Category Archives: landscape

Bulldog Loop Plus the Phantom Loop

Marine layer clouds from the Backbone Trail at
Marine layer clouds from the Backbone Trail at “Mammoth Pass.”

The Bulldog Loop, without any extras, is a little over 14 miles long, with an elevation gain of about 2700′.

While doing the Phantom Loop last week, I was reminded that a good way to extend the Bulldog Loop is to combine it with the Phantom Loop. This produces a run of about 19 miles, with an elevation gain of around 3650′.

Early morning view of Saddle Peak from the Cistern Trail
Early morning view of Saddle Peak from the Cistern Trail

This weekend I was looking to do something a little longer. With the National Forests in Southern California still closed, the usual high country options weren’t available. The temperature forecast looked warm, but not crazy hot, so it was a good day to do this run.

The Cistern/Phantom Trailhead on Mulholland Highway is a convenient place to start and end the loop. Later in the run, water is usually available from a faucet and fountains adjacent to the restrooms at the main MCSP parking lot. If doing the loop counterclockwise from the Cistern Trailhead, the restrooms and water are about 14 miles into the run.

Santa Monica Mountains from the top of the Bulldog climb.
Santa Monica Mountains from the top of the Bulldog climb.

The main attraction is still the Bulldog climb. From Crags Road to Castro Mtwy, the Bulldog Mtwy gains about 1730′ over about 3.4 miles. From the MCSP parking lot to the high point on the Phantom Trail, the route gains a bit more than 1000′ over 4.7 miles.

Here’s an interactive view of the merged 19 mile loop. A longer variation continues on the Grasslands Trail to De Anza Park and returns to Liberty Canyon on the Talepop Trail.

Crest of the Santa Monica Mountains from the Phantom Trail
Crest of the Santa Monica Mountains from the Phantom Trail

Some related posts: Redwoods, Raptors, and the Phantom Loop; Trees, Bees, and a Washed-Out Footbridge on the Bulldog Loop; Best Trailhead to Start the Bulldog Loop?

Redwoods, Raptors, and the Phantom Loop

Coast redwood near Century Lake in Malibu Creek State Park
A coast redwood stands above the other trees near Century Lake.

It was a chilly 45°F as I crossed algae-covered Malibu Creek on a foot-worn log. Following a brutally hot Summer with temps in the West San Fernando Valley reaching 121°F, the chill of the cold air felt especially good.

The plan was to do the Phantom Loop, but first, I was going to run over to the Forest Trail. The side trip was not only to check on the coast redwoods along the trail but to enjoy the calm beauty of the area. To say 2020 has been unsettling is like saying a rattlesnake bite is a little annoying — and the year isn’t over yet.

Coast redwood near the Forest Trail and Crags Road junction in Malibu Creek State Park
Coast redwood near the Forest Trail and Crags Road junction

After crossing the creek, I stopped to photograph the redwood near the junction of the Forest Trail and Crags Road. The sun had just risen, and behind the tree, orange-tinted sunlight illuminated the rocky ridge above the M*A*S*H site.

Continuing along the Forest Trail toward Century Lake, I counted four healthy-appearing redwoods and two struggling trees. Redwoods sometimes grow in a group of two or mote trees, and these were counted as a single “tree.” Near the end of the trail is a naturally-germinated redwood that has grown to about 5.5 inches in diameter. Remarkably, this young tree survived the 2011-2015 drought and the 2018 Woolsey Fire, and appears healthy!

I had just finished photographing the young tree when a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk flew from a nearby oak and through the trees along the trail. It landed on the limb of an oak ahead of me but was in deep shade. In a much-enlarged image, the bird looks like a Sharp-shinned Hawk, but distinguishing the two species can be challenging.

Red-tailed hawk atop a coast redwood in Malibu Creek State Park.
Red-tailed hawk atop a coast redwood.

A few yards down the trail, a much larger raptor — a Red-tailed hawk — was perched at the top of the tallest redwood. The huge bird had its wings pulled back to expose more of its body to the warming sun. It looked like a giant penguin sitting atop a tree. As I approached, it began to preen its feathers, comfortable with its lofty position.

With a sigh, I left the Forest Trail behind and returned to Malibu Creek. This time I crossed the creek on a plank near the washed-out bridge. This was a more direct route than the fallen tree upstream but only worked because the creek was low. At the crossing, a passing runner asked if he was on the Bulldog Loop. I assured him he was and was a little envious that he was getting to experience that excellent run for the first time.

Morning view of Goat Buttes in Malibu Creek State Park
Morning view of Goat Butte and stream course of Malibu Creek

As usual, Crags Road and the High Road were busy thoroughfares. The easy running under the sprawling coast live oaks was pleasant, and the morning view of Malibu Creek and Goat Buttes outstanding.

In a few minutes, I’d reached Mulholland Highway and then followed the Grasslands Trail to the Liberty Canyon Trail. From Liberty Canyon, the Phantom Trail gains about 750′ in elevation over about 1.5 miles to a high point and ridgeline with excellent views of Saddleback Peak, Las Virgenes Canyon, Brents Mountain, Goat Buttes, Castro Peak, Ladyface, and Boney Mountain.

The air quality this morning hadn’t been too bad. From up on the ridge, I could see there was far less smoke to the west of Las Virgenes Canyon than to the east. Yesterday, I’d done a run in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains and had to cut the run short because of smoke. That wasn’t a problem today, and the run had been a good one.

Some related posts: Coast Redwoods Along the Forest Trail, Urban Highlands, Saddle Peak from the Phantom Trail

Poison Oak Along the Upper Sycamore Trail

reds and yellows of changing poison oak leaves

The soft-hued reds and yellows of these changing poison oak leaves was accentuated by the soft, orange light of a smoky sky.

From Saturday’s adventure run/hike over Boney Mountain to the Backbone Trail from the Wendy Drive trailhead.

Orange Sun Rising – A Boney Mountain Adventure Run

Smoky view from Boney Mountain's Western Ridge

To the east, the sun rose orange, cast that color by a thick pall of smoke. From the Satwiwa Loop Trail, the view of Boney Mountain were surprisingly clear. As the air pollution sensors in the area had indicated, the air quality appeared to be passable. I hoped it would stay that way for the remainder of the run.

With all the National Forests in California closed through at least September 21, and the smoke from wildfires affecting many areas, I’d been fortunate to find a place where I could get out and stretch my legs.

I was doing a route I had done many times before — a loop incorporating the Western Ridge of Boney Mountain and the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail. I’d last done the loop in June and was curious to see the condition of the Chamberlain Trail and how recovery from the 2018 Woolsey Fire was progressing.

From the top of Peak 2935, it seemed the “smoke front” to the east was slowly creeping closer. The flat, orange light was eerie. Continuing to Tri Peaks, I decided to skip the side trip to Sandstone Peak and followed the west Tri Peaks trail directly to the top of the Chamberlain Trail.

Foot traffic on the Chamberlain Trail had opened it up a bit, but there were still thousands and thousands of stalks of bleeding heart along the trail. The condition of the trail improved somewhat below Chamberlain Rock.

When I’d done the route in June, I’d seen no one until just before the junction of the Chamberlain & Old Boney trails. In June it had been a group of hikers. This time it was another runner, and we exchanged notes about the routes we were doing. Below the junction, I was surprised to find that one of the seeps on the Old Boney Trail was still wet.

After getting some water at the Danielson Multi-Use Area, I continued up Sycamore Canyon, finishing the run on the Upper Sycamore Trail, Danielson Road, and the network of Satwiwa trails.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Too Many Flowers on the Chamberlain Trail, Looking for Boney Peak, Looking for Boney Mountain

Mt. Pinos Adventure Run to Mesa Spring

Mesa Spring Trail near the top of San Emigdio Mesa
Mesa Spring Trail near the top of San Emigdio Mesa.

For many that enjoy the outdoors, there is an insatiable desire to go where we have not been, learn what we do not know, and discover what we have not experienced.

Each time I’ve done the out and back trail run from Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel, I’ve been curious about the Mesa Spring Trail. The trail leaves the Tumamait Trail at Puerto del Suelo, a saddle about 0.6 mile east of Mt. Abel Road, and descends to a campsite at a spring on the margin of San Emigdio Mesa. The mesa is the large alluvial fan shown on this Google Terrain Map overview.

The Mesa Spring Trail is part of an old trail shown on the USGS 1903 Mt. Pinos topo map. The old trail was part of a route that connected the Cuyama River to the historic El Camino Viejo a Los Ángeles. It followed Dry Canyon, went over Puerto del Suelo, and to the valley that is now the Pine Mountain Club. Like so many trails, it must have evolved from a hunting and trade route.

Google Terrain map showing San Emigdio Mesa and my route from Mt. Pinos
Google Terrain map showing San Emigdio Mesa and my route from Mt. Pinos

The Mesa Spring Trail is usually accessed from the West Tumamait Trailhead on Mt. Abel Road. But it occurred to me that starting at the East Tumamait Trailhead on Mt. Pinos might be an enjoyable way to do a longer out and back run. The Mesa Spring Trail looked like it might be similar to the North Fork Trail — a little less used and a bit more remote.

I left the Chula Vista parking area a little before 7:00 a.m. and started chugging up the road to the East Tumamait Trailhead at the Mt. Pinos Condor Observation Site. I planned to skip the usual side trips to Sawmill and Grouse. The spring was at a much lower elevation, and I wanted to get there before the temperature sizzled.

Once on the Vincent Tumamait Trail, it took a little over an hour to reach the top of the Mesa Spring Trail. The junction is marked with a new sign and tree branches on the ground. It is about 5.7 miles from the Mt. Pinos parking area.

Plant communities change dramatically with elevation.
Plant communities change dramatically with elevation. This Jeffrey pine forest is at about 7000′.

The first couple of miles down from the junction, the trail more or less follows the drainage. About 10 minutes from the junction, a large pine tree had fallen and completely blocked the trail. I worked around the right (west) side of the tree, where some orange fence posts had been placed. A few minutes beyond the collapsed tree, the trail wandered around the right side of a pretty meadow and then back to the “V” of the dry stream.

For the next mile or so, the trail followed a typical down-canyon route. On the way down, there were some spots where I stopped, turned around, and made a mental note of what the trail did. It wasn’t so much a matter of getting lost, as it was not wasting time at an ambiguous spot on the way back.

About 2.3 miles down from the saddle, the trail climbed out of the canyon, taking a counterintuitive turn to the right. After reaching a ridgeline, the trail turned back left and continued downhill. But its wanderings were not over. The trail was working across the gullies at the top of the San Emigdio Mesa. It went up, down, and around, but eventually did go to Mesa Spring. There were “ducks” marking the route, but it really helped to have looked at a map and have a general idea of where the trail would go.

Mesa Spring is on the northern margin of San Emigdio Mesa.
Mesa Spring is on the northern margin of San Emigdio Mesa.

Mesa Spring is a pretty green spot in a group of pinyon pines. As I neared the spring, I saw some coyote-like ears bobbing through the sagebrush, and not long after that, a deer bounded through the trees. At the spring, a squirrel leaped from the edge of the water-filled cistern to a nearby tree and various birds flittered in the pines. I heard a trickle of water near the cistern’s base but planned to get water at Sheep Camp, later in the run.

With its bounty of pinyon pine nuts, acorns, juniper berries, game, and more, San Emigdio Mesa provided vital resources for the local Chumash.

Although the Mesa Spring Trail continues down the mesa, the spring was my turnaround point. I had waited for a day when the weather was better for this run. A weak low-pressure trough moving through to the north had stirred up a little wind and taken the edge off the recent heatwave. It had been cool on the crest, but at 6000′ it was already hot in the sun. It was time to get moving, and in a few minutes, I was retracing my steps and headed back to Mt. Pinos.

With a stop at Sheep Camp, the run & hike worked out to about 20 miles, with an elevation gain of around 4700′. Here are a few photos taken along the way, and an interactive 3D view of the trail run.

Some related posts: Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel Out & Back – Plus Sawmill Mountain, Grouse Mountain and Sheep Camp, Up, Down and Around on Mt. Pinos’ Tumamait and North Fork Trails

Three Points Loop Adventure – July 2020

Approaching Waterman Meadow on the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail
Approaching Waterman Meadow on the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail

You know what they say about making assumptions. Did the Three Points loop around Mt. Waterman today (July 25), and assumed that water would be available at Buckhorn Campground. In a normal summer that would be a reasonable assumption, but this has been anything but a normal summer.

Running down through the campground, I thought it was strange that many of the spaces were empty. Following the signs that said, “Day Use Parking,” and then “Burkhart Trail,” I stopped at a spigot across from some restrooms.

Routine water tests were pending after Buckhorn Campground opened. July 25, 2020.
Routine water tests were pending.

Surprise, surprise! The stapled-on Forest Service sign said, “Non-potable water. Please boil water for a minimum of 5 minutes before using.”

Later, I talked to a ranger and learned that the campground had just reopened on Friday! He said routine tests on the water system had to be completed before the water could be deemed potable.

So I had a choice to make. I was doing the loop counterclockwise, which put Buckhorn at about mile 9 of a 20-mile loop. The second half of the loop — on the PCT — can bake on a hot day, with the climb out of Cooper Canyon being especially blistering.

Morning sun crests a ridge on Waterman Mountain.
Morning sun crests a ridge on Waterman Mountain.

So far, the run had gone well. The Mt. Waterman Trail between Three Points and the turn off to Twin Peaks had been in excellent shape. No trees had blocked the trail, and the wildflowers and ferns at Waterman Meadow had been extraordinary. Like last year, a rejuvenated spring about 0.5 mile west of the Twin Peaks junction had water. (Not aware of the situation at Buckhorn, I didn’t top off my water.)

Beyond the Twin Peaks junction, there were some toppled trees. These were probably blown down by the same Winter storms that broke and toppled trees along the crest between Throop Peak and Mt. Baden-Powell, and between West Fork and Mt. Wilson. A few of the trees had fallen across the trail, but none were a problem.

Lesser paintbrush at Waterman Meadow.
Paintbrush and ferns at Waterman Meadow.

As usual, the run down the Mt. Waterman Trail to Highway 2 was excellent. A lot of people were enjoying the hike to the peak, but no more than is typical for that trail in the summertime.

Which brings me back to Buckhorn and my water problem. I could have shortcut the loop by skipping Cooper Canyon and running directly to Cloudburst Summit on Highway 2. That would have shortened the loop by 5 miles. But the day wasn’t super-hot, and there were several places where water could be used for cooling — even if I couldn’t drink it.

Reconfirming how much water I had left, I squeezed the Camelbak(TM) in my pack, and then started running down the Burkhart Trail into Cooper Canyon.

By maintaining a comfortable pace, and using seeps for cooling, my water lasted until I was within sight of the Three Points parking lot. This probably wouldn’t have been the case on a hot day.

Here are some photos taken along the way, and a Cesium interactive 3D view of the route.

Some related posts: Lemon Lilies, Tree Rings and More Heat Training on the Three Points Loop; Pine Seedling Along the Mt. Waterman Trail; Three Points Loop Twice