Usually, I prefer to start the Strawberry Peak Summit Loop at the Colby Canyon Trailhead on Angeles Crest Highway. But it had been a while since I’d done the loop from Clear Creek, and I was feeling a little nostalgic. One of the aid stations for the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment race is at Clear Creek, and the course climbs Josephine Fire Road.
I was also curious how my time to Josephine Saddle using the fire road would compare to the direct route up the Colby Canyon Trail. As it turned out, at a moderate pace it was about the same either way.
The use trail up from Josephine Saddle was in decent condition. It looked like it may have recently had a snip here and there. Part way up the path, an outcrop on the ridgeline provides a good warmup for the climbing higher up. The circuitous path eventually ends at the base of the steep, jumbled northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak. I was surprised to find two small patches of snow here.
It’s difficult to describe the route on the ridge since there are many variations. It’s not fear-mongering to say that people get into trouble on this section. A common comment about this segment is, “Don’t climb anything sketchy or difficult.” But what is an easy scramble for one person may be nearly impossible for another. With 50+ years of rock climbing experience, I still remind myself not to climb up anything I’m not 100% sure I can climb down. If you don’t have “real” rock climbing experience, go with someone that knows the route.
Following a wet, snowy, cold Winter, I took extra care while climbing. Solid holds and blocks can sometimes be loosened over the Winter and fail unexpectedly. This morning, I didn’t notice any obvious changes on the route I climbed.
The setting changes dramatically on the east side of Strawberry Peak. You go from the cool shadows of a steep, rocky face with (typically) no one around to a sunny, sandy, busy summit and trail.
As I approached the summit, a couple of people were setting up to do a video for a vlog. Another person had just reached the top, and another hiker wasn’t far behind. With snow in the high country, Hwy 2 still closed at Red Box, and the Bobcat Fire Closure still in effect, the trail up Strawberry was a popular option. The question of the day from the people coming up was, “How many false summits are there?”
Overall, the Strawberry Peak Trail was in reasonable shape. The trail needed a little work in a few places, but as far as mountain trails go, its condition was about what you would expect. In several places, the trail was carpeted with the remnants of old yucca leaves. Very nice!
Just before reaching Red Box, I snapped a photo of the snow on Mt. Baldy. At Red Box, all but one parking space was taken, and that one was snagged by an arriving car.
As I started down the Gabrielino Trail from Red Box, LASD Air Rescue 5 began to orbit overhead. Apparently, there had been yet another vehicle accident on Angeles Crest Highway. It wasn’t long until I heard the whaling sound of sirens coming up the canyon.
Some trailwork had been done on the upper half of Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Switzer’s. Quite a few small trees and limbs had been removed from the trail, and the bushes trimmed. Most of the work (as of today) ended at mass of fallen trees halfway down the trail.
Upper Arroyo Seco was flowing. The sound of water plunging over the debris dams made the flow seem higher than it was. There were a couple of minor creek crossings.
Switzer’s was busy — as usual. To finish the loop, I walked up the stairs to the access road and hiked up to the start of Nature’s Canteen Trail. It was a bit overgrown, but I was back at Clear Creek in a few minutes.
The out and back trail run to Condor Peak (5440’+) and Fox Mountain (5033′) from Vogel Flat is an adventurous 17-mile, lower elevation run in the San Gabriel Mountains.
When I last did this run (May 2020), portions of the trail below Fox Mountain were washed out and overgrown. Later I learned that this was before the Condor Trail restoration project had been completed. Thanks to the hard work of the Lowlifes Trail Crew the trail has been brought back to life. Today, several groups — including hikers, bikers, and runners — were making their way to Condor Peak.
As mentioned in my posts from 2007 and 2020, this adventure is best done when the weather is cool. It can really bake on the south-facing sections of trail. From the Vogel Flat Trailhead on Big Tujunga Canyon Road the trail climbs about 2600′ in 6 miles to reach Fox Divide. Much of this stretch is surprisingly runnable. As with most mountain trails, extra care is required because of steep drop-offs and other hazards.
Today, the trail was in the best shape I’ve seen in years. The weather was relatively cool and good for running. As has been the case in other low elevation areas, a colorful assortment of Spring wildflowers were blooming along the trail. With our copious Winter rain, two small streams were crossed on the traverse above Fusier Canyon. It’s hard to say how long they will last.
The morning was beautiful and sunny. It hadn’t rained for two days, and except for a few contrails, the sky was nearly cloudless.
Earlier in the morning, I’d climbed the Western Ridge of Boney Mountain, then worked my way over Tri Peaks to the Backbone Trail. I’d been on cruise control running down the Chamberlain/Backbone Trail, enjoying the pleasant weather and wide-ranging views.
Passing a gap in the ridge, I was surprised to see a person on the hillside, a few yards below the trail. It was an odd place to be.
The person was partially hidden by grass and brush, and all I could see was their head and shoulders. They were wearing an odd helmet and were busy working on something that looked like a pack. I didn’t see a mountain bike.
None of it made sense. Was it someone doing the Backbone Trail? Had they slept there overnight? What was with the helmet? Reaching the end of the Chamberlain Trail, I turned right on the Old Boney Trail and continued the descent toward Blue Canyon.
Partway down, I heard the clap-clap-clap of helicopter blades approaching the canyon, and that’s when it all fell into place. The mysterious person along the Chamberlain Trail was a SAR crew member.
The helicopter was yellow, probably from the Ventura County Sheriff Search and Rescue Aviation/Medical Team. I’ve seen them in the area a number of times doing exercises.
This wasn’t the first time I’d seen something strange from the Chamberlain Trail. A few years ago, I’d noticed an odd-looking object below the Chamberlain and Old Boney Trails junction. It turned out to be a rescue manikin strapped onto a litter. Practice makes perfect, and exercises help ensure the safety and success of demanding SAR operations.
Farther down the Backbone Trail, there was a striking display of California poppies and bush sunflowers on the hillside above the junction of the Backbone and Old Boney Trails. After photographing the poppies, I returned to the Backbone Trail and entered Blue Canyon. To this point, I’d managed to keep my shoes and socks dry. But that was going to end.
I’d done a similar route in January, partly to see the condition of the Chamberlain, Blue Canyon, and Upper Sycamore Trails. That was the case again today. In the two months since the January run, nearby Circle X has recorded over 13 inches of rain. Not surprisingly, that has resulted in more water in the streams, more wildflowers along the trails, and a bit more eroded and rougher trails.
I like splashing through streams as much as anyone does, but today I wanted to try and keep my shoes and socks dry. This Winter that’s been surprisingly hard to do.
Weekdays, I often run from the Victory trailhead at Ahmanson Ranch over to Las Virgenes Canyon and back. But it had rained in the Los Angeles area for four days straight. There was just no question that Ahmanson was going to be wet and muddy, and Las Virgenes Creek would be too wide to jump. I’d have to wade the creek crossings — again.
That’s why this afternoon, I was doing an out-and-back run on Rocky Peak Road from the 118 Frwy trailhead. As a result of the area’s sandstone geology, Rocky Peak Road is usually a pretty good place to run during periods of wet weather. For one thing, there are no creeks to cross. Plus, the rocky and sandy road doesn’t have many areas of “glob on your shoes” mud. It also has excellent views of the San Fernando and Simi Valleys and surrounding mountains.
My turnaround point today was the top of the Chumash Trail, which is a little less than four miles from the Rocky Peak trailhead. I sometimes continue past the Chumash Trail another mile to Fossil Point.
Today, there was one short, muddy stretch that could be mostly avoided and a few large mud puddles I could walk around. At the end of the run I didn’t have to switch shoes to drive home!
The paved turnout where I usually park at the Stunt Road trailhead was covered with mud, rocks, and debris. And near the entrance of Calabasas Peak fire road, two large boulders had been dragged to the shoulder to clear the road.
Following another big storm in a Winter of big storms, I was doing the Topanga Lookout Ridge Loop — curious to see what I could see. Nearby Stunt Ranch Reserve had recorded over 10 inches of rain the past three days, and there had been numerous reports of low elevation snow.