As of March 1, Downtown Los Angeles had recorded only 1.99 inches rain over the past eight months. Most of that was recorded in one storm in early January. It was the second driest July 1 – February 28 on record.
Following the January storm, temperatures warmed up and stayed relatively warm for much of the next 30 days. In the West San Fernando Valley the high temperature hit 89 °F at Pierce College on February 4, and was over 80 °F for 12 consecutive days. Some plants (and some rattlesnakes) responded as if it was Spring.
In mid February Winter returned, with cool daytime temperatures and cold nights. There were Frost and Freeze Warnings on several nights.
In March the ridiculously resilient ridge of high pressure over the West Coast finally relented, resulting in above normal rainfall. It took awhile, but the March rain and April sun eventually produced an assortment of wildflowers.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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:
Click an arrow or swipe to advance to the next image or return to a previous image.
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 about 0.5 mile from the trailhead. July 29, 2017.
Mix of burned and scorched trees below Horse Meadow about 1.1 mile from the South Fork trailhead. July 29, 2017.
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 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), an invasive species, along the South Fork Trail. July 29, 2017.
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, in this case promoting the growth of southern goldenrod. July 29, 2017.
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. 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.
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. July 29, 2017.
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. July 29, 2017.
Chinquapin produces a nut, several of which are encased in each thorny burr.
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.
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. 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Paintbrush and yarrow along the South Fork Trail. July 29, 2017.
Sugarloaf Mountain (9952') from 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.