Category Archives: adventures

Running to Ray Miller

Mountain bikers enjoying the view of Boney Mountain from Overlook Fire Road in Pt. Mugu State Park.

The Ray Miller Trailhead in Pt. Mugu State Park marks the western end of the Backbone Trail, a 68-mile scenic trail along the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains. The Ray Miller Trail’s long, winding descent into La Jolla Canyon is a favorite of runners and hikers, and a fitting end to those traversing the BBT from east to west.

My run this morning was to the Ray Miller Trailhead (and back) from Satwiwa, starting at the Wendy Drive trailhead in Newbury Park. The Wendy Drive Trailhead is very popular and is the starting point for many good runs, hikes and rides. To get an idea of the route options, see the detailed trail maps on the Pt. Mugu State Park page of VenturaCountryTrails.org.

Today I was looking to do a longer run, so didn’t take the usual route. On the way down Big Sycamore Canyon, I skipped the turns at Wood Canyon (Hell Hill), Wood Canyon Vista Trail (BBT) and Fireline Trail and at Overlook Fire Road, some eight miles into the run, finally headed uphill.

View of the Pacific, Anacapa Island and Santa Cruz Island from the Ray Miller Trail
View of the Pacific, Anacapa Island and Santa Cruz Island from the Ray Miller Trail.

The top of the Ray Miller Trail is a stout 2.5 -mile climb from the bottom of Overlook Fire Road. Along the way there were excellent views of Sycamore Canyon, Serrano Valley and Boney Mountain.

About a half-mile down the Ray Miller Trail there is a popular overlook of the coast. The day was clear and there were stunning views of the Pacific and the Channel Islands. Brushed by whispers of wind, the cerulean blue Pacific filled my view for much of the descent to the parking lot.

It was an odd feeling to run down to the parking lot with runners who were cheerfully finishing their morning run, knowing that I had many more miles to go. After a quick stop at the water spigot, I turned, and sighed, and took the first steps back up the hill and toward Satwiwa.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Related post: Ray Miller Training Run

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A Raven Story

The Flying Raven, Ex Libris for The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe,1875, Édouard Manet, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Flying Raven, Ex Libris for The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe,1875, Édouard Manet, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Nearly to the top of the Beast, I was thinking how scraggly the valley oak at the top of the hill looked when my thoughts were interrupted by the cacophonous cawing of a raven perched in that tree. For the purpose of this story, let’s call him (or her) Ed.

That Ed would be in an oak tree, clamoring away, wasn’t so unusual. Ravens are loquacious birds that always seem to have something to say. As I crested the hill I mimicked his vocalizations, and in so many words, we exchanged greetings.

I ran past the oak, expecting Ed to quiet down, but the exclamations continued behind me. After a few seconds Ed flew past, toward the trailless center of Lasky Mesa — caw, cawing all the way.

I expected that would be the last I would see of Ed, and thought how unusual his behavior had been. His pronouncements were very persistent and seemed very urgent.

I continued to run on the dirt road on the south side of the mesa. As I ran, I watched Ed flying above the grass and brush about 70 yards to my left. His flying was a little erratic and he continued to caw. Crazy bird…

As I watched, Ed turned and started flying toward me. At first I thought, “Interesting.” He was some distance away and I thought surely he would turn. But he continued to fly directly at me, ranting all the way.

I stopped running. Ed had not changed course and was making a beeline for me. He was flying lower than usual, and I began to wonder if I should be concerned. Was this bird OK?

Spellbound, I watched the bird’s intentioned approach and was astonished when Ed swooped past me and deftly landed on a “Restoration Area” sign three or four feet from where I was standing.

Ravens are BIG birds, and I started to talk to this one like it was a black lab.

“What’s wrong big guy?”

“What are you trying to tell me?”

The raven watched me, repeatedly cawing, cawing, cawing. Clearly he was concerned; clearly he was trying to tell me something. I just did not understand.

In a rush of feathers, Ed took flight. He crossed the road, flew back over the brush ahead of me and to my left, and swooped low to the ground.

And that’s when the coyote burst from the brush in front of me and scurried across the road, Ed in chase.

I shook my head and grinned. Ed had been trying to tell me there was a predator nearby!

It’s common for birds and other animals to sound an alert or even pester a predator, but Ed had behaved more like a devoted dog worried about his friend.

Animals often have stories to tell, we just have to listen.

Related post: Hawk, Bobcat and Rabbit

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After the Woolsey Fire: Trail Work with the SMMTC on the Chamberlain Trail

Trail runners assisting the SMMTC in trail work on the Chamberlain Trail segment of the Backbone Trail.

The trail work schedule of the Santa Monica Mountains Trail Council (SMMTC) is impressive to say the least. According to their Trail Work Statistics page, in 2018 the SMMTC was responsible for over 4,300 person-hours of work related to “establishing, preserving and maintaining the public trail system throughout the Santa Monica Mountains and adjacent areas.”

Members of the Santa Monica Mountains Trail Council (SMMTC) approaching the junction of the Old Boney and Chamberlain Trails.
Some of the SMMTC crew approaching the junction of the Old Boney and Chamberlain Trails.

Saturday, 27 trail runners assisted the SMMTC in trail work on the Chamberlain Trail segment of the Backbone Trail. The trail runners were organized by Backbone Trail Utra race director Mike Epler, who recently joined the board of the SMMTC. Ultra race director Keira Henninger volunteered and also encouraged runners to participate.

The Chamberlain Trail took a hard hit from the Woolsey Fire and subsequent rains. Under the direction of SMMTC crew members, runners restored washed out and rutted sections of trail and removed burned limbs, rocks and other debris. The trail was restored from its junction with the Old Boney Trail up to Chamberlain Rock. In preparation for future trail work, hundreds of limbs were removed from the trail up to its junction with the Tri Peaks Trail.

Many runners ran to the Chamberlain Trail, did the trail work, and then ran back. This was a good way to get in a good long run and contribute to the restoration of the trails damaged in the Woolsey Fire.

Additional photos and info are available on the SMMTC Facebook Page and web site.

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After the Woolsey Fire: Bulldog Loop

Runners ascending Bulldog Mtwy following the Woolsey Fire

On last Sunday’s run in Malibu Creek State Park, I only had time to check the redwoods and M*A*S*H site and run/hike up about half of the Bulldog climb. Here are a few photos from that run.

Today, Ann, Skye and I did a variation of the Bulldog Loop that starts/ends at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway and which covers a large portion of Malibu Creek State Park.

The Woolsey and Hill Fires Watershed Emergency Response Team Final Report and Appendix F includes in-depth information concerning these fires, including detailed Values-at-Risk assessments. (These are large PDF files.)

Woolsey and Hill Fires WERT Soil Burn Severity Map with Bulldog Loop track added
Woolsey and Hill Fires WERT Soil Burn Severity Map with Bulldog Loop track added. Click for larger image.

The soil burn severity map included in that report shows that Malibu Creek State Park was one of the most severely burned areas in the Woolsey Fire. This was clearly evident as we ran/hiked along Bulldog Mtwy, Castro Peak Mtwy and Mesa Peak Mtwy. Here is a Google Earth image of the WERT Soil Burn Severity Map with a GPS track of our run added.

As mentioned in last week’s post, there had been some flooding and small debris flows along Crags Road near the M*A*S*H site and at the bottom of Bulldog Mtwy. This week we noted some rockfall along a stretch of Mesa Peak Mtwy that is prone to rockfall. Hazards existed before the fire and hazards exist after the fire.

Bulldog Mtwy and Castro Peak Mtwy had been recently graded and were in decent shape — at least as of December 29. Heavy rain may have changed that assessment.

As badly burned as the park is, there were some things to see on the plus side. The area’s vegetation was taking its first steps toward recovery, with grasses and other annuals, laurel sumac and wild cucumber sprouting. Most of the chaparral along  the Mesa Peak Mtwy segment of the Backbone Trail between  the picnic table at Puerco Mtwy and Tapia Park was left intact.  Most of the Tapia Spur Trail was just outside the fire’s perimeter.

Large coast live oaks along Crags Road in Malibu Creek State Park, following the Woolsey Fire.
Large coast live oaks along Crags Road, following the Woolsey Fire. Click for a larger image

It was was also heartening to see that most of the large oaks along Crags Road, west of the parking lot, were OK. Many of the oaks, sycamores, willows and other trees along Crags Road were scorched, but looked like they will recover.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Sprouting Live Oak Leaves; Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods, M*A*S*H Site and Bulldog Climb; Boney Mountain and Pt. Mugu State Park

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After the Woolsey Fire: Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods, M*A*S*H Site and Bulldog Climb

I’d done a long run the day before in Pt. Mugu State Park, so the plan for this morning was to do a short run and check out the Woolsey Fire impacts between Century Lake and the MAS*H site in Malibu Creek State Park.

In addition to checking the condition of the coast live oaks and other native trees, I was curious to see how the coast redwoods along the Forest Trail had fared. These trees were planted nearly a century ago and in recent years have struggled with the drought. Had they survived the fire?

It had been about a year since I had checked on the redwoods. The good news is that a few of them still appear to be viable. The bottom limbs on some of the trees were scorched, but I think they will be OK. Of the 16 or so redwoods, about five have died, about five are in poor shape, and five or six appear to be OK. There is one young naturally occurring tree that was severely scorched and may not survive. We’ll just have to see.

While there was some damage to the MAS*H site, the picnic tables, ambulance, and signpost made it through the fire. Some repairs will be necessary.

I was supposed to turn around at the MAS*H site, but you know how that goes. I wanted to see “just a little” of the Bulldog climb… and a little more… and a little more. I finally ran out of time about 2.5 miles up Bulldog Mtwy and headed back.

Even when you expect it, it is sobering to see areas of high soil burn severity. Thirty-six years of robust chaparral growth were just… gone. Also startling were the stream flows and debris flows that resulted from “only” about 1.5 – 2.0 inches of rainfall in early December. An atmospheric river event of the magnitude that caused the Malibu Creek flooding in February 2017 would be catastrophic.

A lot of work had been done on Bulldog Mtwy. It had been repaired and graded. Where there was still brush and trees along the road the branches had been trimmed!

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Malibu Creek Flooding, Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods: Fighting the Drought

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After the Woolsey Fire: Boney Mountain and Pt. Mugu State Park

During the later stages of the Woolsey Fire one of the big questions was how far west in the Santa Monica Mountains would it burn. Would it consume Pt. Mugu State Park only five years after the Springs Fire ravaged the area?

The answer to that question became far less clear following the big flare-up in the Sandstone Peak – Boney Mountain area on November 13, and the subsequent advance of the fire into the eastern part of Pt. Mugu State Park.

The Woolsey Fire was fully contained on November 21. A bit of good news in the midst of a whole lot of bad was that fire maps showed the north side of Boney Mountain and most of Pt. Mugu State Park had been spared. That’s what today’s outing was about — checking if the conditions on the ground on the north side of Boney Mountain and in Pt. Mugu State Park matched up to fire maps and data.

First up was the climb of Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge (Mountaineer’s Route) from Wendy Drive. Except for a little spillover along the crest at the top of the ridge, it was a relief to find that the Western Ridge route and its companion route, the Cabin Trail, were essentially unburned. Both of these routes are used to reach the popular high point along the crest marked 2701′ on the 7.5 minute USGS topo. I enjoy climbing up the Western Ridge and descending the Cabin Trail, so it was good to know that option is still available.

While the north side of Boney Mountain didn’t burn, it was a different story to the south of the crest. The drainage between the top of the Western Ridge and Tri Peaks, and beyond, was badly burned. The last time this area burned was in the 1993 Green Meadows Fire, so the fuel load had been relatively high. From what I could see, the burn severity was generally on the high side of mid-range, but with patches of unburned, low, and more severely burned terrain.

In Pt. Mugu State Park aggressive firefighting and the effects of the 2013 Springs Fire generally — but not entirely — restricted the Woolsey Fire to areas that were not burned in 2013. Much of the Chamberlain Trail did not burn in 2013, and the Woolsey Fire followed this swath of 25-year-old growth westward, burning nearly all of the Chamberlain Trail, as well as the steep slopes to the north of the trail. About half of the large bowl forming Boney Mountain’s western escarpment was burned. As was the case after the Springs Fire, Blue Canyon could once again be at risk from flash floods and debris flows, should a heavy or extended rain event occur.

The westernmost tongue of the Woolsey Fire, near Blue Canyon, reached to within 0.5 mile of the Big Sycamore Canyon Road. For the most part, the fire was held east of the Old Boney Trail. There were several fire retardant drops along this front and the Old Boney Trail was cut into a firebreak/access route. It looked like the dozers came in from Serrano Road. It boggles the mind to think of the logistics required to move firefighting personnel and equipment into wildland areas.

The west side of Serrano Valley and Serrano Canyon turned out to be OK, although you could see where the fire had burned part of the valley and the southwest slopes of Boney Mountain.

Running north on Sycamore Canyon Road, other than the tracks of heavy equipment, there was little to suggest the extent of the devastation to the east. My route back to Satwiwa and Wendy Drive included the Two Foxes Trail, and Upper Sycamore Trail. Except for the Chamberlain Trail, a segment of the Old Boney Trail, and part of the Blue Canyon Trail, other trails and roads in Pt. Mugu State Park appeared to be unaffected by the fire.

Here are a few photos taken along the way. Some additional photos were added from a December 22 run on the Old Boney Trail.

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