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!
When one of the runners coming down the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail saw me coming up the trail, he commented, “At least now we know the trail goes through!”
He was only half-joking. With all the wet weather, trails may not only be wet and muddy but might be flooded, severely eroded, blocked by trees and debris, or destroyed by runoff, mudslides, or slope failures.
It had rained the previous two days, and more rain was forecast in a day or two. I was on this stretch of the Backbone Trail because I wanted to check out a use trail near High Point (Goat Peak) in the Santa Monica Mountains. I could do that by slightly modifying the route described in “Racing the Weather to High Point (Goat Peak) and Back.”
Two use trails connect to the High Point trail near High Point. Both are on the east side of the ridge. When traveling northbound from High Point, the first trail encountered is the “Rivas Ridge Trail.” Its junction with the High Point trail is on a hilltop, a bit more than a tenth of a mile north of High Point. The junction with the other trail — aptly named the “Great Escape” — is about a tenth of a mile north of the Rivas Ridge trail junction and a quarter-mile north of High Point.
Instead of doing the run as a pure out and back, on the way back, I took the Great Escape down to the Backbone Trail. This short use trail connects to the Backbone Trail about 0.4 mile south of “The Oak Tree.” It was an interesting trail to explore and only added about a third of a mile to the regular out-and-back route.
The condition of the Backbone Trail between Fire Road #30 and The Oak Tree was about what you would expect during such an active rain season. There were a few slimy, slippery spots and some eroded stretches of trail. My shoes and socks were already soaked from the wet grass along the trail by the time I reached The Mud Puddle. This was good because I didn’t waste any time looking for a way around the flooded section of trail — I just waded right in. Nearby, a short section of trail had collapsed in a slide, but there was enough of a shoulder to easily go around it.
With the wet rain season, everything is growing like crazy. This includes poison oak, which was already dangling into the trail in several places. More wildflowers were beginning to bloom. This scarlet-red Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry was blooming along the Backbone Trail near its junction with the High Point Trail.
The view from Parker Mesa Overlook was the uniform gray of the inside of a cloud. I was about 30 minutes too early, and the low clouds hadn’t cleared. The Pacific Ocean was out there somewhere.
Even so, the run from the Top of Reseda to the Overlook had been excellent. The hills and canyons were painted in a muted palette of sun and shadow. Purple-pink prickly phlox brightened the roadside, and the “Beech-nut Gum” scent of Bigpod Ceoanthus filled the air.
Fire Road #30, Eagle Springs Fire Road, and East Topanga Fire Road had all been cleared of the sluffs and slides that resulted from January’s rainstorms. Overnight, there had been a little drizzle, but the fire roads hadn’t been muddy at all.
Rather than just retracing my steps, on the way back to the Top of Reseda I opted to do the Musch and Garapito Trails. I had run the Garapito Trail in mid-January but hadn’t been on the Musch Trail since the January deluge.
The Trippet Ranch parking lot had been packed, and several groups appeared to be on their way to Eagle Rock via the Musch Trail. Overall, the trail weathered the storms reasonably well, but one badly eroded section and a couple other spots will need some work.
While it still had some issues, use of the Garapito Trail had moderated its condition since the last time I was on it. Some brush that had blocked the trail had been removed, and paths were evolving through the collapsed sections of trail. However, some extra care was still required in some spots.
The Bent Arrow Trail was closed, necessitating a return to dirt Mulholland on Fire Road #30, following the same route as had been used at the beginning of the run.
From a hummingbird perspective, it was the perfect place to spend a cold night.
The big berry manzanita was situated on the spine of a north-south oriented ridge near Topanga Lookout. In that location, a bird might benefit from the warmth of both the setting and rising sun.
In addition, the bush’s thicket of stiff branches afforded some protection from predators, and the multitude of nectar-rich blossoms would provide a badly needed boost of wake-up energy.
The temperature was warmer now, but it had been near freezing at the Cold Canyon trailhead when I started the Topanga Lookout Ridge loop. It had been cold enough that I had jogged the steeper sections of Calabasas Peak fire road, just to ward off the chill.
Humans are funny that way — a small drop in body temperature can be life-threatening. How in the world can a diminutive hummingbird, whose caloric needs require it to feed almost constantly, survive a long, cold Winter night?
Research reveals that hummingbirds accomplish this feat by reducing their body temperature and metabolic rate. This physiological state — called torpor — dramatically reduces their energy requirements.
This particular manzanita apparently receives a lot of 5-star reviews, and at the time I passed, was occupied by several buzzing birds.
A couple leaving the camp saw that I was trying to collect drips of water from the nearly dry spring. I told them I was OK, and had water in my pack — I was just using a makeshift cup to get a couple of mouthfuls of cool water from the slowly dripping spring.
I had stopped at Sheep Camp (8300′) in the Chumash Wilderness, in Los Padres National Forest. The day was warm and the spring at the camp is usually a refreshing stop on the way back to Mt. Pinos and the trailhead at the Chula Vista parking area. Earlier, I’d talked to a runner training for the Kodiak 100, and he’d mentioned that the spring was a key source of water for his dog.
In recent years water has sometimes been an issue at the Sheep Camp spring. In July 2018, six out of the past seven Rain Years had been dry, and the flow of the spring was just a trickle. But it had been enough to slowly refill my Camelbak (TM) and get me down to Lily Camp (6600′) and back. Not so today.
Even without the water, Sheep Camp is a pleasant and worthwhile detour. Old growth pines tower above and bright yellow sneezeweed and other flowers are sprinkled about the forest floor. In the Spring large patches of iris bloom in the damp areas.
Today, I was returning from Mt. Abel, after having done Mt. Pinos, Sawmill Mountain, and Grouse Mountain on the way to Mt. Abel from the Chula Vista parking area. Here is an elevation profile of the run/hike. The cumulative elevation gain on the 15.5 mile run is about 3700′.
The short side trips to the summits of Mt. Pinos and Sawmill require almost no extra effort, and the view from Sawmill — if it’s not too smoky or hazy — is wide-ranging. Getting to the twin summits of Grouse takes a bit more work, but it’s fun to follow the short use trail up the south summit and then to wander through the pines to the slightly taller north summit.
The descent that follows — down the use trail from Grouse and then down the Vincent Tumamait Trail to Puerto del Suelo, drops about 1000′ in elevation over 1.6 miles. This, of course, must be repaid on the way back!
When you reach the road at the end of the Vincent Tumamait Trail, you might remark, “But there’s no trail to Abel!” And you would be correct. It’s fairly straightforward to trek up through the forest from the road, though care is required due to the debris from forestry work in the area.
Nope, my eyes weren’t deceiving me, the hiker was carrying his full-size poodle up the trail.
I was running down the PCT, east of Islip Saddle, after a run/hike to Mt. Hawkins and Throop Peak. I’m guessing the hiker was carrying his dog to keep it out of the Poodle-dog Bush on both sides of the trail.
Poodle-dog Bush (Eriodictyon parryi) is a fire-follower that can cause severe dermatitis in some people. In this case the plants sprouted following the 2020 Bobcat Fire.
The last big outbreak of Poodle-dog Bush followed the 2009 Station Fire. At that time many people were unfamiliar with its potential effects, and were caught off-guard.
The plant can get you in a couple of ways — the plant’s resin can affect sensitized people in a manner similar to poison oak, and the plant’s numerous hairs can break off and irritate the skin.