Category Archives: running|adventures

Dawn Songs, Wildflowers, and a Rocket Launch from the Phantom Trail

Sun and clouds in Malibu Creek State Park
Clouds & sun at Malibu Creek State Park, near the end of the Phantom Loop

I checked my watch — it was 6:13 a.m. I was part way up the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park, and had stopped to see if I could hear the launch of the Falcon 9 at Vandenberg Space Force Base.

I’d hoped to see the launch, but low clouds obscured the view skyward. Even so, there was a chance that a thin spot in the cloud deck might reveal the ship, as it propelled its classified payload into orbit.

All was quiet, except for the dawn songs of waking birds and the occasional car or motorcycle on Mulholland Highway. But then, just above the ambient sounds, I heard it — a constant dull roar somewhere to the west. I scanned the sky for any hint of an exhaust plume.

None was evident, but I suspect that if I had looked at the right spot at the right time, I might have glimpsed the rocket’s sun-bright flame. After searching and listening for a couple of minutes, I resumed working up the trail.

Phacelia along the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park
A sea of Phacelia along the Phantom Trail

Ka-boom! Even though my attention had turned to the trail, the distinctive, two-syllable report of a sonic boom broke my reverie. It had to be the Falcon 9 booster returning to the launch site. The boom wasn’t very loud at my location, but some living closer to Vandenberg apparently mistook the launch and sonic boom as an earthquake.

The remainder of the run went well. I’d run the Ahmanson 12K the day before, and the Phantom Loop (clockwise) was a good follow-up to that run.

I was a bit surprised just how overgrown some sections of the trail were. Mustard wasn’t the only plant crowding the trail, phacelia was as thick along the Phantom Trail as I’ve seen.

A showy patch of Chinese houses wildflowers along the Phantom Trail
Chinese houses along the Phantom Trail

With the cloudy, cool start to the day, the poppies were mostly closed, but several other species of wildflowers added color along the trail. Among them were Elegant Clarkia, Owl’s Clover and Chinese Houses.

Note: A little higher in the Santa Monica Mountains and farther to the west, Jonathan Stewart captured this video of the NROL-85 launch from Boney Mountain.

Some related posts: Phantom Trail: Trade-offs of a Wet Rainy Season; Redwoods, Raptors, and the Phantom Loop; Ladyface Via the Phantom Trail and Heartbreak Ridge

Malibu Creek December 2021 Floods

Malibu Creek and Goat Buttes before sunrise
Malibu Creek and Goat Buttes before sunrise. February 6, 2022.

If you’ve done the Bulldog Loop since the first of the year, you’ve no doubt noticed there’s water in Malibu Creek again, and a lot of flood debris along the creek between Century Lake and the M.A.S.H. site. That’s all thanks to the extraordinary amount of rain we had in December. This pile of flood debris is near the old concrete bridge that washed out in the February 2017 flash flood.

This morning it was chilly along this section of creek, so it was worth a little effort to find a way across the creek with a high probability of staying dry. This sketchy log wasn’t one of them, but I found a fairly easy crossing a little upstream. Another runner mentioned there were a couple of planks across the creek just downstream of the old bridge.

Although stream gage data suggests that the peak flow was higher in February 2017, that was the result of one period of very heavy rainfall. In December 2021 there were peaks on three days, corresponding to three periods of rain.

Here’s a photo that shows the height of a debris pile along the Crags Road Trail, compared to a passing runner.

Related post: Malibu Creek Flooding

Breezy San Bruno Mountain Ridge

Running along the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail

I staggered in the wind gust. It had to have been at least 45 mph. The views along the undulating ridge to the Bay were spectacular, but the wind was ferocious.

Hill on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail.
Hill on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail.

Brett and I were running on the San Bruno Mountain Ridge Trail. We’d started at the summit parking lot and weren’t exactly sure where we were going to turn around. We’d know when we got to it.

The NWS forecast for San Francisco had called for “breezy” conditions:

.TODAY…Mostly cloudy in the morning then becoming partly
cloudy. Breezy. Patchy drizzle in the morning. Highs in the mid
50s to lower 60s. West winds 20 to 30 mph.

San Bruno Mountain Ridge above Sierra Point
Continuing down, down, down the ridge.

That forecast was for the city — and of course up on the peak the wind was even “breezier.” The SF Giants beanie I borrowed was the right call. So were the gloves, extra shirt and wind shell.

We continued along the ridge past the second set of loudly singing power lines and continued downhill. It became one of those, “let’s just go down to that next overlook,” and then the next one, and the next one. Not only were we losing a lot of elevation, but we’d be running into the wind on the way back.

San Bruno Mountain Ridge above the 101 and Sierra Point
San Bruno Mountain Ridge above the 101 and Sierra Point

We eventually turned around a little above Bayshore Blvd., at the “Sierra Point Reset” benchmark marked “487” on the topo map. As is often the case, the return wasn’t nearly as torturous as envisioned, but I was glad to get back to the car!

San Bruno Mountain is an invaluable island of open space, about 20 minutes from downtown San Francisco. For more information see the San Bruno Mountain Watch website.

Diablo Trails Challenge 50K 2018

North Peak from the North Peak Trail. Mount Diablo Trails Challenge 50K.

Just 48 hours before the start of the Diablo Trails Challenge the temperature on Mt. Diablo’s summit was a chilly 31°F. Gray, wind-driven clouds shrouded the summit, propelled by 20-30 mph winds. Over the 10 days preceding the race, it had rained on four, and Concord had received about two inches of rain.

That’s the thing about Spring weather – a couple of days can make a huge difference. Today – race day – the sun is out, the hills are green and skies blue. Very little mud remains – the trails are in great shape and hills sprinkled with wildflowers. It’s the perfect day for a run on Mt. Diablo!

Diablo Trails Challenge 50K Elevation Profile
Diablo Trails Challenge 50K Elevation Profile

With around 7000′ of elevation gain/loss, the Diablo Trails Challenge 50K is characterized by its many ups and downs. The core of the 50K course is the 7 mile, 3000′ climb from the Curry Canyon Ranch aid station to Diablo’s main summit. But before you can enjoy this fine ascent, you have to get to Curry Canyon Ranch. And it’s on the other side of the mountain – about 12.5 miles away. Here’s a 3D interactive view of my GPS track of the 50K course.

Along the way there are several get-your-feet-wet creek crossings and many hills. Following along on the map, the course works its way past Wall Point, Artist Point, Knob Point and finally Windy Point. Did I mention the course is hilly?

Somewhere around Mile 10 you get the first good view of Mt. Diablo and North Peak. The runner in front of me exclaimed, “Holy guacamole, is that what we are going to climb?” My choice of words were similar, but not quite as polite. Yes indeed, those were the peaks, and they loomed LARGE across the valley.

Mount Diablo and North Peak from Knobcone Pine Road.
Mt. Diablo (left) and North Peak

Elevation gained is so easily lost. After gaining about 2500′ on the way to Windy Point, a 1000′ descent leads to the Curry Canyon Ranch Aid Station. The climb of Diablo starts here, but you really don’t feel like you’re on the mountain until you reach South Gate Road and the Curry Point Aid Station, about three miles up the canyon. The grade in Curry Canyon is moderate and I tried to take advantage of that, knowing steeper terrain was ahead.

The Half-Marathoners joined the course at Curry Point — adding their enthusiasm and company – but they were soon headed back down, leaving us to cope with the Summit Trail all on our own.

“Jalapeño chip?,” I asked the runner hiking up the hill next to me. He smiled and said something like, “Maybe next time.” I did what I could to keep from constantly looking up at the summit. I munched on chips, talked to runners and hikers, read the “Trail Through Time” interpretive signs, looked at wildflowers and enjoyed the great views. As long as you keep putting one foot ahead of the other — and maybe smile from time to time – summits will eventually arrive.

Yahoo! The Summit Aid Station! There is almost no wind. In the sun it’s comfortably warm and in the shade comfortably cool. As at the other aid stations, the volunteers are great, helping me to get my hydration pack sorted and get me on my way. After seven miles of uphill, a little downhill is going to feel really good.

North Peak Trail near Devil's Pulpit.
North Peak Trail near Devil’s Pulpit.

The next few miles I’d done before and they are among the most interesting on the course. It helped to be familiar it – especially the notoriously steep section of North Peak Road, just before the summit. Everyone picks a different route. This time I stayed on the left going up and the right going down, and didn’t fall on my butt!

Once past the “slide” it didn’t take long to get down to Prospector’s Gap. I recalled that the running on the Bald Ridge Trail was excellent and wasn’t disappointed. At Meridian Ridge Road we left Bald Ridge and descended into Mitchell Canyon. At Deer Flat Creek, once again the course headed up. I couldn’t recall how long the climb was going to be, but it looked like we were going to have to work over a high ridge to get to the Castle Rock side of the mountain. The ridge turned out to be Moses Rock Ridge and the climb over it fit right in with the other hills on the course. Click, click goes the elevation-gained counter.

Most of the course is a big loop, but to access the peaks and aid stations there are four short out and back sections. You get to know the runners around you on these sections and we’d give each other encouragement as we passed. The runners around me were great and throughout the run we had many good conversations.

Then there was Burma Road. Somewhere around mile 26, I commented to another runner that we were running out of miles and at some point we were going to have to lose a lot of elevation. The Burma Road descent took care of that.

Many thanks to Jasmin and Sam of Brazen Racing for putting together such a superb event! And a BIG thank you to all the volunteers, ham operators, runners, park staff, sponsors and especially the Save Mount Diablo Foundation. I thoroughly enjoyed running on Mt. Diablo!

Here are a few photos taken along the way. More photos and all the results are available on the Brazen Racing web site.

Running Between the Clouds

San Gabriel Peak, Mt. Disappointment and clouds from the Strawberry Peak Trail.

Unlike most of the rainy season, March rainfall has generally been above average in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. Last Saturday I’d enjoyed a run in Pt. Mugu State Park following a few days of wet weather, and today my outing would be in the wake of the strongest storm to affect the  area since January.

I was in the San Gabriel Mountains, and doing a get-your-hear-rate-up combo run I did last year — ascending San Gabriel Peak and Strawberry Peak from Red Box. The duo are the two highest peaks in the Front Range of the San Gabriel Mountains and have been popular for many years.

The storm had been a warm one, with high snow levels, and I was surprised to find the morning temperature at Red Box in the mid-30s. The surface low and trough associated with the storm were still along the West Coast and the circulation was creating a strong southwesterly flow. This was pushing mostly benign mid-level clouds into the valleys and mountains. More picturesque than threatening, the clouds imparted a high mountain flavor to the surroundings.

Last year I’d done San Gabriel Peak first, so today I started with Strawberry. It’s the more difficult of the two peaks. The route to its summit is about a mile longer; it has a bit more elevation gain; and it includes a stretch on rough, steep, unmaintained trail. Of course, that’s part of its appeal.

The clouds were ever changing. While Strawberry Peak escaped most of the clouds, San Gabriel Peak was often obscured.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Rivas Canyon Eucalyptus

What is it? Photography by Gary Valle'.

These shallow channels looked like they might have been cut by a woodworker’s router. But they were cut — or I should say chewed — by Longhorned Borer beetle larvae, feeding on the cambium of a eucalyptus tree.

Fallen eucalyptus in Rivas Canyon. The grooves are from beetle larvae feeding on the cambium of the tree.
Fallen eucalyptus in Rivas Canyon. The grooves are from beetle larvae feeding on the cambium of the tree.

The tree was across the trail in Rivas Canyon. Not unlike the fallen oak on Rocky Peak, Southern California’s multi-year drought likely weakened the eucalyptus, making it susceptible to other pests.

The Rivas Canyon Trail connects Will Rogers State Park to Temescal Canyon. Today (and last weekend) I ran it as part of a long loop from the “End of Reseda” at Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park.

Some related posts: Will Rogers – Temescal Loop, Will Rogers Western Ranch House, Downtown Los Angeles and San Jacinto Peak