Category Archives: landscape

Out and Back Trail Run from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell – July 2024 Update

Mt. Baden-Powell from the PCT near Throop Peak.
Mt. Baden-Powell from the PCT near Throop Peak.

When I reached the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell (9,399′), it was empty, save an opportunistic raven who was evaluating the chances that the Larabar I was eating might fall to the ground.

On top, the heat of the strong Summer sun was offset by a cooling breeze. There was still a few thin ribbons of snow in the chutes on Mt. Baldy. With the excellent visibility, San Jacinto Peak could be seen in the notch between Mt. Baldy and Dawson Peak, and San Gorgonio Mountain was sharply visible to the left of Pine Mountain.

Poodle-dog bush (Eriodictyon parryi) along the PCT just east of Islip Saddle. (thumbnail)
Poodle-dog bush along the PCT just east of Islip Saddle.

Other than a few people at Little Jimmy hike-in camp, I saw no one on the way up from Islip Saddle. A quarter-mile from the trailhead, there was an astonishing display of Poodle-dog bush along the PCT. In 2011, when a large part of Angeles National Forest reopened following the Station Fire, I developed an extensive rash after bushwhacking through Poodle-dog on overgrown trails. After that experience I’ve been more careful around the plant, and haven’t had a bad case since.

Trees were across the trail in a few places. Most were fairly easy to bypass, but a couple were “inconvenient,” such as this big log, about 0.75 mile east of Windy Gap.

Bright red beaked penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus) along the PCT above Windy Gap. (thumbnail)
Bright red beaked penstemon along the PCT above Windy Gap

As I worked up the switchbacks above the log, to the southwest I could see the observatory and towers on Mt. Wilson. As a result of the damage to Chantry Flat in the Bobcat Fire, Mt. Wilson was on the Angeles Crest 100 Mile course last year, and will be again this year. As the raven flies, Mt. Wilson was only about 16 miles away, but for someone running the AC100, the miles along its challenging course would total well over 50!

For several years I’ve been following the regrowth of conifers in four places along the PCT that were burned in the 2002 Curve Fire. What has been underscored in my informal study is a) trees take a long time to regrow, and b) frequent fires in an area are particularly devastating. Stand #1 (1.5 miles east of Islip Saddle on the PCT) was recovering nicely from the 2002 Curve Fire when it was burned in the 2020 Bobcat Fire. This comparison shows the result. The other three stands continue to recover well, with south-facing Stand #4, west of Throop Peak, growing particularly vigorously.

View WNW along Mt. Baden-Powell's west ridge. (thumbnail)
Limber pine (left) along Mt. Baden-Powell’s west ridge.

Ascending the final 400′ of gain on Baden-Powell’s west ridge, I was surprised to see a couple of small patches of snow remained on the north side of the ridge. The snowpack here was nowhere near as big as in 2023, but it was still pleasing to see that a little of the white stuff survived until July.

No out and back to Baden-Powell is complete without a quick stop at Little Jimmy Spring. Today, the water from spring was so cold it was painful to hold my hand in the water flowing from the pipe!

Some related posts:
It’s Mid-July And There Is Still Snow in Los Angeles County!
A Cool and Breezy Out and Back Trail Run from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell
Contact Dermatitis from Eriodictyon parryi – Poodle-dog Bush
Regrowth of Trees Along the PCT Following the 2002 Curve Fire

Hot Weather on the Three Points Loop

Approaching Waterman Meadow on the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail.
Approaching Waterman Meadow on the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman.

When Angeles Crest Highway opened between Upper Big Tujunga Road and Islip Saddle last Fall, I jumped on the chance to do the Three Points loop around Mt. Waterman. When in good condition and with good weather, the 20+ mile loop is one of my favorites. That day, the trail conditions could have been better.

Twin Peaks from the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail, about 1.5 miles from Three Points. (thumbnail)
Twin Peaks from the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail, about 1.5 miles from Three Points.

Turn the clock forward to this Spring, and once again, road closures were limiting access to Three Points. Angeles Crest Highway was still closed between Red Box and Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, and the alternate route — Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road — was “Only Open To Contractors, Residents, & Emergency Vehicles.” Recently, the Los Angeles County Road Closures website updated the status of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road to “Access Limited, Expect Delays.”

An easy-to-follow stretch of the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail. (thumbnail)
An easy-to-follow stretch of the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail.

Excited to get back on the Three Points Loop, on Sunday I found myself motoring up Upper Big Tujunga Canyon Road, headed for the Three Points Trailhead. There were no problems or delays getting to Angeles Crest Highway, and I pulled into the Three Points parking lot at about 6:30 a.m.

Beardtongue penstemon accommodates the bulbous shape of its pollinator -- bumblebees. (thumbnail)
Beardtongue penstemon accommodates the bulbous shape of its pollinator — bumblebees.

Having done the Three Points Loop many times and in a variety of conditions, I didn’t think much about the difficulties on the loop in November. Like others that relish the outdoors, my brain is very good at shaping memories so as to emphasize the positive and downplay — or outright ignore — the negative.

I’d checked the weather — a Heat Advisory had been issued for the San Gabriel Mountains, and there was a chance of thunderstorms from a dissipating tropical storm. A key part of the loop, Cooper Canyon, has a rep for being hot. Much of the PCT on that stretch is on sparsely-forested, south-facing slopes. My thought was that maybe there would be enough clouds to take the edge off the heat.

Downed trees across the PCT in Cooper Canyon. (thumbnail)
Downed trees across the PCT in Cooper Canyon.

Nope! The in the sun temperature in Cooper Canyon was around 100 degrees. The good news was Buckhorn Campground was open and my favorite water faucet had plenty of water. Plus, the creek in Cooper Canyon was running, so I could cool off and supplement my water.

The trail conditions were virtually identical to those last November, but with heat added. The Three Points — Mt. Waterman Trail was a bit overgrown, and there were many downed trees across the trail. In November there was a particularly inconvenient tree blocking the PCT on the north side of the creek, just west of the Burkhart Trail junction, and it was still there today.

Postcard clouds belie the hot weather on the PCT in Cooper Canyon. (thumbnail)
Postcard clouds belie the hot weather on the PCT in Cooper Canyon.

There seemed to be more Poodle-dog bush than back in November, or maybe it was easier to spot because it was blooming. The big winner among the multitude of wildflowers was beardtongue penstemon, which was blooming profusely on some of the slopes burned in the Bobcat Fire. Other wildflowers I saw along the trail included bigleaf lupine, little paintbrush, scarlet monkeyflower, narrow-leaved lotus, golden yarrow, gilia, wallflower, and red columbine.

Because of the trail conditions, heat, and altitude, the Three Points Loop today was more difficult than the 50K I ran two weeks ago!

This high resolution, photorealistic, 3-D terrain view shows the Three Points Loop (yellow) along with a couple of options (red). The side trip to the summit of Mt. Waterman adds about 1.75 miles to the run.

Some related posts:
Three Points Loop Following the Reopening of Angeles Crest Highway
Cool Weather, Old Trees, Grape Soda Lupine and a Restored Trail
Three Points Loop Adventure – July 2020

Encinal Canyon – Mishe Mokwa Loop – Sandstone Peak Running Adventure

Tri Peaks from the Mishe Mokwa Trail. Photography by Gary Valle'.
Tri Peaks from the Mishe Mokwa Trail.

I enjoy doing trail runs with an added element of adventure, exploration, or quirkiness. A run might climb a peak, look for a particular wildflower, or check out a rock formation, a creek, or an old trail. The possibilities are endless.

Whenever I’ve done the out-and-back trail run from Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa, I’ve thought about extending it to Sandstone Peak. Doing so would add the ascent of the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains to an already excellent run. Even better, I could run from Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa, do the Mishe Mokwa Loop — including Sandstone Peak — then run back to Encinal Canyon. That would be an exceptionally scenic 26+ miles, with much of it on the Backbone Trail.

An advantage to doing the run this Spring is that back-to-back wet rain seasons have recharged the area’s streams, and I would (theoretically) be able to get water from a creek on the Mishe Mokwa Trail. Another plus is that all the rain has resulted in historic conditions, with extraordinary displays of a variety of wildflowers.

Pond along the Backbone Trail, surrounded by deerweed, black sage. (thumbnail)
Pond along the Backbone Trail, surrounded by deerweed, black sage.

The day dawned overcast and cool, a deep marine layer covering most of the area. I was running west on the Backbone Trail between Encinal Canyon and Mishe Mokwa. The weather could not have been better for the initial 10+ miles of what I hoped to be a challenging and enjoyable run.

Along the way, I marveled at the explosion of wildflowers along the Backbone Trail. In addition to the extensive bloom of deerweed, pitcher sage, black sage, canyon sunflower and purple nightshade lined the trail.

About 8 miles into the run, as the Backbone Trail crossed the west shoulder of Triunfo Peak, a new trail sign had been posted. It marked the recently completed trail connecting the Backbone Trail to Yellow Hill Fire Road and the top of Triunfo Peak. The new trail replaces a use trail that had evolved here, and expands the route choices when running or hiking in the area.

Canyon live-forever on the rocks below Mishe Mokwa. (thumbnail)
Canyon live-forever on the rocks below Mishe Mokwa.

It was still overcast as I ran through the little valley below Mishe Mokwa. Above, I could see the Backbone Trail winding up toward Sandstone Peak and into the clouds. There was a colorful selection of wildflowers along the trail, including speckled Clarkia, canyon live-forever, yellow monkeyflower, woolly blue-curls, and others.

I had planned to make a go-no-go decision at Mishe Mokwa, but something in me had already made that decision miles ago.

When I reached Mishe Mokwa, I didn’t stop. I jogged across Yerba Buena Road and started hiking up the Mishe Mokwa Trail. It was still cool and my legs felt surprisingly good. The only question was: Would the creek at Split Rock actually be running?

Having run the Mishe Mokwa – Sandstone Peak Loop on other adventures, and climbed at Echo Cliffs, I was familiar with the trails. The 6+ mile loop from the Mishe Mokwa parking area is one of the most scenic short loops in the Santa Monica Mountains and deservingly popular.

Golden yarrow along the Mishe Mokwa Trail. (thumbnail)
Golden yarrow along the Mishe Mokwa Trail.

The Mishe Mokwa Trail traverses the rocky slopes directly across the canyon from Echo Cliffs and Balance Rock. The dramatic rock formations are so close that climbers can be heard conversing as they climb the steep faces. This stretch of trail is demanding and has a few steep steps— up and down — that have to be navigated.

As I worked past Echo Cliffs, I passed a large group of hikers that had stopped to enjoy the view from the top of a prominent outcrop.

Earlier, I’d encountered a runner coming down the trail, and he’d been pessimistic about using the creek as a water source. But the burbling sound echoing in the canyon below me left little doubt that the creek was running.

A wildflower-lined section of the Mishe Mokwa Trail near Echo Cliffs. (thumbnail)
A wildflower-lined section of the Mishe Mokwa Trail near Echo Cliffs.

It seemed everyone on the trail converged at Split Rock. When I arrived, one large group was already taking a break there, and by the time I finished getting water, another group joined them.

As a water source, the creek was a bit funky. I debated skipping it but thought of a friend’s comments regarding water sources on the Arizona Trail. How bad could it be? The drainage below Tri Peaks is relatively isolated and there are no cattle. At least, that’s how I rationalized it.

With the cool conditions, I only needed about a half-liter of water. And, of course, a little way up the trail, there was another — probably better — water source. I briefly debated dumping my water and refilling, but decided to continue.

At Split Rock, the character of the trail changes. It becomes much more straightforward as it gains elevation, passes below Tri Peaks, joins the Backbone Trail, and circles around to Sandstone Peak.

After being cloudy for most of the run, skies cleared while I was on Sandstone Peak. (thumbnail)
After being cloudy for most of the run, skies cleared while I was on Sandstone Peak.

Given the number of people on the Mishe Mokwa and Backbone Trails, I expected the top of Sandstone Peak to be a busy place. But the timing worked out perfectly — only two people were on the summit. Most of the clouds had cleared, revealing Sandstone Peak’s superb views.

Since I did the loop counterclockwise, the return to the Mishe Mokwa parking area from Sandstone Peak was much shorter (and steeper) than the trails to get there. Bush lupine lined the road; its unique fragrance and vibrant color a treat for the senses.

Damaged section of the Backbone Trail above Mishe Mokwa. May 2024. (thumbnail)
Damaged section of the Backbone Trail above Mishe Mokwa

Partway down, the shoulder of the trail had collapsed in a slide. It had been temporarily stabilized with a large white sheet of plastic that must have been visible from miles away. Continuing the descent, I took great care not to miss the turn onto the connector to the Mishe Mokwa Trail. At this point in the run, I didn’t want to do any “bonus mileage!”

The return from Mishe Mokwa to Encinal Canyon is a bit of a blur. Everyone I encountered on the trail — and particularly the mountain bikers — were super-cool, several offering a quick high-five as they passed. The encouragement must have helped — my time returning to the Encinal Canyon Trailhead was faster by a few minutes than the time going out!

This interactive 3-D terrain view shows my GPS track of the Encinal Canyon – Mishe Mokwa Loop – Sandstone Peak Running Adventure. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. It is initially zoomed in on the Mishe Mokwa loop.

And BTW, even though it was a cool day, I was nearly out of water when I got back to Encinal. It took a little time to purify the water from the creek but having the additional water helped. So far, no obvious problems have resulted.

Some related posts:
Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa Out and Back Trail Run
Encinal Canyon to Triunfo Peak
Balance Rock
Mishe Mokwa – Sandstone Peak – Grotto Trail Run

Deerweed Carpets Hills and Canyons in the Santa Monica Mountains

Deerweed (Acmispon glaber) blooming near the Encinal Canyon Trailhead of the Backbone Trail. May 2024.
Deerweed (Acmispon glaber) blooming near the Encinal Canyon Trailhead of the Backbone Trail.

A deerweed superbloom has emerged in the western Santa Monica Mountains this May, covering hillsides with a multitude of small yellow flowers.

The extensive bloom is occurring near the end of a two-year period that is the wettest in Los Angeles in over a century.

Sullivan Ridge – Will Rogers – Temescal Loop from the Top of Reseda

Creek in Rustic Canyon near the bottom of the Josepho Drop Trail.
Creek in Rustic Canyon from near the bottom of the Josepho Drop Trail.

The most popular trail run from the Top of Reseda to Will Rogers State Historic Park takes Fire Road #30 up to the Hub, turns left (east), and then follows the Roger’s Road segment of the Backbone Trail all the way to the Park. Many do the run as a keyhole loop, picking up the Rivas Canyon Trail on the west side of Will Rogers and using that trail to connect to Temescal Canyon. The Temescal Ridge Trail is then used to return to the Hub and Fire Road #30. The run is about 21 miles and gains/loses about 3400′.

There is another — more adventurous — way to do a loop from the Top of Reseda that visits Will Rogers and then returns via the Rivas Canyon and Temescal Ridge Trails. It is about the same length as the regular route and very nearly a complete loop. That’s the route I was doing this morning.

Solitary oak along Sullivan Ridge Fire Road. (thumbnail)
Solitary oak along Sullivan Ridge Fire Road.

Instead of going up to the Hub, I ran east about 2.5 miles on dirt Mulholland to Sullivan Ridge Fire Road and then 3.5 miles down the fire road to “Josepho junction.” There’s a yellow fire gate here, and the road changes from dirt to pavement.

From this point, the goal is to get to the Josepho Drop Trail — a short (0.75-mile) trail that connects Rustic Canyon to the Backbone Trail above the bridge. From the creek to the Backbone Trail, the trail gains about 650′. Much of it is steep, rough, and rubbly.

Years ago, we would run down the private service road from Sullivan Ridge to Camp Josepho, then follow a use trail down the canyon to the Josepho Drop Trail. That hasn’t been an option for some time, but there are other — more interesting — ways to get to the Josepho Drop.

Bougainvillea along the Old Stables Trail. (thumbnail)
Bougainvillea along the Old Stables Trail.

One option is to continue south from Joespho junction on the fire road a tenth of a mile to a single-track trail on the right. On some maps, the trail is labeled the “Old Stables Trail.” Initially, the trail contours below the crest of the ridge but eventually winds down into Rustic Canyon in the area of Murphy Ranch —  an abandoned 1930s compound said to have been a haven for fascists and Nazi sympathizers.

On the way down, there are vestiges of the old compound —  a flourishing Bougainvillea, an overgrown corral, an out-of-place palm.

Near the bottom, another trail/road enters from the left. I turned right here and followed the trail around a corner with a low, graffitied wall, and then down canyon about 130 yards to a trail sign near the creek. The collapsed structure found here must be the ruins of the stables.

Trail sign marking junction of the Will Rogers and Josepho Drop Trails. (thumbnail)
Trail sign marking junction of the Will Rogers and Josepho Drop Trails.

Finding the junction at the trail sign is the key to staying on route. According to Google Earth, the approximate location is 34.074534°, -118.516381°. The coordinates recorded for the photo are 34° 4′ 28.480000″ N, 118° 30′ 58.720000″ W.

A right-hand (west) turn at the sign crosses the creek and joins the Josepho Drop Trail. I’ve explored the trail south of the sign a few times. In about a half-mile, it leads to the heavily graffitied building that housed the diesel generators for the enclave. Not only is the building graffitied, but everything within reach of a spray can — walls, steps, pavement —  even the trees are painted.

Maps show the “Will Rogers Trail” continuing to Will Rogers, but as the trail sign says, the trail is not maintained. With the rain we’ve had the last couple of years, there’s little doubt the trail is washed out, overgrown, and would be time-consuming to follow.

Creek at bottom of Josepho Drop Trail. (thumbnail)
Creek at bottom of Josepho Drop Trail.

I returned up the canyon to the trail sign and followed the Josepho Drop Trail west across the creek . It looked like some trailwork had been done on the bottom part of the trail.

As I worked up the trail, I kept an eye out above. The last time up the Drop, I’d encountered a mountain biker bumping down a steep and very rutted section of the trail. It looked like he was riding down stairs.

When I reached the top of the Drop, I turned left on the Backbone Trail and continued down to Will Roger’s State Park. The loop was completed by following the Rivas Canyon Trail over to Temescal Canyon, then picking up the Temescal Ridge Trail and following it past Skull Rock and Green Mountain to the Hub. From the Hub, Fire Road #30 was followed back to dirt Mulholland and the top of Reseda.

Eucalyptus along the Inspiration Point Loop Trail in Will Rogers State Historic Park. (thumbnail)
Eucalyptus along the Inspiration Point Loop Trail in Will Rogers State Historic Park

I was surprised to find that without the side trip to the Murphy Ranch powerhouse, the Sullivan Ridge variant of the Will Rogers – Temescal Ridge loop is virtually the same length as the “regular” route down the Roger’s Road segment of the Backbone Trail. It just has a bit more elevation gain.

If a shorter run is preferred, another option is to turn right (north) on the Backbone Trail at the top of the Drop and follow that to the Hub. From the Hub, it’s about 2.5 miles to the trailhead at the Top of Reseda. This variant of the trail run works out to about 16.5 miles.

This interactive 3-D terrain view shows my GPS track (yellow) of the Sullivan Ridge – Will Rogers – Temescal Loop from the Top of Reseda. Also shown is my GPS track (red) of the Roger’s Road option on the Backbone Trail.

Here are some photos taken along the way, including some native, non-native, and ornamental flowers.

Some related posts:
Will Rogers – Rivas Canyon – Temescal Canyon Trail Run
Will Rogers – Temescal Loop

Mugu Peak – Wood Canyon – Hidden Pond Loop

Hidden Pond from the Hidden Pond Trail in Point Mugu State Park. Photography by Gary Valle'.
Hidden Pond from the Hidden Pond Trail in Point Mugu State Park.

It had rained a few hundredths overnight, and even though it was May, the weather was decidedly March-like.

Raindrops glistened in the grass, and a little mud caked my shoes as I ran across Satwiwa. To the south, rugged Boney Mountain captured the first rays of the rising sun, a remnant cloud hiding its summit. I breathed deeply and thought, “This is going to be an outstanding run…”

Here’s an interactive, 3D-terrain view of the GPS track of the Mugu Peak – Wood Canyon – Hidden Pond Loop.

Some related posts:
Soggy Shoes, Soppy La Jolla Valley, and Sensational Wildflowers
Busy Mugu Peak
Hidden Pond – Old Boney Loop