Category Archives: nature|wildfire

Fallen Oak

A large valley oak along Rocky Peak fire road that toppled following five years of drought.

The valley oak pictured above — one of the larger oaks along Rocky Peak fire road — toppled over in the summer of 2016 following five years of drought.

Fire and drought are a natural part of the valley oak’s habitat and the trees have evolved to withstand ordinary variations in their environment. However, severe fires or extended droughts, or fire in combination with drought can overcome the tree’s defenses.

The drought may have been the culminating factor in the felling of this oak, but fire and other factors may have also played a role.

Base of large valley oak along Rocky Peak fire road that toppled following five years of drought.
Base of large valley oak that toppled following five years of drought. Click for larger image.

According to the Fire Effects Information System (FEIS), the heart-rot fungus Armillaria mellea is usually present in valley oaks and larger oaks tend to be hollow or rotten in the center. The toppled oak was hollow near its base and its interior appears to have been blackened by fire. The FEIS describes instances where the decaying wood in the interior of older valley oaks could ignite in a fire, but leave the exterior bark uncharred.

What fire might have burned the tree? There are two possibilities: the 2008 Sesnon Fire and the 2003 Simi Fire. It probably wasn’t the Sesnon Fire — this photo of the tree, taken about a month after the Sesnon fire, shows little impact. I couldn’t find a photo of the tree following the Simi Fire, but photos taken nearby show a severely burned landscape.

Ultimately, it appears fire and drought weakened the tree, accelerating its heart rot and weakening its roots to the point it could no longer support itself.

Photos of the fallen tree are from this morning’s foggy run along Rocky Peak fire road.

Related post: Chumash Trail – Sesnon & Simi Fires

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Mt. Wilson Fire and Mt. Wilson Area Trails

October 2017 Mt. Wilson Fire and Mt. Wilson Area Trails

The Google Earth image above shows the VIIRS fire detections from the Wilson Fire. The data is from USDA Forest Service Geospatial Technology and Applications Center Active Fire Mapping Program. The square markers show the approximate location of yesterday’s detected fire activity. The markers do not indicate the areal extent of the fire. This Forest Service Briefing Map shows the completed line and uncontrolled fire line earlier today.

The fire started before dawn yesterday and according to a tweet from @Angeles_NF at 9:31 this morning was 25% contained and at 50 acres.

The yellow traces are GPS-based tracks of trails in the area. The tracks are subject to various errors and should be considered approximate.

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After the Lake Fire: The Dollar Lake – Dry Lake Loop on San Gorgonio Mountain

Dry Lake in the San Gorgonio Wilderness

The north side of San Gorgonio Mountain was closed in June 2015 when the Lake Fire burned approximately 31,359 acres of forest, chaparral, sage, pinyon and Joshua tree habitat at elevations ranging from about 10,700′ to 5350′. As a result of the determined efforts of firefighters, only one residence and some remote outbuildings were lost.

Of the 30,487 acres reviewed by the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team 4,327 acres (14%) were categorized as Unburned; 17,100 acres (56%) as having Low soil burn severity; 8,420 acres (28%) as having Moderate soil burn severity; and 640 acres (2%)with High soil burn severity. (Note that soil burn severity isn’t necessarily synonymous with fire intensity and fire effects such as tree loss.)

I’d been keeping an eye on the Alerts & Notices section of the San Bernardino National Forest web site to see if the Lake Fire closure order would be renewed. I was curious to see the extent and impacts of the Lake Fire and how the area was recovering. Plus, the Dollar Lake – Dry Lake keyhole loop is an outstanding trail run — one of the best in Southern California. In addition to climbing San Gorgonio Mountain (11,499′), it encompasses some of the most scenic areas on the peak.

The area’s trails reopened July 20. The weekend prior to the reopening San Gorgonio Wilderness Association volunteers worked on the South Fork and Dry Lake Trails, clearing a number of large trees, removing debris and other hazards and improving the trail tread.

A week and a half after the opening I pulled into the South Fork parking lot on Jenks Lake Road, excited to get on the trail. There was a slight chance of thunderstorms in the forecast, and I hoped to be off the summit and on my way down by 10:30 or 11:00.

Most of the run is in the San Gorgonio Wilderness and a wilderness permit is required. Check a map, but the general sequence of trails is the South Fork Trail, Dollar Lake Trail, Divide Trail, Summit Trail, Sky High Trail, Dry Lake Trail and then back down the South Fork Trail to the trailhead. This Google Earth image shows the western part of the Lake Fire burn area in relation to San Gorgonio Mountain and some of the area’s trails.

Here are a few photos taken during the run:

After the Lake Fire: The Dollar Lake - Dry Lake Loop (Slideshow)
Click an arrow or swipe to advance to the next image or return to a previous image.
Overview of the South Fork - Dollar Lake - Dry Lake loop through the western flank of the 31,359 acre 2015 Lake Fire
Overview of the western flank of the 31,359 acre 2015 Lake Fire burn area and FRAP fire history. The fire database showed two previous fires in the area -- a fire in 1950 (309 acres) and in 1951 (1412 acres). The yellow trace is the GPS track of my run.
Crown-sprouting California black oaks along the South Fork Trail following the Lake Fire
Crown-sprouting California black oaks along the South Fork Trail about 0.5 mile from the trailhead. July 29, 2017.
Mix of burned and scorched trees below Horse Meadow following the Lake Fire
Mix of burned and scorched trees below Horse Meadow about 1.1 mile from the South Fork trailhead. July 29, 2017.
Horse Meadows appeared to have escaped being burned in Lake Fire.
It was a close call at Horse Meadows, but the cabins and most of the trees appeared to be OK.
Post-fire understory regrowth above Horse Meadows.
Post-fire understory regrowth above Horse Meadows folowing the 2015 Lake Fire. The regrowth helps protect and promote the germination and growth of pine seedlings. July 29, 2017.
Woolly mullein (Verbascum thapsus) along the South Fork Trail.
Woolly mullein (Verbascum thapsus), an invasive species, along the South Fork Trail. July 29, 2017.
Prickly poppy blooming along the South Fork Trail following the 2015 Lake Fire
Prickly poppy blooming along the South Fork Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
The change in soil chemistry and other factors influence the growth of plants following a fire
The change in soil chemistry and other factors influence the growth of plants following a fire, in this case promoting the growth of southern goldenrod. July 29, 2017.
Southern goldenrod
Southern goldenrod.
The western part of the BAER Soil Burn Severity Map with my route highlighted. The full map can be found here. Of the 30,487 acres reviewed by the BAER Team 60% were categorized as either unburned (14%) or low soil burn intensity (56%).
Coyote tobacco along the South Fork Trail.
Coyote tobacco along the South Fork Trail. The flowers of the plant were open in the morning and closed in the afternoon. The plant changes the time of day the flowers are open to protect itself from hungry caterpillars that hatch from eggs deposited by pollinating moths.
Jeffrey pine struck by lightning and scorched by the Lake Fire.
A Jeffrey pine on the Dollar Lake Trail above South Fork Meadows on San Gorgonio Mountain that was previously struck by lightning and then scorched in the 2015 Lake Fire. This image from 2013 shows the size of the tree. July 29, 2017.
South Fork Meadows from the Dollar Lake Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain.
South Fork Meadows from the Dollar Lake Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
Dollar Lake Saddle from the Dollar Lake Trail about 5 miles from the South Fork Trailhead following the 2015 Lake Fire.
Dollar Lake Saddle from the Dollar Lake Trail about 5 miles from the South Fork Trailhead following the 2015 Lake Fire. July 29, 2017.
Regrowth of chinquapin along the Dollar Lake Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain following the 2015 Lake Fire.
Regrowth of chinquapin along the Dollar Lake Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain following the 2015 Lake Fire. July 29, 2017.
Chinquapin produces a nut, several of which are encased in each thorny burr.
Chinquapin produces a nut, several of which are encased in each thorny burr.
The 2015 Lake Fire burned a number of limber pines in the area of Dollar Lake Saddle.
Nearing Dollar Lake Saddle on the Dollar Lake Trail. The 2015 Lake Fire burned a number of limber pines in this area. July 29, 2017.
The south side of the mountain, between Dollar Lake Saddle and the summit of Gorgonio was not burned in the 2015 Lake Fire.
Continuing on the Divide Trail above the Little Charlton - Jepson saddle. At this point the elevation is about 10, 600' and it's about two miles to the summit of San Gorgonio.
View west from near the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain on July 29, 2017.
View west from near the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain on July 29, 2017. That small patch of snow was nearly gone a week later.
The final section of trail leading to the summit of 11, 499' San Gorgonio Mountain
The final section of trail leading to the summit of 11, 499' San Gorgonio Mountain, the highest peak in Southern California. There was only one other person on the summit at 10:45 a.m. He had ascended the peak via the Vivian Creek Trail.
San Jacinto Peak (10839') from the Sky High Trail on the south side of San Gorgonio Mountain.
San Jacinto Peak (10839') from the Sky High Trail on the south side of San Gorgonio Mountain.
Cumulus clouds were already beginning to develop over San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak when I left Gorgonio's summit at 10:45 a.m. and by 1:00 p.m. or so it was mostly cloudy. Thunder rumbled in the distance a couple of times.
Lodgepole pines along the Fish Creek Trail  killed by a bark beetle infestation
These lodgepole pines along the Fish Creek Trail were previously killed by a bark beetle infestation. Some of the dead trees were burned in the Lake Fire.
Dry Lake on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
Dry Lake on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
Creek crossing on the Dry lake Trail at South Fork Meadows,
Creek crossing on the Dry lake Trail at South Fork Meadows, near its junction with the Dollar Lake and South Fork Trails. July 29, 2017.
The 2015 Lake Fire consumed most of the downed trees in this avalanche path.
The Lake Fire consumed most of the downed trees in this avalanche path on the South Fork Trail south of Poopout Hill. Compare to this image of the avalanche path from 2013.
Paintbrush and yarrow along the South Fork Trail.
Paintbrush and yarrow along the South Fork Trail. July 29, 2017.
Sugarloaf Mountain (9952') from the South Fork Trail.
Sugarloaf Mountain (9952') from the South Fork Trail.
Goldenrod and penstemon along the South Fork Trail.
Goldenrod and penstemon along the South Fork Trail about a quarter-mile from the trailhead. July 29, 2017.

 

On this particular run I also wanted to check out the Fish Creek Trail and the “use trail” down to Lodgepole Springs and Dry Lake, so rather than continuing down the Dry Lake Trail from Mineshaft Saddle, I turned right (east) and followed the Fish Creek Trail to Fish Creek Saddle.

There were some downed trees and a lot of fire debris on the Fish Creek Trail. Extra care was required and I probably hiked as much of it as I ran. As I worked toward Fish Creek Saddle I could not tell how much of the canyon leading down to Lodgepole Spring had burned. The slopes on the southwest side of Grinnell Mountain had burned and some areas along the Fish Creek Trail had burned as well. Whether I descended to Lodgepole Spring from Fish Creek Saddle or returned to Mineshaft Saddle would be a judgment call.

Arriving at Fish Creek Saddle I was glad to see the forest was intact. The path down to Lodgepole Spring looked promising, but had not been used in some time. As it turned out most of the trees along the path had not burned. In places, runoff from the burned slopes above had resulted in some erosion and small flows of sandy soil. There were also the usual downed trees, but other than being a little challenging to follow, the path was generally OK.

I was nearly off the trail when the “chance of thunderstorms” forecast materialized into threatening gray clouds, a few sprinkles, and a couple of rumbles of thunder.

Some related posts: Running San Gorgonio: Dollar Lake – Dry Lake Variation, San Gorgonio Mountain: Dollar Lake – Dry Lake Trail RunLake Fire MODIS Fire Detections

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Pinos to Abel Plus

Western terminus of the Vincent Tumamait Trail.
Grouse Mountain from the Vincent Tumamait Trail near Cerro Noroeste Road

I was glad I didn’t turn around and head back to the car. At the beginning of the run smoke from the Whittier Fire (near Lake Cachuma) covered Mt. Pinos in an ugly shroud. Fortunately, a couple of hours into the run, the wind shifted to the north, removing the smoky veil and greatly improving the visibility and air quality.

Hikers on the Vincent Tumamait Trail near Mt. Pinos.
Hikers on the Vincent Tumamait Trail near Mt. Pinos.

Even it was smoky, at least the weather was cool. Following the torrid conditions at the Mt. Disappointment 50K the previous Saturday, and hot weather during the week, cool was good.

Mt. Pinos is often a good choice for escaping the triple digit heat of a Los Angeles heatwave. The elevation of the Chula Vista trailhead (8350′) is higher than the highest trailhead on Angeles Crest Highway — Dawson Saddle (7909′) and about 1000′ higher than the popular Inspiration Point (7370′) trailhead on the PCT.

Chumash spirit tower on Sawmill Mountain.
Chumash spirit tower on Sawmill Mountain.

My usual “Pinos to Abel” run starts at the Chula Vista trailhead and follows a dirt service road to the summit of Mt. Pinos (8831′). At the nearby wildlife viewing area it picks up the Vincent Tumamait Trail and heads west, taking a short detour to Sawmill Mountain (8818′) and the Chumash spirit tower, and then continues toward Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste). The trail ends at Cerro Noroeste Road, but a short climb up through the pine trees leads to the summit of Mt. Abel (8280+’) and Campo Alto. On the way back I usually run down the North Fork Trail to the spring at Sheep Camp, and sometimes extend the run by descending to Lily Meadows Camp (6250′).

Runners on the Vincent Tumamait Trail below Mt. Pinos.
Runners on the Vincent Tumamait Trail below Mt. Pinos.

It’s rare to see other runners doing the Pinos to Abel run. Dan and Dameon first passed me descending from Mt. Pinos. Our paths would cross several times over the course of the morning. They were running in the Mt. Pinos area for the first time and having a great time exploring the trails.

One of those times was on the top of Mt. Abel. They were thinking about hitting Grouse Mountain (8582′) on the way back to Pinos and asked about the route. The use trail to Grouse branches off the Vincent Tumamait Trail near a saddle ENE of the peak and about 0.3 mile west of the North Fork Trail junction. It leads to the northern summit of Grouse’s twin summits in about a quarter-mile.

Horse taking a drink at Sheep Camp.
What’s in the bag?

I didn’t do Grouse Mountain today, but did take the North Fork Trail down to Sheep Camp. Today, the plan was to just go a “little way” down the trail below Sheep Camp to see if a particular plant was flowering. Beyond Sheep Camp the North Fork Trail drops like a rock, and it turned into one of those, “I’ll just go a little farther down” kind of things. Before I came to my senses I’d lost nearly 1000′ in elevation while looking for the plant.

After chugging back up to the spring at Sheep Camp, I refilled my Camelbak(TM) and then continued up to the Vincent Tumamait Trail and headed east, retracing my steps to Mt. Pinos, and back to the trailhead.

Some related posts: Thunderstorm, Vincent Tumamait Trail

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