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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
Did the Rim Trail – Devore Camp – West Fork – Kenyon Devore loop with Lynn this morning. In town to visit relatives, she hadn’t been on the Kenyon Devore Trail since flying past me on that climb in the 2009 Mt. Disappointment 50K!
Wore my brightest “CalTrans green” Mt. Disappointment shirt and an orange cap, but didn’t see a single deer hunter!