Category Archives: landscape

Skyline to the Sea – Fall 2018

Skyline to the Sea Trail

There’s a reason that Skyline to the Sea is Pacific Coast Trail Run’s biggest event. Close your eyes and picture your ideal trail. The trail of your dreams might be hard-pressed to match the appeal of the Skyline to Sea Trail.

There is something magical about running in an old-growth redwood forest. Established in 1902, Big Basin Redwoods State Park was the first state park in California. It’s redwoods reach 2000 years in age, 328 feet in height and 18.5 feet in width!

The Skyline to the Sea Trail has a net elevation loss, but enough uphill to get your attention. Many miles of the trail are as smooth as a carpet, but some are rocky, root-strewn and technical. It is often cool under the dense forest canopy, but it can also be warm and humid. I was surprised to see an “Emergency Water” stash a mile before the last aid station. In some years it is well-used and much appreciated.

The Park supports a vast variety of animal and plant life. Some plant species can only be found in the Park and a seabird (Marbled Murrelet) nests in its old-growth conifers.

In some years one park species can add extra adrenaline to the race. This year Brett (my son) and I were counting down the miles to mile 4.0 of the Marathon. The R.D. had reported encounters with the beasts at that point of the 50K on Saturday. About 20 yards before mile 4.0 Brett saw what looked like a “cloud of dust” and shortly after that we heard agitated voices from the runners ahead.

In it for the full experience, we — and several other runners — plowed headlong into the cloud. The yellowjackets didn’t like that. A number of us were stung; some several times. The day before a runner in the 50K was stung 18 times.

Yellowjackets or not, running the Skyline to the Sea Marathon was like running a 26 mile nature trail and one of the finest courses I’ve done.

Many thanks to R.D. Greg Lanctot and Team PCTR and all the volunteers that helped with the event. For all the results and more info see the Ultrasignup event page, PCTR’s web site and Facebook page.

Here are a few photos taken along the way. Mileages specified are from my fenix 3 and are approximate.

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Sage Ranch Micro-Wilderness

Sage Ranch Micro-Wilderness. Photography by Gary Valle.

Sage Ranch is a Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy open space area adjacent to the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL) Superfund site.

The sandstone rocks are an exposure of the Chatsworth Formation, which extends from the Simi Hills across the 118 Freeway to Rocky Peak and the Santa Susana Mountains. The popular rock climbing area Stoney Point is a well-known example of the Chatsworth Formation.

Geology and climate are the foundation elements of habitat. They influence — and sometimes dictate — the plants that inhabit an area. The plant Santa Susana Tarweed is very common on exposures of Chatsworth Formation sandstone, but rare elsewhere.

Exposures of Chatsworth Formation sandstone in Sage Ranch Park and Rocky Peak Park are sufficiently rugged as to create areas of isolated micro-wilderness within urban open space.

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After the Station Fire: Back to Bear Canyon

Bigcone Douglas-fir burned in the 2009 Station Fire. September 1, 2018.

It’s been nine years since the Station Fire burned 160,577 acres in Angeles National Forest. The Red Box – Bear Canyon – Gabrielino loop is a long time favorite adventure run that I’ve enjoyed doing many years before and after that 2009 fire.

The loop was the first I did when the area reopened in May 2011. The trails were in poor shape — overgrown and damaged from flash floods. The notorious fire-follower Poodle-dog bush had flourished in the wake of the fire and was particularly bad along the Gabrielino Trail between Switzer’s and Red Box. Thinking I was “immune” to the plant, I brazenly plowed through it, and as a result spent several inflamed nights trying to sleep in a reclining chair.

Each year Bear Canyon and upper Arroyo Seco recover a little more. Poodle-dog bush is in decline and in many areas nearing the end of its life-cycle. The chaparral, bay trees and oaks are all recovering; and the bigcone Douglas-firs that survived the fire have become more fully-foliaged.

Bear Canyon from the upper Bear Canyon Trail.
Bear Canyon from the upper Bear Canyon Trail. Click for larger image.

This year Bear Canyon was a little drier than last. The creek was a trickle, disappearing in the sand in some areas and creating small pools in others. The path in the upper part of the canyon, above Bear Canyon Camp, was better defined, but still tricky to follow in some spots.

With the dry conditions, most of the poison oak had already turned red. It was easy to spot, but difficult to avoid. The “stinging nettle” creek crossing higher in the canyon wasn’t as overgrown as last year, but I still managed to brush against a plant or two.

Bear Canyon ends at Arroyo Seco, downstream of Switzer Falls. After turning upstream on the Bear Canyon Trail, I hadn’t run far when I encountered a couple of mountain bikers. They asked me, “is this the trail to JPL?”

This wasn’t the first time that I’d encountered misplaced riders or hikers on this section of trail. Some get misplaced looking for the falls and others mistakenly follow the Bear Canyon Trail down into Arroyo Seco instead of continuing high in the canyon on the Gabrielino Trail. Because of the completion of the restoration of the Gabrielino Trail there were a few more riders on the trail than usual.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Bear Canyon Loop: If the Poison Oak Doesn’t Get You, the Stinging Nettle Will; After the Station Fire: Red Box – Bear Canyon – Gabrieleno Loop; After the Station Fire: Contact Dermatitis from Turricula parryi – Poodle-dog Bush

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Kodiak 50K 2018

Runner at about 9800' on Sugarloaf Mountain during the Kodiak Ultramarathons.

I already had my camera out and paused briefly to take the picture above. We were at about 9800′ on the rocky trail up Sugarloaf Mountain (9952′) and a little less than a half-mile from the summit. At the time, I wasn’t sure how far it was to the top. I thought we were getting close, but I’d thought that before.

Although I’ve done the Kodiak 50M a few times, I’ve always run the Siberia Creek (counterclockwise) course, so the ascent of Sugarloaf was totally new to me. The top of the peak is a stout six mile, 3000′ climb from the Sugarloaf Aid station, and for the uninitiated, there are many false summits along the way.

It was good to be feeling good. I’d run at altitude a lot this summer and it was helping. Running along the summit ridge didn’t feel much different than running on Lasky Mesa. And the weather was nearly ideal. No crazy 100 degree temps — just a few puffy, postcard clouds to dress up the day.

A five-minute jog along the crest ended on the summit. Bear Valley SAR was on top, checking runners in. Before the race they had lugged 1500 lbs. of water two-thirds of the way up the mountain. (Thank you!)

Participation in the 100M, 50M & 50K Kodiak Ultra Marathons has been increasing every year, and really jumped up this year. In 2016 the Sugarloaf Back 50K had 27 finishers and last year the Siberia Creek Back 50K had 57. This year there were 148 finishers in the Back 50K. With an average elevation of 7777′, a high point just shy of 10,000′, and around 6500′ of elevation gain, it’s one of the more challenging 50Ks in California.

It’s one thing to run the last 32 miles of a course, and quite another to run those last miles after running 70 other miles. The  Kodiak 100 milers (and 50 milers) were impressive. One trait all seemed to share was a laser-sharp focus on the task at hand. That was certainly the case for veteran Army Ranger Ben Brown, who was running his first 100M in support of 9 Week Warrior — a nonprofit started by Ben and his wife to help veterans, police officers and firefighters. Ben finished the race strong, cruising past me (again) on the dirt road down to the village.

Not all races end the way we want them to. Part way up Sugarloaf I talked to a friend of Ruperto Romero’s and was disappointed to hear that Ruperto, Tony Torres and Mario Martinez missed a turn before the Dump Aid Station (Mile 56). The three had been leading the 100M Prize Purse race since the Champion Aid Station (Mile 20.5). Ruperto won the 100M event last year.

Elan Lieber was the eventual winner in the 100M Prize Purse division in a time of 22:02:08. Daniela Seyler won The Kodiak 100M and was the fastest woman overall in the 100M with a time of 24:09:59. Robby Haas (9:31:09) and Rachel Hallummontes (10:52:48) won their respective divisions in the 50M; and Andrew Cassano (5:49:14) and Emma Delira (6:46:44) topped their divisions in the 50K. All the results are posted on Ultrasignup.

Many thanks to new Kodiak RDs Susie Schmelzer and Harald Zundel, and to Team Kodiak, all the volunteers, Bear Valley SAR, HAM operators, medical personnel, and everyone that helped put on the event.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Related post: Kodiak 50 Mile 2017 – Smiling at the Finish

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