Category Archives: trail running

Skyline to the Sea – Fall 2018

Towering redwoods along the Skyline to the Sea Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park
Towering redwoods along the Skyline to the Sea Trail, Big Basin Redwoods State Park

Update July 20, 2020. Here’s a Google Earth image of a CZU August Lightning Complex Fire perimeter from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC). The date and time of the perimeter is indicated. My GPS track from the PCTR Skyline to the Sea Marathon in Castle Rock and Big Basin Redwoods State Parks is also shown. The locations of all placemarks and trails are approximate. For official information see the CAL FIRE CZU August Lightning Complex and InciWeb CZU August Lightning Complex incident pages.

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.

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

Running Between the Raindrops

Boney Mountain from Serrano Valley
Boney Mountain from Serrano Valley

The misty rain had momentarily turned to sunshine. As I ran along the trail, rain-soaked sage glittered in a rainbow of colors. The peaks above me were still shrouded in gray clouds, but the sunlit valley below glowed bright and green. Streams that had been dry on New Years, now burbled and bubbled restlessly. My shoes and socks were soaked, not from stream crossings, but from the cold, wet grass overgrowing the trail.

Dense patches of shooting stars covered wet hillsides and milkmaids lined shady sections of trail. Paintbrush, Indian warrior, California poppies, larkspur, chocolate lilies, bladderpod, encelia, lupine, nightshade, wild hyacinth, phacelia, bigpod ceanothus and wishbone bush had also started to bloom.

The day not only encouraged the accumulation of miles, but of the sensations and emotions of the outdoor experience; and that feeling of well-being that emerges somewhere between the trailhead and the top of the last climb.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

La Jolla Valley & Mugu Peak from Wendy Drive

Pt. Mugu from Mugu Peak.

The scat appeared to be a day or two old, and was much bigger than a coyote’s. It was full of fur and could only be from one animal — a mountain lion. The spot had been used before, and it probably wasn’t a coincidence that this was one of the few points along the trail with a good view and nearby cover. I looked into the brush and wondered if unseen eyes looked back.

The sun was well above the horizon, but the first gusts of a developing Santa Ana wind kept the morning cool. No one was on the trail ahead or behind me, and the best I could tell, I was the only two-legged creature within sight.


Spring in La Jolla Valley. Boney Mountain in the distance. March 2002.
Walking slowly from the spot, I surveyed the secluded valley. Perched on the edge of the coastal mountains, La Jolla Valley is extraordinary. Surrounded by wind-sculpted peaks, it is situated above and to the west of Big Sycamore Canyon. Its bottom is carpeted with areas of native and non-native grass. Only a tiny percentage of California’s native perennial grasslands remain, and like the big trees, they are relics of the past. Preservation of this native grassland is probably due to the valley’s proximity to the ocean, and its unique microclimate.

Here, trails have been run and peaks climbed for thousands of years. (Charcoal at an archaeological site in the valley has been dated to a maximum age of 7000 B.P.) Above me a raven calls, and Spirit-like, a gust of wind rustles through the grass. Respectfully, I continue running in the direction of Mugu Peak.

The run from Wendy Dr. was more moderate than expected. The first 3 miles of Sycamore Canyon Fire Road are paved, and whether on the fire road, or the single track trails that parallel the road at times, a fast pace can be maintained down to the junction with Wood Canyon Fire Road.

The Wood Canyon Vista Trail/Backbone Trail takes off right (west) from Sycamore Canyon Fire Road a short distance past the Wood Canyon Fire Road junction. It is moderately graded and very runnable. At it’s top a short zig right (north) on the Overlook Fire Road leads to the La Jolla Valley Fire Road, which can be followed left (west) down into La Jolla Valley.

Many, many variations of this course are possible. Here are archived maps of Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa and Pt. Mugu State Park originally from the NPS Santa Monica Mountains web site. Also see the Pt. Mugu State Park maps on VenturaCountyTrails.org.

Depending on whether you want the beta, a little time in Google Earth should help clarify the options. This particular course worked out to about 21 miles, with about 2200 ft. of elevation gain/loss. Here’s a Google Earth image and 3D interactive view of a GPS trace of my route.