Category Archives: landscape

Manzanita Trail Plus Mt. Baden-Powell

Approaching Dorr Canyon wash on the Manzanita Trail, on the way to Vincent Gap.
Wash in Dorr Canyon

Update September 3, 2023, 1:15 p.m. Caltrans Quickmap is showing Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2)  is now open between Grassy Hollow and Vincent Gap.  Caltrans Road  Conditions says the closure is “5 mi west of Big Pines.” Google Maps and Waze still show the section between Grassy Hollow and Vincent Gap as closed.

Update August 23, 2023. The Big Pines RAWS recorded 6.26 inches of rain, and Lewis Ranch RAWS 7.04 inches from T.S. Hilary. The heavy rain on the north-facing slopes of the eastern San Gabriels may have produced debris flows in the washes crossed by the Manzanita Trail. Excessive runoff may have done more damage to stabilized sections of the Manzanita Trail where it crosses steep slides above Paradise Springs. According to CalTrans, the previously open section of Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2) between Grassy Hollow and Vincent Gap is currently closed.

Bigcone Douglas-fir cones, dripping with protective resin.
Bigcone Douglas-fir cones, dripping with protective resin.

I’d been thinking about doing the South Fork Loop, a challenging loop that I usually start at Islip Saddle. The route descends the South Fork Trail to South Fork Campground (4,565′) and then climbs all the way to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell (9,399′), using the Manzanita Trail and PCT. From the top of Baden-Powell, the PCT is followed back to Islip Saddle.

But there were a couple of problems with this idea. First, the road to Islip Saddle — Angeles Crest Highway — was closed. More importantly, parts of the South Fork Trail were burned in the Bobcat Fire, and heavy snow and rain may have damaged the South Fork Trail or Manzanita Trail.

One of the washes crossed by the Manzanita Trail, about a mile below Vincent Gap.
Wash crossed by the Manzanita Trail, about a mile below Vincent Gap.

The road closure would be easy to work around — the loop could be started at Vincent Gap. But I definitely needed to check the condition of the South Fork and Manzanita Trails. The loop is difficult, even when the trails are in good shape.

I decided to check the Manzanita Trail first. If that trail had issues, then the condition of the South Fork Trail didn’t matter.

So that is what I was doing today. The plan was to run the Manzanita Trail from Vincent Gap down to South Fork Campground, then turn around and — just like on the South Fork Loop — take the Manzanita Trail and PCT to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell.

Brush and debris deposited on the Manzanita Trail a couple of miles below Vincent Gap.
Manzanita Trail obstacle course.

I woke early on Sunday and arrived at Vincent Gap at about 6:45 a.m. With much of Angeles Crest Highway closed, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the main parking lot was already full. I nabbed the last spot in the overflow area across the highway. I could only imagine what it must be like on the trail up Baden-Powell.

But I didn’t have to worry about that — not for a while. I grabbed my pack from the back of the car and started jogging down the Manzanita Trail. On that trail, I probably wouldn’t see anyone!

Gooseberries along the Manzanita Trail.
Gooseberries along the Manzanita Trail.

As would be expected on a little-used trail after a hard Winter, the Manzanita Trail was a bit of a mess. In addition to being generally overgrown, there were fallen trees, brush deposited on the trail by runoff or avalanches, minor washouts, and other damage. These slowed the pace but weren’t too much of a problem.

On the other hand, there is a section of the Manzanita Trail that could be a serious issue. It is where the trail crosses several steep, loose, stabilized slides. This area is about 4.4 miles from Vincent Gap and 1.4 miles from South Fork Campground. This section of the trail is almost always damaged, but on past adventures, had always been passable. How bad was it going to be today?

Damaged section of the Manzanita Trail about 1.4 miles above South Fork Campground.
Damaged section of the Manzanita Trail.

The answer is — pretty bad. As I started across the first slide, it looked like it would go just fine, but then I looked closer. One of the abutments on the down-slope side of the trail had completely given way. The trail had collapsed, leaving only a narrow slice of crumbling dirt along the base of the up-slope barrier. I would have to use the barrier to get past, and it wasn’t in the best shape. I’m sure people have done this, but it seemed like a bad idea. I could see no straightforward way around the collapsed trail. Disappointed, I turned around and started working back up the trail toward Vincent Gap.

Spiral scar on a tree on the Manzanita Trail that was recently been struck by lightning.
Tree on the Manzanita Trail that was struck by lightning.

I’d been running for a few minutes when I came across a “lightning tree.” These are trees that have been struck by lightning and have a scar spiraling down their trunk. I’ve photographed a number of them. Some are in a location that you would expect to be struck by lightning, but just as many are along seemingly unexposed sections of trail. Once, I was running down the PCT below Mt. Hawkins, well below the crest, and a tree 50 yards down the slope was smoking from just being struck.

On the way back up to Vincent Gap, there would be a little route-finding fun. The Manzanita Trail crosses some small debris-filled washes. Over time, paths develop through the rubble but can be intermittent and indistinct. Debris flows can destroy a part of nearly all of a path.

Debris-filled wash in Dorr Canyon that is crossed by the Manzanita Trail.
Dorr Canyon wash.

The wash in Dorr Canyon is the largest crossed by the Manzanita Trail. Keeping in mind that Tropical Storm Hilary may have changed things, on August 13th, the path across the wash was mostly intact. One gotcha was that on the west side of the wash, the path ended short of the Manzanita Trail.

Did I mention the gnats, stinging nettle, and Poodle-dog bush? Oh, the gnats. On the way down the trail they weren’t too bad, but as the temperature warmed, they became increasingly annoying and persistent.

Blue Ridge and Pine Mountain from the PCT on the north side of Mt. Baden-Powell.
Blue Ridge and Pine Mountain from the PCT on Mt. Baden-Powell.

When doing the South Fork Loop, I usually stop for water at the stream that feeds Icy Springs. The trail was overgrown near the stream, and mixed in with the greenery was some stinging nettle. Even knowing it was there, I managed to brush against it on the way down the trail and then again coming back up.

There was also a little Poodle-dog bush on the trail about two miles down from Vincent Gap in a small area that had been burned. As long as you noticed it, it was easy to avoid.

The Wally Waldron Limber Pine, near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell.
The Wally Waldron Limber Pine.

What the heck? As I topped out at Vincent Gap, the sounds of revelry came from across the highway. It was party time in the Baden-Powell parking lot! A large group of people were gathered at the west end of the lot, near the trailhead. Were they preparing to do a mass ascent of Baden-Powell? I quickly refilled my hydration pack, grabbed some food, and headed up the PCT.

San Gorgonio Mountain, and Pine Mountain, from Mt. Baden-Powell.
San Gorgonio Mountain, and Pine Mountain from Mt. Baden-Powell.

Once I escaped the craziness of the parking lot, it turned out to be one of the most pleasant ascents and descents of Baden-Powell I’ve done. Even with the machinations of the Manzanita Trail earlier in the morning and the additional vertical gain, Baden-Powell couldn’t have gone better. Very few hikers were on the trail, everyone was super-friendly, and when I reached the summit, it was empty — at noon, on a Sunday, in August!

Some related posts: Manzanita Trail Morning, South Fork Adventure, Bear Cubs on the South Fork Trail, San Gabriel Mountains Running Adventure

Dealing with the Heat on Strawberry Peak and San Gabriel Peak

Early morning view of Strawberry Peak from the Strawberry Trail, near Lawlor Saddle.
Strawberry Peak from the Strawberry Trail, near Lawlor Saddle.

Last weekend I’d considered doing a run from Red Box, but finally decided to go to higher elevation and do a combination run and climb.

Blazing star near the bottom of the Bill Riley/Mt. Disappointment Trail
Blazing star.

The puzzle to solve this weekend was to find a run that was closer to home, higher than the Santa Monica Mountains, and had a “decent amount” of elevation gain. The solution put me right back at Red Box, doing two of the most popular peaks in the Front Range — Strawberry Peak (6164′) and San Gabriel Peak (6161′).

I’d done these peaks as a duo several years ago. The basic details remain the same and are described in this post.

The main difference is that the 2018 run/hike was on a cool day in March, rather than a hot day in August. In 2018, I did San Gabriel Peak first, then Strawberry. The order didn’t matter. The temperature on both peaks that day was mostly in the 40s.

Mt. Disappointment (left) and Strawberry Peak from the San Gabriel Peak Trail.
Mt. Disappointment (left) and Strawberry Peak from the San Gabriel Peak Trail.

Today, it was essential to do Strawberry first, and get started early. The use trail between Lawlor Saddle and Strawberry’s summit faces south and east, and has very little shade. It’s steep and strenuous an no fun at all in the hot sun.

I left the Red Box parking lot at about 6:00 a.m. On the way up, the temperature ranged from the mid-50s to the mid-70s. On the way down, in some places it was already in the 90s. While it was hot in the sun on the upper part of the mountain on the descent, the traverse around Mt. Lawlor on the Strawberry Trail was still mostly in the shade and a relatively cool 75 to 80 degrees.

San Gabriel Peak isn’t the solar oven that Strawberry is. Much of the Bill Riley/Mt. Disappointment Trail faces north and a scrub oak forest provides some shade. Continuing up San Gabriel Peak after doing Strawberry, the temps were generally in the low to mid-80s.

Some related posts: Front Range Duo: San Gabriel Peak and Strawberry Peak, Blazing Star

It’s Mid-July And There Is Still Snow in Los Angeles County!

Snow in the lee of the West Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell.
Snow in the lee of the West Ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell.

You might not see it from the Los Angeles side of the mountains, but there is still some snow on the higher, north-facing slopes of the San Gabriel Mountains.

During and after storms, snow-laden southerly winds dump their load on the backside of the crest, creating deep drifts, cornices, and compacted slabs of snow. This snow is often the last to melt, not only because it doesn’t face the sun, but because there is more of it.

Mt. Burnham, Peak 9086, and Mt. Baden-Powell from near Throop Peak.
Mt. Burnham, Peak 9086, and Mt. Baden-Powell from near Throop Peak.

This morning, I was doing an out-and-back from the Windy Gap Trailhead in the Crystal Lake Recreation Area to Mt. Baden-Powell. The Windy Gap Trail climbs 1730′ in 2.6 miles, joining the PCT at Windy Gap. From there the trail follows the spine of the San Gabriels past Mt. Hawkins, Throop Peak, and Mt. Burnham to Mt. Baden-Powell.

I usually do this run from Islip Saddle, but with Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) closed between Red Box and Vincent Gap, the Islip Saddle trailhead isn’t accessible.

Snow on the west ridge of Mt. Baden-Powell. July 9, 2023.
Snow at about 9100′ on the west side of Mt. Baden-Powell.

Whether you start at Crystal Lake or Islip Saddle, the length of the run is about the same — a bit over 16 miles. The main difference is that the Windy Gap Trailhead is about 800′ lower in elevation. On the plus side, the Windy Gap Trail is very scenic; on the minus side, it faces south and can bake in the midday sun.

On today’s run, I encountered the first snowbanks at an elevation of 8870′, near the Dawson Saddle Trail junction. Out of curiosity, I tried to follow the trail and soon realized that was a mistake. I was more or less forced to skirt the downhill side of a lengthy and deep drift — it being too steep and icy to cross directly.

Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. July 9, 2023.
Mt. Baldy from the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. July 9, 2023.

For the remainder of the run, I switched to the early season tactic of staying on the crest when the trail deviated onto shaded, north-facing slopes. These areas might have significant snow on the trail. This only happens in a few places, such as when the PCT works around Mt. Burnham. There is a use trail that ascends the west ridge of Mt. Burnham, and then returns to the PCT.

The conditions today are reminiscent of those found here in early July 2005. July 3rd of that year there was still snow on the summit of Baden-Powell, and there was deeper snow in the areas where there was snow today. We had a lot of storms this rain season, but in Rain Year 2004-2005 Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded about 9 inches more rain than during the 2022-2023 rain year!

Here is a short slideshow of some photos taken on the run. I’ve also included a few photos from the run to Baden-Powell in 2005 for comparison.

Escape to Mt. Pinos – An Alternative to Closed Angeles Crest Highway Trailheads

Large Jeffrey pine and larkspur along the Vincent Tumamait Trail in the Chumash Wilderness.
Jeffrey pine and larkspur along the Vincent Tumamait Trail

A long stretch of Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) between Red Box and Vincent Gap remains closed because of storm damage. According to a tweet from Caltrans District 7, it sounds like it may be closed through Summer. Some affected trailheads include Shortcut Saddle, Three Points, Mt. Waterman, Buckhorn, Mt. Williamson, and Islip Saddle.

Starting down the Vincent Tumamait Trail, near the Condor Observation Site on Mt. Pinos.
Starting down the Vincent Tumamait Trail

Mt. Pinos is often overlooked as a trail running destination but offers several options for those that enjoy running or hiking in hilly terrain at higher altitude. Most of the runs at Mt. Pinos start at the Chula Vista Trailhead (8350′) at the end of Mt. Pinos Road.

Today, I was doing an out-and-back from the Chula Vista Trailhead to Mt. Abel/Cerro Noroeste (8280+’). The route includes short side trips to Mt. Pinos (8831′), Sawmill Mountain (8818′), Grouse Mountain (8582′), and Sheep Camp (8300′).

Snow plant along the Vincent Tumamait Trail
Snow plant along the Vincent Tumamait Trail

Including the side trips, the run/hike is about 15.5 miles long, with about 3700′ of gain/loss. Google Earth calculates the average elevation of the route to be 8434′. In comparison, the average elevation of the out and back from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell is 8201′.

With triple-digit highs expected in some low-elevation areas, the temps on Mt. Pinos today were ever so pleasant — short-sleeves from the start and only a little toasty in a few exposed areas.

Chumash spirit tower on Sawmill Mountain., west of Mt. Pinos.
Chumash spirit tower on Sawmill Mountain.

Despite the harsh Winter, there were only one or two small trees down on the Vincent Tumamait Trail, and those were inconsequential. As elsewhere in Southern California, the wildflowers along the trail were sensational. After nearly drying up last year, the spring at Sheep Camp was running at full flow.

Explore the terrain of this out and back run from Mt. Pinos to Mt. Abel using our interactive, 3D trail run visualizer. It’s like being there! The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Lupine and other wildflowers along the Vincent Tumamait Trail, near Mt. Abel Road.
Lupine and other wildflowers along the trail, near Mt. Abel Road.

If you are looking to run longer, add additional elevation gain, or explore the area, running to Lily Meadows and back from Sheep Camp extends the run to about 21 miles, with around 5400′ of elevation gain/loss.

Another option for a longer run is doing an out-and-back to Mesa Spring Camp, instead of Mt. Abel. Including a stop at Sheep Camp on the way back, this run is about 20.5 miles, with about 4800′ of gain/loss.

Lily Meadows and Mesa Springs see far less traffic than the Vincent Tumamait Trail. The trade-off is that both places are at lower elevation and can be 15-20 degrees warmer than Mt. Pinos.

Some related posts:
Thirsty Mt. Pinos
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
Mt. Pinos Adventure Run to Mesa Spring

A Really Overgrown Trail, Thirty Creek Crossings, and Thousands of Wildflowers

Yarrow and paintbrush along the Old Boney Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park.
Old Boney Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park.

Starting at the Wendy Drive Trailhead, I’d crossed Satwiwa, run down Danielson Road, rock-hopped across Upper Sycamore Creek, and picked up the Old Boney Trail. The condition of the Old Boney Trail between Danielson Road and the Fossil Trail junction was better than expected. Maybe the trail was going to be in good shape after all.

A section of the Old Boney Trail overgrown with black sage following the wet rain season of 2022-2023.
A section of the Old Boney Trail overgrown with black sage.

Wrong! Once I passed the turnoff to the Fossil Trail, the vegetation closed in. In places it was so thick I couldn’t see the trail at my feet, much less a few yards ahead. All I could do is smile and work my way through it. Everything was overgrown — bushes, grasses, wildflowers. And everything was wet with dew. A hundred yards past the Fossil Trail, I was soaked from head to toe.

I tried to see the positive. It was an amazing display of the effect of a wet rainy season. Without trail work and use, it wouldn’t take long for the trail to be completely consumed.

The Old Boney Trail continued to be a tangle of chaparral for about two miles — until I reached the Backbone Trail at Blue Canyon. At that point, it becomes part of the Backbone Trail system, and I was relieved to see that some work had recently been done on the trail.

Coast live oak and fog along the Old Boney Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park.
Coast live oak along the Old Boney Trail.

As I worked up the Backbone Trail toward the Chamberlain Trail junction, I recalled other times I’d run to Serrano Valley using Old Boney. What would the condition of the trail be beyond this point? I’d been on that part of the Old Boney Trail following a wet rain season and knew how overgrown it could be. Some refer to that section of trail as “tick alley.”

But when I got to the junction, surprise, surprise, the Old Boney Trail had been trimmed. More than two miles of trail were groomed. It was good all the way to the Serrano Valley Trail and partway into Serrano Valley. The trail in Serrano Valley was a little overgrown, but NOTHING like the Old Boney Trail between the Fossil and Backbone Trails.

Part of the fun of doing this route is all the stream crossings in Serrano Canyon — what is it 13 or 14? Today, most of these could be done without getting your shoes wet — especially if you have poles. I didn’t have poles, and my shoes and socks were already wet, so I didn’t worry about keeping them dry. Some sections of the Serrano Canyon Trail were also overgrown, but not bad. However, there was a lot of poison oak, some of which wasn’t avoidable.

Paintbrush and golden yarrow along Sycamore Canyon Fire Road in Pt. Mugu State Park.
Paintbrush and golden yarrow

After getting a drink of water at the faucet at the junction of the Serrano Canyon Trail and Sycamore Canyon Fire Road, I headed up-canyon. Almost immediately, the fire road crossed Big Sycamore Canyon Creek. I did this first crossing without getting my shoes wet, but nine more crossings followed, and most resulted in soaked shoes. The water crossings and wildflowers helped distract me from the five mile run up Sycamore Canyon to the Upper Sycamore Trail.

Getting off Sycamore Canyon Road and onto the Upper Sycamore Trail was a relief. Whatever run I do from Wendy Drive, I always finish it via this trail. The trail gets enough use that it was in good shape. This time all the creek crossings could easily be rock-hopped.

Even with a few tedious sections, it was an adventurous and mostly enjoyable 20 miles. Here are some photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Old Boney to Serrano Valley, Plus Fireline and Overlook; Looking for Ogres in Serrano Canyon; Running to Serrano and La Jolla Valleys from Wendy Drive; You Can’t Run Just Part Way Up Serrano Canyon

Sage Ranch Fun Run

Running along upthrust sandstone rocks at Sage Ranch Park.

The photo above is of Brett running along upthrust sandstone rocks at Sage Ranch Park in the Simi Hills.

We followed the crest of the rock formation to the top of rock in the distance on the right of the photo.

Sage Ranch Park is adjacent to Boeing’s Santa Susana Field Laboratory. A portion of the park  has been closed for more than five years, pending the cleanup of lead shot and other contaminants from the site of a former shooting range. In 2017 a new trail was created to detour around the closed area.

Some related posts: Sage Ranch Micro-Wilderness, Grinding Mortars and Water Holes, Mountain Lion Saga