For me part of the fun of trail running is not always following “the plan.”
When the doors of the car slammed shut at Tunnel #1 on Kanan-Dume road we had no idea that about the time we expected to be back to the car, we would be scrambling among huge boulders in a dramatic gorge of volcanic rock sculpted by Malibu Creek. It wasn’t part of the plan.
The plan had been to do a point to point run to Tapia Park along the Backbone Trail. But at the top of Upper Solstice Canyon, standing in a misty rain, we opted to run over to the Bulldog “T” and down into Malibu Creek State Park. And there we were, at least a few miles from the Backbone Trail, ogling the convoluted and pocketed walls along the creek, wishing we had our climbing gear!
I paused for a moment on a narrow section of the Backbone Trail that zig-zags down a steep, eroded slope and then crosses a bridge over a narrow gorge before continuing down Rogers ridge. Below, a hiker stopped on the bridge to contemplate the canyon, and a mountain biker briefly walked his bike and then cranked up the switchbacks past me.
It had rained the day before, and the cold front had resulted in a chilly, puffy cloud, postcard kind of day with breezy panoramic views of the San Gabriel Mountains, Downtown, Century City, Santa Monica, Palos Verdes, and the Pacific Ocean.
The 7 mile segment of the Backbone Trail from Temescal Ridge fire road down to Will Rogers State Historic Park is one of my favorite (mostly) downhill stretches of trail in the Santa Monica Mountains. Over much of its length, the grade is not too steep, the footing consistent, and the running outstanding.
My usual route for this run starts the same as for the Trippet Ranch Loop and Garapito Figure 8 runs, going up to the Hub from the end of Reseda Blvd. From the Hub it’s about 0.6 mile along Temescal Ridge Fire Road to the point where the Backbone Trail takes off to the left from the road.
Once at Will Rogers, the Rivas Canyon Trail can be used to connect to Temescal Gateway Park, and then the Temescal Falls or Ridge trail used to connect with Temescal Ridge Fire Road and return to the Hub. (Mountain bikers use other routes.)
The Google Earth image above shows two GPS traces. Here’s a larger image. The red trace was created using a Garmin Forerunner 201, and the yellow trace was created with a Forerunner 205. The course is comprised of a mix of fire roads and trails, through a variety of terrain and cover. The better tracking of the Forerunner 205 is clearly evident. Here is another view of the same course with the two traces.
I’ve had my Forerunner 205 since March 2006, and in my experience, it is a huge improvement over the 201:
It is more compact and less obtrusive.
Tracks are more accurate, and it almost never loses reception.
It accepts routes for sequential navigation.
Uploading and downloading data is easier and faster with the USB interface.
The GPS chipset firmware (as well as unit firmware) can be updated.
It has multiple customizable data screens that are easily displayed during a run.
The performance of the GPS receiver in the Forerunner 205 continues to amaze me. It is tenacious. I was wearing the Forerunner 205 when I got caught in a fierce thunderstorm running in the Mt. Pinos area in July. Even in the middle of a thunderstorm, on a north facing slope, in a fir and pine forest, the unit did not lose reception. Here’s a Forerunner 205 trace of the run, exported from TOPO! Note that the traces going out and coming back very nearly overlay each other. The only exception is a real deviation between Sawmill Mountain and Mt. Pinos where I wandered off the trail to a minor summit. Also note that the trail is incorrectly marked on the topo map in the vicinity of Grouse Mountain.
In early October 2006, I had a problem with not being able to power on my 205 after it was charged. Garmin promptly replaced the unit, under warranty, without charge.
In June 2007 the replaced unit began to experience an intermittent issue where it would suddenly start to rapidly cycle through display screens, beep, and not respond to key presses. The only way to stop it was pressing the power + mode + reset keys. Garmin promptly replaced the unit, but charged a flat rate $79 repair fee. Oddly, when the unit was returned, the history included a few runs from the London, Ontario (Canada) area from late February and early March 2007.
It’s been over three years since the flat rate repair/replacement of my Forerunner 205, and I’ve had zero problems. One apparent improvement is that the contacts on the back no longer get corroded from sweat. This used to cause problems with the USB connection and transferring data, and I would need to clean the contacts from time to time with a pencil eraser.
In my opinion the Training Center Software is still poor, and for that reason I continue to use SportTracks.
Note: The course is the run from the end of Reseda Blvd to Trippet Ranch described in the post Musch Trail Mule Deer.
Google search: $g(gps), $g(Forerunner 205), $g(Garmin)
One of the other climbers commented, “It’s almost eerie.” And it was. On the 11,499′ of San Gorgonio Mountain there was not a breath of wind and the temperature was a comfortable 50-something degrees. Wisps of cirrus accentuated the azure sky, and to the southeast San Gorgonio’s ever-present companion, Mt. San Jacinto, stood quietly above Banning Pass.
A couple of hours before I had been sitting on the summit of East San Bernardino Peak, debating whether to continue my planned trek to San Gorgonio. I was considering running over to San Bernardino Peak instead, and then calling it a day. For sure I couldn’t do both. I didn’t have enough water, and the only nearby water source might be dry.
A month old report from the Water Collector had noted water “barely trickling” out of the pipe at Trailfork Springs. I wasn’t familiar with the spring, and given the pessimistic report probably wouldn’t do the required detour to check it out. So whatever I did, my remaining water would have to do. If I didn’t push too hard, it would get me to San Gorgonio, but probably not over to San Bernardino Peak and then to Gorgonio. (Note: A better late season water source is High Meadow Springs. The springs and camp site is about 1/3 of mile below the Divide Trail, east of Shields Flat. The turn off to the spring is between high point 10500 and Red Rock Flat. On a run of this course in late October 2009 the spring had a good flow.)
The hike up from Momyer had been unrelenting – a gain of 5250′ in elevation over about 7.5 miles. It was kind of like going up the Palm Spring Tram, without the tram. Beyond the turn-off to Alger Camp the character of the trail changed from obvious and well-trodden, to a schizophrenic path that in places was the kind of trail that only the really adventurous enjoy.
There were numerous downed trees, stark evidence of the bark beetle infestation. Although most could be bypassed or clambered over, one recently downed tree required a face in the dirt belly crawl. In other areas the manzanita, chinquapin, and whitethorn were so thick that the trail, though nearly invisible, could not be lost. Upward progress was possible by only one route.
Back on East San Bernardino Peak, I needed to make a decision – San Bernardino Peak or San Gorgonio? Instead I wandered about the peaklets in the area, not really heading in the direction of either peak, but evaluating how I felt and thinking through scenarios… Feel OK… Full moon tonight… Enough water to get to the peak… Water at Vivian Creek… Weather great… Know the route… After a few minutes, I found myself bearing slowly to the east, picking up the Divide Trail and starting to run.
The distance by trail from East San Bernardino Peak to Mt. San Gorgonio is about 8 miles. Virtually all of route is above 10,000′ and along a spectacular mountain divide. The running on this high line is unmatched in Southern California. Once on the Divide Trail and headed in the direction of San Gorgonio there was no thought of turning back. Perhaps the biggest difficulty was resisting the ascent of the many named peaks along the way. Without more water, most of these would have to wait until a another day.
Epilogue: The climb from Momyer (5500′) to East San Bernardino Peak (10,691′) took about 3 hours, and the traverse over to Gorgonio (11,499′) about 2.5 hours. I reached the summit of Gorgonio at about 1:00 p.m, and after running down the Vivian Creek trail, and through Forest Falls, made it back to Momyer at about 4:00 p.m.
The distance to the summit of Gorgonio from Momyer via East San Bernardino Peak is about 15.5 miles, and the total length of the loop is about 26 miles. About 11 miles of the route is above 10,000′ and the total elevation gain and loss is on the order of 7000′. If you include Alto Diablo, there are nine named peaks above 10,000′ along the route. Dobbs Peak is somewhat further from the trail than the others, but rounds out the total to ten. Here is a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of the loop.
Note: Mill Creek can be difficult and dangerous to cross.
The intimidating canyon rose steeply above me. Towering rock precipices lined the canyon walls, their summits glistening in the morning sun. I was at an elevation of about 2600′ and it was already warm. A little unsteady, and moving slowly at first, I started the ascent. Gaining speed, I passed the first rock face, and after a minute or two, turned to gaze at Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley. In what seems like a matter of minutes, yucca and cresote transitioned to mountain mahogany and juniper, and then to pine and fir. Suddenly my pace slows, there is a bump, a jostle, and a pause. The operator announces, “Welcome to the mountain station of the Palm Springs Tram. The elevation is 8516’…”
Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness contains a network of over 50 miles of trails, including a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. The resourceful runner or hiker can put together an adventure ranging from a few miles to 30 miles or more. I hoped to beat the worst of the Sunday going home traffic, so opted for an approximately 20 mile route that would get me back to the tram in the early afternoon.
Stopping at the ranger station in Long Valley, I filled out a wilderness permit. Cool air had pooled in the valley overnight, and the deck of the station was still in shade. The ballpoint pen protested the 40-something degree temperature, but with repeated attempts, I scratched in my destinations: Mt. San Jacinto and Tahquitz Peak.
My route would take me to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto (10,834′), back down to the junction at Wellmans Divide, and then continue down to the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT would be followed through Saddle Junction to the junction with the South Ridge Trail, and then continue on this trail to the historic fire lookout on Tahquitz Peak. I would return to Long Valley via Skunk Cabbage Meadow and Hidden Divide. Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of the route.
The run and the running were outstanding – a blue skies and sunshine kind of day, with Autumn shadows, light winds, pleasant temperatures, and nearly unlimited visibility. Much of route was through spectacular old-growth forests of Jeffrey Pine, Lodgepole Pine and White Fir. The uphills were generally very well graded, with long runnable sections. And the downhills – ah the downhills – some rocky and technical, and some that make you feel as if you’re blazing down the trail on a Star Wars speeder bike.
Walking up the stairs in the mountain station, I glance at my watch. It’s 2:00 p.m.and the next tram is just about to depart. I’m back to my car and headed down the hill by 2:30, but it’s still not early enough to miss the traffic on I-10.
When I broke through the top of the stratus layer, bright sun glared from the jagged granitic rocks along the ridge. To the west, Josephine Peak (5558′) was nearly immersed in an ocean of clouds.
The route I was doing was a variation of the Strawberry Peak Circuit described in the posting Spring Growth. Instead of going around the peak on the Colby Trail, this 13-mile loop climbs up and over Strawberry’s summit (6164′), ascending the class 3 northwest ridge, and then rejoins the circuit at Lawlor Saddle. Although a couple of miles shorter than the circuit around the peak, this route has more elevation gain, and the class 2 and class 3 sections of the ridge require careful route-finding.
Class 2, class 3 – what’s that about? Basically, class 1 is hiking, class 2 is easy scrambling where the hands are used for balance, and class 3 is when the scrambling gets serious, and handholds are required. Another element of class 3 climbing is that staying on route can be important. Deviating from an established route may significantly increase the difficulty or hazard. This is certainly the case on the northwest ridge of Strawberry.
Like much of the San Gabriel Mountains, the rocks of Strawberry Peak are old and fractured. Large landslides have originated from the northwest face of the peak. (The Colby Trail passes through the moraine-like debris of one of these slides.) Because of its friable nature, extra care is required when climbing the northwest ridge. Hand or footholds can break, or footing can be lost on a sandy shelf. Or, as described in a story by pioneering aerodynamicist Paul MacCready, the climber can be trapped in a situation where they cannot climb up or down.
The northwest ridge of Strawberry is by far the most frequently climbed class 3 route in the San Gabriel Mountains. Done with care and appropriate skill, the climbing on the ridge can be an enjoyable and unique experience.
On the summit ridge, I admired the steep northwest face of Strawberry Peak as it plunged through the morning shadows to Strawberry Potrero nearly 1500′ below. Did I hear voices down there, or was it just the wind…