Category Archives: running|adventures

San Gabriels High Five

Snow on the Pacific Crest Trail west of Mt. Baden-Powell, May 18, 2008.

When considering where I might run this weekend, the words “snow” and “altitude” had a certain appeal. Record high temperatures had been set in the Los Angeles area on Friday and Saturday, and there was little doubt that more temperature records would fall today.

Angeles Crest Highway and the Islip Saddle parking area from the northwest ridge of Mt. Islip.
A couple of weeks before I had dodged a few remnant snow drifts on Pleasant View Ridge. From that vantage point you could see that there was much more snow on the steep, north facing slopes along the ridge between Mt. Islip and Mt. Baden-Powell. The S-shaped ridge spans a distance of several miles and links five peaks over 8000 ft: Mt. Islip, Mt. Hawkins, Throop Peak, Mt. Burnham, and Mt. Baden-Powell. Two of the peaks, Mt. Baden-Powell and Throop Peak, exceed 9000 ft. Today, the plan was to do these five peaks as part of an approximately 17 mile out and back route from Islip Saddle, enjoy the snow before it melted, and try to escape the triple digit temps of the lowlands.

Cabin on the summit of Mt. Islip.
Logistically, the difficult peak is Mt. Islip. While the other peaks can be done with relatively minor deviations from the trail, Mt. Islip stands alone, more than a mile from the PCT at Windy Gap. This time I opted to climb Mt. Islip from Islip Saddle via the northwest ridge. I’ve been investigating stunted Jeffrey and Sugar pines found along the windswept ridges of the San Gabriels, and this direct approach would give me the opportunity to check out more trees.

That was this morning, now I was on by way back from Mt. Baden-Powell, and about a quarter-mile east of Throop Peak. Hot, thirsty, dispirited, and nearly out of water, I had stopped to dig into the side of a dirty snowbank– attempting to get to snow that at least looked clean. The air temperature was eighty-something, but my fingers were stinging with cold as I scooped the coarse crystals into my Camelbak.

It’s amazing what a few sips of chilled water and an icy cold pack against your back can do for your demeanor. A few minutes before I had been debating whether I should just skip Throop Peak and Mt. Hawkins, and get down to Little Jimmy Spring ASAP. Now I could do these peaks and continue to enjoy a very warm — but beautiful — day in the San Gabriel Mountains.

Here’s a Google Earth image and a Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of my route. GPS reception was poor climbing the ridge to Mt. Islip.

Related post: Snowless San Gabriels

PCT North of Walker Pass

Pacific Crest Trail, north of Walker Pass, in the Southern Sierra.

I was headed home from a whitewater slalom training camp on the Kern River, and wanted to take advantage of being in the Southern Sierra and run an unfamiliar section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Yes, it was windy and there were lenticular clouds in the lee of the Sierra, which meant it might get REALLY windy. No, I didn’t have my regular trail shoes or a hydration pack. Yep, there was some snow on the north side of the peaks on either side of the highway.

The plan was to do an out and back run north on the PCT from Hwy. 178 at Walker Pass (5250′). I didn’t know how far. I hoped far enough to check out the approach to Owens Peak. But that would depend on the amount of snow on the trail, how cold and windy it became, and how much elevation gain my legs had left in them.

It might not seem that paddling a kayak would be hard on the legs, but your legs are your primary connection to the boat, and my legs were worked following several days of strenuous paddling.

Plaque on the PCT north of Walker Pass, that commemorates the naming of Mt. Jenkins.
This post’s photograph was taken about five miles into the run. The plaque commemorates the naming of Mt. Jenkins. It honors J.C. Jenkins, whose Exploring the Southern Sierra and Self Propelled in the Southern Sierra books have inspired many an adventure. It was placed where the south ridge of Mt. Jenkins intersects the PCT.

I continued a mile and a half to a point where I could see the saddle and ridge leading to the summit of Owens Peak. Rounding a corner, I emerged from a wind protected traverse, and was slammed with a cold gust of wind. Ahead, I could see another long stretch of snow covered trail. Owens Peak would have to wait…

Notes: There’s an automated weather station at Walker Pass. This hill of wildflowers was a short distance from the pass.

Google search: $g(Southern Sierra), $g(Pacific Crest Trail), $g(PCT), $g(trail running)

Exploring Las Llajas

Las Llajas Canyon, in Simi Valley, is now part of the Marr Ranch Open Space and Rocky Peak Park.

At times the site of a religious colony, a grit mine, an oil field, and a housing development, Las Llajas Canyon is now part of the Marr Ranch Open Space and Rocky Peak Park. Its oak groves, gurgling stream, varied plants, and unique geology make it a popular place to hike, run or ride.

According to California Place Names, Las Llajas might have originated from a misspelling of the Spanish word “llagas,” which literally means sores or wounds. Perhaps this was a reference to the area’s natural oil seeps. These would have been an important resource for the Chumash and early settlers.

The trailhead for Las Llajas Canyon is on Evening Sky Drive, in Simi Valley. From the trailhead it’s about 3.4 miles up the (mostly) dirt road to a windmill and oak-shaded trail junction. From the junction a connecting trail crosses the creek and then climbs steeply to Rocky Peak Rd., passing a derelict oil well on the way.  A strenuous 9.2 mile loop follows this route, and is described in the post Chumash-Las Llajas Loop.

There are also some less used side trails in Las Llajas canyon. One of them climbs a peak on the west side of Las Llajas Canyon, ascending a ridge and then cutting across a steep, rocky face, before continuing up the mountain. The rough and somewhat overgrown trail was probably started sometime around 1920-30 as part of a mining project.

It is my impression that the trail and mining operation were the lifework of a very determined and hard working individual. As the trail winds up the mountain, there are bits and pieces of rusted mining equipment and abandoned dig sites — signposts of success and failure on the meandering trail of time.

At the end of the trail, a few feet from the summit of the peak, is a P&H Model-206 Corduroy power shovel. Nearly out of mountain, its bucket is poised to scoop another load, waiting for its operator to return.

Google search: $g(trail running), $g(Las Llajas), $g(Simi Valley), $g(mining)

A Long Run Kind of Day

Saddle Peak from the Backbone Trail, in the Santa Monica Mountains, near Los Angeles. Mt. Baldy can be seen in the distance.

The beauty and intensity of the day was infectious. Hours before a cold low pressure trough digging down from the Pacific Northwest had carried showers, thunder, hail, and chilly temps into Southern California. Its rainfall had refreshed the greens of the hills, and accentuated the yellows, purples and reds of the wildflowers along the trail. Its blustery winds had cleansed the sky.

A few minutes before I had completed one run, and now was starting another. I wasn’t certain how much farther I would run — I just knew I had to run.

The day had begun with friends on the Secret Trail in Calabasas. We had run up and over the shoulder of Calabasas Peak, and then ascended Saddle Peak via the Stunt High Trail and Backbone Trail. The view from the summit of Saddle Peak had extended beyond Santa Monica Bay and Palos Verdes Peninsula to the South Bay and Saddleback Mountain. New snow glistened on Mt. Baldy, and to the west the rocky summits on Boney Mountain stood in bold relief.

That 14.5 mile run had ended at Tapia Park. Now I was on the Tapia Spur Trail on the first climb of the Bulldog Loop. On the wind sheltered slope the bright yellow blossoms of tree poppy had begun to unfurl, absorbing the warmth of the midday sun. Distant peaks loomed to within an arm’s reach, and my legs seemed to draw energy directly from the trail. It was a long run kind of day.

Notes: The title photograph is of Saddle Peak from the Backbone Trail, in the Santa Monica Mountains, near Los Angeles. Mt. Baldy can be seen in the distance. The combined length of the runs was about 29 miles with an elevation gain of about 5000 ft.

Some related posts: Tapia Bound, Bulldog Loop and the Corral Fire, Fog Along Malibu Creek

Boney Mountain – Big Sycamore Canyon Circuit

The Conejo Valley from Boney Mountain.

I liked last weekend’s run so much that this morning I returned to the Wendy Drive trailhead on Potrero Road and was now chugging up the Danielson-Old Boney trail, planning to do another circuit that would eventually take me back down into Big Sycamore Canyon.

Wearing short-sleeves, and without water bottles or packs, a group of three runners passed me as I plodded up the road. I guessed they were headed for the Danielson Monument. That’s where I was going — at least to start. The previous week I had noticed a use trail continuing east from the Danielson cabin site. It was well worn, and a little research confirmed that it was a route up the north flank of Boney Mountain.

My plan was to see where the trail led. That sounds like a given, but trails like this usually have a character of their own, and can lead to interesting areas and variations that demand exploration. Last week a hiker had asked me about this route, and commented that he hoped his group would make it up this time.

It didn’t take long to reach the spur trail to the cabin and monument. I turned left and followed the gently descending trail into the canyon. Where were the other runners? About the time I was beginning to wonder if they were doing an impressively fast and light circuit through Sycamore, I heard fleet-footed voices headed my way. We passed each other at the bottom of the canyon, and I continued the tenth of a mile up to the cabin site and the beginning of my adventure.

The route up the mountain was spectacular! This was not a trail engineered on a piece of paper, but a route that went where possible, following the vagaries and whims of the terrain. A long, sweeping traverse deep in the chaparral would seek a distant ridge and then dive back into the brush before suddenly turning directly and steeply uphill. Views of the valley grew more expansive with each step, and eventually I gained the first summit, marked 2701 ft. on the topo.

From here the trail followed a dramatic ridge, ascending a series of peaklets to a high point at about 2900′, across a canyon and to the north of Tri-Peaks (3010′). My immediate goal was to cross over to Tri-Peaks. From there I would find my way to the Backbone Trail.

What had been a well trodden path, now became less distinct. From my viewpoint, a route up the north side of Tri-Peaks looked improbable. Choked with brush and trees, the peak was an amalgam of massive volcanic blocks and boulders, fused with chaparral.

Following the crest of the Boney Mountain escarpment, I dropped down to a saddle. To my right, the terrain plunged between steep cliffs to Big Sycamore Canyon, more than 2500′ below.

Unsure of the route, but endorphin energized, I followed a path up and into a maze of corridors and rooms among the towering rock formations, eventually emerging at the summit block. Working my way out of the shadows, I traversed around to the south side of the peak. From here the Tri-Peaks trail was an obvious slash in the brush and in a few minutes I was on the Backbone Trail, headed west.

The downhill running on this section of trail is among the best in the Santa Monica Mountains, with memorable views of Boney Mountain’s massive western flank. In five miles and a nearly effortless hour I was down to the Danielson multi-use area.

I stopped for water and briefly debated how far to run down Big Sycamore. Not far — I picked up the Ranch Center fireroad (unpaved) and followed it up to the Hidden Pond trail, finishing the run like last week, on the Upper Sycamore and Danielson/Old Boney trails.

Here’s a Google Earth image and KMZ file of a GPS trace of the approximately 18.5 mile route.

Related post: Big Sycamore Canyon Circuit

Big Sycamore Canyon Circuit

Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa and the Conejo Valley with snow on the peaks of the Ventura mountains

I was about a mile from the Wendy Dr. trailhead on Potrero Rd. in Newbury Park. A cold wind ruffled the chaparral, and to the north snow could be seen on McDonald Peak (6870′) and other peaks of the Ventura mountains. I was nearing the top of a rounded ridge in Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa, and in a few minutes would be descending the sun-warmed Old Boney Trail into the upper reaches of Big Sycamore Canyon.

Big Sycamore Canyon extends from the ocean to within a mile or so of Potrero Rd. It forms the main trunk of an extensive network of trails in Pt. Mugu State Park. Of the many possible trail combinations, my loosely defined plan was to link some of the trails on the XTERRA Boney Mountain Trail Run course into a longer run.

The general idea was to start on the Old Boney and Blue Canyon Trails, and return via the Hidden Pond and Upper Sycamore Canyon Trails. I was looking to do about 20 miles, and wasn’t sure how far down Big Sycamore I would run, or what other trails I would do.

The run up and over the shoulder of Boney Mountain was brisk and blustery. On the way I checked out the waterfall spur trail and the Danielson cabin site and monument. At one point, several miles into the run, the trail rounded a ridge and descended into a bowl at the head of a broad canyon. Here, the character was unmistakably that of the wilderness — isolated and wild with the chaotic western escarpment of Boney Mountain towering above.

About two hours into the run I pulled into the Danielson multi-use area in Big Sycamore Canyon. There’s a water spigot here, adjacent to a fireplace in a low-walled picnic area. While topping off my Camelbak, I noticed a runner on nearby Big Sycamore Canyon road, then another, and another. A continuous stream of runners was passing by — I had forgotten that the Lasse Viren 20K was this weekend!

Down in the canyon the weather was perfect for the race. Swept along by the wave of runners, I missed my connection with the Two Foxes trail, and it wasn’t until the aid station at Wood Canyon road that I turned off the race course. Within a couple hundred yards I happened upon the southern end of the Two Foxes trail and worked my way back up the canyon about half a mile to the bottom of the Coyote Trail.

The previous evening I had taken a look at the Tom Harrison Santa Monica Mountains West Trail Map and noted that the Coyote Trail, Hidden Pond Trail, and Upper Sycamore Trail could all be linked together in one long single track extravaganza.

I had not done these three trails and enjoyed the exploratory feel. The Coyote Trail and Hidden Pond trails were outstanding, with excellent running and highline views. The Upper Sycamore trail is classically riparian, winding its way among white-barked sycamores and stream rubble, in a stream eroded canyon to its junction with the Old Boney Trail about 1.5 miles from the Wendy Drive trailhead.

Here’s a Google Earth image of a GPS trace of the approximately 19 mile route.