Category Archives: nature|weather

Breezy San Bruno Mountain Ridge

Running along the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail

I staggered in the wind gust. It had to have been at least 45 mph. The views along the undulating ridge to the Bay were spectacular, but the wind was ferocious.

Hill on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail.
Hill on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail.

Brett and I were running on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail. We’d started at the summit parking lot and weren’t exactly sure where we were going to turn around. We’d know when we got to it.

The NWS forecast for San Francisco had called for “breezy” conditions:

.TODAY…Mostly cloudy in the morning then becoming partly
cloudy. Breezy. Patchy drizzle in the morning. Highs in the mid
50s to lower 60s. West winds 20 to 30 mph.

San Bruno Mountain Ridge above Sierra Point
Continuing down, down, down the ridge.

That forecast was for the city — and of course up on the peak the wind was even “breezier.” The SF Giants beanie I borrowed was the right call. So were the gloves, extra shirt and wind shell.

We continued along the ridge past the second set of loudly singing power lines and continued downhill. It became one of those, “let’s just go down to that next overlook,” and then the next one, and the next one. Not only were we losing a lot of elevation, but we’d be running into the wind on the way back.

San Bruno Mountain Ridge above the 101 and Sierra Point
San Bruno Mountain Ridge above the 101 and Sierra Point

We eventually turned around a little above Bayshore Blvd., at the “Sierra Point Reset” benchmark marked “487” on the topo map. As is often the case, the return wasn’t nearly as torturous as envisioned, but I was glad to get back to the car!

San Bruno Mountain is an invaluable island of open space, about 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco. For more information see the San Bruno Mountain Watch website.

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Diablo Trails Challenge 50K 2018

North Peak from the North Peak Trail. Mount Diablo Trails Challenge 50K.

Just 48 hours before the start of the Diablo Trails Challenge the temperature on Mt. Diablo’s summit was a chilly 31°F. Gray, wind-driven clouds shrouded the summit, propelled by 20-30 mph winds. Over the 10 days preceding the race, it had rained on four, and Concord had received about two inches of rain.

That’s the thing about Spring weather – a couple of days can make a huge difference. Today – race day – the sun is out, the hills are green and skies blue. Very little mud remains – the trails are in great shape and hills sprinkled with wildflowers. It’s the perfect day for a run on Mt. Diablo!

Diablo Trails Challenge 50K Elevation Profile
Diablo Trails Challenge 50K Elevation Profile

With around 7000′ of elevation gain/loss, the Diablo Trails Challenge 50K is characterized by its many ups and downs. The core of the 50K course is the 7 mile, 3000′ climb from the Curry Canyon Ranch aid station to Diablo’s main summit. But before you can enjoy this fine ascent, you have to get to Curry Canyon Ranch. And it’s on the other side of the mountain – about 12.5 miles away.

Along the way there are several get-your-feet-wet creek crossings and many hills. Following along on the map, the course works its way past Wall Point, Artist Point, Knob Point and finally Windy Point. Did I mention the course is hilly?

Somewhere around Mile 10 you get the first good view of Mt. Diablo and North Peak. The runner in front of me exclaimed, “Holy guacamole, is that what we are going to climb?” My choice of words were similar, but not quite as polite. Yes indeed, those were the peaks, and they loomed LARGE across the valley.

Mount Diablo and North Peak from Knobcone Pine Road.
Mt. Diablo (left) and North Peak

Elevation gained is so easily lost. After gaining about 2500′ on the way to Windy Point, a 1000′ descent leads to the Curry Canyon Ranch Aid Station. The climb of Diablo starts here, but you really don’t feel like you’re on the mountain until you reach South Gate Road and the Curry Point Aid Station, about three miles up the canyon. The grade in Curry Canyon is moderate and I tried to take advantage of that, knowing steeper terrain was ahead.

The Half-Marathoners joined the course at Curry Point — adding their enthusiasm and company – but they were soon headed back down, leaving us to cope with the Summit Trail all on our own.

“Jalapeño chip?,” I asked the runner hiking up the hill next to me. He smiled and said something like, “Maybe next time.” I did what I could to keep from constantly looking up at the summit. I munched on chips, talked to runners and hikers, read the “Trail Through Time” interpretive signs, looked at wildflowers and enjoyed the great views. As long as you keep putting one foot ahead of the other — and maybe smile from time to time – summits will eventually arrive.

Yahoo! The Summit Aid Station! There is almost no wind. In the sun it’s comfortably warm and in the shade comfortably cool. As at the other aid stations, the volunteers are great, helping me to get my hydration pack sorted and get me on my way. After seven miles of uphill, a little downhill is going to feel really good.

North Peak Trail near Devil's Pulpit.
North Peak Trail near Devil’s Pulpit.

The next few miles I’d done before and they are among the most interesting on the course. It helped to be familiar it – especially the notoriously steep section of North Peak Road, just before the summit. Everyone picks a different route. This time I stayed on the left going up and the right going down, and didn’t fall on my butt!

Once past the “slide” it didn’t take long to get down to Prospector’s Gap. I recalled that the running on the Bald Ridge Trail was excellent and wasn’t disappointed. At Meridian Ridge Road we left Bald Ridge and descended into Mitchell Canyon. At Deer Flat Creek, once again the course headed up. I couldn’t recall how long the climb was going to be, but it looked like we were going to have to work over a high ridge to get to the Castle Rock side of the mountain. The ridge turned out to be Moses Rock Ridge and the climb over it fit right in with the other hills on the course. Click, click goes the elevation-gained counter.

Most of the course is a big loop, but to access the peaks and aid stations there are four short out and back sections. You get to know the runners around you on these sections and we’d give each other encouragement as we passed. The runners around me were great and throughout the run we had many good conversations.

Then there was Burma Road. Somewhere around mile 26, I commented to another runner that we were running out of miles and at some point we were going to have to lose a lot of elevation. The Burma Road descent took care of that.

Many thanks to Jasmin and Sam of Brazen Racing for putting together such a superb event! And a BIG thank you to all the volunteers, ham operators, runners, park staff, sponsors and especially the Save Mount Diablo Foundation. I thoroughly enjoyed running on Mt. Diablo!

Here are a few photos taken along the way. More photos and all the results are available on the Brazen Racing web site.

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Running Between the Clouds

San Gabriel Peak, Mt. Disappointment and clouds from the Strawberry Peak Trail.

Unlike most of the rainy season, March rainfall has generally been above average in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Last Saturday I’d enjoyed a run in Pt. Mugu State Park following a few days of wet weather, and today my outing would be in the wake of the strongest storm to affect the  area since January.

I was in the San Gabriel Mountains, and doing a get-your-hear-rate-up combo run I did last year — ascending San Gabriel Peak and Strawberry Peak from Red Box. The duo are the two highest peaks in the Front Range of the San Gabriel Mountains and have been popular for many years.

The storm had been a warm one, with high snow levels, and I was surprised to find the morning temperature at Red Box in the mid-30s. The surface low and trough associated with the storm were still along the West Coast and the circulation was creating a strong southwesterly flow. This was pushing mostly benign mid-level clouds into the valleys and mountains. More picturesque than threatening, the clouds imparted a high mountain flavor to the surroundings.

Last year I’d done San Gabriel Peak first, so today I started with Strawberry. It’s the more difficult of the two peaks. The route to its summit is about a mile longer; it has a bit more elevation gain; and it includes a stretch on rough, steep, unmaintained trail. Of course, that’s part of its appeal.

The clouds were ever changing. While Strawberry Peak escaped most of the clouds, San Gabriel Peak was often obscured.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

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Poison Oak Along the Backbone Trail

Poison Oak Along the Backbone Trail

Even though rainfall in the Los Angeles area is way below average this rain season, some plants along our local trails — such as this poison oak — are flourishing.

Flowering poison oak along the Backbone Trail.
Flowering poison oak. Click for larger image.

The growth of plants is dependent on a mind-boggling mix of interrelated factors. Maybe it was the rain in January in combination with the unseasonably warm weather in January and February. Or maybe there was some carryover in vitality from last year’s wet rain season. Or maybe it was something else. Whatever the case, poison oak in the Santa Monica Mountains seems to be doing very well this year!

The title photo is of poison oak along the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail. It was taken March 10, 2018. Watch for overhanging branches!

Some related posts: Sweet Smell of Poison Oak, Find the Poison Oak, Large Poison Oak Leaves

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Leaving Winter Behind

Valley oak, sun and clouds. Photography by Gary Valle'.

The wind blew in erratic gusts and a few cold raindrops fell against my bare arms and legs. To the north and west were more active cells, and I could see the telltale gray-white curtains of heavy rain just a couple miles away. I’d extended my run, just to enjoy the energetic feeling.

Much of this Winter it has been dry and warm in Southern California, with only a pittance of rain in the key months of December and February. It hasn’t been just a little dry — July through February was the second driest in Los Angeles on record.

But by the vagarities of Mother nature, a shift to a wetter weather pattern has occurred in the Eastern Pacific, bringing much-needed rain to California. While it won’t erase the rainfall deficit in the Los Angeles area, some rain is definitely better than none!

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Sean O’Brien 50K Training Run

Rock outcrops of the Sespe Formation along the Mesa Peak Mtwy segment of the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.

I looked at the mileage on my Garmin watch — 11.93 miles. I was at Kanan Dume Road and debating whether to make Kanan my turnaround point. My run had started at Malibu Canyon Rd. & Piuma Rd., where I’d picked up the Sean O’Brien Trail Runs course at around mile 2. After crossing Malibu Creek, the 100K, 50M, 50K and Marathon courses all follow the Backbone Trail westbound from Malibu Canyon.

The ground had been spotted with raindrops as I started the nearly 3 mile, 1500′ climb out of Malibu canyon. Subtropical moisture was streaming in from the southwest and there was a broad swath of clouds over Southern California. There were scattered showers, but most of the rain was evaporating before it reached the ground. The last time it had rained was more than a month ago, and the smell of rain was intoxicating.

Mesa Peak Mtwy segment of the Backbone Trail.
A short downhill on Mesa Peak Mtwy before the next climb.. Click for larger image.

Two weeks ago I’d done this climb as part of a “reverse” Bulldog loop. It hadn’t become any less steep. Most of the climb is on a fire road and some of it is runnable — just how runnable depends on your VO2max, determination and inclination. It was a relief to reach the top and start running downhill, even if another climb loomed just ahead.

Rock gateway on the Backbone Trail east of Corral Canyon Rd.
Rock gateway on the Backbone Trail. Click for larger image.

Once to the top of this next climb, it is about a mile and a half to Corral Canyon. There are a couple of short ups and downs along the way and the rock formations become increasingly dramatic. Just east of Corral Canyon the Backbone Trail winds through a wonderland of rocks and pinnacles, climbing a steep sandstone ramp and passing through a rock gateway.

A tranquil spot along the Backbone Trail in Upper Solstice Canyon.
A tranquil spot along the Backbone Trail in Upper Solstice Canyon.

From Corral Canyon the Backbone Trail drops into Upper Solstice Canyon. Today, the 16 crossings of the small creek in the canyon were all dry. Someone had provided log seats under a sprawling oak at “heart” meadow. I had to stop for a moment just to enjoy its tranquility. On a run here in January several years ago, the area was covered in ladybugs.

Gate on Newton Mtwy on Castro Peak.
Gate on Newton Mtwy on Castro Peak. (Not on the Backbone Trail.)

The high point of the 50K course follows the climb out of Upper Solstice Canyon and is near the saddle at Newton Mtwy. Back in the day the Bulldog 50K used to climb up and over the shoulder of Castro Peak from the top of Bulldog; then descend to this saddle and continue to Corral Canyon on the Upper Solstice Canyon Trail. This 2004 Los Angeles times article describes why the road is now gated and private.

Hummingbird Sage along the Backbone Trail
Hummingbird Sage along the Backbone Trail

The day was a little warmer than expected and the shaded sections of trail in Newton Canyon were refreshingly cool. The dried out stalks of last year’s hummingbird sage were common along the trail and given the lack of rain, I was very surprised to find a plant that was blooming.

The Sean O’Brien Marathon turns around at Kanan Dume Road, which is what I should have done. That would have resulted in a pleasant 24 mile training run with a bit over 5000′ of gain. Instead I decided to continue west on the Backbone Trail and “just run down to the bridge” to see if there was any water in Zuma Creek. There wasn’t. The bridge also would have been a perfectly good turnaround point that would have netted a 26 mile run.

But it was one of those rare, long run kind of days where the mind and legs are in sync and the miles almost didn’t matter. I reasoned that the Sean O’Brien 50K turnaround was “only” another mile and a half away, so why not continue. That way I’d have an even better idea of what to expect on race day.

Runners descending Mesa Peak Mtwy into Malibu Canyon.
Descending Mesa Peak Mtwy into Malibu Canyon.

I did continue, and with the exception of running low on water, everything went well. At Latigo Canyon several runners had just returned to their cars and I was able to fill up my Camelbak(R). Thanks Lou! And thanks to the other runners at the trailhead for their offers of gels, beer and salt!

I’ve run that section of the Backbone Trail several times, but never as an out and back. I now understand why the times for the Sean O’ Brien 50K are a little longer than the typical 50K. For one thing the course is about 1.5 mile longer than a 50K. For another, it has a TON of elevation gain. Using the elevation profile from my fenix 3 and a 1/3 arc-sec DEM from the USGS, the hand-calculated elevation gain worked out to be around 6000′. Tack on another 500′ of gain to account for the Tapia Spur Trail and the total gain for the Sean O’Brien 50K works out to a stout 6500′, give or take.

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