Category Archives: trails|malibu creek state park

Surprise on the Bulldog Loop

Brents Mountain, Malibu Creek State Park

BIG. That was my first impression when I saw the animal loping across the road. Quite a bit bigger than a coyote or bobcat, with a long black-tipped tail. It was a mountain lion, and it was reacting to me before I’d even seen it. Had I rounded the corner a couple seconds later, I never would have known it was there.

I was on Castro Mtwy fire road, between the top of the Bulldog climb and Corral Canyon Road. Just a few seconds before I’d been kneeling on the ground photographing snow pellets (graupel) along a road cut. I’d just started to run again when I saw the lion. It was 40-50 yards away and crossing the road left to right, diagonally down the road. It seemed interested in avoiding me, and I reinforced this idea by clapping my hands and yelling. It was moving at a speed that fit the situation — faster than a walk or trot, but by no means wasting energy or overly concerned. I watched as, like a ghost, it disappeared into the thick chaparral along the south side of the road.

I didn’t want to overreact. Although we usually don’t see them, anyone that runs in the open space areas of the West has likely been watched by a mountain lion. Attacks are extremely rare and often have extenuating circumstances. Even for someone that spends a lot of time outdoors, there are much higher risks in their lives, such as driving to the trailhead. And there are other risks on the trail. Two of my trail running friends have been run down by startled deer, and I was nearly trampled when I spooked a band of horses grazing in a natural cul-de-sac!

In this particular set of circumstances I didn’t think it would be any more dangerous to continue down the road than to retreat. If the animal was interested in me it wouldn’t matter which direction I went. The Corral Canyon parking area was about a half-mile away, and chances were good there would be hikers there.

But it was going to be unnerving to pass the spot where the lion had gone into the brush. For sure I was not going to run past the spot — as any owner of a cat knows, that can elicit a response. Had I seen a stout stick or branch nearby I would have grabbed it. Not only for defense, but to look bigger.

I jogged down the road a little further and stopped. On max alert and facing the threat, I walked past the point where the lion had entered the brush. Once past this point, I began to walk a little faster, constantly checking the road and brush to the side and behind me. After about 50 yards I transitioned to a slow jog, and sometime after that resumed my normal downhill pace, all the time being very wary of any sound, noise or motion behind me.

One car was parked at Corral Canyon, but its owner was nowhere to be seen. Still on edge, I continued on the Backbone Trail into the rock formations east of the parking area, and then past the rock gateway onto Mesa Peak Mtwy fire road. The farther I got from where I’d seen the lion the better I felt. I really didn’t think the lion was interested in me, but was still glad to have the Corral Canyon parking area between me and the cat.

As I ran along Mesa Peak fire road, I started to calm down. I had just passed the “Morrison” caves and rock spiral and was rounding a corner when, without warning, there was a blur of brown from the left. Three deer bounded across the road just feet away. Put my heart back in my chest!

Deer are very common in Malibu Creek State Park, but I normally see them in the grasslands down in the valley. This morning I’d seen deer tracks going up Bulldog. Whenever I see deer tracks it’s a reminder there might be a mountain lion in the area. That was certainly the case this time!

Related post: Mountain Lion Saga

Phantom Trail: Trade-offs of a Wet Rainy Season

View west toward Boney Mountain from the Phantom Trail

View West Toward Boney Mountain from the Phantom Trail

Following last weekend’s Holcomb Valley 33 and yesterday’s trail work, today I was looking to do something moderate. Without thinking too much about the condition of the Phantom Trail when I was on it a month ago, I decided to do the Phantom loop in Malibu Creek State Park. The eight mile loop is normally a favorite recovery run. The 1000′ of elevation gain/loss is kind to tired legs, and the loop has varied terrain and great scenery.

The first five miles (Cistern, Lookout, Cage Creek, Crags Rd., Grassland and Liberty Canyon trails) are in decent shape, but portions of the Phantom Trail are really overgrown. The growth of the noxious invasive plant milk thistle in the Liberty Canyon area is the worst I’ve seen in years. At one point near Liberty Canyon the spiraling winds of a strong thermal picked up a countless number of the thistle’s plumed seeds and carried them to who-knows-where!

The middle section of the Phantom Trail climbs up a shaded side canyon to a prominent ridge line. It isn’t as overgrown. There is some very healthy poison oak that is sometimes difficult to avoid, but it’s a pretty section of trail with a lot of green and a variety of wildflowers.

Once up on the ridge and for about the last 1.5 miles of the loop, the issue isn’t with an noxious invasive, but with the native plant deerweed. It’s so thick and brushy it’s often difficult to see the trail — or your footfalls, or ruts or rocks, or anything else on the trail.

While I wouldn’t recommend this loop right now as a trail run, it was interesting to see (once again) how our wet rainy season has affected this area.

Some related posts: Invasive Thistle on the Phantom Trail, Milk Thistle Seed Heads

Malibu Creek State Park Coast Redwoods

Coast redwood in Malibu Creek State Park

Benefiting from the cool ocean air that flows into Malibu Canyon, the afternoon shadows of Goat Buttes, their north-facing aspect, and the sustaining waters of Malibu Creek and Century Lake, the 100-year-old coast redwoods in Malibu Creek State Park appear to be thriving.

Coast redwoods are not endemic to Southern California. According to Los Padres Forestwatch, the southernmost stand of naturally-occurring coast redwoods is on the coast about 200 miles north of Malibu Creek State Park in an area of Los Padres National Forest designated the Southern Redwood Botanical Area.

Numerous redwoods have been planted in Southern California, and not all of them are doing well. A reprint of the 2004 article “What’s up with the redwoods?” by James Downer, originally available as a resource link on the Urban Forest Ecosystems Institute website, discusses a dramatic decline in coast redwoods planted in Ventura County and describes some of the problems facing this wonderful tree.

Perhaps the Malibu Creek State Park redwoods have a better chance of surviving, and naturally occurring or not, will be enjoyed by Park visitors for centuries to come.

From this morning’s trail run in Malibu Creek State Park.

Some related posts: The Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods Are Dying, Malibu Creek State Park Redwoods: Fighting the Drought

Before the Deluge

View east from near the top of the Bulldog climb

Weather models were forecasting anywhere from 3.5 to 5.5 inches of rain at Van Nuys for the storm coming in tonight, so this afternoon seemed like a good time to get in a run.

I hadn’t run the Bulldog loop since the Bulldog 50K last August, and needed to catch up on trail conditions, what was blooming, and re-familiarize myself with the difficulties of the Bulldog Climb.

The short version is that the trail along Malibu Creek near the M*A*S*H site wasn’t flooded, but would be in the next 24 hours. Tree poppy, nightshade, hummingbird sage, woolly blue curls, ceanothus and paintbrush were blooming. And the Bulldog Climb was still hard.

It looked and felt like the day before a big storm. Temps were cool, and there was a thick deck of high clouds. Along the crest between the Castro “T” and the Malibu Bowl landslide the wind was blowing in strong gusts from the ESE, and it looked like the clouds might lower, thicken, and unleash a torrent at any time.

Near the end of the run, descending to Tapia Park, I was surprised to see my shadow and some blue sky. That didn’t last for long. By 7:00 the first drops of what would be a record-setting storm started to dot the driveway.

The title photo is a view east along Castro Crest and Mesa Peak Mtwy, and the route of the Bulldog Loop. Saddle Peak is in the distance. Here are a few additional photos. Click for a larger image and description:

Mesa Peak Mtwy

Woolly Bluecurls

Brents Mountain

Some related posts: Bulldog 50K 2010 Notes, Malibu Creek State Park Scenic Loop, Bulldog Loop and the Corral Fire

Bulldog Loop or Saddle Peak Out & Back?

Which to do? Both courses start at the intersection of Malibu Canyon Rd. and Piuma Rd., are 13-14 miles in length, and have about 2600-2700′ of elevation gain/loss — but they are very different trail runs.

Much of the Bulldog Loop is on fire roads, while the Saddle Peak Out & Back is 99.9% single track — much of it rough and technical. A comparison of the elevation profiles shows that the main climb on the Saddle Peak run is steeper than the Bulldog climb, and gains an additional 300 ft. in elevation. The Bulldog Loop has longer stretches of more or less level running.

Either course is a good choice for a strenuous run with great views and scenery. On a long run day, the runs can also be combined to create a difficult 27.5 mile course with your car as the main aid station. The Bulldog 50K used to follow much of this combined course, as well as loop through upper Solstice Canyon on the Backbone Trail. Problems with a property owner on Castro Peak necessitated a change to the current 50K course.

Today I opted for the Saddle Peak Out & Back run. The title photograph is Saddle Peak from the Backbone Trail. The trail switchbacks up the steep sunlit face on the center-left of the photo.

Here are interactive Cesium browser Views of the Saddle Peak Out & Back, and the Bulldog Loop.