Category Archives: trails

Google Earth KMZ Files of Southern California Trail Runs

Introduced around 2000, the Garmin eTrex was the first GPS unit I used to trace a trail run. The GPS tracks were imported into TOPO! where the length of a run could be measured, an elevation profile generated, and the topography of the run examined.

Since the eTrex was designed to be used in an “orienteering” position — flat in your hand in front of your body — it would frequently have trouble receiving GPS satellite signals if hand-carried while running or hiking. About the time enterprising hikers and runners began to resolve this issue with creative hats, holsters and harnesses, Garmin released the Forerunner 201, greatly simplifying the task of tracing a route.

In 2005, while preparing a presentation about kayaking Piru Creek for a meeting with the Forest Service, I stumbled onto To say I was blown away by this bit of “Eureka” technology would be an a gross understatement. Now, in addition to seeing Piru Creek in photographs, and on a topo map, you could get a “before you paddle” preview using Keyhole — even if you couldn’t paddle class IV whitewater! Google acquired Keyhole in late 2004 and launched Google Earth on June 28, 2005.

Shortly after Google Earth was launched, SportTracks added the ability to launch Google Earth and view the GPS trace of a run or other activity. Since SportTracks could also directly import data from Garmin’s Forerunner, the software made it very easy to view a run in Google Earth.

I’ve been working on updating the posts on Photography on the Run that reference a trail run to include a link to a Google Earth KMZ file. A KMZ file is just a zipped KML file, and either can be opened in Google Earth. A list of the trail runs with KMZ file links can be found by clicking “Google Earth KMZ Files of Trail Runs” in the sidebar.

These are actual tracks recorded by a GPS during a trail run and may contain GPS errors, route-finding errors, and wanderings that are difficult to explain. In a few instances tracks have been modified to correct errors, or to remove side excursions that are not part of the usual route, but not all errors have been corrected. No claim is being made regarding the appropriateness or suitability of the routes indicated.

New Army Pass – Cottonwood Pass Loop

Outstanding trail running down the Rock Creek trail on the Cottonwood loop.

It isn’t unusual for snow to persist on New Army Pass (12,300′) well into July. Strong northwest winds, following in the wake of blustery Winter storms, blow freshly fallen snow over the crest and into this cirque, forming cornices along its lip, and dense slabs of wind-ground snow in it’s lee.

That’s why the July 1 Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park Trail Conditions report for New Army Pass seemed plausible. It read, “The top of the pass has an 30 foot snow wall – ice axe recommended.”

The reported trail conditions are a compilation of reports from the field, and are not always up-to-date. Having been over the pass a number of times, and in a variety of conditions, I thought that we would probably be able to bypass any remaining patches of snow without needing an ice axe. Worst case, if the pass looked dicey, we could use Cirque Peak or some other alternative route to attain the crest.

New Army Pass
We need not have worried. While there was snow in the cirque, and in a couple of places along the trail near the top of the pass, the trail was completely clear. Even so, it was a good excuse to do the 21 mile Cottonwood loop counterclockwise — the reverse of my usual circuit — climbing up New Army Pass from the Cottonwood Lakes side, and then running down into Rock Creek basin.

Now that I’ve done the loop in both directions, I think I prefer the clockwise circuit. The 9 miles of running from New Army Pass down through the Cottonwood Lakes basin is generally better than the running down from Chicken Spring Lake and Cottonwood Pass. Also, there’s more downhill on some sandy sections of trail between Chicken Spring Lake and Rock Creek. The tradeoff is you give up the nice downhill into Rock Creek basin, and near the end of the loop have a mile or so of annoying uphill.

Here’s a Google Earth image, Google Earth KMZ file, and an elevation profile of a GPS trace of the route. (The elevation profile was generated using SportTracks.)

Related posts: Cottonwood – New Army Pass Loop, Mt. Langley in a Day from L.A.

Chumash Trail Training

Snow on the Chumash Trail, March 2006.

Without a doubt the Chumash Trail is my favorite short “after work” trail run. Popular among hikers, mountain bikers, and runners, the Chumash Trail starts on Flanagan Drive in the eastern Simi Valley, and ascends the convoluted western flank of Rocky Peak Park to Rocky Peak Fire Road. It’s single track trail all the way, gaining about 1150′ over 2.6 miles.

From a trail runner’s training perspective, it is a nearly ideal short, technical, higher heart rate workout. Overall, it’s very runnable. When I’m chugging up the trail, it seems just about the time my heart rate is going to go lactic, the trail will back off or contour. Because I usually run the trail near my aerobic maximum, it’s a great indicator of where I am in my training. Over-training, or any other fitness issue, is usually plainly — and sometimes painfully — evident.

In many ways running down the Chumash Trail is more difficult than running up.  It can be very challenging to run down a rocky, technical section of trail with any speed. Running a trail like the Chumash Trail can help develop the skill and strength necessary to do downhills with better technique and more speed.

I don’t think I’ve ever run this trail fresh, but a couple times a year, when my legs feel good, it’s fun to really push the Chumash Trail up and down. Like most running, there’s a balance — push too hard on the up and there won’t be enough left to push the down.

Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of the trail.

The photograph for today’s post was taken near the top of the Chumash Trail in March 2006. You won’t find any of that white stuff on the trail today, but just the thought might help deal with the heat!

Some related posts: Chumash-Las Llajas Loop, Chumash View, Chumash View II, Tarantula Hawk, Canyon Sunflower, Eastwood Manzanita, Chumash Trail Snow

Up and Over Kearsarge Pass

Miklos and Krisztina above Bullfrog Lake. East Vidette is the prominent conic peak.

Poised on a glacial bench a dozen miles west, and few thousand feet above Independence, California, Onion Valley is the starting point for many a Sierra adventure. Kearsarge Pass provides relatively quick and easy access to the heart of the Sierra, and the more technical passes south and north of Kearsarge can be used by mountaineers to access peaks along the crest, or basins on the west side of the crest.

It is an area that is dramatically alpine, and I have returned again and again to climb peaks such as Independence Peak and University Peak and to hike, run and explore. One Summer Phil Warrender and I did a trans-Sierra hike that started here and took us over University Pass, Andy’s Foot Pass (13,600′), Milly’s Foot Pass, Longley Pass and Sphinx Pass, ending at Cedar Grove. We went superlight (about 15 lb. packs w/o ice axe), did as much cross-county as possible, and climbed a few peaks along the way.

Today Miklos, Krisztina and I were doing a reconnaissance hike/run up and over Kearsarge Pass, and down into the Kearsarge – Bullfrog – Charlotte Lakes basin, and back. The idea was to pick a time when the Kearsarge Pass trail would be mostly free of snow, but when much of the surrounding terrain would still be accented in white.

View west from Kearsarge Pass

What a day! Perfect temps, little wind, excellent trail conditions, super scenery, and absolutely outstanding trail running.

Here are a few photographs:

Big Pothole Lake from the east side of Kearsarge Pass. Nameless Pyramid (right) and University Peak (left) on the skyline.

View west from Kearsarge Pass over Kearsarge Lakes and Pinnacles to Mt. Brewer (left), North Guard (middle) and Mt. Francis Farquhar (right) on the skyline.

Kearsarge Lakes and Pinnacles from the north.

Miklos and Krisztina above Bullfrog Lake. East Vidette is the prominent conic peak. Deerhorn Mountain is at the head of the recess to the right of East Vidette.

Scrambling above the John Muir Trail about a mile from Glen Pass. Charlotte Dome is in the distance.

Here’s a Google Earth image and a Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of our route.

Cheeseboro Canyon Prickly Poppy

Prickly poppy (Argemone munita) in upper Cheeseboro Canyon.

Prickly poppy (Argemone munita) in upper Cheeseboro Canyon.

From today’s run of the Cheeseboro Canyon keyhole loop, starting from the Victory trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (formerly Ahmanson Ranch).

Here’s a Google Earth image of a GPS trace of the loop, and links to trail maps for Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve and Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyons.