Category Archives: nature|wildfire

After the Bobcat and Station Fires: Three Points Loop Around Mt. Waterman

Mt. Waterman Trail

Most of the time, when I do a trail run in the San Gabriel Mountains, it starts from a trailhead along or near Highway 2 — Angeles Crest Highway.

There are many fine point-to-point and out-and-back runs along Hwy 2, but not very many loops. Of the handful of loops that are currently open and accessible, two start and end at Three Points.

One is the Three Points – Mt. Hillyer Loop and the other is the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman. The Three Points – Mt. Hillyer Loop was not affected by the Bobcat Fire and is described in this April 2021 post.

On the other hand, significant parts of the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman were burned in Bobcat Fire, and the trails that comprise the loop were closed until April of this year (2022).

A large area on Mt. Waterman was burned by both the Bobcat and Station Fires. This can be seen in this interactive , 3D terrain view the area. The Bobcat Fire is yellow and the Station Fire is red. Where they overlap near Mt. Waterman is orange.

The Three Points Loop is the loop I do most often in the San Gabriel Mountains. The basic loop, not including the side trip to the summit of Mt. Waterman, is about 20 miles long and has about 4000′ of gain/loss. The terrain and trails are varied and interesting, and Buckhorn Campground is conveniently placed near the halfway point of the course. Water is USUALLY — BUT NOT ALWAYS — available when the campground is open.

Doing the side trip to Mt. Waterman adds about 1.7 miles and 350′ of elevation gain. The side trip to Cooper Canyon Falls is even shorter — only about a quarter-mile.

Fire perimeters and burn severity maps don’t tell the whole the story, and I’ve been curious to see how the area was affected by the Bobcat Fire; how the Station Fire recovery is continuing; and how the area burned by both fires has fared.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of the Three Points Loop. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned using the navigation control on the right. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

This slideshow includes photos from the August 2022 run of the loop, as well as additional information.

Some related posts: Three Points Loop Adventure – July 2020, Bobcat Fire Perimeter and Some Angeles National Forest Trails, 3D Terrain View of Bobcat Fire Soil Burn Severity and Some Angeles National Forest Trails

Another Triple-Digit Sunday

Pt. Mugu State Park from Boney Mountain
Sycamore Canyon, Laguna Peak, and the Channel Islands from Boney Mountain.

Update on August 17, 2022. As of today, my West Hills weather station has recorded a high of 100 degrees or higher for 12 consecutive days. 

It was another triple-digit Sunday. Once again the high in the west San Fernando Valley was forecast to hit one-hundred and something. I’d hope to beat most of the heat by getting an early start and running where it wouldn’t be quite so hot.

I hadn’t been able to get out to Stoney Point Saturday morning, so was looking to do a little easy climbing as part of my Sunday run. I was considering three options: Topanga Lookout Ridge, Strawberry Peak, and Boney Mountain.

Boney Mountain from connector trail above Danielson Road
Boney Mountain from connector trail above Danielson Road

While none of the three are difficult by rock climbing standards, all require the use of handholds and footholds, good route-finding skills, and good judgment. It is entirely possible to fall on any of them.

The Topanga Lookout Ridge loop is about 8.5 miles long with 2000′ of gain/loss. There are a few short climbing segments on the crest of the ridge that can be accessed from the  use trail.

The basic loop up the Western Ridge of Boney Mountain and over Tri Peaks to the Backbone Trail and back to Wendy Drive is about 15.5 miles long with 3400′ of gain/loss. It is longer and more difficult than  the Topanga Lookout Ridge loop.

The loop over the top of Strawberry Peak from the Colby Canyon Trailhead is about 12 miles long with 3100′ of gain/loss. There is some class 2/3 climbing on the west side of Strawberry, and it is essential to stay on route. There have been a number of rescues of those attempting to climb the peak.

View along the top of Boney Mountain's western escarpment.
View along the top of Boney Mountain’s western escarpment.

It was a few minutes past six when I pushed the start button on my Garmin and jogged down the hill from the trailhead at Wendy Drive. I’d run about a half-mile when I heard another runner behind me. We chatted for a couple minutes and I learned he was preparing to do the Wonderland Trail around Rainier and then the Bear 100.

We were both going to the same area, but by different routes. I was climbing Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge and then working over to the Backbone Trail. He was doing an out and back to Sandstone Peak via Upper Sycamore, Sycamore Canyon, and the Backbone Trail. We would run into each other again at the Danielson Multi-Use Area on the way back to Wendy Drive.

Morning shadows on Boney Mountain's western escarpment
Morning shadows on Boney Mountain’s western escarpment

As always, the climb up the Western Ridge (Mountaineer’s Route) was enjoyable. The rock climber in me always wants to check out potential lines, but this morning there wasn’t much time for that. The longer it took to get up Boney, the hotter it was going to be later in the run!

The temperature was already in the eighties when I reached the Backbone Trail. Before the fires and floods of past decade,  the run down the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail was one of the better running descents in the Santa Monica Mountains. From the Tri Peaks Trail junction to the Old Boney Trail it drops about 1500′ over three miles. Today, except for the stretch of trail near Chamberlain Rock, it was nearly back to its original form.

Holly-leaved cherries along the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail
Holly-leaved cherries along the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail

As in other areas of the Santa Monica Mountains, the effect of the heavy December rains was evident. The red shanks, and chaparral in general, seemed to be greener. This year there is a bumper crop of holly-leaved cherries, which must make the coyotes happy. Unlike last year, it looks like there should be some Christmas berries this Winter, since a number of Toyon were covered in green berries.

On the way down the Chamberlain Trail I started to fret that the water at Danielson might not be turned on. The water faucets in Sycamore Canyon are usually dependable, but on a run a few years ago the water system was turned off for servicing. Or what if there had been a drought-related water supply issue?

It turned out the water was still on, and I drank a lot of it. The remainder of the run went well, although I was a little surprised that the sensor on my pack recorded temps in the nineties in Sycamore Canyon. I had expected the south-facing stretch on Danielson road to be torrid, but a nice breeze kept the temperature tolerable.

Some related posts: Looking for Boney Mountain, Looking for Boney Bluff, Orange Sun Rising – A Boney Mountain Adventure Run

Regrowth of Trees Along the PCT Following the 2002 Curve Fire

Young pines along the PCT about five miles east of Islip Saddle in an area burned by the 2002 Curve Fire
Tree regrowth along the PCT about five miles east of Islip Saddle

The Curve Fire started on Labor Day Weekend 2002, along Highway 39 in the San Gabriel Mountains. Between Mt. Islip and Throop Peak, the fire burned over the crest and down to Angeles Crest Highway. Between Throop Peak and Mt. Baden-Powell, the fire generally burned up to, but did not breach the crest.

Dead trees on a ridge west of Mt. Hawkins that were burned in the 2002 Curve Fire
Dead trees on a ridge west of Mt. Hawkins that were burned in the 2002 Curve Fire

The Curve Fire killed many trees, including some large, old-growth trees. The most common species along the trail between Mt. Islip and Throop Peak are white fir, Jeffrey pine, sugar pine, and lodgepole pine. Incense cedar also grows in the area, and limber pine is found on and to the east of Throop Peak. Here is a cross-section of a tree along the PCT about 3.0 miles from Islip Saddle. It is representative of the older trees killed in the Curve Fire.

Prior to the Curve Fire, the FRAP geodatabase of California fires has no record of a large fire that burned along the crest of the San Gabriels between Mt. Islip and Mt. Baden-Powell. The FRAP record extends back to the early 1900s, when the San Gabriel Timberland Reserve became Angeles National Forest. A study of mercury levels in Crystal Lake and newspaper accounts suggest the possibility that a large fire occurred in this area in 1878, or about 124 years before the Curve Fire.

I’ve run and hiked the PCT between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell for many years, so have had the opportunity to follow the regrowth of conifers where the Curve Fire burned over the crest. Studying conifer regrowth in this area can provide insights into regrowth in the 2009 Station Fire and 2020 Bobcat Fire burn areas, and in areas burned by more than one of these fires.

The locations of the stands are shown in this Google Earth image, along with the areas burned by the Curve and Bobcat Fires. Of these four areas, Stand #1 is the only one burned by the Curve Fire and Bobcat Fire.

Stand #1

A June 2020 photo of conifer regrowth after the 2002 Curve Fire. These trees were obliterated by the Bobcat Fire.
A June 2020 photo of conifer regrowth after the 2002 Curve Fire. These trees were obliterated by the Bobcat Fire.

This stand of young Jeffrey pines looked very healthy in June 2020. The area is about 1.5 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT, at an elevation of about 7440 ft. At that time a tree adjacent to the trail stood well overhead.

I almost ran past this area in July 2022. I had to double-check the mileage on my watch. Where were the trees? Here is a comparison of the area before and after the Bobcat Fire.

The young trees were more vulnerable than the mature trees in the area. Eighteen years of Curve Fire regrowth were completely obliterated.

Stand #2

This area of young trees is between Windy Gap and Peak 8426, about 3.0 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT, at an elevation of about 7900 ft. Some old-growth Jeffrey pines were killed here. This is what the area looked like on May 30,  2010.

Now the size of the trees ranges from seedlings a few inches tall to this very robust Jeffrey pine that is well over head height.

Stand #3

An assortment of young conifers growing along the PCT west of Mt. Hawkins in an area burned by the 2002 Curve Fire
An assortment of young conifers growing along the PCT west of Mt. Hawkins

This area of young trees is on broad ridge, west of Mt. Hawkins, about 4.2 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT. The Curve Fire ran down the ridge to Hwy 2, killing hundreds of trees. The elevation at the PCT is about 8500 ft.

Stand #4

This area of young trees is on a south-facing slope, just west of Throop Peak, about 5.1 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT. The elevation is about 8900 ft. Because of its aspect, the new trees are taller than in the other areas photographed. Here’s what this area looked like in May 2012, June 2016, and July 2022.

Some related posts: Did Lightning Start the 2002 Curve Fire, 3D Terrain View of Bobcat Fire Soil Burn Severity and Some Angeles National Forest Trails

Poodle-dog Bush Along the PCT Near Islip Saddle

Poodle-dog Bush along the Pacific Crest Trail near Islip Saddle with Mt. Williamson in the background.
Poodle-dog Bush along the Pacific Crest Trail near Islip Saddle with Mt. Williamson in the background.

Nope, my eyes weren’t deceiving me, the hiker was carrying his full-size poodle up the trail.

I was running down the PCT, east of Islip Saddle, after a run/hike to Mt. Hawkins and Throop Peak. I’m guessing the hiker was carrying his dog to keep it out of the Poodle-dog Bush on both sides of the trail.

Poodle-dog bush along the PCT above Islip Saddle in the San Gabriel Mountain
Poodle-dog bush along the PCT above Islip Saddle

Poodle-dog Bush (Eriodictyon parryi) is a fire-follower that can cause severe dermatitis in some people. In this case the plants sprouted following the 2020 Bobcat Fire.

The last big outbreak of Poodle-dog Bush followed the 2009 Station Fire. At that time many people were unfamiliar with its potential effects, and were caught off-guard.

The plant can get you in a couple of ways — the plant’s resin can affect sensitized people in a manner similar to poison oak, and the plant’s numerous hairs can break off and irritate the skin.

My experience with Poodle-dog Bush is described in the posts Contact Dermatitis from Eriodictyon parryi – Poodle-dog Bush and Getting Over Poodle-dog Bush Dermatitis.

Additional related posts: Trail Runners Describe Reactions to Poodle-dog Bush, Poodle-dog Bush Near the Top of the Mt. Wilson Trail

Rabbitbrush Along the PCT Near Mt. Hawkins

Rubber rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) along the PCT, near Mt. Hawkins

From mid Summer into Fall, the vibrant yellow flowers of rabbitbrush add a refreshing hit of color to the greens, grays, and browns of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The title photo was taken along the PCT, at an elevation of about 8600′, near Mt. Hawkins. The area was burned in the 2002 Curve Fire. Here, and elsewhere in the burn area, new trees — now in their teens — are slowly replacing some of the trees lost in the fire.

Related post: Bumblebee Feeding on Rabbitbrush

After the Palisades Fire – Snake Tracks and Monkeyflowers

Rattlesnake track on Eagle Springs Fire Road following the May 2021 Palisades Fire

The rattlesnake track above was one of several snake tracks on Eagle Springs Fire Road this morning. This area, which is below Eagle Rock in Topanga State Park, was severely burned in the May 2021 Palisades Fire.

This photo of a blooming bush monkeyflower in the same area underscores the resilience of the chaparral biome.

Some related posts: Trippet Ranch Loop After the Palisades Fire, Palisades Fire Perimeter and Some Area Trails