the circuit at Lawlor Saddle. Although a couple of miles shorter than the circuit around the peak, this route has more elevation gain, and the class 2 and class 3 sections of the ridge require careful route-finding.

Class 2, class 3 – what’s that about? Basically, class 1 is hiking, class 2 is easy scrambling where the hands are used for balance, and class 3 is when the scrambling gets serious, and handholds are required. Another element of class 3 climbing is that staying on route can be important. Deviating from an established route may significantly increase the difficulty or hazard. This is certainly the case on the northwest ridge of Strawberry.

Like much of the San Gabriel Mountains, the rocks of Strawberry Peak are old and fractured. Large landslides have originated from the northwest face of the peak. (The Colby Trail passes through the moraine-like debris of one of these slides.) Because of its friable nature, extra care is required when climbing the northwest ridge. Hand or footholds can break, or footing can be lost on a sandy shelf. Or, as described in a story by pioneering aerodynamicist Paul MacCready, the climber can be trapped in a situation where they cannot climb up or down.

The northwest ridge of Strawberry is by far the most frequently climbed class 3 route in the San Gabriel Mountains. Done with care and appropriate skill, the climbing on the ridge can be an enjoyable and unique experience.

On the summit ridge, I admired the steep northwest face of Strawberry Peak as it plunged through the morning shadows to Strawberry Potrero nearly 1500′ below. Did I hear voices down there, or was it just the wind…

Here are a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of the route.