Category Archives: landscape

Which Stretch of the Backbone Trail Has the Longest Uninterrupted Descent and Most Elevation Loss?

Runners descending the Backbone Trail pass Chamberlain Rock.
Runners descending the Backbone Trail pass Chamberlain Rock.

It’s a section of the westbound Backbone Trail that starts two miles west of Sandstone Peak and continues down the Chamberlain, Old Boney, and Blue Canyon Trails to the Danielson Multi-Use Area and Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road. At the point where the trail turns south on the fire road, it has dropped about 2400 feet in 4.8 miles. Continuing south on the fire road, the Backbone Trail gradually descends another 100 feet over a mile and a half until it starts up the Wood Canyon Vista Trail.

What about the long downhill between Saddle Peak and Malibu Canyon? That would be a contender if it weren’t for a gradual uphill that starts a little east of the Piuma Road crossing. It gains about 180 feet over 0.8 mile. If that break in the downhill is ignored, then the stats for the two descents are similar.

Boney Mountain from Satwiwa.
Boney Mountain from Satwiwa.

This morning, I did the Backbone Trail segment from Sandstone Peak to the Danielson Multi-Use Area as part of a loop from the Wendy Drive Trailhead on Potrero Road in Newbury Park. Including the optional side trip to Sandstone Peak, the loop totals about 18 miles with around 4000′ gain/loss.

Fires and heavy rain the past decade have taken their toll on the Backbone Trail and other trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. Today, except for a short stretch near Chamberlain Rock, most of the long downhill was in decent shape and enjoyable to run.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS trace of my route. The eastern ridge route is also shown. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned using the navigation control on the right. 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:
Not So Busy Sandstone Peak
Looking for Boney Mountain
Backbone Trail Mystery

I Stop for Cumulus Clouds

Cumulus cloud - Photography by Gary Valle'

On my way to upper Las Virgenes Canyon from the Victory Trailhead of Ahmanson Ranch, I had to stop running and marvel at the intricacy and beauty of this cumulus cloud.

The cloud developed as another weak trough was passing through Southern California. For a few weeks the long-range outlooks have been advertising a change to a wetter weather pattern, but the expected transition keeps being delayed.

More posts from the category Nature & Clouds.

The Western Santa Monica Mountains from Topanga Lookout Ridge

https://photographyontherun.com/content/binary/WesternSantaMonicaMountainsMorningLowCloudsSun4949b.jpg

The sun had risen, casting a warm morning light on the Santa Monica Mountains. Overnight, low clouds flowed inland through Malibu Canyon, emphasizing the peaks and covering the valleys.

Backbone Trail below Saddle Peak.
Backbone Trail below Saddle Peak.

I had just started up Topanga Lookout Ridge and was less than a mile into the Topanga Lookout Ridge Loop. Rain had muddied the ground and cleansed the sky, producing crystal clear views in every direction.

The view of the western Santa Monica Mountains extended from the top of the Tapia climb on Mesa Peak Motorway, past Castro Peak, to Boney Mountain and the highest peak in the Santa Monica range — Sandstone Peak.

In my mind, I traced the route of the Backbone Trail along the crest. My route would take me to the Backbone Trail, but this morning I would enjoy running only a few of its sixty-eight spectacular miles.

Some related posts:
Topanga Lookout Loop, Plus Saddle Peak
Looking for Snow on Topanga Lookout and Saddle Peak
Topanga Lookout Site and the San Fernando Valley

Chumash Rock and Clouds

Chumash Rock and Clouds - Photography by Gary Valle'
Chumash Rock and Clouds

“Chumash Rock” is prominent rock formation seen from the Chumash Trail in the eastern Simi Valley.

As I discovered in a January 2006 adventure, it is not an easy rock formation to reach.

The title photo was taken in mid-November while doing the Chumash – Las Llajas Loop. The clouds over the Ventura County foothills and mountains from the Las Llajas Canyon – Rocky Peak Road connector were just as beautiful.

Three Points Loop Following the Reopening of Angeles Crest Highway

Bracken fern turning color at Waterman Meadow is a sure sign of Autumn.
Waterman Meadow

I was beginning to wonder if I would get a chance to do the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman this year. Angeles Crest Highway had been closed from Red Box to Vincent Gap for many months, and CalTrans projected it might not open until Thanksgiving.

That’s why Friday (November 3) I was excited to hear Angeles Crest Highway had reopened between Upper Big Tujunga Rd. and Islip Saddle.

Alpenglow on the San Gabriels' Front Range peaks.
Alpenglow on the San Gabriels’ Front Range peaks.

At dawn, a couple days later, I pulled into the Three Points parking lot, put on some sunscreen, grabbed my pack, and set out to see what was happening on the Three Points loop around Mt. Waterman.

I’d done the loop many times and in many situations — clockwise, counterclockwise, after the Station Fire closure, after the Bobcat Fire closure, with snow at the higher elevations, in hot weather and in cold. When the trails are in good shape and the weather isn’t too hot, the 20-mile loop is an outstanding trail run. Today, it was a challenge just to complete the loop.

Gilia along the Burkhart Trail. November 2023.
Gilia along the Burkhart Trail.

In many areas of Southern California, a wet 2022-2023 rainy season and Tropical Storm Hilary’s rain produced two seasons of Spring-like growth. One of the effects of the rain was the growth of wildflowers usually seen in the Spring, including seep monkeyflower, golden yarrow, gilia, grape soda lupine, and little paintbrush. It was strange to see a bumblebee buzzing from flower to flower of a Grinnell’s penstemon at 7250′ on Mt. Waterman in November.

At lower elevation, sections of Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail (10W04) were overgrown with mountain whitethorn — requiring several “grin and bear it” passages. Higher, long stretches of the little-used path were covered with a second season of grass. This made route-finding difficult, particularly where the trail descends to the Twin Peaks Trail junction.

Twin Peaks from the Buckhorn - Mt. Waterman Trail.
Twin Peaks from the Buckhorn – Mt. Waterman Trail.

It was an intriguing puzzle to solve, and eventually I made it to the junction of the summit trail and the trail down to Angeles Crest Highway, near Buckhorn (10W05). The trail down to Buckhorn sees much more use than the trail from Three Points and is much better defined. Besides a couple of downed trees, the run down was one of the more enjoyable parts of the loop. The trail is usually very busy, but I didn’t encounter anyone coming up the trail.

As expected, Buckhorn Campground was closed and no water was available. It was a warm day — around 75 degrees — but with the November sun low in the sky, not as warm as 75 degrees in July. If I needed more water, there were several places I could refill.

Cooper Canyon Falls, November 2023.
Cooper Canyon Falls (video)

The Burkhart Trail (below Buckhorn) was the only place I encountered a few hikers. They were returning from Cooper Canyon Falls. When I got down to the PCT and saw how much water was in the creek, I did the short side trip to the falls and took this video snapshot. It’s unusual for the falls to be flowing this time of year.

After checking out the falls, I resumed my westward journey on the PCT. Within feet of the creek crossing, an ugly tangle of fallen trees completely blocked the trail. This was just the first of several problems on the PCT between the Burkhart Trail junction and Cooper Canyon Camp. There were the usual downed trees, but there were also several sections of badly overgrown trail. These green thickets were generally adjacent to the creek, where the trail had been (or still was) wet.

Willows along the creek near Cooper Canyon Trail Camp.
Willows along the creek near Cooper Canyon Trail Camp.

Needing water, and to empty the debris from my shoes, I stopped for a few minutes at Cooper Canyon Trail Camp. Several campsites are nestled in a pleasant area along the creek. With Angeles Crest Highway open, I thought I might see someone here, but like Buckhorn Campground, it was empty.

After reaching Cloudburst Summit, the remainder of the run was more or less usual for the loop. There was some Poodle-dog bush and a small rockslide along the PCT on the way to Camp Glenwood, but neither were an issue. The run was more challenging than usual — and a bit slower — but it had been (mostly) fun and fascinating to work through it.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts:
After the Bobcat and Station Fires: Three Points Loop Around Mt. Waterman (Slideshow, 3D Terrain Maps)
Cool Weather, Old Trees, Grape Soda Lupine and a Restored Trail
Lemon Lilies, Tree Rings and More Heat Training on the Three Points Loop
Three Points Loop Adventure – July 2020

Woolly Bluecurls Blooming Out of Season Along the Ken Burton Trail

Woolly Bluecurls blooming out of season along the Ken Burton Trail, in the San Gabriel Mountains.

The blue of the woolly bluecurls was just stunning. The plant was along the Ken Burton Trail, in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles.

Arroyo Seco below Royal Gorge at Gabrielino Trail crossing.
Arroyo Seco below Royal Gorge at Gabrielino Trail crossing.

Woolly bluecurls normally flowers in the Spring, but rain from Tropical Storm Hilary, combined with Spring-like conditions caused it to bloom this Fall. Such blooms are usually not widespread and the flowers are often less robust than their Spring counterparts. Other Spring flowers that were blooming included Ceanothus, bush poppy, and golden yarrow.

The Ken Burton Trail connects the Gabrielino Trail, near Oakwilde, to a saddle at the top of Brown Mountain Road. Today, I was doing a longish out and back trail run to Wella’s Peak from Clear Creek via Switzers and the Gabrielino and Ken Burton Trails. Wella’s Peak is a bump on the west side of the saddle. Brown Mountain towers above the east side of the saddle.

An idyllic section of the Gabrielino Trail on the segment that bypasses Royal Gorge.
An idyllic section of the Gabrielino Trail

Explore the scenery and terrain on the out and back trail run to Wella’s Peak from Clear Creek using our high resolution,  interactive, 3D viewer. The imagery is so detailed, it’s almost like being there! To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen, the CTRL key and your mouse, or touch gestures. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Snow, ice, poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Related post: Red Box – Bear Canyon Loop Plus Brown Mountain