Category Archives: san gabriel mountains

Condor Peak Out and Back Adventure Run

East Ridge of Condor Peak

“Condor Peak-Elevation 5430 ft. – 1 Day
By Vogel Canyon Trail.
Drive Big Tujunga Canyon road to Vogel Flat
Ranger Station and park auto. Hike trail starting
opposite station for short distance up Vogel Canyon,
then around mountain slope west of Big Tujunga
Dam to summit of Condor Peak. Return by
same route. Carry water and cold lunch. No fires
permitted. Total hiking distance, 12 miles.”

— Trails Magazine, VOL 1 NO. 4, Trail Trips, Autumn 1934

The relocation of Big Tujunga Canyon Road in the 1950s shifted the starting point, and some other details have been updated, but the route from Vogel Flat to Condor Peak is pretty much the same as it was in 1934.

It’s telling that hikers of that era would have estimated the round-trip distance to Condor Peak at 12 miles. This was probably a “feels like” estimate of distance, based on time. The mileage in the description is far less than the presently accepted distance of 15.5-16.0 miles. Back then, the trail would have been relatively new and in better condition than it is now. Even so, they must have been fit and fast!

The “Vogel Flat” trailhead for the Condor Peak Trail is now a little to the east and above its original location, and is not obvious. If traveling up-canyon on Big Tujunga Canyon Road, it is just past Vogel Flat Road, directly across the highway from the second turnout on the right.

Note: Even in the best of circumstances, hiking, running, or riding a mountain trail involves risks. The nature of the terrain this trail navigates is such that the risk from falling while running, hiking or riding, crossing washouts, and from heat-related illness is high. There are some sketchy sections with large drop-offs. In particular, below Fox Mountain there was a very exposed washout at the top of a steep sandy chute that required extra care to cross.

As was the case last week on the Stone Canyon Trail, it looked like some sections of the Condor Peak Trail had been trimmed in the last year or two. And like the Stone Canyon Trail, the trailwork ended partway to the peak. In this case, it ended about two-thirds of the way to Condor Peak, as the trail turns northwest and contours around Fox Mountain. The bushwhacking wasn’t nearly as bad as on the Stone Canyon Trail, and things improved once up on Fox Divide.

Prior to this outing, I’d only attempted to do the peak in December and January. There is almost no shade, and the trail traverses several south and south-east facing canyons that act like solar ovens. The last time I did Condor Peak, in December 2007, the overnight low at Clear Creek had been 34 degrees and the high 52. That day was chilly in the shade, but about right in the sun. Today, the overnight low at Clear Creek was 63 degrees and the high 75. It was warm, but with an early morning start, was OK.

It was a relief to finally reach Fox Divide. In 2007 we climbed Fox Mountain from this point. Today I was running alone and thought the ascent of Fox, as short as it is, might result in me running short of water. I didn’t do Fox, and as things worked out, I finished the last of my water about a half-mile from the end of the run. (There is a spring, but the flow was just a trickle.)

I had not reread my notes from 2007 and had conveniently forgotten the nature of the final 1.5 miles between Fox Mountain and Condor Peak. I won’t spoil the adventure here.

There was a fairly well-defined path up the steep, east ridge of Condor Peak. As in 2007, the red register container was on the western summit. The eastern summit, marked by a robust yucca, is about the same height. Viewed from the summit of Condor Peak (5440+’), Mt. Lukens (5074′) was clearly lower in elevation.

Like last Sunday on the Stone Canyon Trail, I did not see anyone on the way up or down the Condor Peak Trail. Ironically, just a couple miles away, there were over a hundred cars parked along Big Tujunga Canyon Road at the Gold Canyon/Trail Canyon access.

Here’s a 3D Cesium interactive view that shows a GPS track of my route up and down the Condor Peak Trail to Condor Peak. The view can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. Placemark and track locations are approximate and subject to errors.

And here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Condor Peak Trail Run, Back to the Stone Canyon Trail

Back to the Stone Canyon Trail

Top of the Stone Canyon Trail on Mt. Lukens

At the deepest part of the creek, the cold water reached mid-thigh. I’d futzed around looking for a way to rock hop across Big Tujunga Creek, but didn’t find one.

With squishy shoes, I followed the trail eastward along the creek. A little past Stone Canyon wash, the trail turned toward Mt. Lukens and started to climb.

Chaparral whitethorn along the Stone Canyon Trail
Chaparral whitethorn

The Stone Canyon Trail is one of the trails on my list of trails less-traveled. Today, the trail choice had been between the Stone Canyon Trail and Condor Peak Trail. Recalling the difficulty of the Condor Peak Trail, I thought it would be better to do Mt. Lukens first, and save Condor Peak for later.

As I worked up the trail, I marveled at its condition. It was in surprisingly good shape! It had been groomed relatively recently, and I mentally thanked the person or group that had taken care of the trail. With a clear trail and cool morning temperature, it felt good to push the pace up the steep trail.

Stone Canyon from the Stone Canyon Trail
Stone Canyon

The last time I’d done this route was in November 2016. That outing followed five years of drought. With growth suppressed, the upper half of the trail was only moderately overgrown, and I did not see any poison oak. Ever the optimist, I thought today’s conditions might be even better.

Remnants of scrub oak burned in the 2009 Station Fire
Remnants of scrub oak burned in the 2009 Station Fire

Not this time. I don’t know if Winter rains or the pandemic had intervened, but about halfway up the peak, the trailwork abruptly ended. The upper half of the trail was badly overgrown, and at inconvenient times Spring-green poison oak lined the trail. In a few places, fallen scrub oak trees — burned in the Station Fire — were mixed in with the brush. Where the 2016 ascent had been after a drought, today’s followed a wet period in which three out of the past four years have had normal or above-normal rainfall.

Prickly phlox along the Stone Canyon Trail
Prickly phlox

With care, patience, and a bit of bushwhacking, I eventually reached the top of the Stone Canyon Trail and the old dirt road on the west side of the peak. A few minutes later I stood alone on the summit of Mt. Lukens. I had not seen anyone on the ascent and would not encounter anyone on the way down.

Here’s a 3D Cesium interactive view that shows a GPS track of the route up and down the Stone Canyon Trail on Mt. Lukens. The view can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. Placemark and track locations are approximate and subject to errors.

Related post: Mt. Lukens, Then and Now

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.

ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 2019 and the Riddle of EAMC

Runners working up Josephine Fire Road during the 2019 Angeles National Forest Trail Races.
Runners working up Josephine Fire Road from the Clear Creek Aid Station.

The race was going well. We’d made the 3:05 p.m. cutoff at West Fork (Mile 26.5 of the 50K) with an hour to spare and I was feeling good. One reason was that temps for the race were not nearly as hot as in 2017 and 2018. For the most part heat had not been an issue. Even so, with the clear sky and strong sun, it had still been toasty on the climb up to Lawlor Saddle and descent from Red Box.

High at Clear Creek for the 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races.
High at Clear Creek for the 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races. Click to enlarge.

On the way down from Red Box, I’d started running with German, who was running the Angeles National Forest Trail Race (ANFTR) as his first 50K. He’d run the Los Angeles Marathon a few months before and was curious to see what ultras were all about. He knew he’d picked a good one. I told him the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K was a favorite, and one of the best organized races that I had run.

Born in the ingenious mind of RD Gary Hilliard in 2005, the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races are unique. Most mountain ultras start low, climb to one or more high points, and eventually descend to the finish. The ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment courses do the opposite. They start on top of Mt. Wilson, and many miles later, finish with a grueling 5.5 mile, 2600′ climb from West Fork back to the top of Mt. Wilson.

We’d refilled at West Fork, taken a couple of minutes to cool down, and then had continued west on the Gabrielino Trail, jogging the level stretches and avoiding the poison oak prevalent on that section of trail. Reaching the Kenyon Devore Trail, I said something like, “The fun begins!” and we headed up the steepening trail. Both of us had done Kenyon Devore recently in training, and I’d done it many times in previous ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races.

60K, 50K and 25K runners at the Starting line for the 2019 Angeles National Forest Trail Races
60K, 50K and 25K runners at the Starting line for the 2019 Angeles National Forest Trail Races.

I felt the first twinge around mile 29. Just a little flicker in an adductor. I’m used to this. Although I’ve not had any chronic mechanical issues with my knees and feet, in about two-thirds of my 50K and longer races I’ve been hit with leg cramps. Researchers refer to this type of cramping as Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC).

EAMC is no fun at all. The cramps, usually in the active leg muscles, can be intense and painful. They often occur late in a race — right around the time you’re getting excited about finishing and want to pick up the pace on the final few miles of the course. They are disconcerting and frustrating.

Working up the San Gabriel Peak Trail on the first uphill of the ANFTR course.
Working up the San Gabriel Peak Trail on the first uphill of the ANFTR course.

I’ve researched EAMC for many years, followed the science, and tried many remedies and solutions. Everyone has their favorites. Two of mine are pickle juice and jalapeño chips. Nothing I’ve tried has worked reliably and the research I’ve reviewed suggests there is no magic bullet for dependably preventing this type of cramping.

Much has been written about EAMC. Following are links to a couple of papers that summarize some of the research:

A Narrative Review of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps: Factors that Contribute to Neuromuscular Fatigue and Management Implications

Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps – A Current Perspective

This VeloNews Fast Talk podcast from August 2017 discusses the physiology, prevention and treatment of cramps with experts in the field:

Fast Talk podcast, ep. 26: Cramping myths debunked

Like many who experience EAMC, I seldom get cramps in training runs — even very long and difficult training runs. For those of us that are prone to cramping, there are a multitude of interrelated factors that determine if cramping occurs, and if it does, how severe the cramps will be.

Strawberry Peak looms in the background as a runner works up Josephine Fire Road during the 2019 ANFTR.
Strawberry Peak looms in the background as a runner works up Josephine Fire Road.

The most common scenario for me is that somewhere in the last few miles of a race I will feel a twinge in an adductor or hamstring. I’ll stretch; drink more water; maybe take an electrolyte tab or two and continue. Sometimes that will be that, but more often than not, the twinges develop into a familiar cycle of disruptive cramping — a sequence of the adductor and hamstring muscles in one leg cramping, followed sometime later by the adductor and hamstring in the other leg.

Once cramping starts, I walk. In my experience, walking usually helps to alleviate the cramping, particularly on level and downhill sections. If I can keep moving the cramps will often resolve in a few minutes. Then I can continue more or less normally, and can go back to running. Once the cramps have cycled through both legs, they usually don’t reoccur.

This time around I’d continued to feel various twinges, and then around mile 30, WHAM! It felt like every muscle in both legs cramped at once. I had no choice, but to sit down in the middle of the trail.

2019 ANFTR Josephine Aid Station
Josephine Aid Station

I’d been telling German about my cramping woes, so he wasn’t caught totally off guard. In the middle of all the drama, I kept saying I had to get up and get moving — not because I was worried about the time — but because I thought it would help resolve the cramps. At one point the cramping started to subside, but just trying to stand up was enough to trigger them again.

Eventually I was able to stand and slowly start hobbling up the trail. It seemed like I had been sitting for a long time, but according to my GPS track, we were only stopped for about 5 minutes.

At first, I had to be very careful about re-triggering the cramps. There were a few places where the trail steepened, and I could feel I was on the brink of cramping again. Keeping a constant, easy pace that didn’t overtax any individual muscle group was key. Gradually, I was able to resume a more normal gait. Not wanting to cramp again, I kept the pace slow.

German and me at the Finish. It was German’s first 50K.

My legs behaved for the remainder of the climb, and German and I happily reached the top of Mt. Wilson and crossed the finish line with a smile. We even jogged the last few steps! I congratulated him on finishing his first 50K and thanked him for hanging with me through the cramping episode. After finishing, I walked around for about 10 minutes. In my experience this helps to keep the post-race cramps at bay, and they didn’t reoccur.

As in every race in which I’ve cramped, I’ve asked myself what I might have done differently. I was heat-acclimated. I did several ANFTR-specific training runs starting and finishing at the top of Mt. Wilson. Maybe these runs could have been longer, done at a faster pace, or in combination with another strenuous run — with the idea of being more fatigued on the climb back up the peak. My fueling and hydration seemed to be pretty good, but maybe I need more carbohydrates and fluids than I think. I tapered normally, but have noticed in other races that less of a taper may help with cramping. One thing that might have really helped on this course is the use of trekking poles.

Follow-up December 2019: I had no cramping at all during the Kodiak 50K in August, but did have some moderate leg cramps during the Rocky Peak 50K in October.

Elevation profile of the 2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K.
Elevation profile of the 2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K.

This was my twelfth finish of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 50K. It is a challenging, superbly organized race on a spectacular course. Many, many thanks to RDs Gary & Pam Hilliard; the aid station and ham radio volunteers; Sierra Madre SAR; Angeles National Forest; the race sponsors; and all those that make this such an outstanding event.

See the ANFTR web site, Facebook page and Facebook group for more info. All the results for the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races since 2005 can be found on Ultrasignup.com.

Some related posts: Warming Up for the ANFTR Trail Races, Another Scorching Angeles National Forest/Mt. Disappointment Trail Race

Warming Up for the ANFTR Trail Races

Stratus in the San Gabriel River drainage from Mt. Wilson road.

Was back on Mt. Wilson this morning, enjoying the mountains, and getting in a little more training for the upcoming Angeles National Forest Trail Run races.

There were already two cars parked in the loop road turnout when I got there, and another car pulled in behind me. All were runners.

The turnout is near the start of the ANFTR course and most of the runners were planning to do the ANFTR 25K loop or a variation. One runner — training for the ANFTR 60K and AC100 — was doing the 50K course.

The extensive layer of low clouds in the canyons of the West Fork and East Fork San Gabriel River at the start of the run was indicative of a cool onshore flow. Too cool and comfortable, really. Anticipating warmer temperatures for the ANFTR race, I wore an extra layer for the run, and probably should have worn more.

The last two years the ANFTR races have been run during record-setting heatwaves. We’ve had a lot of cool weather this year and for a while it looked like the pleasant weather might carry over to race day, July 6. But following the finest of ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment traditions, it now looks like temps will probably be warming up for the race. Maybe not quite as hot as the last two years, but still on the toasty side. We’ll see!

The highest temperature recorded at Clear Creek on the day of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races for 2005-2019.
High at Clear Creek for the 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races. Click to enlarge.
Average hourly Clear Creek temperatures on the day of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races for 2005-2019.
Average hourly Clear Creek temperatures for 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races. Click to enlarge.

Update Thursday, July 11, 2019. As it turned out, temperatures for the 2019 edition of the Angeles National Forest Trail Run were in the “middle of the pack” compared to other years. The high temperature recorded at the Clear Creek RAWS on July 6 was 80°F. This was down 25°F from 2018. Averaged hourly fuel temperatures at Clear Creek ranged from 101°F to 104°F between noon and 5:00 pm. The high at the Mt. Wilson RAWS on July 6 was 75°F, down 20°F from 2018.

Average hourly Clear Creek fuel temperatures on the day of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races for 2005-2019.
Average hourly Clear Creek fuel temperatures for the 2005-2019 ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment races. Click to enlarge.

Note: The temperature in a commercial weather station is measured inside a white, ventilated instrument housing, several feet off the ground. Mid-day temperatures in the sun, in the summer, with a cloudless sky will be much warmer than this. Some stations, such as Clear Creek, also measure the fuel temperature — the temperature of a pine dowel in direct sun about a foot off the ground. According to the NWS (and common sense) exposure to full sunshine can increase heat index values by up to 15°F. In my experience the fuel temp gives a better indication of the actual temperature a runner can experience in the sun, especially on exposed mountain slopes facing the sun.

Update Monday, July 1, 2019. Last week the GFS weather model was forecasting temps on race day to be near 100 at the lower elevations and over 90 on Mt. Wilson. This morning’s GFS max temperature forecasts are down about 10 degrees from that. Basically highs in the low 90s (in the shade) for the lower elevations and around 80 at Mt. Wilson. Temps in the sun, especially on exposed sun-facing slopes, could still top 100. If the forecast holds, the temperatures today should be similar to those on race day. We’ll see! Here are links to the Clear Creek RAWS and Mt. Wilson RAWS.

Some related posts: ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 2019, Another Scorching Angeles National Forest/Mt. Disappointment Trail Race, Record Heat for the 2017 Mt. Disappointment 50K & 25K