The blue of the woolly bluecurls was just stunning. The plant was along the Ken Burton Trail, in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles.
Woolly bluecurls normally flowers in the Spring, but rain from Tropical Storm Hilary, combined with Spring-like conditions caused it to bloom this Fall. Such blooms are usually not widespread and the flowers are often less robust than their Spring counterparts. Other Spring flowers that were blooming included Ceanothus, bush poppy, and golden yarrow.
Had they not dislodged some rocks, I doubt I would have seen the three bighorn sheep in the photo above. They are easier to see in this zoomed-in photo of the sheep descending the rocky slopes just below Windy Gap (7,588′) in the San Gabriel Mountains. They crossed a brush-covered rib and disappeared from view.
A few minutes after seeing the sheep, I reached Windy Gap and stopped to put my arm sleeves away. It had been cool at the trailhead — about 40 degrees — but the temperature had warmed as I worked up the trail. As its name suggests, the wind can be fierce at Windy Gap, but this morning there was almost no wind, foretelling nearly ideal weather for today’s adventure.
Windy Gap was still in shade, and the sun was just peeking over the ridge to the east. You couldn’t tell, but the eclipse had already begun. The eclipse would be nearly total in parts of Oregon, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas. In the Los Angeles area, the moon would obscure more than 70% of the sun’s disc.
From Windy Gap, I headed east on the Pacific Crest Trail toward Mt. Hawkins. From time to time, I would stop and check the progress of the eclipse using eclipse sunglasses. In sunny areas, I looked for lensed images of the sun in the shadows of trees but didn’t see any. Having needles instead of leaves, conifers don’t produce the myriad images of the eclipsed sun seen under trees with leaves.
With nearly three-quarters of the sun obscured, the light from the sun had become enfeebled. The feeling was more than that of a cloud passing in front of the sun. I stopped and listened… to nothing. It was eerily quiet. No birds called or sang, and only chill zephyrs of wind wafted about the area. Somehow, the sun was broken.
As the eclipse slowly waned, I continued east in the corrupt light, past Mt. Hawkins and Throop Peak, to the PCT’s junction with the Dawson Saddle Trail. In what seemed fitting for the day, instead of continuing to Baden-Powell, I turned left and headed down the trail toward Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2).
Why? Angeles Crest Highway was closed from Red Box to Vincent Gap, transforming Dawson Saddle into one of the more isolated areas of the Angeles National Forest. I hadn’t been on the Dawson Saddle Trail in years, and with Highway 2 closed, it would be a quirky way to climb Mt. Lewis. Instead of having one of the shortest approaches in the San Gabriels — a few feet from the CalTrans shed at Dawson Saddle — it would involve a trail run of nearly eight miles just to get to the base of the peak.
The eclipse was nearly over when I reached the bottom of the Dawson Saddle Trail on Highway 2. From the trailhead, I ran up an empty Angeles Crest Highway a short distance to Dawson Saddle. Mt. Lewis’ south ridge was accessed from here.
Only about a half-mile long, the south ridge isn’t technical, but the first third is steep and rocky. The elevation gain from the saddle to the summit is about 500′. Offset from the crest of the San Gabriels, the flat summit of Mt. Lewis has unique views of the crest extending from Mt. Baden-Powell to Mt. Islip and beyond.
After a few minutes enjoying the summit, I turned southward and began working my way back down to Angeles Crest Highway, up to the PCT, over to Windy Gap, and back down to the trailhead in the Crystal Lake Recreational Area.
Angeles Crest Highway was still closed between Red Box and Vincent Gap, and the heatwave continued. I was trying to decide where to run.
I briefly considered the Circuit Around Strawberry Peak, but yesterday at 10:00 a.m., the “in-the-shade” temperature at Clear Creek was already 92°F, and the “in-the-sun” fuel temperature 109°F. By 1:00 p.m., the fuel temp reached a scorching 122°F!
Although trailheads such as Three Points and Islip Saddle couldn’t be accessed using Angeles Crest Highway, the highway was open from Wrightwood to Inspiration Point and Vincent Gap. After seeing the temps at Clear Creek, it took about two seconds to make the decision to head to the San Gabriels’ high country.
From Inspiration Point (7,365′), I ran east on the PCT about 7 miles to the North Backbone Trailhead on Mt. Baldy. Over most of that stretch, the temperature was a blissful 60-something degrees. Other times, I’ve driven to this trailhead — which requires a high-clearance vehicle — or run to the trailhead from Wrightwood. But the run along Blue Ridge is a favorite. It is especially scenic, with fantastic views of Mt. Baden-Powell, Iron Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Mt. Baldy.
Another 10 minutes of climbing and I reached the Pine Mountain Juniper. Straddling the rocky crest at an elevation of about 9000′, this stalwart tree is estimated to be 800 – 1000 years old. It is a remarkable tree in a remarkable location. Except for one short, steep, eroded section, the remainder of the trail to the top of Pine Mountain (9648′) was relatively straightforward.
Pine is the second-highest peak in the San Gabriels and has excellent views of the surrounding terrain. It is higher than Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′) and Dawson Peak (9575′) but a few hundred feet lower than Mt. Baldy (10,064′).
From Pine Mountain, the North Backbone trail continues over Dawson Peak another 2.5 miles to Mt. Baldy. There was still a long ribbon of snow along the east side of the upper North Backbone, but it looked like the trail might avoid it. I would have liked to confirm that, but today the top of Pine was my planned turnaround point. As it was, with the warm weather, I thought I might run short on water on the return to Inspiration Point.
Leaving Pine behind, I started back down — jogging when it made sense — but trying not to do anything stoopid. On the way down, I kept reaching behind me and squeezing the bladder in my hydration pack. I guess I was hoping that it would magically be more full than the last time I checked. It never was.
Back at the North Backbone Trailhead, and definitely low on water, I decided it was a good time to run the dirt road back to the top of the Acorn Trail and see how much shorter it was than the PCT. The answer was not much — only about a tenth of a mile.
I’d been willing to push the water envelope because it had been a heavy snow year. I expected the spring near Guffy Camp would probably be running. I’d passed the side trail to the spring a bunch of times but never ventured down the steep slope. My impression was that the spring was often low or nearly dry. This time when I reached the side trail, I headed down.
And down and down… It sure seemed like a long way to the spring, but when I checked the track, it was less than a quarter-mile with an elevation loss of about 200′.
Back on the PCT, the temperature was generally in the mid-eighties but was warmer on south-facing slopes. At about 1:00 p.m., the in-the-sun fuel temperature at the Big Pines RAWS was 109°F. I was very happy to have the extra water.
A long stretch of Angeles Crest Highway (Highway 2) between Red Box and Vincent Gap remains closed because of storm damage. According to a tweet from Caltrans District 7, it sounds like it may be closed through Summer. Some affected trailheads include Shortcut Saddle, Three Points, Mt. Waterman, Buckhorn, Mt. Williamson, and Islip Saddle.
Mt. Pinos is often overlooked as a trail running destination but offers several options for those that enjoy running or hiking in hilly terrain at higher altitude. Most of the runs at Mt. Pinos start at the Chula Vista Trailhead (8350′) at the end of Mt. Pinos Road.
Today, I was doing an out-and-back from the Chula Vista Trailhead to Mt. Abel/Cerro Noroeste (8280+’). The route includes short side trips to Mt. Pinos (8831′), Sawmill Mountain (8818′), Grouse Mountain (8582′), and Sheep Camp (8300′).
Including the side trips, the run/hike is about 15.5 miles long, with about 3700′ of gain/loss. Google Earth calculates the average elevation of the route to be 8434′. In comparison, the average elevation of the out and back from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell is 8201′.
With triple-digit highs expected in some low-elevation areas, the temps on Mt. Pinos today were ever so pleasant — short-sleeves from the start and only a little toasty in a few exposed areas.
Despite the harsh Winter, there were only one or two small trees down on the Vincent Tumamait Trail, and those were inconsequential. As elsewhere in Southern California, the wildflowers along the trail were sensational. After nearly drying up last year, the spring at Sheep Camp was running at full flow.
If you are looking to run longer, add additional elevation gain, or explore the area, running to Lily Meadows and back from Sheep Camp extends the run to about 21 miles, with around 5400′ of elevation gain/loss.
Another option for a longer run is doing an out-and-back to Mesa Spring Camp, instead of Mt. Abel. Including a stop at Sheep Camp on the way back, this run is about 20.5 miles, with about 4800′ of gain/loss.
Lily Meadows and Mesa Springs see far less traffic than the Vincent Tumamait Trail. The trade-off is that both places are at lower elevation and can be 15-20 degrees warmer than Mt. Pinos.
This year’s bloom of Elegant Clarkia (Clarkia unguiculata) in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (aka Ahmanson Ranch) is even more widespread and lavish than it was in Spring 2020. It’s virtually impossible to do a hike, run, or ride at Ahmanson Ranch and not see the stalks of the oddly-shaped, 4-petaled, pink-purple flowers.
The Red Box – Bear Canyon – Switzer’s Loop trail run is a favorite I’ve enjoyed doing for many years. Part of its attraction is the isolated, backcountry feel of Bear Canyon, particularly between Tom Sloane Saddle and Bear Canyon Trail Camp. It’s worth spending a few minutes at the old cabin site in the upper canyon to contemplate a lifestyle from an earlier century.
The descent of Bear Canyon is always adventurous in some way. Based on what I’d been seeing on other trails this year, I’d expected upper Bear Canyon to be a mess. I had braced myself for downed trees, washouts, and overgrown, hard-to-follow sections of trail.
But just a few minutes below Tom Sloane Saddle, a tree blocking the trail had been cleared, and the saw cuts were fresh! As I worked down the trail, I was excited to find more trailwork had been done. Branches or trees that had fallen across the trail had been cut. Some overgrown sections of trail had been trimmed. One washed-out section of trail looked like it had just been repaired. Someone had even trimmed a little of the poison oak that is so common along the trail.
The last time I was in Bear Canyon (April 2021), the creek had been nearly dry. This year there was plenty of water and plenty of stream crossings. Unlike several recent runs, I had my poles and was able to keep my shoes and socks mostly dry.
I had debated whether to do this loop on Memorial Day Weekend. It passes through Switzer’s Picnic Area, one of the most popular day-use areas in Angeles National Forest. Many visiting Switzer’s do the hike down the Gabrielino Trail to see Switzer Falls, and many of those continue down the Bear Canyon Trail to the area below the falls.
Today, the two-mile stretch from below the falls to Switzer’s was as busy as expected. One issue I hadn’t anticipated was that some stream crossings were backed up like the Hillary Step on Everest. Other than wading, there was usually only one “dry” route across the stream. At one busy crossing, a hiker — clutching a dog under each arm — deftly balanced across a sequence of slippery rocks and branches, keeping his and his charge’s feet dry.
Once past Switzer’s, things returned to normal. From Switzer’s, it’s about 4.5 miles up to Red Box, with an elevation gain of about 1350′. I had been on this section of the Gabrielino Trail about a month before and was curious to see if a mass of fallen trees blocking the trail had been removed.
The trees still needed to be cleared — Forest Service rules require a qualified sawyer to do that kind of work — BUT the remaining 2.5 miles of trail to Red Box were being trimmed and cleared by several dozen members of the Mt. Wilson Bicycling Association. I wondered why I wasn’t seeing any mountain bikers on the trail — they were all working on it!