Category Archives: smmc open space

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

In the Distance: San Gabriel Mountains From Lasky Mesa

Mt. Baldy and the San Gabriel Mountains from Lasky Mesa.

On Winter days when the sky is clear and the visibility is good, the view of the San Gabriel Mountains from Lasky Mesa can be surprisingly detailed. In those conditions you’ll sometimes see a brilliant patch of white in the distance, through a gap in the mountains.

There are a number of peaks in the San Gabriels that are high enough to be snow-covered. Which one is it?

I suppose I could have used an app to ID the peaks on the skyline, but another way would be to draw a line on a sufficiently detailed map and “connect the dots.” The line would be drawn from Lasky Mesa, through the gap, and then extended to a mountain that would have snow. An easy way to do that is to use the “Measure” tool in Google Earth.

The title photo was taken from what used to be the helipad site on Lasky Mesa. (The work currently occupying that space was the subject of a previous post.) The gap in the mountains is the saddle between San Gabriel Peak (left) and flat-topped Mt. Markham.

Drawing the line in Google Earth reveals that the snow-covered mountain is Mt. San Antonio (10,064′) — generally referred to as Mt. Baldy. The peak is about 60 miles distant. Here’s a closer view with some of the peaks identified.

Lake Lasky Mesa

Lake Lasky Mesa - Photography by Gary Valle'

Hidden away in the central highlands of Lasky Mesa, and not found on current maps, the “lake of the four hills” is shrouded in mystery.

Perhaps the result of earth movement or some other upheaval, the hills and lake seemingly appeared overnight. They are the latest in a series of perplexing formations to suddenly materialize on the site.

Chilly Rocky Peak

Rocky Peak following a cold Christmas storm in 2019.
Rocky Peak

Rocky Peak Road is one of my go-to wet weather running spots. The sandy soil — thanks to the Chatsworth Formation sandstone — doesn’t cake on your shoes when it’s wet. It isn’t entirely mud-free, but as long as you don’t mind a few steep hills, it’s a good choice when the weather turns wet.

According to preliminary rainfall totals tabulated by the NWS, Rocky Peak recorded 1.22 inches of rain during the Christmas storm. The snow level had been forecast to drop to 2000′-2500′ in some areas, so as the storm was breaking up I headed over to Rocky Peak to get in a run, and see what I could see.

I’d dressed for a cool and breezy run, and was comfortable as I worked up the first steep hill. But I hadn’t run half a mile when I stopped and put on some gloves and a pair of stretch shorts. That helped, but the higher I went the colder it got. Up top, a little past Rocky Peak, my thermometer registered a chilly 38 degrees and the wind was gusting 10-15 mph. According to the NWS Wind Chill chart, that put the effective temperature at around 30 degrees.

And that’s what it felt like. Part of the problem was that I was running into the wind, which increased the chill. I had a wind shell in my pack, but once I’d reached my turnaround point and had the wind at my back, it wasn’t needed.

San Gabriel Mountains following a cold Christmas 2019 storm.
Mt. Lukens, Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Lowe.

There was no snow on Rocky Peak Road or Oat Mountain, but from time to time the setting sun broke through the clouds and highlighted the snow on the nearby mountains. It was a far different scene than on the usual Rocky Peak run.

December has been wet in the Los Angeles area. As of December 27, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded 4.84 inches of rain this December, which is nearly three inches above normal. Rain year and water year precipitation totals are also well above normal, and at the moment, ahead of last year. We’ll see what the new year brings!

Update January 24, 2020. Well, the new year hasn’t brought us much in the way of precipitation. January in Downtown Los Angeles has been about as dry as December was wet. So far, Downtown Los Angeles has recorded only 0.32 inch of rain this January, well below the climate normal for the date. If there is no additional rain this month, Los Angeles will end the month with about normal rainfall to date for the Rain Year (Jul 1 – Jun 30) and Water Year (Oct 1 – Sep 30). Then we’ll have to see if there is a pattern change in February, or if it is also drier than normal, as most guidance suggests.

Related post: Snow on Oat Mountain (2008)

Congregating Crows on Lasky Mesa

A few of the crows congregating on Lasky Mesa this Fall (2019)

Crows have been congregating on the west end of Lasky Mesa this Fall, and the number appears to be increasing. On a run earlier this week, a friend and I watched four crows chase a small bird — probably a kestrel — off the west side of the mesa.

Winter gatherings of crows are not uncommon. NPR recently aired a story about the problems created by thousands of Winter-roosting crows in Rochester, Minnesota. Closer to home, and on a smaller scale, in January 2017 I was astonished to see hundreds of crows circling about in Cheeseboro Canyon.

The Cheeseboro Canyon gathering was transient, and I hope the one on Lasky Mesa is temporary as well. Too many of the brash birds could adversely impact the limited number of kestrels and other notable birds that call Lasky Mesa home.

Follow-up on January 15, 2020. On several occasions have seen flocks of crows flying west from Lasky Mesa, toward Las Virgenes Canyon. When conditions permit, the crows use thermals to gain altitude and continue west. I’ve also noticed a general westerly flight trend of small groups of crows flying across Lasky Mesa. It may be that Lasky Mesa is a convenient waypoint on their way to a roosting/breeding location farther to the west.

Follow-up on January 3, 2020. Today, a kestrel was back in the valley oak on the west end of Lasky Mesa. No crows were nearby. Later in the run I came across a small group of crows pestering a pair of northern harriers.

Follow-up on December 24, 2019. Saw about 30 crows flying down the west side of Lasky Mesa and about 20 more in a nearby tree.

Follow-up on December 19, 2019. While I’ve seen some small groups of crows in the Lasky Mesa area this week, the large congregation appears to have dispersed.

Some related posts: Under a Falcon’s Eye, Bird Games, Crows in Cheeseboro Canyon, A Raven Story

Running Into Fall

Colorful sunset at Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve

This time of year, I’m often “racing the sun” on my afternoon runs. Especially on longer runs, when the additional miles quickly consume any remaining daylight. There are benefits. Colorful sunsets are just one of them.

Tuesday’s run was one of those longer runs — from the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (Ahmanson Ranch) to Cheeseboro Canyon and back. One of the reasons for doing this particular run was to follow up on the reemergence of water in upper Las Virgenes Creek. As Fall has progressed, there has been a notable increase in the size and number of pools, and the amount of water in the creek. I’ve observed this in the Fall before, except during periods of drought.

The comparison below shows a crossing of upper Las Virgenes Creek about one-third mile north of the junction of Las Virgenes Canyon and East Las Virgenes Canyon. It shows the intriguing reemergence of water in this reach of the creek, despite a dry Summer, and — as of Tuesday — meager Autumn rainfall. The increase in water in the reach seems to have resulted from seasonal reductions in daylight, temperature, evaporation, plant transpiration, and other factors.

 

Update October 22, 2019. A run over to upper Las Virgenes Creek supported the 0.46 inch of rain reported by the Cheeseboro RAWS on October 20. The ground appeared to have absorbed more rain in the Las Virgenes Canyon area, compared to the area near the Victory Trailhead. It also looked like the amount of water in the creek bed had increased.

Update October 21, 2019. The Cheeseboro RAWS, on the ridge just west of upper Las Virgenes Creek, recorded 0.46 inch of rain on October 20, the day after this run. Today, I’ll be running out that way again to see  how the rain affected the creek.

Related post: Upper Las Virgenes Creek Still Flowing in Mid-July