Category Archives: photography|trail running

San Bruno Mountain and Windy Hill Trail Runs

California bay trees in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve near the bottom of the Razorback Ridge Trail.
California bay – Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

With vaccinations on the increase and Covid on the decline, it was wonderful to once again be able to visit family.

As we always try to do, Brett and I got in a couple of runs. We usually do at least one run that is new to me, and there are certainly plenty from which to choose in the Bay Area.

Oxeye Daisy along the Old Ranch Trail in San Bruno Mountain Park
Oxeye Daisy along the Old Ranch Trail

Our first run was on San Bruno Mountain. We’d previously done the Ridge Trail, so this time opted to do a variation of the Summit Loop. The parking lot at the base was was closed, so we started the run using the Old Ranch Road Trail. This was a plus because it added a little mileage and there were a lot of wildflowers along the trail, including monkeyflower, iris, lupine, yellow paintbrush, daisy, and foxglove.

Brett running up the Summit Loop Trail on San Bruno Mountain
Summit Loop Trail, near the top.

It was an excellent run on single-track trail. As is the rule on San Bruno, it was a bit breezy, with hazy views of the surrounding communities and the Pacific. An island of open space in an urban sea, San Bruno Mountain is a miracle of land conservation, and an area to be relished. Here is a map of trails in the area.

The next day, after watching a spirited youth soccer match, we headed south on 280. On the way, Brett filled me in on the runs he likes to do in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve and Huddart Park. We couldn’t go wrong with either choice but finally decided to save Huddart Park for another day.

Brett running through thimbleberry on a lush section of the Razorback Ridge Trail
Razorback Ridge Trail

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve is on the northeast-facing slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains above Portola Valley. We parked near the Alpine Trailhead and ran up the road to the Eagle Trail. Corte Madera Creek was running, but low. Although the grasses along the trail were green and the undergrowth was relatively lush, I suspect the conditions were more like July than May. Open hillsides looked mid-Summer dry and the lichen on the trees was drab and desiccated.

Like the rest of California, the Santa Cruz Mountains have seen well below average precipitation this rain season. One station near Windy Hill, Woodside 3.4 S, recorded only about 28% (12″) of normal precipitation from October 1 to May 19. Another station, Skyline Ridge Preserve, recorded about 41%  of normal (16.5″) from October 1 to May 3.

Western columbine along the Lost Trail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
Western columbine

From the Eagle Trail/Private Road we turned onto the Razorback Ridge Trail. According to my Garmin track, the Razorback Ridge Trail gains 1000′ or so over 2.4 miles to its junction with the Lost Trail. It’s all runnable, switch-backing up a thimbleberry and fern-lined trail, shaded by California bay trees.

While the Razorback Ridge Trail continues up another 0.4 miles to Skyline Blvd., we turned right onto the Lost Trail. This trail parallels Skyline as it works in and out of the tributary ravines of Jones Gulch, on its way over to the Hamms Gulch Trail. Along the way there were views across the valley to Mt. Diablo, some 40 miles distant. Western columbine was blooming along the trail, its bright red color complimenting the green theme.

Large Douglas-fir along the Lost Trail in Windy Hill Open Space Preserve
Large Douglas-fir along the Lost Trail

At the top of Jones Gulch, there is an impressive, old-growth Douglas-fir. At chest height, it is about as wide as Brett is tall. This would put its diameter at over 72″ and its circumference at over 220″, suggesting an age in the neighborhood of 350 years.

The run down the Hamms Gulch Trail was as good as the run up Razorback Ridge. Given the weather was nearly perfect for a hike or run, we were surprised to see only a dozen or so people on the trail.

From where we were parked the run worked out to about 8 miles, with about 1500′ of gain/loss. Here is a trail map of the area, and here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of my GPS track of the loop. The interactive map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen.

Some related posts: Breezy San Bruno Mountain Ridge, San Francisco Sights Trail Run, Miwok Wanderings

Three Points – Mt. Hillyer Loop

Trail runner on the Mt. Hillyer Trail in the San Gabriel Mountains
Mt. Hillyer Trail

Snow — if there has been snow — disappears quickly from the middle elevations of the San Gabriels this time of year. Activity increases with the rising snowline, as visitors eye their favorite trails and peaks.

I was driving up Hwy 2 to Three Points to do a run with Skye. In a normal year we would be doing the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Loop, but for the second time in 11 years, the trails in the Mt. Waterman area had been closed by a wildfire. In 2009, the Station Fire burned 160,557 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains, and just last year, the Bobcat Fire burned 115,796 acres. In several places, including Mt. Waterman, the Bobcat Fire burned terrain that had been burned in the Station Fire.

Coulter pine cone, heavy with resin
Coulter pine cone, heavy with resin

With entry prohibited in most of the Bobcat Fire burn area, the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman was out for now. Instead, we decided to do a segment of the traditional AC100 course from Three Points to Chilao, and then return to Three Points using the Silver Moccasin Trail.

Here’s an overview of both the Three Points – Mt. Hillyer Loop (yellow) and the Three Points – Mt. Waterman Loop (red). An overlay of the Bobcat Fire BAER Soil Burn Severity has ben added to the Google Earth image. The burn severity classes are high (red), moderate (yellow), low (light green), unburned/very low (dark green), and no data (black). Trail and placemark locations are approximate.

Trail runner on the PCT near Sulphur Springs Road
PCT near Sulphur Springs Road

On today’s run we followed the Pacific Crest Trail northbound from Three Points toward Sulphur Springs Trail Camp. Just before the camp, the PCT splits. We followed the left fork (uphill), and then around to the South Fork Little Rock Creek drainage and Sulphur Springs Road. The PCT parallels the road for about a half-mile, then crosses the road. At this point we left the PCT behind and continued up the road (5N04) to Alder Saddle and forest road 3N17. We continued left (south) on 3N17, bearing left on Santa Clara Divide Road at a fork, and going uphill to Rosenita Saddle.

At Rosenita Saddle we turned right (southwest) onto the Mt. Hillyer Trail. The trail starts at the back of a small parking area. The trail climbs to the high point of Mt. Hillyer, and then descends through large granite boulders in the Horse Flats bouldering area. (If you are a rock climber, bring your shoes!) The Mt. Hillyer Trail intersects the Silver Moccasin Trail near the Horse Flats Campground.

To add a little mileage and elevation gain, we turned right (south) on the Silver Moccasin Trail and continued to Chilao Campground. After saying hi to Chilao, we turned around and followed the Silver Moccasin Trail north, back to Three Points.

The trail run was a little over 13 miles, with a cumulative elevation gain of about 2100′. The high point was about 6200′, on Mt. Hillyer. The route-finding on the loop can be a bit tricky the first time around.

Breezy San Bruno Mountain Ridge

Running along the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail

I staggered in the wind gust. It had to have been at least 45 mph. The views along the undulating ridge to the Bay were spectacular, but the wind was ferocious.

Hill on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail.
Hill on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail.

Brett and I were running on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail. We’d started at the summit parking lot and weren’t exactly sure where we were going to turn around. We’d know when we got to it.

The NWS forecast for San Francisco had called for “breezy” conditions:

.TODAY…Mostly cloudy in the morning then becoming partly
cloudy. Breezy. Patchy drizzle in the morning. Highs in the mid
50s to lower 60s. West winds 20 to 30 mph.

San Bruno Mountain Ridge above Sierra Point
Continuing down, down, down the ridge.

That forecast was for the city — and of course up on the peak the wind was even “breezier.” The SF Giants beanie I borrowed was the right call. So were the gloves, extra shirt and wind shell.

We continued along the ridge past the second set of loudly singing power lines and continued downhill. It became one of those, “let’s just go down to that next overlook,” and then the next one, and the next one. Not only were we losing a lot of elevation, but we’d be running into the wind on the way back.

San Bruno Mountain Ridge above the 101 and Sierra Point
San Bruno Mountain Ridge above the 101 and Sierra Point

We eventually turned around a little above Bayshore Blvd., at the “Sierra Point Reset” benchmark marked “487” on the topo map. As is often the case, the return wasn’t nearly as torturous as envisioned, but I was glad to get back to the car!

San Bruno Mountain is an invaluable island of open space, about 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco. For more information see the San Bruno Mountain Watch website.

Diablo Trails Challenge 50K 2018

North Peak from the North Peak Trail. Mount Diablo Trails Challenge 50K.

Just 48 hours before the start of the Diablo Trails Challenge the temperature on Mt. Diablo’s summit was a chilly 31°F. Gray, wind-driven clouds shrouded the summit, propelled by 20-30 mph winds. Over the 10 days preceding the race, it had rained on four, and Concord had received about two inches of rain.

That’s the thing about Spring weather – a couple of days can make a huge difference. Today – race day – the sun is out, the hills are green and skies blue. Very little mud remains – the trails are in great shape and hills sprinkled with wildflowers. It’s the perfect day for a run on Mt. Diablo!

Diablo Trails Challenge 50K Elevation Profile
Diablo Trails Challenge 50K Elevation Profile

With around 7000′ of elevation gain/loss, the Diablo Trails Challenge 50K is characterized by its many ups and downs. The core of the 50K course is the 7 mile, 3000′ climb from the Curry Canyon Ranch aid station to Diablo’s main summit. But before you can enjoy this fine ascent, you have to get to Curry Canyon Ranch. And it’s on the other side of the mountain – about 12.5 miles away. Here’s a 3D interactive view of my GPS track of the 50K course.

Along the way there are several get-your-feet-wet creek crossings and many hills. Following along on the map, the course works its way past Wall Point, Artist Point, Knob Point and finally Windy Point. Did I mention the course is hilly?

Somewhere around Mile 10 you get the first good view of Mt. Diablo and North Peak. The runner in front of me exclaimed, “Holy guacamole, is that what we are going to climb?” My choice of words were similar, but not quite as polite. Yes indeed, those were the peaks, and they loomed LARGE across the valley.

Mount Diablo and North Peak from Knobcone Pine Road.
Mt. Diablo (left) and North Peak

Elevation gained is so easily lost. After gaining about 2500′ on the way to Windy Point, a 1000′ descent leads to the Curry Canyon Ranch Aid Station. The climb of Diablo starts here, but you really don’t feel like you’re on the mountain until you reach South Gate Road and the Curry Point Aid Station, about three miles up the canyon. The grade in Curry Canyon is moderate and I tried to take advantage of that, knowing steeper terrain was ahead.

The Half-Marathoners joined the course at Curry Point — adding their enthusiasm and company – but they were soon headed back down, leaving us to cope with the Summit Trail all on our own.

“Jalapeño chip?,” I asked the runner hiking up the hill next to me. He smiled and said something like, “Maybe next time.” I did what I could to keep from constantly looking up at the summit. I munched on chips, talked to runners and hikers, read the “Trail Through Time” interpretive signs, looked at wildflowers and enjoyed the great views. As long as you keep putting one foot ahead of the other — and maybe smile from time to time – summits will eventually arrive.

Yahoo! The Summit Aid Station! There is almost no wind. In the sun it’s comfortably warm and in the shade comfortably cool. As at the other aid stations, the volunteers are great, helping me to get my hydration pack sorted and get me on my way. After seven miles of uphill, a little downhill is going to feel really good.

North Peak Trail near Devil's Pulpit.
North Peak Trail near Devil’s Pulpit.

The next few miles I’d done before and they are among the most interesting on the course. It helped to be familiar it – especially the notoriously steep section of North Peak Road, just before the summit. Everyone picks a different route. This time I stayed on the left going up and the right going down, and didn’t fall on my butt!

Once past the “slide” it didn’t take long to get down to Prospector’s Gap. I recalled that the running on the Bald Ridge Trail was excellent and wasn’t disappointed. At Meridian Ridge Road we left Bald Ridge and descended into Mitchell Canyon. At Deer Flat Creek, once again the course headed up. I couldn’t recall how long the climb was going to be, but it looked like we were going to have to work over a high ridge to get to the Castle Rock side of the mountain. The ridge turned out to be Moses Rock Ridge and the climb over it fit right in with the other hills on the course. Click, click goes the elevation-gained counter.

Most of the course is a big loop, but to access the peaks and aid stations there are four short out and back sections. You get to know the runners around you on these sections and we’d give each other encouragement as we passed. The runners around me were great and throughout the run we had many good conversations.

Then there was Burma Road. Somewhere around mile 26, I commented to another runner that we were running out of miles and at some point we were going to have to lose a lot of elevation. The Burma Road descent took care of that.

Many thanks to Jasmin and Sam of Brazen Racing for putting together such a superb event! And a BIG thank you to all the volunteers, ham operators, runners, park staff, sponsors and especially the Save Mount Diablo Foundation. I thoroughly enjoyed running on Mt. Diablo!

Here are a few photos taken along the way. More photos and all the results are available on the Brazen Racing web site.

Point Reyes Peninsula – A Hidden Island

Running on Kelham Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore

The sand was compact, the breeze cool, the surf up and the running oh so pleasant. Brett and I were running south along Kelham Beach, an idyllic stretch of sand between Point Resistance and Miller’s Point within Point Reyes National Seashore. If the tide was not too high we hoped to reach an area of dramatically folded strata along the 150′ tall sea cliffs.

Our adventure had started with a short run from the Bear Valley Visitor Center to a spot on the San Andreas Fault where a fence was reconstructed to illustrate how the Point Reyes Peninsula lurched 16 feet to the northwest during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Fences and roads in the Point Reyes area built across the fault trace were offset by as much as 20 feet during the earthquake.

It is the San Andreas Fault that makes the story of the Point Reyes Peninsula so unusual. A glance at a geologic map shows the rocks of the peninsula to be geologically distinct from those on the other side of the San Andreas. Essentially the Point Reyes Peninsula is an island on the margin of the Pacific Plate that is sitting against the North American Plate. The San Andreas Fault is the boundary between the two plates.

Towering Douglas firs at the junction of the Old Pine Trail and Sky Trail.
Towering Douglas firs at the junction of the Old Pine Trail and Sky Trail.

The core of the Point Reyes Peninsula is a granite similar to a granite found in Southern California. Over many millions of years the chunk of crust was propelled northward along the San Andreas Fault by the movement of the Pacific Plate. The story is not a simple one, involving a combination of faults. At some point — perhaps near current day Point Lobos — the granite core was overlain by the sedimentary rocks we see on the peninsula today.

It seems likely that at times during its 10 million year journey northward from Monterey, the Point Reyes Peninsula may have been separated from the coast. With more than 80% of its perimeter currently bounded by water, it may once again become an island.

Point Resistance and Drakes Bay from the Sky Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore.
Point Resistance and Drakes Bay from the Sky Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore.

After visiting the fault zone we ran across the Point Reyes Peninsula to the coast using the Bear Valley, Mt. Wittenberg, Sky and Coast Trails. For the most part the trails were duff-covered, tree-lined, shaded and cool. For someone that runs mostly in Southern California this was practically nirvana. The previous Saturday I’d run a 50K race on a rocky, exposed course near Los Angeles in 90 degree temps and gusty Santa Ana winds. In the West San Fernando Valley the temperature this year has reached at least 95 °F every month from March through October. In July, August and September the highest temp each month was over 110 °F!

Alders along the Bear Valley Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore.
Alders along the Bear Valley Trail in Point Reyes National Seashore.

It was not 110 °F now. It was about 60 ocean-conditioned degrees. Brett and I had reached the first point where the beach narrowed. There was still room to run, but the beach narrowed even more ahead. We watched as a large wave broke and washed up to the rocks. It looked like the tide was going out, but we weren’t sure. Although the surf wasn’t huge, there was a consistent swell of maybe 6′-8′.

In between sets we took a look around the next corner and it looked sketchy. Debating, we watched as more waves washed up to the base of the cliffs. That part of the exploration would have to wait until another day with a lower tide!

Related post: Point Reyes – Sky Trail Keyhole Loop

Pinos to Abel Plus

Western terminus of the Vincent Tumamait Trail.
Grouse Mountain from the Vincent Tumamait Trail near Cerro Noroeste Road

I was glad I didn’t turn around and head back to the car. At the beginning of the run smoke from the Whittier Fire (near Lake Cachuma) covered Mt. Pinos in an ugly shroud. Fortunately, a couple of hours into the run, the wind shifted to the north, removing the smoky veil and greatly improving the visibility and air quality.

Hikers on the Vincent Tumamait Trail near Mt. Pinos.
Hikers on the Vincent Tumamait Trail near Mt. Pinos.

Even it was smoky, at least the weather was cool. Following the torrid conditions at the Mt. Disappointment 50K the previous Saturday, and hot weather during the week, cool was good.

Mt. Pinos is often a good choice for escaping the triple digit heat of a Los Angeles heatwave. The elevation of the Chula Vista trailhead (8350′) is higher than the highest trailhead on Angeles Crest Highway — Dawson Saddle (7909′) and about 1000′ higher than the popular Inspiration Point (7370′) trailhead on the PCT.

Chumash spirit tower on Sawmill Mountain.
Chumash spirit tower on Sawmill Mountain.

My usual “Pinos to Abel” run starts at the Chula Vista trailhead and follows a dirt service road to the summit of Mt. Pinos (8831′). At the nearby wildlife viewing area it picks up the Vincent Tumamait Trail and heads west, taking a short detour to Sawmill Mountain (8818′) and the Chumash spirit tower, and then continues toward Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste). The trail ends at Cerro Noroeste Road, but a short climb up through the pine trees leads to the summit of Mt. Abel (8280+’) and Campo Alto. On the way back I usually run down the North Fork Trail to the spring at Sheep Camp, and sometimes extend the run by descending to Lily Meadows Camp (6250′).

Runners on the Vincent Tumamait Trail below Mt. Pinos.
Runners on the Vincent Tumamait Trail below Mt. Pinos.

It’s rare to see other runners doing the Pinos to Abel run. Dan and Dameon first passed me descending from Mt. Pinos. Our paths would cross several times over the course of the morning. They were running in the Mt. Pinos area for the first time and having a great time exploring the trails.

One of those times was on the top of Mt. Abel. They were thinking about hitting Grouse Mountain (8582′) on the way back to Pinos and asked about the route. The use trail to Grouse branches off the Vincent Tumamait Trail near a saddle ENE of the peak and about 0.3 mile west of the North Fork Trail junction. It leads to the northern summit of Grouse’s twin summits in about a quarter-mile.

Horse taking a drink at Sheep Camp.
What’s in the bag?

I didn’t do Grouse Mountain today, but did take the North Fork Trail down to Sheep Camp. Today, the plan was to just go a “little way” down the trail below Sheep Camp to see if a particular plant was flowering. Beyond Sheep Camp the North Fork Trail drops like a rock, and it turned into one of those, “I’ll just go a little farther down” kind of things. Before I came to my senses I’d lost nearly 1000′ in elevation while looking for the plant.

After chugging back up to the spring at Sheep Camp, I refilled my Camelbak(TM) and then continued up to the Vincent Tumamait Trail and headed east, retracing my steps to Mt. Pinos, and back to the trailhead.

Some related posts: Thunderstorm, Vincent Tumamait Trail