I pressed the START/STOP button on my Garmin watch and started to walk over to the horse/hiker entrance at the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch). This “end of an Ahmanson run” routine is something that I repeat around 150 times a year. It’s so routine, it’s rote. I’m not thinking about rocks or ruts, or how far I have to go. It’s a time I can relax and reflect on the run, the weather, or whatever.
Continuing toward the trailhead entry, I pulled the water bottle from my pack. Lifting my head to take a drink, and still on auto, I began to step over the first of two large wooden beams forming the entrance.
Some primitive, protective mechanism recognized the threat before I did, and I stopped mid-stride. Then it registered — a sizable Southern Pacific rattlesnake was undulating through the boxed-in area between the two beams of the entryway.
Moving quickly through the entry and into the grass, the snake barely reacted to me. With single-minded resolution, it continued on a beeline toward the brushy area near the trailhead. A single shake of its rattle was all the bother I was worth. Here’s a short video of the rattlesnake.
It was about 15 minutes before sunrise when I started my run from the trailhead at the “Top of Reseda.” After running up to Mulholland and partway down Fire Road #30, I could see a batch of tropical-looking clouds to the southeast. These were associated with a cutoff upper-level low that had formed off the coast of Southern California on Halloween.
The behavior of cutoff upper-level lows is difficult to forecast. They are usually separated from the general west to east flow and typically wobble around like a spinning top. A cutoff low can remain off the coast for several days or more. Just where they wobble can dramatically impact the weather. So far this morning, the only effect of this weak low had been to embellish the sunrise with a few clouds, but such lows can be capricious, and this one was no exception.
My first stop was going to be Temescal Peak, and I picked up the pace a bit, curious to see how the clouds and sunrise might look from that viewpoint. Temescal Peak is just off the Backbone Trail, near its junction with Fire Road #30/Temescal Ridge Fire Road. On a clear day this tiny peak affords an exceptional 360-degree view that can include Mt. Baldy, San Gorgonio Mountain, San Jacinto Peak, Mt. Pinos, Hines Peak, and other area landmarks.
Turning left at the Hub, it didn’t take long to get to Temescal Peak. Westward from the peak, a veil of smoke could be seen in the vicinity of the Maria Fire. Nearby, some of the canyons in the area of the Getty Fire were filled with a smoky haze. In the distance, a few mercurial clouds were scattered across the eastern sky.
At the time, I couldn’t tell if the clouds were approaching or receding, developing or dissipating. Returning to the Hub, I turned left on Eagle Springs Fire Road and began the descent toward Trippet Ranch. On the way, it became clear the clouds were headed my way. By the time I’d run to Trippet Ranch and up to the top of the Musch Trail, the band of clouds covered much of the eastern sky. Virga streamed from the bases of some of the clouds, and I wondered if a few rogue drops might be reaching the ground.
Over the remainder of the run — past Eagle Rock and through Garapito Canyon — the clouds continued to move overhead. A few drops of rain found me near the end of the run, but the most pleasant surprise occurred on the drive home, when showers dampened the streets of the western San Fernando Valley.
There had been no rain in the Los Angeles area this October, and the showers reminded me of the erratic nature of Autumn precipitation in Los Angeles. Even though “normal” rainfall in October at Downtown Los Angeles (USC) is 0.66 inch, no one familiar with L.A. weather is surprised when October is dry. Over 143 years, Downtown Los Angeles has recorded no October rainfall 26 times, 0.10 inch or less 54 times, and 0.25 inch or less 74 times.
The upper-level low continued to influence the day’s weather, and while the low remained mostly offshore and didn’t generate any more showers in the West Valley, it did produce a colorful sunset!
Google discontinued its Google Earth API/Plugin in January 2017. That technology was used on PhotographyontheRun.com for 3D visualizations of trail runs, fire data, and other data.
I’ve been looking at alternatives since then, and have recently implemented an interactive viewer using the CesiumJS and Cesium ion components of the Cesium 3D Geospatial Platform. No browser add-on or plug-in is required. The viewer uses the Cesium World Terrain high-resolution global terrain tileset, with resolutions to 0.5 meter. The West Coast of the US is one of the areas covered by this resolution.
Following are example 3D visualizations of some of my recent runs. The views are interactive and can be zoomed, tilted, rotated and panned. Click/tap the “?” in the upper right corner for help manipulating the scene. Mileages and elevation gains/losses are approximate.
The initial view is of San Gorgonio Mountain from the northeast, showing the trail to the summit and the Sky High Trail. The large cirque held one of several glaciers on San Gorgonio Mountain. The GPS track is from a run in September.
The view above is from the John’s Meadow Trail, a circuitous trail that winds its way through a less-traveled part of the San Gorgonio Wilderness.
The prominent canyon in the photo is home to Forsee Creek. During the last ice age, it held one of San Gorgonio’s small glaciers. I’d just crossed the Forsee Creek a few minutes before, and in a few hours would run past its source high on the crest — Trail Fork Springs.
The peak at the head of the canyon is East San Bernardino Peak (10,691′). Its summit marks the crest of the divide and the location of the San Bernardino Peak Divide Trail. That’s where I was headed, but the path would be anything but direct.
From the Forsee Creek crossing at 7270′, the John’s Meadow Trail climbs about 1000′ in 2.3 miles to join the Divide Trail at “wheelbarrow junction,” about 5 miles west of East San Bernardino Peak. From that point I worked up the popular and scenic Divide Trail, visiting Limber Pine Bench (9330′), Washington Monument (10,290′), and San Bernardino Peak (10,649′) along the way to East San Bernardino Peak.
Using this roundabout — but very scenic — route, it took me about the same time to reach San Bernardino Peak from the Forsee Creek Trailhead as it does to do San Gorgonio Mountain from the South Fork Trailhead. From San Bernardino Peak it’s a little less than a mile to East San Bernardino Peak and from there only about 0.75 mile to the lateral to Trail Fork Springs.
From the westernmost Trail Fork Springs junction with the Divide Trail the theme was downhill, downhill, and more downhill — about 3800′ of downhill over 6.7 miles.
The running on the Forsee Creek Trail was generally very good. I was glad I did the loop counterclockwise. The John’s Meadow Trail and its extension are enjoyably primitive — they appear to be “use” trails that have evolved over time. On the other hand, the Forsee Creek Trail is a constructed trail. It was designed as a pack trail, so is generally well-behaved. Great for going down, but a long haul up with a heavy pack!
Note: Water is generally more reliable and accessible on the John’s Meadow Trail than on the Forsee Creek Trail. Trail Fork Springs and Jackstraw Springs are seasonal water sources that may not have water. Check with the Mill Creek Ranger Station for the current conditions and more info.
One of the things I’d been curious to see when running the Kodiak 50K in mid-August was how the summit snow band on San Gorgonio Mountain was holding up. The answer turned out to be fairly well. Now, a few weeks later, I was back on Gorgonio, chugging up the South Fork Trail, and on my way to see if any snow remained on the mountain.
Runoff from thunderstorms during the week had left the trail rocky and rutted. From the views of the mountain I’d glimpsed from the trail, I wondered if the rain had also washed away any remaining patches of snow.
In addition to that question, I also want to follow up on my earlier “field checks” this Summer and see how much water there was in Dry Lake, and if any snow remained in the avalanche debris above Dry Lake.
I was about a quarter-mile from the Dry Lake – Dollar Lake junction at South Fork Meadows, making decent time, when I heard footsteps behind me. I stepped to the side so he could pass, and we talked as we worked up the trail. Kevin said he’d been climbing in the Sierra just about every weekend and was really well-acclimated.
I asked him what route he was doing to the summit, and he said the Dry Lake route. I told him I was doing the Dollar Lake Trail route up and the Dry Lake route down. He was clearly moving faster than me and said he was shooting for a time of 4:20 to the summit. I mentioned the Dollar Lake route was shorter and faster, and depending on the number of stops for photos, I expected to get to the summit in around 3:45. We talked about some Sierra peaks and being in the mountains, and after a couple of minutes, he began to pull away.
The early morning temperature had been a little more chilly than my earlier trips up Gorgonio this Summer. I debated pulling on my sleeves, but by the time I was in the sun on the Dollar Lake Trail, the temperature had warmed to a comfortable 50-something — perfect for ascending the peak.
The summit of San Gorgonio was a very busy place when I arrived. I’d estimate 40-50 people were on or around the summit. Most were part of one huge group that had come up Vivian Creek.
Kevin caught up to me on the descent of the Sky High Trail. We’d both made the summit within a couple of minutes of our projections, leaving little doubt that the Dollar Lake Trail is the fastest route to the summit from the South Fork Trailhead.
I didn’t see any snow remaining in the avalanche debris above Dry Lake. The lake itself was in great shape, and the streams at South Fork Meadows were flowing nearly as vigorously as they had been a month ago.
Working up the rocky trail, I looked to my left across the broad valley to San Gorgonio Mountain. There was still a narrow strip of snow near its summit, bright white in the morning sun.
I was about 5.5 miles into the Kodiak 50K and nearing the top of 9952′ Sugarloaf Mountain. There wasn’t any snow here, but the morning had been cool — at least by Southern California summer standards.
This was my sixth time running Kodiak. The first four times were at the 50M distance, and this year and last, I’d opted for the 50K. There have been a lot of changes in the Kodiak Ultra Marathons since the first 100M & 50M were run in 2013.
Initially held in late September, the event moved to an August date in 2017. 50K options were added in 2015. For the first three years the Kodiak courses were run in the counterclockwise direction. In 2016 the direction switched to clockwise and then alternated direction each year through 2018. This year the direction was the same as in 2018 — clockwise.
The general idea has remained the same. The 100 milers run a loop around Big Bear Lake. On the way, they ascend Sugarloaf Mountain, and also descend thousands of feet into the dank depths of Bear Canyon. The 50 milers run from the north side of the lake to the Finish, climbing either the Siberia Creek Trail if the course direction is counterclockwise, or Sugarloaf Mountain if the course is run clockwise. The options for 50Kers have varied from year to year.
This year the 100M start time was moved to 6:00 p.m. This put 100M runners beginning the descent into Bear Canyon between about 8:00 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. — a much cooler time of day. The trade-off was that they would be doing the 3000′ climb up Sugarloaf Mountain with about 67 miles on their legs, and many of the runners would run into a second night.
There were two notable changes in the Kodiak 50K this year. One adjustment is that it started two hours earlier — at 6:00 a.m. The other is that it was a couple of rocky miles longer than last year. The mileage was added on the descent of Sugarloaf — with runners looping down Wildhorse Meadow Road instead of retracing their route on the Sugarloaf Trail. My watch recorded a distance of about 34.5 miles and corrected elevation gain of about 6800′.
Because of the change in the 100M and 50K start time, we were ahead of many of the 100M and 50M runners, but we did get to see the 100M leaders flying down Sugarloaf.
The weather was cool in the morning and warm in the afternoon. At Big Bear Airport the overnight low Friday night was 37°F and the high on Saturday was 77°F. With the clear skies, it was hot on exposed, south-facing trails. The Converse RAWS (5618′) recorded a high (inside a ventilated instrument housing) of 84°F; however the “fuel temperature” of a pine dowel in direct sun hit 106°F. In my experience, the fuel temperature is a better indicator of the temperature runners might encounter on sun-baked sections of trail.
My run went well. There was no repeat of the leg cramps I experienced near the end of this year’s ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K. This 50K was longer, had more elevation gain, was at higher elevation, and was generally more technical, but my legs behaved the entire time. That’s the riddle of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC). Sometimes you get leg cramps and sometimes you don’t. In this race I made sure that I stayed well-hydrated and fueled. I also used poles on the steeper climbs.
This was one of those races that I could just run and enjoy. It was great to talk with Diana, Gloria and Greg along the way. The runners you meet during races are often very accomplished and usually have some unique stories to share!
Many thanks to Kodiak Race Director Susie Schmelzer, Course Director Harald Zundel, and Communications Director John Emig and to Team Kodiak, all the volunteers, sponsors, Bear Valley SAR, HAM operators, medical personnel, City of Big Bear Lake, US Forest Service, Big Bear Trails Foundation, RIM Nordic and Open Air Big Bear, and everyone that helped put on the event.