It was a little past 3:00 in the afternoon when I passed this straight-backed wooden chair along an Ahmanson Ranch trail. The Tempe thermometer clipped to my pack read over 100 degrees.
It gets REALLY hot at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve). In the direct sun the temperature can be 10°F-15°F hotter than in the shade, and there is very little shade at Ahmanson. In-the-sun temperatures of 100°F or more are common in the Summer but can occur just about any time of the year.
There are two weather stations I use to get an idea of the weather conditions at Ahmanson Ranch — the Cheeseboro RAWS and Valley Circle Estates Weather Underground station. Weather station thermometers are usually shielded from the direct sun by a white, ventilated enclosure. The Cheeseboro RAWS includes a measurement of the “Fuel Temperature.” This is generally a better indication of the temperature experienced by a runner, hiker, or rider in the direct sun.
Update on July 29, 2023. Rounding the temperature to whole degrees, my West Hills weather station recorded a high of 100°F, or higher, for 15 consecutive days this July (7/13/23 to 7/27/23). The station is about three miles from the Victory Trailhead at Ahmanson Ranch.
I had just waded down a 50 yard stretch of creek where the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail used to be. Three hikers working up the canyon were trying to find a way past the flooded section without getting their boots wet. That wasn’t going to be easy.
I had been doing the same thing higher in the canyon. It was a chilly morning, and I had no great desire to soak my shoes in cold water. The usual rock and limb crossings had worked well until the trail ended in a broad area of flowing creek. Once my shoes were wet, it simplified the process.
That the trail was flooded following several days of rain wasn’t that surprising. What was a surprise is that there hadn’t been higher flows and more damaging flash floods in the canyon.
Santa Ynez Canyon was the focus of the Palisades Fire, and a large part of the drainage was burned to a moonscape. Burned slopes often amplify runoff from heavy rain, producing damaging flash floods and debris flows. While there was clearly high flows in the canyon, the levels were less than what I’ve seen in similar circumstances, in other burn areas. One possibility is that unburned trees and brush along the streambed higher in the canyon had attenuated the flow.
After doing the out and back on the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail, I continued down to Trippet Ranch and then, like last week, returned using the Musch, Garapito, and Bent Arrow Trails.
There were a number small rock slides, sluffs, and sediment flows along the trails and roads. A couple of people were working on clearing the limbs and small trees that had fallen across the Garapito Trail. The collapsed oak at the bottom of the Garapito Trail had settled, and was easier to get through this time.
The trail that really took it on the chin was the Bent Arrow Trail. Several sections of the trail were damaged by slides.
WARNING: The North and Northeast Ridges of Lone Pine Peak are long, complex, alpine climbing routes. Many people climb them without issue, but some are forced to retreat, bivi, or have other difficulties. Some have problems finding the descent routes. Depending on your mountaineering and rock climbing skills, the weather, and your judgement, these climbs can be a fantastic experience or an epic nightmare.
The soaring knife-edge ridges and sweeping granite faces of Lone Pine Peak are compelling features that mountaineers and rock climbers find irresistible. The North Ridge — the right skyline of the peak when viewed from the Owens Valley — is the most popular climbing route on the mountain. It was first climbed in September 1952 by A. C. Lembeck and Ray W. Van Aken. In the 1954 edition of the Climber’s Guide to the High Sierra, it was described as a long class 5 route requiring six pitons.
What’s old is new again, and with the rapid evolution of climbing in the ’70s, the North Ridge was rediscovered. I think I first heard about an “amazing ridge” on Lone Pine Peak out at Stoney Point. There was a group of us that bouldered at Stoney on Tuesday and Thursday and then climbed at Tahquitz, Suicide or JT on weekends. Periodic multi-day trips to the Needles, Yosemite, Tuolumne, and the Sierra rounded out our climbing routine.
Phil Warrender and I, along with other climbing partners, climbed the North Ridge many times. We’d drive up from L.A. after work, sleep at Whitney Portal, and would climb the ridge the following day. I don’t think I climbed the North Ridge by the same route twice. That was part of its attraction.
Because we were familiar with the approach and descent, climbed the ridge without a rope, usually didn’t have route-finding issues, and ran down most of the Meysan Lakes Trail, we were able to do the North Ridge comfortably in a day. Starting at the Portal 6:00 a.m., we typically made it back in the mid to late afternoon.
You can’t climb the North Ridge or look at Lone Pine Peak from the Owens Valley, and not think about climbing the Northeast Ridge. To our climbing eyes, the Northeast Ridge looked like it was going to be more difficult than the North Ridge. The Northeast Ridge looked sharper and the towers more dramatic. And, it looked like the ridge ended at a headwall.
Whether it was the perceived difficulty and the strenuous approach — or just random chance — nearly 30 years after the first ascent of the North Ridge, there was no record of the Northeast Ridge having been climbed.
Phil and I did a lot of rock climbing and mountaineering in 1982. That June, along with Rich Grigsby, we climbed Whitney Portal Buttress. Lone Pine Peak was across the canyon, and I think that’s when we decided we had to get on the Northeast Ridge as soon as possible. We scouted the approach and waited for the snow higher on the ridge to melt.
To give ourselves the most daylight for dealing with possible problems on the technical part of the ridge, we decided to hike the non-technical section in the afternoon, then bivi and start climbing early the next morning. One downside of this decision was that it was July, and we did the hike during the hottest part of the day.
To save weight we carried a minimum of “just in case” climbing gear. We took the good half of an 8 mm rope that had been damaged. We packed “swami belts” instead of climbing harnesses. The webbing was much lighter and more compact, and might come in handy if we had a problem. We took a few slings and maybe a nut or two. In a pinch we figured we could use natural protection or chock some appropriately shaped rocks. We hiked and climbed in approach shoes. Phil’s shoes were Nike Lava Domes. I don’t recall what shoes I used, but I do remember that the soles started to delaminate during the climb.
We each took a couple bottles of water. We thought there was a slight chance of finding an accessible patch of snow higher on the route, but that didn’t happen. There was a little snow in the gully between the Northeast and North Ridges.
We both carried (film) cameras. My camera (and maybe Phil’s) was a Pentax ME. At that time, I was shooting a lot of B/W film – rolling my own cartridges from a bulk roll of fine-grained 2415 Tech Pan film and developing it myself.
The climb could not have gone more smoothly. It was a granite playground of ramps, towers, and feldspar dikes and crystals. Everything that looked like it might be a problem had a solution. My notes regarding the route were pretty sparse:
“Ramp on right of first major tower. Followed a dike on another. Traverse on shattered ledge/weakness on final headwall.”
We never used the rope or any of the climbing gear. There were a few bouldering-type moves, but overall the climbing was surprisingly straightforward. The rock quality was generally good. The granite is peppered with large feldspar phenocrysts. These can make great holds, but can also pop unexpectedly.
Judging from the sun’s angle and shadows, it was around noon when I took this last photo high on the ridge. That would have put us on top about 1:00 p.m. It may have been earlier. Low on water, we briefly visited Lone Pine Peak’s summit, and then hiked south to the usual descent chute on the west side of the peak.
Hurrying down the scree, we thirstily drank from the first little stream we encountered. After rinsing off the granite grime at a nearby tarn, we found the Meysan Lakes Trail, and headed back to the Portal.
Above are thumbnails of a few photos from a 20-mile out and back trail run to Mugu Peak from the Wendy Drive Trailhead. The run was on October 17, 2020. Click on an image for a larger photo and more information.
There are several ways to get to Mugu Peak from the Wendy Drive Trailhead on Potrero Road. When I do this run I’m usually looking to do a longer, faster-paced run without a huge amount of elevation gain. That translates to running down Big Sycamore Canyon to Wood Ranch Road and then either running up the Backbone Trail or Hell Hill to the “hub,” and from there to La Jolla Valley and Mugu Peak.