Category Archives: running|adventures

Heat Wave

As I turned into the Vincent Gap parking lot and pulled to a stop, a few sprinkles of rain dotted my windshield. Opening the car door, I wanted to close it again. It was 7:30 in the morning and the temperature was already nearing 70 degrees. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. The previous two days the National Weather Service office had issued an “excessive heat warning” for much of the Los Angeles area, including the lower elevations of the mountains.

Angeles Crest Highway was closed 2.6 miles west of Islip Saddle, so my plan was to do the Islip Saddle – South Fork – Mt. Baden-Powell loop from the Vincent Gap side. (Update May 21, 2009. Angeles Crest Highway has since been re-opened to Islip Saddle, and through to Wrightwood.) This difficult 23 mile loop, and some of its logistical issues, were described in the posting Complications.  The day was really too warm to be doing this route, but with a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast maybe some clouds would help keep temps in check. I’d run at least to Little Jimmy Spring. If it was too hot, I could always head back.

It didn’t take long for the clouds that had spritzed my windshield to move off to the west. Except for a smoky haze from the Sawtooth Fire, mostly clear skies prevailed as I worked up the numerous switchbacks of Mt. Baden-Powell.  Near the summit of of the peak, I paused for a moment to admire the Wally Waldron Tree. At an elevation and in an environment similar to the 4000+ yr. old White Mountain Bristlecone Pines, this gnarled and weather-beaten Limber Pine is estimated to be 1500 years old. Clearly ancient, it has survived wind and weather too extreme to imagine. According to the Forest Service, some Limber Pines in this area may be as much as 2000 years old. Extended longevity doesn’t appear to be limited to Limber and Lodgepole pines; a stunted White Fir near the summit also looks unusually old.

Down from the summit, and back on the Pacific Crest Trail, the running along the ridge was outstanding. Near Mt. Burnham, I stopped to take a few photographs, and watch a bumblebee working through a batch of Grinnell’s Penstemon (Penstemon grinnellii). The throat of this particularly bulbous penstemon perfectly accommodates the bumblebee, and perhaps is an example of a flower adapting to a preferred pollinator. Continuing along the crest, between Throop Peak and Mt. Hawkins, red accents among the rocks marked patches of Bridge’s Penstemon (Penstemon rostriflorus). From time to time, sparse clouds masked the sun, but as I descended toward Windy Gap, the temperature climbed inevitably higher.

One of the pros of doing the loop from Vincent Gap is that it is great to have fresh legs for the exceptional trail running down to Islip Saddle. Except for a short climb over the shoulder of Throop Peak, the running is generally downhill from the summit of Baden-Powell  (9399′), all the way to South Fork Campground (4560′). This is a distance of over 13 miles, with an elevation loss of nearly 5000′. The major con is having to do the lowest elevation segment of the loop, and the climb back to Vincent Gap (6565′), during a warmer time of the day.

Aside from the heat, another concern had been nagging at me. What if the trail was impassable? This wasn’t heat induced paranoia. Last year, several sections of the South Fork trail were buried in small rock slides, and a couple of places where the Manzanita Trail crossed steep erosion gullies were in very bad shape. A Winter had passed, and who knew what recent thunderstorms had done to the trails?

Switchbacking down to Little Jimmy Spring, I had already decided to continue to Islip Saddle. In the battle of “do, or do not” I knew that once at Islip Saddle, “do” would win again. Maybe some clouds would help me on my way…

Epilogue: In sun-baked South Fork canyon, even the downhill was difficult, but the rock slide plagued trail was still passable. Some clouds provided temporary relief at South Fork Campground, but didn’t last. The damage to the Manzanita Trail was worse than last year, but with care I was able to get through. In nearby Valyermo, midday temps reached over 100°F. Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of the route, and a Forest Service diagram of area trails that’s at Vincent Gap.

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Pleasant View Ridge

Peak 8248, the highest point on Pleasant View Ridge

The photograph is of peak 8248, the highest point on Pleasant View Ridge, viewed from the saddle northwest of the peak. Located in the San Gabriel Mountains, Pleasant View Ridge extends northwest about 8 miles from  Mt. Williamson to the vicinity of Indian Bill Canyon.

When hikers refer to Pleasant View Ridge, they are usually talking about a 3 mile segment of the ridge that runs from the southeastern summit of Mt. Williamson (8214′) to Burkhart Saddle (6959′). From Mt. Williamson, the ridge follows along a series of 8000’+ summits, then crosses a deep gap to the broad summit of Pallett Mountain (7760’+). From this point, Burkhart Saddle and the Burkhart Trail are another 0.6 of a mile to the west.  There is no maintained trail on the ridge, but over time a use trail has developed and is generally (but not always) distinct. In this photograph of the ridge from the PCT, Pallett Mountain is the peak on the left, in the distance.

Mt. Williamson is in the peculiar situation that the register for the peak is not on the peak labeled “Mt. Williamson” on the Crystal Lake topo. According to the Sierra Club Hundred Peaks Section Peak List, the register is normally located on peak 8244, which is the next peak along the ridge to the northwest. What is even more peculiar, peak 8248, which is a little further on the ridge, is the highest point of all three!

The section of Pleasant View Ridge between Mt. Williamson and Burkhart Saddle is commonly done as part of a 13 mile loop from Eagles Roost. In order to protect critical habitat of the mountain yellow-legged frog, the Forest Service has closed the PCT between Eagle’s Roost and the Burkhart Trail. In addition, Angeles Crest Highway (SR2) is now closed 0.25 mile west of Eagles Roost. (Update May 27, 2007. Angeles Crest Highway has since been re-opened to Islip Saddle. It was open to Islip Saddle on May 27, 2007, but closed beyond this point. It looked like the road past Islip was being resurfaced.) If the PCT detour suggested by the Forest Service is followed, the loop length is increased to about 14.4 miles, and it is necessary to hike/run a 2.4 mile stretch of Angeles Crest Highway. Done this way, the route has an elevation gain and loss of 4000′ or so.

I usually like to do the loop in the counter-clockwise direction, and that’s what I did on this day. It’s nice to get a big chunk of elevation gain done in the morning while it’s cool, and then have a net elevation loss doing the ridge. Also, except for a few downed trees, the running is outstanding from Burkhart Saddle down to Little Rock Creek. Some Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) was blooming along Little Rock Creek.

Here is a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of the loop with the PCT detour through Buckhorn Campground. The ridge parallels the San Andreas Fault zone, whose linear features can be seen in the valley below. This Google Earth image shows the approximate position of the fault zone in relation to Pleasant View Ridge loop. It also shows the section of Pleasant View Ridge northwest of Burkhart Saddle.

For more information regarding the PCT detour see the News section of the Angeles National Forest web site.

Updated May 5, 2008. Added elevation profile.

Google search: $g(Pleasant View Ridge), $g(Mt. Williamson), $g(Pallet Mountain), $g(Burkart Trail), $g(trail running), $g(mountain yellow-legged frog), $g(PCT), $g(Pacific Crest Trail), $g(San Gabriel Mountains)

Related post: Peaks Along Pleasant View Ridge

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Chumash Rock


Rock formation northwest of the Chumash Trail.
Rock Formation Northwest of the Chumash Trail


Practically any objective can make a good excuse for an adventure. Each time up or down the Chumash Trail, I pondered the prominent rock formation northwest of the trail, and wondered what I might find there.


My first thought was to find a direct route across the deep canyon that parallels the Chumash Trail. Recons from a couple of points on the trail revealed that the this was a bad idea. Sections of the canyon that looked passable from above were incised, with crumbling, near-vertical walls. A Plan B was required.


A look at a topo map suggested it might be possible to access the ridge on which the formation was located from Las Llajas Canyon. An advantage of this approach was that, if it worked, it would be part of a loop. A cool January morning, I decided to give it a go.


From Las Llajas Canyon, an old overgrown roadbed led up a side canyon to a point where there was no obvious route. The canyon bottom did not look promising, and steep slopes bounded both sides of the canyon. After scrambling several hundred feet up a south-facing slope, I found a deer trail that seemed headed in the general direction I wanted to go. This game trail was the key. Its route reflected the cumulative experience of deer in dealing with the terrain issues I faced. It turned out to be remarkably efficient, and appeared to represent the path of least energy needed to reach the main ridge. That is, if you’re a deer. At one point I was forced to backtrack and climb above the trail when it crossed a steep, exposed slope better suited to those with four legs and cervid hooves.


Once up on the main ridge, it didn’t take long to reach the rock formation. According to the Dibblee geological map of the area, the formation is positioned on the south branch of the Simi Fault. The steeply inclined beds of river cobble seen in this photo might have been deposited as part of a fan delta some 60 million years ago. This Paleocene age cobble is also encountered at several places along the Chumash Trail.


Near the summit of the formation some chiseled inscriptions  were found. They were very weathered. The most prominent might be either a “93” or “33” over the top of a “W,” and another is perhaps a “DH.” It’s hard to tell.


Of the three high points comprising the formation, I scrambled to the top of two. The eastern-most summit (on the far right when viewed from the Chumash Trail) is wholly comprised of cobble and looked like an accident waiting to happen. Here’s a photo from near the summit of the formation, looking back down the ridge.


As I climbed down from the summit to a saddle northeast of the rock formation, I spooked a deer and it bounded into a brush filled gully. Continuing up the ridge, it eventually intersected Rocky Peak Rd. at its high point near some bivalve fossil beds. According to the Dibblee map, these are much younger than the rock formation’s river cobble, and may have been deposited in shallow marine conditions or lagoons a couple million years ago.


At Rocky Peak Rd. I had the option of returning via Las Llajas Canyon, but opted to complete the approximately 8 mile route via the Chumash Trail. This Google Earth image  shows most of the route. (Photographs from hike & run on January 29, 2006.)

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Olancha Peak Sierra Panorama

Part of the Panorama from Olancha Peak.

Part of the Panorama from Olancha Peak

Olancha Peak (12,123 ft.) is the prominent, pyramidal peak seen on the Sierra crest from Hwy 395, south of Olancha. Its rocky summit is above tree line, and in some years snow can persist in the east-facing summit gullies and other sun-protected areas into late June, or early July.

There are better choices for a run in the Sierra, but early in the summer when the passes on other routes are blocked by snow, Olancha may be passable. Views from the summit of Olancha Peak are expansive, and the running on the PCT was enjoyable. Round trip, the distance is an arduous 20 miles, with over 6300 ft. of elevation gain and loss.

The trail starts at Sage Flat, at a relatively low elevation of 5800 ft. As a result, in warm weather it can be hot and dusty. In addition, the trail segment up to Olancha Pass (9200 ft.) can have a lot of pack train traffic. To lessen the chance of encountering horses or mules on the trail, I opted to follow a very steep and rough “cow driveway” that shortcuts 1.3 miles of the trail up to Olancha Pass. It’s hard to imagine driving cattle up this swath, and judging from the cow femur I saw sticking up from the rubble, the cattle don’t find it so easy either.

Beyond Olancha Pass, the aesthetics improve, and a spur trail is followed northwest along Summit Meadow to a junction with the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT eventually leads to the west slopes of Olancha Peak, and from here the summit is a short second class scramble. Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of my route.

This summit panorama is from a run on June 26, 2005. The view shows the headwaters of the N.F. and S.F. Kern River, and the high peaks of the Southern Sierra. From south (left) to north (right) are the Little Kern, the N.F. Kern near Hole in the Ground, Kern Peak, the Great Western Divide, the Kaweah Group, Junction Meadow, Mt. Whitney, and Mt. Langley.

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San Joaquin Juniper


Juniper on the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River.


This photograph was taken early in the morning in the canyon of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, on a solo trail run from Agnew Meadows to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, in the Summer of 1986 or 1987. My route followed the river trail to Thousand Island Lake, and then the PCT over Island and Donohue Passes, and down Lyell Canyon to the Tioga Road. It was a wonderful and adventurous run in a stunning area.

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Runner on Circuit of Mt. Ausangate (20,905 ft.)

A runner descends the trail below Palomani Pass (16,600 ft.) on a circuit of Mt. Ausangate (20,905 ft.) in the Peruvian Andes.


A runner descends the trail below Palomani Pass (16,600 ft.) on a Circuit of Mt. Ausangate (20,905 ft.) in the Peruvian Andes. Once acclimated, running at that altitude wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, and when you return home, those 10,000 ft. trails feel like you’re running at sea level. The trip was arranged by my good friend Devy Reinstein of Andes Adventures and was unforgettable. (Photo taken July 23, 2003.)

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