The contrast in temperature was remarkable. On a run at Ahmanson earlier in the week the temp had been over 100. Here on the north shore of Big Bear Lake it was about 60 degrees cooler.
It was 4:45 am and 54 two-legged runners, and one four-legged runner (Lacey) were scattered around the Meadow’s Edge Picnic Area. Some runners were sitting in cars with the motor on and heater running, some were checking in and picking up their bib numbers and making last minute preparations. One bare-armed runner in shorts and a singlet had appropriated a bathroom in lieu of a jacket.
At about 5:00 am were were on our way. The stars glittered brightly on an inky background of mountain sky. Surrounded by a frame of pines the iconic Winter constellation Orion ran across the southeastern sky, the brilliant dog star Sirius following at his side.
There were many changes and improvements for the 2014 edition of the Kodiak 100M & 50M. In addition to the 50M beginning at Meadow’s Edge and starting an hour earlier, nearly all of the miles to Rim Nordic (~ mile 23) were on dirt road. As much as I like single track, there were some significant benefits to this. Most importantly, it got us to Rim Nordic earlier in the day and in better shape to deal with the difficulties of the Siberia Creek section of the course.
The loss of the PCT single track on the first part of the 50 mile course was offset by the addition of the Skyline single track following the Siberia Creek climb. The Skyline and Siberia Creek Trails are both spectacular. When combined they are among the most challenging, aesthetic and rewarding trails in Southern California. Thanks to the trail work by the Big Bear Valley Trails Foundation and Kodiak volunteers the Siberia Creek Trail was in better shape this year.
The weather was outstanding! Once the sun was up, my sleeves came off and it was shorts and short-sleeves for the remainder of the day. Reflecting the good weather, the changes in the course, the improved aid stations, and perhaps a better understanding of the character of the course, the finishing rates for both the 50M and 100M were up significantly from last year. Half of the runners that started the 100M finished and about 85% of the 50 milers finished.
That’s Art and Ann just west of the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain, which can be seen behind them. The peak is the highest in Southern California, with a summit elevation of about 11,500′.
The ascent of the peak had gone well. Including a stop a South Fork Meadows to top off our water, and another quick stop to talk to Dan the Ranger, we’d left the car just after 7:00 and made it to the summit about 10:30 am. With the short-sleeves and shorts summer weather and zero chance of thunderstorm, the summit was a busy place.
We were doing a variation of the South Fork – Dollar Lake Trail – Dry Lake Trail keyhole loop. The variation was that instead of descending the Dry Lake Trail from Mine Shaft Saddle, we continued over to Fish Creek Saddle and descended a “use trail” past (dry) Lodgepole Spring, rejoining the Dry Lake Trail at the Dry Lake outlet.
It seems to me that doing the loop counterclockwise — going up the Dollar Lake Trail — maximizes the runnability of the route as a whole. With spectacular trails and scenery the route is every bit as enjoyable as a run in the Sierra, and is my favorite route up Gorgonio from the South Fork trailhead.
Between Vincent Gap and Islip Saddle the Pacific Crest Trail follows one of the most scenic stretches of trail in Southern California, skirting the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′) and passing Mt. Burnham, Throop Peak and Mt. Hawkins before leaving the crest at Windy Gap (7600′), just east of Mt. Islip. It has long been a favorite of hikers and runners.
There are several ways this classic stretch of trail can be incorporated into a run or hike. Today we were doing the segment as part of a training run for the 2014 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run. The AC100 starts at Wrightwood, California; then using parts of the PCT, Silver Moccasin, Gabrielino and several other trails, the AC100 works west through the peaks and canyons of the San Gabriel Mountains to Loma Alta Park near JPL.
The AC100 training runs, organized and supported by AC100 co-director Hal Winton, cover the 100 mile course in approximately 25 mile segments. With the help of AC100 Racebook editor/photographer Larry Gassan and a host of generous volunteers, “Uncle Hal” makes it happen and always seem to be where runners need him to be. Today’s training run was the fourth, and last, of the 2014 series.
Just a few days before we’d done the third AC100 training run from Chantry Flats to the finish at Loma Alta Park. Beginning at Mile 75 of the AC100, this difficult segment includes the Wintercreek and Idlehour climbs and some of the most technical trails on the course. As a result of the drought water wasn’t easily accessible at Idlehour Creek, so Hal and 2013 AC100 finishers Dave Tan and Rainer Schultz were at the “Cape of Good Hope” on Mt. Lowe fire road to provide much-needed water to thirsty runners.
This morning’s run from Wrightwood had begun with an ascent of the Acorn Trail — a climb that matches foot for foot the 2650′ elevation gain of the PCT up Baden-Powell and is every bit as strenuous. After climbing up the Acorn Trail we’d joined the PCT and followed it along spectacular Blue Ridge, past the top of Mountain High Ski Resort, to Angeles Crest Highway at Inspiration Point. From there it had taken less than an hour to reach Vincent Gap and Hal’s aid station. A quick stop to refill my hydration pack and I was back on the PCT and chugging up Baden-Powell.
Far too many switchbacks later, far too much of the peak remained. I was maxed out and doing my best to keep up with Skye’s brisk pace. Finally we rounded a corner and I could see the Wally Waldron tree a 150 yards ahead. Just 150′ in elevation from the top of Baden-Powell, the gnarled and weathered limber pine — estimated to be 1500 years old — stands sentinel at the juncture of Mt. Baden-Powell’s summit trail and the PCT.
I’d pushed the pace up the Acorn and Baden-Powell climbs and now was paying the penalty. My legs were toast. When I’d reached the Wally Waldron tree the decision whether or not to go to the summit of baden-Powell had been very easy — one trail led steeply up and the other gently down. As we turned west onto the PCT I told Skye I was going to have to take it easy for a bit. She had already started to pick up the pace and it didn’t take long for her to disappear into the forest on the trail ahead.
After a while I glanced at my watch and was surprised to see that it was already 3:00 pm. Because of the long shuttle to Wrightwood we hadn’t started running until 9:20 am. After skirting Baden-Powell, I’d run past Mt. Burnham, struggled up to the shoulder of Throop Peak and now was near Mt. Hawkins. Here, the beginning of the descent to Windy Gap is marked by a prominent Jeffrey pine that has been struck by lightning.
Most of the trail maintenance in the San Gabriels (and elsewhere) is now done by volunteers. One of the requirements to run in the AC100 is eight hours of trail work. This year AC100 entrants have worked on the Idlehour and Wintercreek Trails and will be working on the Gabrielino Trail below Newcomb Saddle in a couple of weeks. For more info about Hal and volunteering see the April 2014 issue of the VOLUNTEER TODAY newsletter (PDF).
Once through the ghost forest on Mt. Hawkins, it didn’t take long to get down to Little Jimmy Spring and from there over to Islip Saddle. It had been another tough training week in a series of tough training weeks. As I descended the final short switchbacks to the Islip Saddle parking area on Highway 2 I tried to visualize what it would be like on race day. How would I feel compared to today? Would I make here before noon? How hot would it be on Cooper Canyon? Would the cutoff at Cloudburst be a problem? Would I make it to Horse Flats before dark? On what trail would I be when sun rose for the second time during the run? All these and many other questions would be answered in just a few weeks.
Jon running at Ahmanson Ranch on day 16,446 of his 45+ year running streak.
Earlier this week, to the cheers of runners on the Notre Dame High School Cross Country team he coaches, Jon Sutherland broke Mark Covert’s U.S. record for the most days run consecutively. Jon’s run on Tuesday increased his daily run tally to 16,438 days — and counting.
It’s the “and counting” part that’s key. Jon has run on days of major earthquakes, record-setting rain and heat, national catastrophe and personal tragedy. He’s run through two knee operations, various strains, sprains and ills and several fractures — including a hip avulsion fracture.
Today Jon hosted a “Running Rocks!” fun run/walk/hike at Ahmanson Ranch to thank all the people that have been part of his running life. During the celebration Councilmember Tom LaBonge (District 4) presented Jon with a Certificate of Accomplishment on behalf of the City of Los Angeles. Below are a few photos from the get-together.
Jon says he sees no stop sign, and plans to continue running every day. You can check his current count of consecutive days run on the U.S.A. Active Running Streak List.
More often than not when you run down a mountain, you’ve also had to climb up it. Not so today. Today our Mt. Diablo run started on the summit of Mt. Diablo (3849′), worked over to North Peak (3557′), and then descended the Bald Ridge, Eagle Peak and Mitchell Rock Trails to the trailhead at the Mitchell Canyon Interpretive Center and Ranger Station.
I was more than happy to save the ascent of Mt. Diablo for another day. With the AC100 just a couple months away my mileage has been on the increase. Yesterday, after driving up to San Francisco, Brett had taken me on a run on Mt. Tamalpais. Earlier today I’d done a run to Fort Point and this afternoon would be doing another run when we returned to the city.
Except for an astoundingly steep and slippery section of service road between Prospector’s Gap and North Peak, today’s run was nearly all single track trail. Not the “cruise downhill, don’t have to think about it” kind of single track, but technically interesting single track that tries hard to find a way to trip you up and knock you down.
One of the reasons for doing Diablo was to see if we could find the rare and endangered Mount Diablo fairy lantern (Calochortus pulchellus). There were a surprising number (50-100) of the yellow flowers along the North Peak and Bald Ridge Trails. It might be assumed that this was due to the area being burned in the September 2013 Morgan Fire, however there appeared to be as many instances of the plant outside the burn area as inside. I think there is another explanation.
The unusual pattern of rainfall that we experienced this rain season in Southern California was replicated across much of the state, including the Bay Area. As of February 1 San Francisco Airport (KSFO) had recorded only 1.5 inches of rain since July 1 and storms in February and early March accounted for a large part of this season’s rainfall.
This pattern of rainfall, sun and temperature appears to have favored wild lilies, particularly mariposa lilies of the genus Calochortus, such as the Mt. Diablo fairy lantern. The butterfly mariposa (Calochortus venustus) was very widespread on Mt. Diablo, numbering in the thousands. It appears to fill a similar ecological niche as the Catalina mariposa (Calochortus catalinae) in the Santa Monica Mountains. The Catalina mariposa was also very abundant this year, along with some other members of the Lily family.
Running ahead of me at a brisk pace, Brett suddenly stopped and turned, gesturing for me to slow and be quiet. On the shaded trail ahead I could see something large and brown hunched over on the trail. It took a moment to realize that it was a big male turkey in full regalia.
We were on Mt. Tamalpais, and about a half-mile into an afternoon run from the Bootjack parking area in Mt. Tamalpais State Park. This scenic loop was the first of several runs over a too-short Bay area weekend visit. One of the innumerable loops and variations in and near the Park, our route included segments of the Old Mine, Rock Spring and Matt Davis Trails.
According to this November 2012 article in the Marin Independent Journal the turkeys were introduced into Marin County in 1988 by Fish & Game to provide hunting opportunities on private land. They have since become a nuisance and usurp resources from native species. During the birds’ mating season they have reportedly frightened hikers and bikers. (I might have scoffed at that statement before seeing the size of this tom.)
It was a warm in the sun, cool in the shade afternoon with the temperature in the mid-70s. Earlier in the week an offshore flow had pushed temperatures in the Bay area well into the 90s. The heatwave produced numerous record highs, with the temperature at San Francisco Airport reaching over 90 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday. The remote automated weather station (RAWS) on Middle Peak can be used to get an idea of the weather on Mt. Tam.
Today the winds were onshore, but the visibility was still very good. The twin summits of Mt. Diablo could be clearly seen across the bay, about 40 miles away. Mt. Diablo would be the site of one of tomorrow’s runs. Rumor had it the rare Mt. Diablo fairy lantern was blooming, and Brett had planned a run on Diablo that included North Peak, Bald Ridge and Eagle Peak.