Category Archives: malibu creek state park

Malibu Canyon to Saddle Peak, Topanga Lookout, Calabasas Peak, and the Secret Trail

Corpse Wall and other rock formations along the Backbone Trail near Saddle Peak.

The range of temperatures had been remarkable. At the Secret Trail trailhead in Calabasas, where I left my car, it had been a balmy 60 degrees. Near the start of my run from the Tapia Trailhead in Malibu Canyon, it had been a very chilly 32 °F. Near the end of the run, the temp topped out at 79 °F. That’s SoCal Winter running!

On the way to Saddle Peak, I was surprised to see how wet it was on some sections of the Backbone Trail. There has been very little rain this January, but marine layer dew, the trail’s north-facing aspect, the low sun angle, the canopy of bays and oaks, and relatively cool temps have kept the trail damp. In places it looked like it had just rained yesterday.

Elevation profile for trail run from Tapia to Secret Trail via Topanga Lookout and Ridge.
Elevation profile for trail run from Tapia to Secret Trail via Topanga Lookout and Ridge.

Because there’s about 1000′ less elevation gain, I usually do this run in the opposite direction, starting on the Secret Trail and ending at Tapia. This is the route described in the venerable guidebook, 50 Trail Runs in Southern California. But I’d run it in that direction a bunch of times — so here I was, chugging up the Backbone Trail, nearing the end of a 2600′, seven-mile climb from Tapia to Saddle Peak.

The area around Saddle Peak is yet another spectacular section of the Backbone Trail. (There are so many!) Just west of the peak, the trail winds through a narrow passage with massive sandstone rocks on either side. As the trail levels out, there is a short spur trail to the peak’s antennae-infested summit.

Even if a little obstructed, views from the top extend to Catalina, Boney Mountain, Mt. Pinos, and Mt. Baldy. Sometimes San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak can be seen beyond Mt. Baldy. The round trip to the summit of Saddle Peak adds about 0.8 mile. The eastern summit is slightly lower, but no antennae obstruct the view.

Getting to Saddle Peak from the Tapia trailhead is relatively straightforward, if a bit strenuous. Getting to Calabasas Peak and the Secret Trail from Saddle Peak is not as simple.

The “normal” way to get from Saddle Peak to Calabasas Peak would be to run back down the Backbone Trail to the Stunt High Trail and then follow that trail to the parking area on Stunt Road. Calabasas Peak Mtwy is across the highway and slightly downhill (west) of the parking area and leads to Calabasas Peak and the Secret Trail.

If doing the regular route, note that the Stunt High Trail crosses Stunt Road twice on the way down. In each case turn right and follow the road east about 100 yards to pick up the trail on the other side of the road. There are also various side trails to avoid.

Calabasas Peak from Topanga Lookout Ridge.
Calabasas Peak from Topanga Lookout Ridge.

I had been planning to do the regular route, but as I was returning to the Backbone Trail from Saddle Peak, it occurred to me there was a way to avoid backtracking. Instead of turning left on the Backbone Trail and descending to the Stunt High Trail, I turned right and continued east, past the water tank, to the Lois Ewen Overlook. From there, I ran over to the Topanga Lookout and then scrambled down Topanga Lookout Ridge to Calabasas Peak Mtwy.

This option is more adventurous, but requires good route-finding skills and being comfortable clambering down a rocky ridge. This 3D Cesium interactive view shows a GPS track of my route. The yellow track is today’s route. The red track is the usual route between the Backbone Trail and Calabasas Peak Mtwy. The view can be zoomed, tilted, rotated and panned. Placemark and track locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Scrambling down the ridge put me at “The Bench,” at the junction of Calabasas Peak Mtwy and Red Rock Road. This is a little more than a mile from Calabasas Peak. Once on Calabasas Peak, it was only about 0.6 mile to the top of the Secret Trail, and from there about 1.3 miles of mostly downhill running to the trailhead.

With about 4000′ of gain over 14 miles, it was a demanding route, with challenging route-finding and a fun scramble down a rocky ridge. Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Topanga Lookout Loop, Plus Saddle Peak; Secret Trail Variations; Secret Trail to Calabasas Peak

Visualizing Trail Runs and Other KML Data Using Cesium 3D High Resolution Terrain

Cesium ion 3D view of San Gorgonio Mountain

Google discontinued its Google Earth API/Plugin in January 2017. That technology was used on PhotographyontheRun.com for 3D visualizations of trail runs, fire data, and other data.

I’ve been looking at alternatives since then, and have recently implemented an interactive viewer using the CesiumJS and Cesium ion components of the Cesium 3D Geospatial Platform. No browser add-on or plug-in is required. The viewer uses the Cesium World Terrain high-resolution global terrain tileset, with resolutions to 0.5 meter. The West Coast of the US is one of the areas covered by this resolution.

Following are example 3D visualizations of some of my recent runs. The views are interactive and can be zoomed, tilted, rotated and panned. Click/tap the “?” in the upper right corner for help manipulating the scene. Mileages and elevation gains/losses are approximate.

San Gorgonio Mountain Trail Run (21 mi, 4700′ gain/loss)

The initial view is of San Gorgonio Mountain from the northeast, showing the trail to the summit and the Sky High Trail. The large cirque held one of several glaciers on San Gorgonio Mountain. The GPS track is from a run in September.

San Gorgonio Mountain Trail Run and Lake Fire Burn Area

Another view of San Gorgonio Mountain with the 2015 Lake Fire burn area added. The initial view is from the northwest. The GPS track is from my run in September.

Bulldog Loop Variation (17 mi, 3250′ gain/loss)

The initial view of this popular loop is from the northeast. This variation starts/ends at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Hwy. The GPS track is from a run of the loop in September.

Three Points Loop Around Mt. Waterman (20 mi, 4000′ gain/loss)

The initial view is from the Buckhorn (east) side of the loop. The loop includes a segment of the PCT in Cooper Canyon. The GPS track is from a run in October.

Top of Reseda to Parker Mesa Overlook (18.5 mi, 3100′ gain/loss)

The initial view is from the northeast, on the Valley side of the route. The Musch, Garapito and Bent Arrow Trails were done on the way back from Parker Mesa. The GPS track is from a run in October.

California Fuchsia Along East Las Virgenes Canyon Road

California fuchsia in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

If the wildflower is red, the season is Fall, and you are in Southern California, the flower is probably California fuchsia. You might also find there is a hummingbird feeding on the “hummingbird trumpets,” or hovering nearby, watching over its flowers.

California fuchsia along Bulldog Mtwy fire road in Malibu Creek State Park.
California fuchsia along Bulldog Mtwy fire road in Malibu Creek State Park.

As a result of the wet 2018-19 rain season, and somewhat cooler than normal summer, California fuchsia is especially abundant this Fall, with some exceptional displays along local trails.

I’ve added California fuchsia, and a few other flowers that are blooming this Fall, to my Weekday Wildflowers slideshow. These are wildflowers photographed this year on weekday runs from the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.

Some related posts: More Weekday WIldflowers, Weekday Wildflowers

After the Woolsey Fire: Malibu Creek State Park March 2019

Malibu Creek State Park following the Woolsey Fire and heavy Winter rains.

Parked in a turnout on Mulholland Hwy, I finished putting on sunscreen and then pushed the Start/Stop button on my watch to dial in the GPS and pair my HRM. Outside, it was a chilly 43 degrees. Sunrise was nearing and the strengthening March sun was forecast to push temps well into the 70s.

In the aftermath of Woolsey Fire, I’d returned to Malibu Creek State Park to see the wildflowers; gauge the response of the creek to heavy Winter rains; check on the health of the redwoods along the Forest Trail, and assess the ongoing recovery of the burned chaparral.

Today’s run of the Bulldog Loop would be a follow-up to two runs in the park in December 2018, which found a fire-ravaged landscape just beginning the long process of recovery.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: After the Woolsey Fire: Bulldog Loop, After the Woolsey Fire: Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods, M*A*S*H Site and Bulldog Climb

After the Woolsey Fire: Bulldog Loop

Runners ascending Bulldog Mtwy following the Woolsey Fire

On last Sunday’s run in Malibu Creek State Park, I only had time to check the redwoods and M*A*S*H site and run/hike up about half of the Bulldog climb. Here are a few photos from that run.

Today, Ann, Skye and I did a variation of the Bulldog Loop that starts/ends at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway and which covers a large portion of Malibu Creek State Park.

The Woolsey and Hill Fires Watershed Emergency Response Team Final Report  included in-depth information concerning these fires, including detailed Values-at-Risk assessments.

Woolsey and Hill Fires WERT Soil Burn Severity Map with Bulldog Loop track added
Woolsey and Hill Fires WERT Soil Burn Severity Map with Bulldog Loop track added. Click for larger image.

The soil burn severity map included in that report shows that Malibu Creek State Park was one of the most severely burned areas in the Woolsey Fire. This was clearly evident as we ran/hiked along Bulldog Mtwy, Castro Peak Mtwy and Mesa Peak Mtwy. Here is a Google Earth image of the WERT Soil Burn Severity Map with a GPS track of our run added.

As mentioned in last week’s post, there had been some flooding and small debris flows along Crags Road near the M*A*S*H site and at the bottom of Bulldog Mtwy. This week we noted some rockfall along a stretch of Mesa Peak Mtwy that is prone to rockfall. Hazards existed before the fire and hazards exist after the fire.

Bulldog Mtwy and Castro Peak Mtwy had been recently graded and were in decent shape — at least as of December 29. Heavy rain may have changed that assessment.

As badly burned as the park is, there were some things to see on the plus side. The area’s vegetation was taking its first steps toward recovery, with grasses and other annuals, laurel sumac and wild cucumber sprouting. Most of the chaparral along  the Mesa Peak Mtwy segment of the Backbone Trail between  the picnic table at Puerco Mtwy and Tapia Park was left intact.  Most of the Tapia Spur Trail was just outside the fire’s perimeter.

Large coast live oaks along Crags Road in Malibu Creek State Park, following the Woolsey Fire.
Large coast live oaks along Crags Road, following the Woolsey Fire. Click for a larger image

It was was also heartening to see that most of the large oaks along Crags Road, west of the parking lot, were OK. Many of the oaks, sycamores, willows and other trees along Crags Road were scorched, but looked like they will recover.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Sprouting Live Oak Leaves; Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods, M*A*S*H Site and Bulldog Climb; Boney Mountain and Pt. Mugu State Park

After the Woolsey Fire: Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods, M*A*S*H Site and Bulldog Climb

I’d done a long run the day before in Pt. Mugu State Park, so the plan for this morning was to do a short run and check out the Woolsey Fire impacts between Century Lake and the MAS*H site in Malibu Creek State Park.

In addition to checking the condition of the coast live oaks and other native trees, I was curious to see how the coast redwoods along the Forest Trail had fared. These trees were planted nearly a century ago and in recent years have struggled with the drought. Had they survived the fire?

It had been about a year since I had checked on the redwoods. The good news is that a few of them still appear to be viable. The bottom limbs on some of the trees were scorched, but I think they will be OK. Of the 16 or so redwoods, about five have died, about five are in poor shape, and five or six appear to be OK. There is one young naturally occurring tree that was severely scorched and may not survive. We’ll just have to see.

While there was some damage to the MAS*H site, the picnic tables, ambulance, and signpost made it through the fire. Some repairs will be necessary.

I was supposed to turn around at the MAS*H site, but you know how that goes. I wanted to see “just a little” of the Bulldog climb… and a little more… and a little more. I finally ran out of time about 2.5 miles up Bulldog Mtwy and headed back.

Even when you expect it, it is sobering to see areas of high soil burn severity. Thirty-six years of robust chaparral growth were just… gone. Also startling were the stream flows and debris flows that resulted from “only” about 1.5 – 2.0 inches of rainfall in early December. An atmospheric river event of the magnitude that caused the Malibu Creek flooding in February 2017 would be catastrophic.

A lot of work had been done on Bulldog Mtwy. It had been repaired and graded. Where there was still brush and trees along the road the branches had been trimmed!

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Malibu Creek Flooding, Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods: Fighting the Drought