The eye-catching colors of apple galls are like nothing else in chaparral and impossible to miss. These are on scrub oaks along the Stunt High Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The galls are chemically induced by the larva of the California gall wasp, which uses the gall for food, protection, and to pupate. The rose color appears to result from exposure of the gall to sunlight.
I was descending the Stunt High Trail after visiting Saddle Peak while doing the Topanga Ridge Loop. As in other parts of the Santa Monica Mountains in which I’ve run following Hilary’s deluge, the trails were somewhat more eroded than usual but in OK shape.
Update September 3, 2023, 1:15 p.m.Caltrans Quickmap is showing Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2) is now open between Grassy Hollow and Vincent Gap. Caltrans Road Conditions says the closure is “5 mi west of Big Pines.” Google Maps and Waze still show the section between Grassy Hollow and Vincent Gap as closed.
Update August 23, 2023. The Big Pines RAWS recorded 6.26 inches of rain, and Lewis Ranch RAWS 7.04 inches from T.S. Hilary. The heavy rain on the north-facing slopes of the eastern San Gabriels may have produced debris flows in the washes crossed by the Manzanita Trail. Excessive runoff may have done more damage to stabilized sections of the Manzanita Trail where it crosses steep slides above Paradise Springs. According to CalTrans, the previously open section of Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2) between Grassy Hollow and Vincent Gap is currently closed.
I’d been thinking about doing the South Fork Loop, a challenging loop that I usually start at Islip Saddle. The route descends the South Fork Trail to South Fork Campground (4,565′) and then climbs all the way to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell (9,399′), using the Manzanita Trail and PCT. From the top of Baden-Powell, the PCT is followed back to Islip Saddle.
But there were a couple of problems with this idea. First, the road to Islip Saddle — Angeles Crest Highway — was closed. More importantly, parts of the South Fork Trail were burned in the Bobcat Fire, and heavy snow and rain may have damaged the South Fork Trail or Manzanita Trail.
The road closure would be easy to work around — the loop could be started at Vincent Gap. But I definitely needed to check the condition of the South Fork and Manzanita Trails. The loop is difficult, even when the trails are in good shape.
I decided to check the Manzanita Trail first. If that trail had issues, then the condition of the South Fork Trail didn’t matter.
So that is what I was doing today. The plan was to run the Manzanita Trail from Vincent Gap down to South Fork Campground, then turn around and — just like on the South Fork Loop — take the Manzanita Trail and PCT to the top of Mt. Baden-Powell.
I woke early on Sunday and arrived at Vincent Gap at about 6:45 a.m. With much of Angeles Crest Highway closed, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the main parking lot was already full. I nabbed the last spot in the overflow area across the highway. I could only imagine what it must be like on the trail up Baden-Powell.
But I didn’t have to worry about that — not for a while. I grabbed my pack from the back of the car and started jogging down the Manzanita Trail. On that trail, I probably wouldn’t see anyone!
As would be expected on a little-used trail after a hard Winter, the Manzanita Trail was a bit of a mess. In addition to being generally overgrown, there were fallen trees, brush deposited on the trail by runoff or avalanches, minor washouts, and other damage. These slowed the pace but weren’t too much of a problem.
On the other hand, there is a section of the Manzanita Trail that could be a serious issue. It is where the trail crosses several steep, loose, stabilized slides. This area is about 4.4 miles from Vincent Gap and 1.4 miles from South Fork Campground. This section of the trail is almost always damaged, but on past adventures, had always been passable. How bad was it going to be today?
The answer is — pretty bad. As I started across the first slide, it looked like it would go just fine, but then I looked closer. One of the abutments on the down-slope side of the trail had completely given way. The trail had collapsed, leaving only a narrow slice of crumbling dirt along the base of the up-slope barrier. I would have to use the barrier to get past, and it wasn’t in the best shape. I’m sure people have done this, but it seemed like a bad idea. I could see no straightforward way around the collapsed trail. Disappointed, I turned around and started working back up the trail toward Vincent Gap.
I’d been running for a few minutes when I came across a “lightning tree.” These are trees that have been struck by lightning and have a scar spiraling down their trunk. I’ve photographed a number of them. Some are in a location that you would expect to be struck by lightning, but just as many are along seemingly unexposed sections of trail. Once, I was running down the PCT below Mt. Hawkins, well below the crest, and a tree 50 yards down the slope was smoking from just being struck.
On the way back up to Vincent Gap, there would be a little route-finding fun. The Manzanita Trail crosses some small debris-filled washes. Over time, paths develop through the rubble but can be intermittent and indistinct. Debris flows can destroy a part of nearly all of a path.
Did I mention the gnats, stinging nettle, and Poodle-dog bush? Oh, the gnats. On the way down the trail they weren’t too bad, but as the temperature warmed, they became increasingly annoying and persistent.
When doing the South Fork Loop, I usually stop for water at the stream that feeds Icy Springs. The trail was overgrown near the stream, and mixed in with the greenery was some stinging nettle. Even knowing it was there, I managed to brush against it on the way down the trail and then again coming back up.
What the heck? As I topped out at Vincent Gap, the sounds of revelry came from across the highway. It was party time in the Baden-Powell parking lot! A large group of people were gathered at the west end of the lot, near the trailhead. Were they preparing to do a mass ascent of Baden-Powell? I quickly refilled my hydration pack, grabbed some food, and headed up the PCT.
Once I escaped the craziness of the parking lot, it turned out to be one of the most pleasant ascents and descents of Baden-Powell I’ve done. Even with the machinations of the Manzanita Trail earlier in the morning and the additional vertical gain, Baden-Powell couldn’t have gone better. Very few hikers were on the trail, everyone was super-friendly, and when I reached the summit, it was empty — at noon, on a Sunday, in August!
The puzzle to solve this weekend was to find a run that was closer to home, higher than the Santa Monica Mountains, and had a “decent amount” of elevation gain. The solution put me right back at Red Box, doing two of the most popular peaks in the Front Range — Strawberry Peak (6164′) and San Gabriel Peak (6161′).
The main difference is that the 2018 run/hike was on a cool day in March, rather than a hot day in August. In 2018, I did San Gabriel Peak first, then Strawberry. The order didn’t matter. The temperature on both peaks that day was mostly in the 40s.
Today, it was essential to do Strawberry first, and get started early. The use trail between Lawlor Saddle and Strawberry’s summit faces south and east, and has very little shade. It’s steep and strenuous an no fun at all in the hot sun.
I left the Red Box parking lot at about 6:00 a.m. On the way up, the temperature ranged from the mid-50s to the mid-70s. On the way down, in some places it was already in the 90s. While it was hot in the sun on the upper part of the mountain on the descent, the traverse around Mt. Lawlor on the Strawberry Trail was still mostly in the shade and a relatively cool 75 to 80 degrees.
San Gabriel Peak isn’t the solar oven that Strawberry is. Much of the Bill Riley/Mt. Disappointment Trail faces north and a scrub oak forest provides some shade. Continuing up San Gabriel Peak after doing Strawberry, the temps were generally in the low to mid-80s.
Angeles Crest Highway was still closed between Red Box and Vincent Gap, and the heatwave continued. I was trying to decide where to run.
I briefly considered the Circuit Around Strawberry Peak, but yesterday at 10:00 a.m., the “in-the-shade” temperature at Clear Creek was already 92°F, and the “in-the-sun” fuel temperature 109°F. By 1:00 p.m., the fuel temp reached a scorching 122°F!
Although trailheads such as Three Points and Islip Saddle couldn’t be accessed using Angeles Crest Highway, the highway was open from Wrightwood to Inspiration Point and Vincent Gap. After seeing the temps at Clear Creek, it took about two seconds to make the decision to head to the San Gabriels’ high country.
From Inspiration Point (7,365′), I ran east on the PCT about 7 miles to the North Backbone Trailhead on Mt. Baldy. Over most of that stretch, the temperature was a blissful 60-something degrees. Other times, I’ve driven to this trailhead — which requires a high-clearance vehicle — or run to the trailhead from Wrightwood. But the run along Blue Ridge is a favorite. It is especially scenic, with fantastic views of Mt. Baden-Powell, Iron Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Mt. Baldy.
Another 10 minutes of climbing and I reached the Pine Mountain Juniper. Straddling the rocky crest at an elevation of about 9000′, this stalwart tree is estimated to be 800 – 1000 years old. It is a remarkable tree in a remarkable location. Except for one short, steep, eroded section, the remainder of the trail to the top of Pine Mountain (9648′) was relatively straightforward.
Pine is the second-highest peak in the San Gabriels and has excellent views of the surrounding terrain. It is higher than Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′) and Dawson Peak (9575′) but a few hundred feet lower than Mt. Baldy (10,064′).
From Pine Mountain, the North Backbone trail continues over Dawson Peak another 2.5 miles to Mt. Baldy. There was still a long ribbon of snow along the east side of the upper North Backbone, but it looked like the trail might avoid it. I would have liked to confirm that, but today the top of Pine was my planned turnaround point. As it was, with the warm weather, I thought I might run short on water on the return to Inspiration Point.
Leaving Pine behind, I started back down — jogging when it made sense — but trying not to do anything stoopid. On the way down, I kept reaching behind me and squeezing the bladder in my hydration pack. I guess I was hoping that it would magically be more full than the last time I checked. It never was.
Back at the North Backbone Trailhead, and definitely low on water, I decided it was a good time to run the dirt road back to the top of the Acorn Trail and see how much shorter it was than the PCT. The answer was not much — only about a tenth of a mile.
I’d been willing to push the water envelope because it had been a heavy snow year. I expected the spring near Guffy Camp would probably be running. I’d passed the side trail to the spring a bunch of times but never ventured down the steep slope. My impression was that the spring was often low or nearly dry. This time when I reached the side trail, I headed down.
And down and down… It sure seemed like a long way to the spring, but when I checked the track, it was less than a quarter-mile with an elevation loss of about 200′.
Back on the PCT, the temperature was generally in the mid-eighties but was warmer on south-facing slopes. At about 1:00 p.m., the in-the-sun fuel temperature at the Big Pines RAWS was 109°F. I was very happy to have the extra water.
The 17.5-mile Trailer Canyon – Santa Ynez Canyon Trail – Trippet Ranch Loop is a longer version of the venerable Trippet Ranch loop from the Top of Reseda. It might also be called the Three Vistas Loop because it visits three high points in Topanga State Park with 360-degree, panoramic views.
The run starts and ends the same as the Trippet Ranch Loop. After running up to the Hub on Fire Road #30, instead of continuing straight on Eagle Springs Fire Road, this route turns left on Temescal Ridge Fire Road. The fire road is followed up to where the Backbone Trail single-track forks left off the road. The Backbone Trail is followed a tenth of a mile east, where a path leads up and left to the top of Temescal Peak.
From Temescal Peak, the route returns to Temescal Ridge Fire Road. I usually follow the use-trail back down and across the Backbone Trail and then continue on the use-trail to the fire road.
The next stop, Temescal Lookout, is about a mile from the top of Temescal Peak and just off Temescal Ridge Fire Road. When doing this loop, I run up a dirt access road on the north side of the lookout and then descend a use trail on the south side. Once the site of a fire lookout, it also has an excellent view. This photo of Downtown and San Jacinto Peak was taken from the viewpoint.
After turning right (west) on Michael Lane, the street is followed around and down to Vereda de la Montura. A right turn here leads to the Santa Ynez Canyon Trailhead in about a quarter-mile. This is where some route-finding fun begins.
A bit more than a mile from the trailhead, the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail climbs out of the bottom of the canyon and up onto a broad ridge. Another mile of uphill, and it tops out at Eagle Springs Fire Road. After turning left, it’s less than a half-mile down to the Trippet Ranch parking lot.
The previous weekend I’d done the Trippet Ranch Loop, so knew what the expect on the remainder of the run. Other than being a little overgrown, the Musch Trail was in reasonable shape. There were still some late-season blooms of showy penstemon, yellow monkeyflower, and white snapdragon along the trail. This time of year, the round pincushions of buckwheat are common. Water was available at the start of the Musch Trail and at Musch Camp.
Eagle Rock is the third viewpoint on the loop, and the most popular. The massive rock formation overlooks Santa Ynez Canyon and has an airy, 360-degree view. On a clear day, Santa Monica Bay, Palos Verdes Peninsula, and Catalina can be seen to the south. On weekends, it’s rare to find the top empty. The summit had just been vacated as I climbed up and was reoccupied by another hiker as I walked down.
Returning to Eagle Rock Fire Road, I turned right and continued northeast a tenth of a mile to the top of the Garapito Trail.
A little more than three miles long, the Garapito Trail is one of my favorite trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. Several sections of the trail are overgrown at the moment. At one point, not too far from Fire Road #30, it was necessary to bushwhack through a dense patch of six-foot-tall giant rye grass.
Two lilies listed on the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California were blooming along the Garapito Trail — Plummer’s mariposa lily and Humboldt lily. Both plants have a Rare Plant Rank of 4.2, which indicates they are of limited distribution and moderately threatened in California. Thanks to our very wet rain season, the eye-catching red of scarlet larkspur was unusually prevalent along the trail.
The Garapito Trail ends at Fire Road #30. Normally the route would cross the fire road and follow the Bent Arrow Trail to dirt Mulholland, but the trail was damaged by rainy season storms and is still closed.
Turning left onto Fire Road #30, I retraced my steps from earlier in the morning and in a few minutes was back to the trailhead at the Top of Reseda (Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park).
It was a little past 3:00 in the afternoon when I passed this straight-backed wooden chair along an Ahmanson Ranch trail. The Tempe thermometer clipped to my pack read over 100 degrees.
It gets REALLY hot at Ahmanson Ranch (Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve). In the direct sun the temperature can be 10°F-15°F hotter than in the shade, and there is very little shade at Ahmanson. In-the-sun temperatures of 100°F or more are common in the Summer but can occur just about any time of the year.
There are two weather stations I use to get an idea of the weather conditions at Ahmanson Ranch — the Cheeseboro RAWS and Valley Circle Estates Weather Underground station. Weather station thermometers are usually shielded from the direct sun by a white, ventilated enclosure. The Cheeseboro RAWS includes a measurement of the “Fuel Temperature.” This is generally a better indication of the temperature experienced by a runner, hiker, or rider in the direct sun.
Update on July 29, 2023. Rounding the temperature to whole degrees, my West Hills weather station recorded a high of 100°F, or higher, for 15 consecutive days this July (7/13/23 to 7/27/23). The station is about three miles from the Victory Trailhead at Ahmanson Ranch.