Well, maybe not Shangri-La, but a Lost World kind of morning on the Calabasas Peak fire road segment of the Secret Trail.
Calabasas Peak fire road traverses the rock formations on the left, descending to Stunt Road. At Stunt the route continues up the Stunt High Trail to the Backbone Trail. Here you can do an optional out and back to Saddle Peak, shrouded in clouds in this photo, or turn west on the Backbone Trail and continue mostly downhill to Piuma Road near Malibu Canyon Road. Malibu Canyon is in the distance on the right in the photo.
Los Angeles sometimes gets rain in September, but usually it is the result of tropical moisture from a dissipating hurricane, or perhaps the passage of the tail end of a weakening front. It is rare to see a low as cold, deep and energetic as the upper level low that deluged many areas of Los Angeles county Friday afternoon into Saturday.
Thunderstorms raked the San Fernando Valley Friday night, and several locations in and around the Valley recorded more than an inch of rain over the course of the storm. Los Angeles set a new rainfall record on Saturday, recording 0.40 inch of rain, and rainfall records were broken across the area.
In Southern California the first rain of the season often doesn’t occur until October or November and is always savored. Especially this year, when Los Angeles has recorded only 3.21 inches of rain in the last 15 or 16 months, and a developing La Nina threatens to put the kibosh on Winter rain.
I celebrated the rain by doing an out and back run to “Fossil Point” on Rocky Peak fire road. Based on the size of the mud puddles on the dirt road, this unseasonable storm appeared to be wetter than any in last year’s record dry rain season. Here’s a panorama of the view northwest from the fire road to Oak Ridge, the Santa Susana Mountains and beyond.
The sky was brightening in the east, and sunrise was approaching when I met Miklos and Krisztina at the Denny’s in Sylmar. We were already wasting light. The plan was to drive from near sea level up to Horseshoe Meadows, at about 10,000′ on the Sierra east side. The hike/run we had in mind was a keyhole loop from the Cottonwood Lakes Trailhead up (old) Army Pass and then down New Army Pass. If we felt OK at the top of Army Pass, we would also do Mt. Langley (14,026′).
The weather forecast looked good. There was a chance of some gusty southwest winds in the afternoon, but temps were warm and there was virtually no chance of T-storms. With a record low Southern Sierra snowpack, there was almost no chance that an ice axe would be required on Army Pass. I was familiar with the route on Langley and down from New Army Pass, and expected to be back to the car well before sunset. But, just in case, the moon was about half full.
In fact, there had been very little snow on Army Pass, or anywhere else. We reached the pass relatively quickly, and decided to continue to Langley. Now, after another hour of hiking, we were above a prominent rock band that extends across Langley’s south face, and making good progress.
I’ve been convinced for some time that pursed-lip breathing helps me at higher altitudes, particularly when I’m not well acclimated. There’s a skill to it. There seems to me an optimum blend of heart rate, respiratory rate, and the amount of resistance created on exhalation. When all these factors are in balance, the breathing technique is almost automatic and effortless, and it really does seem to help. It certainly seemed to be helping me now.
I topped out a few hundred yards west of the summit, and ambled over to the high point of the peak. On a scale of 1 to 10, I felt pretty good — maybe a 7. Making an effort to stay hydrated, consume plenty of calories, and not push the pace too hard seemed to have worked — at least this time.
The view along the crest to Mt. Whitney and the peaks of the Kings-Kern Divide was telling. It was remarkable just how little snow there was at the highest elevations of the Sierra. A week before I had been paddling the Kern River. Now I could see why the flow on the upper Kern was dropping so fast.
Miklos and Krisztina joined me on the summit, and after taking a few summit photos, we headed down. Screeing down the slopes below the rock band, we were startled when a herd of perhaps 20 big horn sheep rumbled across the slopes below us. They flowed across the rough landscape like quicksilver. Graceful and robust, they moved effortlessly between the rocks and up a small slope. In the moments it took me to react, grab my camera, and turn it on, all but two large rams trailing the group, had disappeared.
Energized by the sight of these fleet-footed animals, we continued down to the saddle at Army Pass, and then up and over New Army Pass. Before sunset we would be back to the car, and before dark, eating dinner at Lone Pine. Before midnight we would be back in L.A. Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of our route.
This is the large incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) mentioned in the post Snowless San Gabriels. It is located on a northeast facing slope near Little Jimmy Spring at an elevation of about 7460′ in the San Gabriel Mountains of Southern California. A vertical panorama better shows the size of this tree.
The scar from the 2002 Curve Fire can be seen on the left side of the tree. The black and white cap is about 7 inches wide and suggests a diameter of perhaps 70-80 inches. According to the species information in the FEIS database, in Southern California the largest incense-cedars generally have a diameter at breast height (d.b.h.) of 36-48 inches, but in the Sierra Nevada frequently reach diameters of 84 inches. According to the database, trees over about 200 years old are subject to dry rot, but large trees are often over 500 years old.