Category Archives: photography|trail running

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

Sizzling San Jacinto

Tahquitz Meadow
Tahquitz Meadow

We were nearly to the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail and the South Ridge Trail and about a half-mile from Tahquitz Peak (8846′). It was hot. In the shade the temp was in the high 80s, but in direct sun the temperature was close to 100°F.

Tahquitz Peak from Wellman Divide
Tahquitz Peak from Wellman Divide

A few hours earlier Skye and I had grabbed the first car up on the Palm Springs Tram and done the 5 mile, 2435′ ascent of San Jacinto Peak. At 10,800’+ at 10:00 in the morning it had been 70°F — warm for one of the higher mountains of Southern California. Remarkably, a couple of small patches of snow remained on the south side of the summit.

Where we were now, 70 degrees would feel like a refrigerator. We’d given up that cooler clime and all the elevation we’d gained, and run five miles down the Wellman Divide Trail and PCT to Saddle Junction — a descent of about 2700′. The temperature had increased all the way down.

Tahquitz Rock from the Wellman Divide Trail
Tahquitz Rock from the Wellman Divide Trail

We might as well have been in a drying oven. The combination of the hot weather, a high sun, low humidity and higher altitude had desiccated me. At the turn-off off from the PCT to Tahquitz Peak I lifted my pack and squeezed the reservoir — again. In the few minutes since I last checked, no water had magically found its way into my pack. There was less than 20 ounces remaining and that wasn’t going to be enough.

Descending from Tahquitz Peak
Descending from Tahquitz Peak

After running over to Tahquitz Peak and visiting the lookout, there was still the minor detail of getting back to the Tram. The Mountain Fire closure was still in effect, which meant we could not use the Willow Springs Trail and would have to retrace our steps and climb all the way back up to Wellman Divide.

During the drought I would bring extra water when doing this route, and stash it along the trail. With this year’s good snowpack it seemed we should be able to find water if we needed it.

Wellman Cienaga from the Wellman Divide Trail
Wellman Cienaga from the Wellman Divide Trail

Prior to the Mountain Fire I’d used Willow Creek as a water source, but since the Willow Springs Trail was closed, that was out. The seep at Wellman Cienaga was too far up and the flow was low. Skunk Cabbage Meadow and Tahquitz Valley were a possibility. Originally included in the Mountain Fire closure area, they had reopened. I recalled a water source in Skunk Cabbage Meadow, but didn’t remember much about it.

When we got to Tahquitz Peak we asked Joe, the volunteer Ranger at the Tahquitz Peak Lookout, what he thought would be a good water source. He suggested Tahquitz Creek in Tahquitz Valley. I hadn’t been to Tahquitz Valley, so this was a great time to check it out.

Corn lilies and ferns along the Wellman Divide Trail.
Corn lilies and ferns along the Wellman Divide Trail.

Although small in its upper reaches, Tahquitz Creek had plenty of water. Using a UV Pen, we refilled our packs and drank until we couldn’t drink any more. Continuing, we found there was also water available at Skunk Cabbage Meadow. At least for now. I wouldn’t hazard a guess how long these water sources will last.

Ah water, wonderful water. With water the hike and run back to Wellman Divide was just a sweaty, strenuous and scenic climb, and not the hellish ascent it might have been.

Some related posts: San Jacinto Peak and Tahquitz Peak Trail Run, Room With a View, Mountain Weather

Along the Crest

Trees and clouds along the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains. Photography by Gary Valle.

I rounded the corner, driving from deep shade into the golden glare of the rising sun. There was almost no traffic on Angeles Crest Highway. Up ahead, in the shade of some trees, there was something in the road. Was it a rock or a pine cone? Driving into the sun it was hard to tell. At this time of the morning — before the CalTrans truck has swept the road — one small rock can ruin your whole day. Getting to the trailhead unscathed is always the first challenge of the day.

Middle Hawkins from the Pacific Crest Trail. Photography by Gary Valle.
Middle Hawkins from the Pacific Crest Trail.

Today, Craig and I were planning to do a point to point run from Inspiration Point to Islip Saddle — one of the best stretches of trail in the San Gabriel Mountains.

PCTA volunteer Ray Drasher often takes care of clearing the trees from this section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s quite an undertaking to get the required stock and equipment to the trailhead and then cut trees spread over several miles of trail. Because of conflicting reports, Ray wasn’t sure whether there were trees still on the trail or not. We’d let him know after the run.

On the drive up you could see it was going to be a spectacular day in the Angeles high country. A low pressure trough moving through central California had pulled in the marine layer and a tumultuous ocean of cloud reached from the south-facing canyons far out over the Pacific.

Trail runner descending the PCT near Mt. Burnham.
Craig descending the PCT near Mt. Burnham.

I drove through the double tunnels at Mt. Williamson and then around a left-hand curve. Up ahead I could see the northwest ridge of Mt. Islip dropping down to Islip Saddle. What the heck? Orange cones? The gate is closed? The HIGHWAY is closed? That didn’t make sense; the Winter closure had ended weeks before.

After parking, I talked to a hiker who said it was closed for “road work.” I assumed there must have been a rock slide in one of the problematic areas between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap. Later I learned the problem was a “sink hole” west of the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center.

After Craig arrived we discussed route options to Mt. Baden-Powell. Either we did the South Fork loop, which I’d done a couple weeks before, or we did an out and back on the PCT. We opted for the out and back.

Weather-beaten limber pine near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. Photography by Gary Valle.
Weather-beaten limber pine near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell.

The run was as spectacular as expected. The visibility above the deck of stratus was at least 100 miles. San Bernardino Peak, San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto were easy marks to the east and Owens Peak and the Southern Sierra could be seen to the north. Before it was immersed in a tide of cloud, the summit of Santiago Peak (Saddleback) had been visible to the south. High clouds and a gusty westerly wind kept the temperatures moderate. Only one very small patch of snow remained on the trail.

I’d hoped to be able to tell Ray the trees had been cleared from the trail, but no — they were still there. He said the next time I ran there, they would be gone. Thanks Ray!