Category Archives: landscape

Forest Run

Coast redwood along the Forest Trail in Malibu Creek State Park

The nasal bellowing of a bullfrog shook the morning, but didn’t disturb the mirror-like surface of Century Lake. I had paused along the Forest Trail in Malibu Creek State Park to take in my surroundings. Here and there glimmers of sunlight reflected from the base of the reeds along the opposite shore. Birds called, flowers bloomed and Nature continued to work in its wonderous way.

Canyon sunflower along the Lookout Trail in Malibu Creek State Park.
Canyon sunflower along the Lookout Trail.

My run had started at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway and then wandered about the Reagan Ranch area. The Lookout and Yearling Trails had been thick with mustard and badly overgrown. The plants had been wet with dew, and my black sleeves and shorts had been liberally sprinkled with the bright yellow flowers. A few ticks had also hitched a ride, but were removed before they could bite.

It had been a relief to get back to the Cage Creek Trail and descend to the Crags Road Trail and Malibu Creek. The logs extending across the creek from the washed out bridge had been rearranged, making it easier to cross.

Log crossing across Malibu Creek on the Crags Road Trail, near the Forest Trail junction.
Log crossing across Malibu Creek on the Crags Road Trail, near the Forest Trail junction.

No other trail in the Park is quite like the Forest Trail. The trail isn’t part of a loop, doesn’t connect to other trails, and is only a half-mile long; but it feels like a trail you might find in Big Sur, Santa Cruz or the Bay Area. The forest is comprised primarily of coast live oak, California bay, and sycamore, but at several spots along the trail you’ll find coast redwoods.

Coast redwoods are not endemic to Southern California. All but one of the Forest Trail redwoods were planted over 100 years ago. The trees were severely impacted by the 2011-2015 drought, and only a few have survived. Even so, they are easy to spot — the large, deeply-furrowed, copper-brown trunk of a coast redwood is unmistakable.

Note: There is some poison oak along the Forest Trail, and this year some was protruding onto the trail.

Some related posts: The Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods Are Dying; Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods: Fighting the Drought; After the Woolsey Fire: Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods, M*A*S*H Site and Bulldog Climb

Dawn Songs, Wildflowers, and a Rocket Launch from the Phantom Trail

Sun and clouds in Malibu Creek State Park
Clouds & sun at Malibu Creek State Park, near the end of the Phantom Loop

I checked my watch — it was 6:13 a.m. I was part way up the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park, and had stopped to see if I could hear the launch of the Falcon 9 at Vandenberg Space Force Base.

I’d hoped to see the launch, but low clouds obscured the view skyward. Even so, there was a chance that a thin spot in the cloud deck might reveal the ship, as it propelled its classified payload into orbit.

All was quiet, except for the dawn songs of waking birds and the occasional car or motorcycle on Mulholland Highway. But then, just above the ambient sounds, I heard it — a constant dull roar somewhere to the west. I scanned the sky for any hint of an exhaust plume.

None was evident, but I suspect that if I had looked at the right spot at the right time, I might have glimpsed the rocket’s sun-bright flame. After searching and listening for a couple of minutes, I resumed working up the trail.

Phacelia along the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park
A sea of Phacelia along the Phantom Trail

Ka-boom! Even though my attention had turned to the trail, the distinctive, two-syllable report of a sonic boom broke my reverie. It had to be the Falcon 9 booster returning to the launch site. The boom wasn’t very loud at my location, but some living closer to Vandenberg apparently mistook the launch and sonic boom as an earthquake.

The remainder of the run went well. I’d run the Ahmanson 12K the day before, and the Phantom Loop (clockwise) was a good follow-up to that run.

I was a bit surprised just how overgrown some sections of the trail were. Mustard wasn’t the only plant crowding the trail, phacelia was as thick along the Phantom Trail as I’ve seen.

A showy patch of Chinese houses wildflowers along the Phantom Trail
Chinese houses along the Phantom Trail

With the cloudy, cool start to the day, the poppies were mostly closed, but several other species of wildflowers added color along the trail. Among them were Elegant Clarkia, Owl’s Clover and Chinese Houses.

Note: A little higher in the Santa Monica Mountains and farther to the west, Jonathan Stewart captured this video of the NROL-85 launch from Boney Mountain.

Some related posts: Phantom Trail: Trade-offs of a Wet Rainy Season; Redwoods, Raptors, and the Phantom Loop; Ladyface Via the Phantom Trail and Heartbreak Ridge

Exploring the Santa Clarita Ultra & Trail Runs 50K Course

Bigcone Douglas-fir along East Canyon Mtwy fire road
Bigcone Douglas-fir along East Canyon Mtwy fire road.

I hadn’t seen a hiker, runner, or mountain biker since turning off East Canyon Mtwy fire road. That was about 2 miles ago. I checked my watch — it read 18 miles. Had I’d made a wrong turn?

Today’s plan was to do the first 25 miles of the Santa Clarita Ultra & Trail Runs 50K. A week ago I’d run the first (blue) and third (yellow) sections of the course, and today’s run would theoretically combine the first (blue) and second (orange) sections.

Oat Mountain (3747'), the highest peak in the Santa Susana Mountains.
Oat Mountain from the Towsley Canyon Loop Trail

So far, the run had gone well. It had started with an extended version of the popular Towsley Canyon Loop in Ed Tavis Park. After climbing up oil-rich Wiley Canyon to a view point at an elevation of about 2450′, the course descended a series of long switchbacks, and passed through a gap in Towsley Canyon known as the Narrows. A mile down the canyon from the Narrows I’d used segments of the Elder Loop and Taylor Loop trails to run over to Lyon Canyon.

Entrance to the Narrows on the Towsley Canyon Loop Trail
Entrance to the Narrows in Towsley Canyon

Following an out and back up the canyon to the top of a prominent hill, the course continued on the Taylor Loop nearly to the Old Road, eventually circling back to the parking area at Ed Davis. At the parking lot my watch read a bit over 9 miles.

After switching from a bottle to a pack, I’d run on the Old Road over to the East Canyon Trailhead. From there the course followed East Canyon and Sunshine Canyon fire roads to Mission Point. The climb up to Jones Junction gains about 1300′ in 3 miles, then it’s another 1.5 miles over to Mission Point (2771′), the high point on the course.

A very green stretch of the Taylor Loop Trail
Green along the Taylor Loop Trail.

One of the highlights of the run up East Canyon was the very healthy-looking Bigcone Douglas-firs higher on the road. Now relegated to the cooler climes of steep, north-facing mountain slopes, the species used to be far more widespread in Southern California.

On the way to Mission Point, the views of the San Fernando Valley from the crest were outstanding, and gave a perspective of the Valley I had not seen before. Apart from having to detour along fence lines bordering private property, and continuous gunfire in a section of the canyon that is near a popular gun club, the run to Mission Point was excellent.

The first of three short detours along fencelines on the way to Mission Point.
Detour around private property on the way to Mission Point.

Returning from Mission Point there was another part of the course I needed to do — an out and back on Weldon Mtwy. Which brings me back to mile 18 of today’s run. After turning off East Canyon Mtwy on what I thought was Weldon Mtwy, I had expected the fire road to loose elevation relatively quickly. But that wasn’t happening.

Instead of running down a canyon, I was running along a ridge — a long ridge. Below and to my right was what looked like a landfill. Below and to my left I could see the Old Road and Santa Clarita. They seemed a long way down.

Mission Point, Three Trees and the San Fernando Valley.
Mission Point, Three Trees and the San Fernando Valley.

There were several ways I could have checked where I was — my watch has maps; my phone had maps; and I had a map in my pack. But I wasn’t in trouble and was already two miles down this road — whatever it was. If I wasn’t on Weldon Mtwy, it would still be a trail I hadn’t done.

After a couple of “I’ll just go a little farther down and see what I can see” episodes, I eventually turned around and headed back up the fire road. When I got back to East Canyon Mtwy, I checked the yellow pole marking the junction of the fire roads — it was marked “WELDON.” Later, I checked my track and found I had turned around a half-mile from the Newhall Pass Trailhead. Now I know.

Overall, I’d enjoyed the course, and decided I would register for the 50K. But registration closed early, and now I see the event has been postponed until November. Oh well, I still got to run in a new area and check out some interesting trails!

High Point (Goat Peak) Via the Rivas Ridge Use Trail

Rivas Ridge use trail
Rivas Ridge Use Trail

My run started at the Top of Reseda. I’d used the Backbone Trail to run over to Will Rogers State Park (~10 miles) and then picked up the Rivas Canyon Trail on the west side of the park.

Poison oak along the Rivas Canyon Trail
Poison oak along the Rivas Canyon Trail

Roughly 11 miles into the run, I’d turned off the Rivas Canyon Trail and onto the Rivas Ridge use trail. This path is an alternative to the High Point use trail, which I’d used to climb High Point (Goat Peak) a few weeks before.

Now, I was about a mile up the ridge and the run/hike was going well. The use trail was a little overgrown in places, which resulted in a few pokes and prods, but no real bushwhacking was required. As on the High Point Trail, there were some steep sections and loose cobble, but there were runnable sections as well.

I’d done a long run in Pt. Mugu State Park the previous Sunday and some good miles during the week, so my legs were feeling the steeps. Poles would have helped with that.

Bush sunflower along the Rivas Ridge use trail
Bush sunflower along the Rivas Ridge use trail

Climbing up one of those steep sections, I stopped to take a picture of a familiar section of the Backbone Trail — the Chicken Ridge Bridge. I reached for my phone, and I felt the color drain from my face. All I found was an empty pocket.

Instead of the zip pocket designed for the phone, I’d used a bottle pocket for easier access. The phone must have slipped out when I’d reached down for something or ducked under a limb, or?

For a moment I just stood there, then in a rapid-fire sequence, several thoughts came to mind:

“How far back down should I go?”

“Where were those limbs I crawled under?”

“Hope I have all the 2FA backup codes I need.”

“How many hours do I have to look for the phone?”

“Find My iPhone might work here…”

“Where did I take the last photo?”

Losing a phone can REALLY be a pain. The one question I didn’t ask was probably the most important: “When did I last do a FULL backup of my phone?”

In the middle of this rush of thoughts, and despite the whining of my legs, I started back down the trail.

The phone HAD to be somewhere between here and the last place I took a photo. That didn’t make me feel any better. That was a ways down. I’d gone off-trail into relatively thick brush to take a photo of a large patch of bush sunflowers.

When you’re descending a steep trail you’ve already climbed, and know that you’re going to have to climb back up it again, every step seems a long way down.

Down, down, down and no sign of the phone. Where was that patch of sunflowers anyway?

After being decoyed by another patch of flowers, I finally reached the point where I left the trail. Incredibly, I found the phone sitting on top of a thick mat of brush, where I had crawled under some limbs. L U C K Y!

Backbone Trail and Chicken Ridge Bridge from the Rivas Ridge use trail.
Backbone Trail and Chicken Ridge Bridge

Rejuvenated by the adrenalin of a successful search, the remainder of the run went surprisingly well. The trail topped out on the High Point use trail, on a peak just north of High Point/Goat Mountain. It didn’t take long to get to the top of High Point, and soon I was headed back north on the High Point Trail, and then retracing my steps on the Backbone Trail back to Reseda.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS track of the route, zoomed in on the keyhole part of the loop. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. For help controlling the view, click/tap the “?” icon in the upper right corner of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Some related posts: Goat Peak and the High Point Trail From the Top of ResedaWill Rogers – Rivas Canyon – Temescal Canyon Trail Run

A Lot of Bluster, But Not Much Rain

Clouds associated with an upper level low north of Los Angeles

Yep, that was a rumble of thunder. It was a blustery, Spring-like afternoon and a storm cell had developed a few miles to the WNW of Lasky Mesa.

Before driving over to Ahmanson I’d checked the weather radar and seen cells circulating counterclockwise around a cold upper level low. Most were dissipating as they moved north to south, out over the Valley. The wildcard was that the upper low was moving southward, and the cells might strengthen.

Convective cell WNW of Lasky Mesa associated with a cold upper low north of Los Angeles
Storm cell WNW of Lasky Mesa.

Again there was a low rumble. The cell didn’t seem any closer, but now I could see additional development to the north and northeast of Ahmanson. I picked up the pace.

There’s nothing like the threat and energy of a thunderstorm to incentivize a runner. All the way back to the trailhead it looked like heck might break loose at any moment.

But it didn’t. It was just starting to rain when I got back to the car, and on the way home the streets were wet. The Cheeseboro RAWS recorded 0.06 inch of rain, as did Downtown Los Angeles (USC).

Even though the Rain and Water Year rainfall totals for Los Angeles are about normal for the date, January and February have seen little rain. Precipitation records for Los Angeles indicate the period January 1 to February 28 will be the fourth driest on record.

The precipitation outlooks for Southern California this March don’t look especially promising, with a typical La Nina precipitation pattern expected for the West Coast.

Some related posts: Clearing Skies at Ahmanson Ranch, Thunderstorm

Ladyface Via the Phantom Trail and Heartbreak Ridge

Ladyface from Heartbreak Ridge, January 2022

The run up the Phantom Trail from Mulholland Highway and out Heartbreak Ridge is a fun adventure all on its own. When you first see Ladyface from the Phantom Trail, it seems like the trail isn’t going to go anywhere near the peak. But a series of ups, downs, and arounds does eventually get you to an overlook above the junction of Kanan & Cornell Roads. If you were to turn around at this point, the out and back would total a little over 8 miles.

Continuing down to Kanan Road and doing a counterclockwise loop on Ladyface — ascending the East/Northeast Ridge and descending the East/Southeast Ridge — adds another 3.5 miles to the route, and ups the adventure quotient a notch.

I first climbed Ladyface by this route in 2010 and have done Ladyface many times since. It’s a “real” peak with all the pros and cons that come with such a peak. The route isn’t always obvious, and some scrambling using the hands is required. Some sections of trail are steep, gritty and slippery. The quality of the volcanic rock varies. The knobby rock is fun to climb, but can break unexpectedly.

Even with the Ventura Freeway buzzing below the peak, the views from Ladyface are spectacular. A panorama of the Santa Monica Mountains extends from Saddle Peak in the east to Boney Mountain in the west. On the opposite side of the mountain, Hines Peak, Simi Peak and the San Gabriel Mountains fill the scene. On a day with good visibility, San Jacinto Peak can be spotted, far to the east.

Here are a few photos taken along the way, and an interactive, 3D terrain view of the GPS track of my route. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. For help controlling the view, click/tap the “?” icon in the upper right corner of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Some related posts: Ladyface the Long Way, Ladyface After the Woolsey Fire, Ladyface Loop