Category Archives: photography|landscape

The Ups and Downs of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run

Pacific Crest Trail on Mt. Baden-Powell

First published on June 30, 2015. Updated June 8, 2023.

June 15, 2023. According to the AC100 website the 2023 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run has been cancelled. According to R.D. Ken Hamada, CalTrans engineers do not expect Highway 2 to open until this Winter, at the earliest.  The section from Islip Saddle to Grassy Hollow could be closed even longer.

July 29th will mark the 34th time runners from near and far gather in a small parking lot in Wrightwood, California, to start the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run (AC100). Begun in 1986, the AC100 is one of the original five 100-mile U.S. endurance races. It has endured fires, floods, the Covid-19 pandemic, and changing trail restrictions.

There’s a tradition of running grueling endurance races in the San Gabriel Mountains. The Big Pines Trail Marathon was one of the first organized mountain ultramarathons in the U.S. First run in August 1934, its course used some of the same trails that AC100 runners enjoy today.

The AC100 is not like a road marathon. It is an entirely different kind of running event and an entirely different kind of running experience. In 2023 the L.A. Marathon had about 22,000 participants. About 1/100th of that number — around 250 runners — are expected to start the AC100.

Sunrise from Blue Ridge during the 2015 Angeles Crest 100.
Sunrise from Blue Ridge during the 2015 AC100.

For many, one of the primary reasons for running the AC100 is to be fully immersed in the beauty and majesty of the San Gabriel Mountains. Runners start at 5:00 a.m., ascend the Acorn Trail, and as the sun rises, find themselves above 8000′, reveling in the spectacular views from Blue Ridge.

Even at this early stage of the race, the field is already becoming dispersed. By the time runners reach the first checkpoint, nine miles into the run, there is an hour spread between the first and last runners. Unlike a road marathon, much of the time a runner in the AC100 will be alone.

This year’s course returns to a point-to-point format, ending in Altadena. Because of damage to the Chantry Flat area by the Bobcat Fire, runners will bypass Chantry and ascend Mt. Wilson via the Kenyon-Devore Trail, returning to the traditional course at the Mt. Wilson Toll Road above Idlehour.

As a result of this Winter’s frequent storms, many trails have been damaged or blocked by trees and debris. Ultrarunners not only spend many hours enjoying the trails in our local mountains but also do hours of trailwork that helps keep trails open and in usable condition.

Once again this year, some long stretches of the AC100 course will be run on Angeles Crest Highway. As was done for the Western State 100 Mile course, AC100 organizers have been trying to obtain an exception to use trails historically included in the event. You can help get runners off the highway and back on the trail — for more information, see the Save the AC100 page on the AC100 website.

The elevation profile for the 2023 AC100 course (PDF) was created in SportTracks from the GPX file on the AC100 website on 6/8/23. The elevation profile was corrected using 3DEP 1-meter Lidar-based DEMs. A conservative elevation data smoothing setting was used, resulting in an estimated cumulative gain of about 17,890′ and loss of 22,550′. The actual gain and loss are probably a bit more. Placemark locations, mileages, and elevation gains and losses are approximate.

Estimated Angeles Crest 100 Mile Elevation Profile (link)
Click to view/download PDF of the elevation profile.

In addition, here is an interactive, 3D terrain map of the 2023 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Race. It is based on the course GPX file downloaded from the AC100 website. The map is initially zoomed in on the climb up Mt. Baden-Powell. 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.

Click to view 2023 AC100 course with photographic 3D terrain.
Click to view 2023 AC100 course with photographic 3D terrain.

See the AC100 website for official information and details.

Afternoon Run on the Forest and Lost Cabin Trails in Malibu Creek State Park

Creek monkeyflower along the Lost Cabin Trail.
Creek monkeyflower along the Lost Cabin Trail.

The seasonal bridge across Malibu Creek is back! No sketchy log to test your balance or thigh-deep water to wade through — just walk across.

This afternoon I’d returned to Malibu Creek State Park to check on the bridge, count the surviving coast redwoods on the Forest Trail, and see what was happening on the Lost Cabin Trail.

When running the Bulldog Loop a couple of weeks ago, I did a quick check of some of the redwoods on the Forest Trail but skipped the back half of the trail. Today, I crawled through the downed trees blocking the trail and checked the rest of the trees.

I counted seven surviving redwoods. Several of these are  multi-tree groups consisting of two or more trees. These family groups  were counted as one tree. One of the trees, and perhaps more, was naturally germinated. Most of the trees looked healthy, but appearances can be deceiving.

Coast redwood on the Crags Road Trail on the way to the M*A*S*H site in Malibu Creek State Park
Coast redwood along the Crags Road Trail

One redwood is just a few feet from the Crags Road Trail. It’s on the right side of the trail, just past the seasonal bridge, when going west on Crags Road toward the M*A*S*H site. The unique conifer is easy to spot among the other trees.

The start of the Lost Cabin Trail is on the left as you enter the M*A*S*H site going west on Crags Road. Like the Forest Trail, it is less used and isolated but has a character all its own. Today, the Lost Cabin Trail was a trove of brightly colored wildflowers.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some relate posts: Wonderful Wildflowers, a Seasonal Bridge, and a Cranky Rattlesnake on the Bulldog Loop; Lost Cabin; More Malibu Creek Flooding

Lasky Mesa Runner, Grassland, and Clouds

Lasky Mesa Runner, Grassland, and Clouds

Brett was down for a few days, and as an initial run we did a loop from the Victory Trailhead of Ahmanson Ranch, through part of Las Virgenes Canyon, up onto Lasky Mesa, and then back to the trailhead.

Upper Las Virgenes Creek still flowed. Valley oaks were full with new leaves. The green grasses of the rain season had finally turned, and rare May cumulus clouds were painted on postcard skies.

It was an outstanding run!

Soggy Shoes, Soppy La Jolla Valley, and Sensational Wildflowers

Approaching Mugu Peak from La Jolla Valley
Approaching Mugu Peak.

After doing a climbing /trail running combo in Pt. Mugu State Park last Sunday, I headed back to Wendy Drive this morning to do a trail run to Mugu Peak and back.

The plan was to get in a long run (20 miles) with fewer “get your feet wet” stream crossings, and also check out the conditions on several trails I hadn’t done this year.

Boney Mountain (left skyline) from Mugu Peak
Boney Mountain (left skyline) from Mugu Peak

So much for keeping the feet dry! The temp was in the mid-30s when I turned off Big Sycamore Canyon fire road and onto Wood Canyon fire road. The main creek draining Sycamore Canyon cuts across the fire road here, and there was no way I was going to get across it without wading. Some smaller stream crossings followed, ending with Wood Canyon Creek.

My shoes were squish-squashing loudly as I started up Hell Hill. The 600′ climb was almost enjoyable with the cool temperatures. Partway up, a slurry of rock and mud had flowed from the hillside onto the road — the soil saturated from storm after storm.

California poppies mixed with lupine along the Mugu Peak Trail
California poppies mixed with lupine along the Mugu Peak Trail

Several trails/roads converge at the top of Hell Hill, and I turned right onto the fire road that leads to the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail. I like to do Mugu Peak as part of a counterclockwise loop that combines segments of the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail and Mugu Peak Trails.

Long stretches of the La Jolla Valley Loop Trail between the walk-in camp and Mugu Peak were sopping wet. I’ll be curious to see how quickly it dries out, but today (April 2) it was really, really wet.

La Jolla Loop pond in La Jolla Valley in Pt. Mugu State Park.
La Jolla Loop pond is rarely this large — or even a pond.

Mugu Peak was pretty much as it always is on this side — busy and steep. The steepness of the “Direct” trail helped wring the water from my Ultraglides and Injinji socks. By the time I reached the top, my feet were only damp.

Mugu Peak is VERY popular, and there are almost always a few people taking in the wide-ranging views from the summit. Most do the short, steep hike from PCH on the Chumash Trail. A few start at the Ray Miller Trailhead — or like I was doing today — the long route from Wendy Drive.

Vivid red paintbrush along the La Jolla Loop Trail in Pt. Mugu State Park.
Vivid red paintbrush along the La Jolla Loop Trail

Although I usually climb the peak, two other options are worthwhile: the loop around the ocean-facing side of Mugu Peak and
the loop around La Jolla Valley.

The wildflowers along the Mugu Peak Trail and La Jolla Loop Trail were fantastic. California poppies were plentiful on the south-facing slopes. The vibrance of the bright orange poppies could not have been better accentuated than by purple lupine. Yellow bush sunflower, royal blue phacelia, and rich red paintbrush also decorated the trail.

Bright yellow collarless poppies along Danielson Road.
Bright yellow collarless poppies along Danielson Road.

I followed my usual route on the way back to Wendy — returning to the Hub, descending Hell Hill, retracing my steps in Wood Canyon, then following the Two Foxes single-track trail north to a short connector to Sycamore Canyon Road. This is near the Danielson Multi-Use Area. Once on Sycamore Canyon Road, the route back was the same as last week — up 1.8 miles of paved road and then onto the Upper Sycamore Trail. After that, up Danielson Road and across Satwiwa to the Wendy Drive trailhead.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain map of my GPS track to Mugu Peak and back from Wendy Drive. 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. Poor weather and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Also, see the archived maps of Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa and Pt. Mugu State Park from the NPS website, and the maps of Pt. Mugu State Park on VenturaCountyTrails.org.

Some related posts: Out and Back Trail Run to Mugu Peak, Running to Serrano and La Jolla Valleys from Wendy Drive, Busy Mugu Peak

Backbone Trail Mystery

Pt. Mugu State Park from Boney Mountain
Pt. Mugu State Park from Boney Mountain

The morning was beautiful and sunny. It hadn’t rained for two days, and except for a few contrails, the sky was nearly cloudless.

Earlier in the morning, I’d climbed the Western Ridge of Boney Mountain, then worked my way over Tri Peaks to the Backbone Trail. I’d been on cruise control running down the Chamberlain/Backbone Trail, enjoying the pleasant weather and wide-ranging views.

Hines Peak and other Ventura County Mountains from the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail
Hines Peak and other Ventura County Mountains from the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail

Passing a gap in the ridge, I was surprised to see a person on the hillside, a few yards below the trail. It was an odd place to be.

The person was partially hidden by grass and brush, and all I could see was their head and shoulders. They were wearing an odd helmet and were busy working on something that looked like a pack. I didn’t see a mountain bike.

None of it made sense. Was it someone doing the Backbone Trail? Had they slept there overnight? What was with the helmet? Reaching the end of the Chamberlain Trail, I turned right on the Old Boney Trail and continued the descent toward Blue Canyon.

California poppies and bush sunflowers along the Old Boney Trail
California poppies and bush sunflowers along the Old Boney Trail

Partway down, I heard the clap-clap-clap of helicopter blades approaching the canyon, and that’s when it all fell into place. The mysterious person along the Chamberlain Trail was a SAR crew member.

The helicopter was yellow, probably from the Ventura County Sheriff Search and Rescue Aviation/Medical Team. I’ve seen them in the area a number of times doing exercises.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen something strange from the Chamberlain Trail. A few years ago, I’d noticed an odd-looking object below the Chamberlain and Old Boney Trails junction. It turned out to be a rescue manikin strapped onto a litter. Practice makes perfect, and exercises help ensure the safety and success of demanding SAR operations.

Stream crossing on the Blue Canyon segment of the Backbone Trail.
One of several stream crossings in Blue Canyon.

Farther down the Backbone Trail, there was a striking display of California poppies and bush sunflowers on the hillside above the junction of the Backbone and Old Boney Trails. After photographing the poppies, I returned to the Backbone Trail and entered Blue Canyon. To this point, I’d managed to keep my shoes and socks dry. But that was going to end.

I’d done a similar route in January, partly to see the condition of the Chamberlain, Blue Canyon, and Upper Sycamore Trails. That was the case again today. In the two months since the January run, nearby Circle X has recorded over 13 inches of rain. Not surprisingly, that has resulted in more water in the streams, more wildflowers along the trails, and a bit more eroded and rougher trails.

Some related posts: Looking for Storm Damage in Point Mugu State Park, Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods (2014)

Between Storms on the Backbone Trail

Fresh new leaves of poison oak hanging above the Backbone Trail
Fresh new leaves of poison oak hanging above the Backbone Trail

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.

Water droplets on bedstraw (aka cleavers) along the Backbone Trail
Water droplets on bedstraw (aka cleavers) along the Backbone Trail

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.

Marine layer clouds in the Los Angeles Basin
West L.A and advancing marine layer clouds in the Los Angeles Basin.

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.

To show this variation, I’ve updated the interactive, 3D terrain view of the High Point (Goat Peak) Out and Back from the Top of Reseda.

Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry along the Backbone Trail
Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry along the Backbone Trail

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.

Some related posts: Racing the Weather to High Point (Goat Peak) and Back, High Point (Goat Peak) Via the Rivas Ridge Use Trail, Goat Peak and the High Point Trail