Category Archives: running|races

The Kenyon Devore Trail and Mt. Disappointment 50K

Strayns Canyon from the Kenyon Devore Trail in Angeles National Forest

Note: The Mt. Disappointment Endurance Run is now the Angeles National Forest Trail Race.

The photograph above was taken a little more than a mile from the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail, in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Mt. Wilson. The deep canyon seen through the trees is Strayns Canyon, which the trail follows on its way from the West Fork San Gabriel River to the shoulder of Mt. Wilson.

Bright green Bigcone Douglas fir cones
Bigcone Douglas fir

Today, I’d run down the Kenyon Devore and Gabrieleno Trails to West Fork and then up the Red Box – Rincon Road to point on the map marked Camp Ah-DA-Hi. (A former Woodcraft Rangers Camp.) With hot weather forecast next Saturday for the Mt. Disappointment 50K, I’d been glad to see the small streams that had been dry during the drought were running again.

Trails have stories to tell and when I run or hike a trail I’m always curious about its history. A trail between the West Fork San Gabriel River and Mt. Wilson is shown in the 1:62500 1897 edition of the USGS 1894 Los Angeles Sheet. Like many trails of the era, it followed a ridge, in this case a ridge just east of Strayns Canyon.

Antennae on Mt. Wilson at the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail.
Antennae on Mt. Wilson at the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail.

The first USGS map to show a trail along Strayns Creek was the 1:24000 1934 Mt. Wilson Advance Sheet. The trail remained unnamed in USGS maps until the 1966 edition of the 1:24000 Mt. Wilson Quadrangle, when it was labeled the Rattlesnake Trail. The trail was renamed the Kenyon Devore Trail in the 1995 edition of the map in tribute to Forest Service patrolman, hydrographer, and Angeles National Forest volunteer, Kenyon DeVore.

The Kenyon Devore Trail is part of the Mt. Disappointment 50K course. It is one of several trails maintained by runner-volunteers under the guidance of Forest Service volunteer and Mt. Disappointment Race Director, Gary Hilliard. Today, as I was on my way back up to Mt. Wilson, I ran into Gary and two volunteers cutting logs from the trail in preparation for next Saturday’s event.

Gary Valle and Gary Hilliard on the lower Kenyon Devore Trail.
Gary and the Other Gary on the lower Kenyon Devore Trail.

The grueling 5 mile, 2650′ climb from West Fork to Mt. Wilson on the Gabrieleno & Kenyon Devore Trails comes at about mile 26.5 of the 50K and is the highlight of the run.

I have to laugh about what happened on the Kenyon Devore climb one hot year. I’d jammed my Camelbak(TM) with so much ice at the West Fork aid station that when water was added, it melded and froze into one large chunk. I didn’t discover this until about halfway up the climb, when I ran out of water. You can’t drink a chunk of ice and even at 90 degrees, the ice was melting at an agonizingly slow rate. At best I could only get a minuscule sip of water from the pack every few minutes, and it nearly imploded from my efforts.

Some related posts: Mt. Disappointment 50K Returns!, Mt. Disappointment 50K 2012 Notes

The Big Pines Trail Marathon — First Organized Mountain Ultra in the U.S?

Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail
Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail

What would you think of a 44 mile trail race with 10,000’+ of gain that climbs Mt. Baden-Powell… and Mt. Baldy… by the North Backbone Trail… at night… by the light of a full moon… with the requirement to carry 10 percent of your body weight, NOT including the additional weight of food and water?

Paul V. Engelhardt, winner of the Big Pines Trail Marathon in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation
Paul V. Engelhardt, winner of the Big Pines Trail Marathon in 1934, 1935 and 1936. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation

The Big Pines Trail Marathon was first run on August 23-24, 1934. Based on the description in the Autumn 1934 edition of Trails Magazine, the course would rank high among the toughest mountain courses we run today.

“Starting at Jackson Lake at an elevation of 6,000 feet, it leads over the Blue Ridge Range at 7,800 feet, down to the Big Rock-Vincent Gulch divide, 6,500 feet, up 4 miles by 38 switchbacks to the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell, 9,389 feet, back to the head of Big Rock, and east along the summit of Blue Ridge, over Lookout Peak, 8,505 feet, east over Wright Mountain to the Prairie Fork-Lytle Creek divide at 7,800 feet, over Pine Mountain, 9,661 feet, and Mt. Dawson, 9,551 feet, to the summit of Mt. San Antonio, 10,080 feet. Turning back here, crossing again the saddle at the head of Lytle Creek to the Oak Canyon trail, down through Wrightwood and up to Big Pines Park, where the finish line is at the Davidson Arch, elevation 6,864 feet.”

The winner of the inaugural 41 mile race was 24 year old Paul V. Engelhart, an Assistant Scout Master, in 14 hours, 45 minutes, 15 seconds. Second place went to 17 year old Fairfax High School track team member Bain J. Bain in 14 hours, 48 minutes.

Trails Magazine Big Pines Trail Marathon Trophy. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Trails Magazine Big Pines Trail Marathon Trophy. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

In 1935 the Start was moved to coincide with the Finish at Davidson Arch, increasing the mileage to 44 miles. According to the Trails Magazine report, the race began at 5 p.m., the seven contestants starting at 10-minute intervals.

“This year’s preparations were most complete with nine checking stations, four of which checked two ways, and patrol cars covering all roads which closely paralleled the course for 18 miles. At Guffey Camp, which the contestants passed twice, at 24 miles and 38 miles, there was a field hospital station with a doctor in constant attendance, and on the summit of Mt. San Antonio, 10,000 feet in the air and 32 miles from the start, a four man team from the First Aid and Rescue Division, Disaster Unit, Alhambra Red Cross…”

Engelhardt won again in 1935 in a time of 13 hours and 32 minutes and for the third time in 1936 in a time of 13 hours and 13 minutes. In the Fourth Annual event in 1937 Engelhardt’s record for the 44 mile course was broken by Ray Ebel, who finished in a time of 13 hours 3 minutes.

“In this year’s race, as in those that have gone before, it was decidedly demonstrated that a thorough knowledge of the course is essential to win or even to finish. Of the four who passed Pine Mountain, three were off the course at some point, two of them seriously.”

Winners of the 1938 Fifth Annual Big Pines Trail Marathon. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.
Winners of the 1938 Fifth Annual Big Pines Trail Marathon. Photo: Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Perhaps in an effort to make the course more straightforward, it was changed for the Fifth Annual race in 1938. Instead of returning from Mt. Baden-Powell and climbing Mt. Baldy via the North Backbone trail, the course continued west along the route of the present day Pacific Crest Trail (and AC100) to Windy Gap. At Windy Gap (then called Islip Saddle) the course descended to Crystal Lake Recreation Camp, turning around at the Ranger Headquarters for the 20 mile return to the Finish at Big Pines.

“It was a wild night on the mountain top, with winter temperatures and a gale of wind, a night which will be long remembered by both the contestants and those in charge of the checking and radio stations. Out of thirteen starters only six finished…”

Even in bad weather, the new forty mile course was more runnable and faster-paced. The report in Trails Magazine describes a competitive race that Big Pines Ski Club member Charles Melhorn won in 9 hours and 23 minutes — just 17 minutes ahead of Marine Reservist Don Wood. That works out to an average pace of 14 min/mile, with much of the running at night!

What’s the Fastest Route Up Mt. Baldy?

Baldy Bowl

There’s no getting around it. Sometimes it just feels good to go all out and push the pace up a peak. Just ask the 500+ that do the Mt. Baldy Run to the Top each year.

There are three routes up Mt. Baldy from Manker Flat on which I like to push the pace: the Ski Hut Trail, Register Ridge and the Run to the Top route via the Notch.

The 3.5 mile Register Ridge route is the shortest of the three routes. Since all three routes gain about 3900 feet in elevation, Register Ridge is also the steepest. From where the Register Ridge route leaves the Ski Hut Trail to where it joins the Devil’s Backbone Trail, it gains about 2600′ over about 1.5 miles — an AVERAGE grade of nearly 33%.

Since the Register Ridge route is about a half-mile shorter than the Ski Hut Trail, and the Ski Hut Trail is about 3 miles shorter than the R2T, it might seem either Register Ridge or the Ski Hut Trail would have to be the fastest route to the top of Baldy. For someone equally adept at running and steep hiking, this isn’t necessarily the case.

For a “short” ascent for which fatigue is not a major factor, it’s the elevation gain and not the distance that determines the time. Basically it’s a matter of the rate of climb the runner or hiker can sustain. The winning time of the Baldy R2T is usually just over an hour, which works out to about 3900 ft/hour. Pikes Peak Ascent winners average about 3600 ft/hour.

In round numbers to do Baldy in an hour you need to average:

• 7 mph or 9 min/mile on the R2T course.

• 4 mph or 15 min/mile on the Ski Hut Trail.

• 3.5 mph or 17 min/mile via Register Ridge route.

Following are some Strava Segments associated with these routes and the current Course Records:

Mt Baldy Summit via Ski Hut Trail (3.9 mi)
Brad Harris CR 1:06:58 Apr 17, 2015
Segment starts at Falls Road gate.

Mt. Baldy Run to the Top (6.8 mi)
Lucas Matison CR 1:05:24 Sep 5, 2016
Records are 1:00:49 by Matt Ebiner (1987), and 1:15:32 by Carrie Garritson (1988).
Segment starts at the ski area parking lot. Subtract about 1:00 to compare to the Ski Hut Trail time. This adjusts for running down to the Falls Road gate from the R2T start and for the R2T finish not being quite on the top.

Register to Summit (From base of Register Ridge)
Erik Schulte CR 1:08:56 Jun 19, 2015
Segment starts at the Register Ridge – Ski Hut Trail junction. Add about 10:00 to adjust for the time from Falls Road gate.

So even though the R2T course via the Notch is about 3 miles longer than the Ski Hut Trail route, the fastest (reported) times up Baldy have been by the R2T route. The Ski Hut Trail route is a close second, with the Register Ridge route is a distant third.

What’s the Current Weather on the AC100 Course?

Pacific Crest Trail on Kratka Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains

A couple of weekends ago we had cool weather for a 28 mile Angeles Crest 100 training run from Islip Saddle to Chilao Flat. It was a bit windy and chilly at Islip Saddle, but once we were up and over the shoulder of Mt. Williamson the wind settled down and the weather for the remainder of the run was near perfect.

This was the second of four supported AC100 training runs, each covering a different section of the course. These organized runs account for just a tiny fraction of the total mileage a runner does to prepare for this event, and much of the mileage is done on the AC100 course.

Where is the AC100 course? Incorporating segments of iconic trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail, Silver Moccasin Trail and Gabrielino Trail, the AC100 starts in the mountain community of Wrightwood, California and ends in Altadena near JPL, traversing a large part of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Mountain weather — even Los Angeles County mountain weather — can be extremely varied and changeable. At about mile 18 the AC100 course reaches an elevation of more than 9,200′, near the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell. On the same day temperatures on the course can differ by 50 degrees or more. One section can be inundated by a flash flood while another is bone dry. During a Spring training run it might be 100 in the sun at Echo Mountain, while it is snowing on Baden-Powell.

Annotated Mt. Wilson Towercam Image
Annotated Mt. Wilson Towercam Image

The Mt. Wilson Towercam is usually pointed in the direction of the Angeles high country. When it is, it provides a great overview of about two-thirds of the AC100 course. The view extends from the top of the Acorn Trail at about mile 4 (in the distance on the far right), along the crest past Mt. Baden-Powell, Throop Peak, Twin Peaks and Waterman Mountain to Three Points at about mile 43. Chilao is hidden from view, but the Charlton Flat area and a section of Edison Road is visible on the left. Newcomb Saddle, at about mile 68, is on the lower right. Here’s an annotated Towercam image that shows the approximate location of these features.

Bill Westphal’s Altadena Weather & Webcam gives a lower elevation view of the San Gabriels, near the AC100 Finish. The view is NE toward the Sunset Ridge Trail and Mt. Lowe Road, around mile 93 or 94. The course goes from the right of the photo to the left, but is mostly hidden from view.

If you are willing to jump through some Java security hoops the Mountain Hardware Live Interactive Cam in Wrightwood is a couple blocks from the AC100 Start. It has views of downtown Wrightwood, Wright Mountain, the Heath Canyon landslide, Blue Ridge and several other locations. I temporarily enabled Java and followed the troubleshooting info linked on the web cam page. I’ve been able to get it to work on a desktop system using Firefox or Internet Explorer. Note that enabling Java and adding non-secure URLs to the Java exceptions list decreases the security of your computer.

Following are several Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS) and Weather Underground Personal Weather Stations (PWS) along or near the AC100 course, in order from Start to Finish.

It is important to note that the air temperature given by RAWS stations is the temperature inside a sun-shielded, ventilated enclosure 4-8 feet off the ground. Basically it’s the temperature in light shade. The temperature in full sun can be 15°F higher. I’ve found the “Fuel Temperature” to be a better gage of how hellish it’s going to be on exposed areas of trail. (The Fuel Temperature is the temperature of a ponderosa pine dowel in direct sun.)

Wrightwood KCAWRIGH7 PWS (5996′) – Approximately 0.25 mile W of Start. Was 55°F at 5 a.m. for 2015 AC100.

Wrightwood KCAWRIGH9 PWS (6000′) – Approximately 0.6 mile SE of Start. Was 59°F at 5 a.m. for 2015 AC100.

Big Pines BPNC1 RAWS (6964′) – Off Hwy 2 near Mountain High Ski Area. Top of Mt. Baden-Powell can be 12+ degrees cooler and much more windy. Was 64°F at 6:54 a.m. for 2015 AC100. Fuel temp at 11:54 a.m. was 92°F.

Mountain High Ski Area Base & Top Conditions – Approximate elevation of Base is 7000′ and top is 8000′. Compare Base temp to Big Pines temp.

Chilao CHOC1 RAWS (5450′) – Approximately 1.25 miles WNW of Chilao aid. Fuel temp at 1:53 pm was 95°F for 2015 AC100. Air temp at 6:53 pm was 79°F.

Clear Creek CEKC1 RAWS (3000′) – Approximately 6.8 miles W of Shortcut Aid (~4793′) and 2.9 miles W of Red Box Aid (~4620′). Was 71°F at 8:54 p.m. for 2015 AC100.

Mt. Wilson MWSC1 (5710′) – Approximately 1.5 miles NW of and 780′ above the top of Mt. Wilson Toll Road (~4930′). Compare to JPL 5600′. Was 69°F at midnight for 2015 AC100.

Henninger Flats HNGC1 RAWS (2800′) – Approximately 0.8 miles WSW of Idlehour Aid (~3168′). Marine layer can increase humidity on this section of the course. Was 69-70°F from 4 a.m. to 7 a.m. for 2015 AC100. Fuel temp was 89°F by 11a.m.

Altadena KCAALTAD18 PWS (1214′) – Approximately 0.6 miles S of Finish. For 2015 AC100 temp ranged from 66°F at 2 a.m. to 63°F at sunrise. Temp was 79°F at 9 a.m., 82°F at 11 a.m., and 86°F at 1 p.m. Humidity was high with dew point about 70°F.

Altadena KCAALTAD41 PWS (1348′) – Approximately 0.4 miles NW of Finish.

It’s not on the AC100 course, but the Mt. Baldy Ski Lifts Web Cams and Weather can be useful for estimating mountain temps and for Baldy area training runs.

Related post: The Ups and Downs of the Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run

Kodiak 50 Mile 2015

Runners in the 2015 Kodiak 50 mile race on the Siberia Creek Trail

Dazzlingly bright and a day from full, the moon rose above the trees along the Snow Summit skyline. Ahead of the moon, Pegasus flew effortlessly across the eastern sky. I asked to borrow his wings, but in response heard only our footfalls and the wind in the pines.

2015 Kodiak 50 mile elevation profile
Kodiak 50M Elevation Profile.
(Click thumbnails for larger image.)

We were on the Skyline Trail above Big Bear Lake and about 44 miles into the Kodiak 50 mile — one of four ultra-length running races organized by Matt Smith and crew for this Friday and Saturday.

The Kodiak 100 milers had started their circuit of Big Bear Lake at noon yesterday, and after running through the night, the fastest of the fast had finished the course this morning!

Dawn on the Gray's Peak Trail about 20 minutes into the 2015 Kodiak 50 Mile run.
Dawn on the Gray’s Peak Trail.
(Click thumbnails for larger image.)

The Front 50K runners started on the heels of the 100 milers and ran the first 31 miles of the course — including the ascent of 10,000′ Sugarloaf Mountain. They finished yesterday evening at the Wildhorse aid station. Runners doing the Back 50K — the last 31 miles of the 100 mile course — started at Snow Valley at 8:30 this morning and most had finished by mid-afternoon.

We had started the 50 mile before sunrise at the Gray’s Peak trailhead, near Fawnskin, on the north shore of Big Bear Lake. Though warmer than normal, the temperature before sunrise was still in the 40s, and many shorts-clad runners huddled around the wheel wells of running cars trying to keep warm before the 6:00 am start. Continue reading Kodiak 50 Mile 2015

Mt. Disappointment 50K Returns!

Runners work up the San Gabriel Peak Trail toward Mt. Disappointment.

Note: The Mt. Disappointment Endurance Run is now the Angeles National Forest Trail Race.

Following a two year hiatus the challenging Mt. Disappointment 50K was run today in near perfect weather conditions.

Temperature at Clear Creek for Mt. Disappointment 50Ks from 2005-2015
Temperature at Clear Creek for Mt. Disappointment 50Ks

How did the temperature today compare to the torrid conditions in 2012? The HIGH temperature today at Clear Creek — 76 °F — was 7 degrees COOLER than the temperature BEFORE SUNRISE in 2012 — 83°F! It was warm in the sun in a couple of places today, but nothing compared to the 115°F in the sun in 2012.

Runners at the starting line on top of Mt. Wilson for the 2015 Mt. Disappointment 50K & 25K
Runners at the Start line on Mt. Wilson

This was the ninth running of the event, which began in 2005, and the first time since 2008 that the 50K was run on the original course. In 2009 a rockslide closed the Mueller Tunnel, resulting in a detour down the Mt. Wilson Road. In 2010, 2011 & 2012 portions of the course were closed as a result of the devastating Station Fire and subsequent flash floods. This required a rerouting the course and adding the infamous climb up Edison Road to Shortcut Saddle. The iconic climb up the Kenyon Devore Trail has been a hallmark of the event every year in which it has been run.

Elevation profile for the 2015 Mt. Disappointment 50K
Elevation profile for the 50K

Here’s an elevation profile and an experimental Cesium browser view of a GPS trace of the course, with mile splits generated by SportTracks. The view can be zoomed in & out, rotated and tilted. Mileages and placemark locations are approximate. It does not require a plug-in and should work on most devices.

Gary Hilliard (with wife Pam) briefs the runners on the details of the 50K and 25K courses.
Gary & Pam Hilliard

Many thanks to Gary & Pam Hilliard, Fausto & Cindy Rowlan, and all of the Mt. Disappointment 50K Staff, volunteers, HAM radio operators, Sierra Madre SAR personnel, runners, and sponsors that have helped make all nine Mt. Disappointment 50Ks such outstanding events! I’m already looking forward to running number 10!

Photos and results can be found on the Mt. Disappointment web site.

Some related posts: Mt. Disappointment Notes: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008.