The cumulus cloud towered overhead, its size accentuated by a lone oak on the skyline. An extraordinary series of December rainstorms were finally over. The year 2021 would end with Downtown Los Angeles (USC) having recorded the third highest amount of December rainfall on record.
I was running from the Victory Trailhead of Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (aka Ahmanson) to Las Virgenes Canyon. With about 5 inches of rain in the area over the past two days, I was curious to see how upper Las Virgenes Creek was flowing.
Update January 4, 2022. Did the Garapito Trail again this weekend as part of a longer run through Santa Ynez Canyon. The debris from the fallen oak tree was much easier to get through this time. Some people coming down the trail after me had a small saw, and said they were planning to work on it.
Update December 31, 2021. It turns out that a lot more rain was on the way! Los Angeles recorded 9.46 inches of rain this month, making it the third wettest December on record, going back to 1877. This puts Los Angeles at 10.40 inches for the Rain Year to date, which is about 237% of the normal.
It had rained the past three days, including Christmas. Today was the 26th, and Downtown Los Angeles (USC) had recorded nearly 150% of the rainfall normally recorded in December. And more was on the way.
I clicked START on my Garmin as I passed the gate at the Top of Reseda. It was about twenty minutes before sunrise. The temperature was around 40 and the eastern sky was brightening with the advancing sun. As I worked up the initial trail to dirt Mulholland, thousands of lights twinkled across the San Fernando Valley.
The chaparral was soaked with overnight rain; and befitting the Holiday season, was ornamented with thousands of silvery water drops.
I took my usual route, turning off Mulholland onto Fire Road #30, and then following it to the Hub. From the Hub, Eagle Springs Fire Road led down to Eagle Springs, then beneath the sunlit face of Eagle Rock to Eagle Rock Fire Road and the top of the Musch Trail. In the Palisades Fire burn area there was some significant erosion along the fire road where the runoff wasn’t controlled.
I’d be doing the Musch Trail later in the run, but for now continued down Eagle Springs Fire Road toward Trippet Ranch.
Mud — slippery, cake-on-your-shoes mud — isn’t normally much of an issue until past the Musch Trail and on the steeper downhill that leads to the top of the Santa Ynez Trail and Trippet Ranch. Today there were some slippery spots, but it wasn’t too bad. Remarkably, I didn’t see anyone until I reached the Trippet Ranch parking lot.
My return route from Trippet Ranch was mostly on trails, beginning with the Musch Trail. There are usually a few muddy sections on the Musch Trail after a good rainstorm. Today, one wet, muddy section of trail was steaming in the morning sun. Once I was on the steep climb up to Eagle Rock Fire Road, most of the significant mud was left behind.
At the top of the Musch Trail, I turned left on Eagle Rock Fire Road and worked up past Eagle Rock and over to the top of the Garapito Trail. I run this trail often, and know it well. Winding down through decades-old chaparral, I became lost in thought, immersed in the outdoor experience, and enjoying every aspect of the trail.
That couldn’t be. Had I somehow turned onto a use trail? Nope, I was on the right trail.
That’s when I noticed the “brush” was the top branches of a large oak. The fallen tree had COMPLETELY blocked the trail. I took a quick look around for an alternate route and didn’t see anything obvious. Working through the mishmash of foliage and branches was a bit like bushwhacking through dense manzanita. With some effort, and some rock climbing moves, I eventually emerged on the other side of the mass. The fallen tree was part of an old, multi-trunked oak that has been collapsing over a period of weeks.
The remainder of the run was uneventful, but enjoyable. Continuing up the Garapito trail to Fire road #30, I crossed the fire road and picked up the Bent Arrow Trail. This connects to dirt Mulholland, which leads west to the Top of Reseda.
A week after doing the out and back run to the Ray Miller Trailhead, I was back in the Santa Monica Mountains and doing another popular trail run — the Trippet Ranch loop. Near the top of the Garapito Trail it dawned on me I’d seen no berries on the toyon shrubs and trees along the way. These red-orange berries usually add a bit of Holiday color to the chaparral, and at one time were so sought after that a law was passed to protect them.
Toyon usually blooms in the Summer, producing green berries that slowly turn red-orange by the holidays. The title photo — of a toyon heavily loaded with berries — is from last Winter.
For the remainder of the run I checked most of the toyon along the trails back to the Top of Reseda. Not a single toyon had any berries.
How widespread was this? The following two weekends, I did runs in other areas of the Santa Monica Mountains. One was an extended version of the Bulldog Loop, and the other an out and back run from the Top of Reseda to the Oak Tree on Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail.
On those three runs I must have passed hundreds (thousands?) of toyon along the trail. Out of all of those I checked, only one had berries. It was near the water tank on Mesa Peak Mtwy fire road, at the top of the climb up from Tapia.
As you might expect, the most likely explanation for the lack of berries is the drought. Precipitation records for Downtown Los Angeles (USC) show that in 2019-2020, the rain season lasted about 5 months — from about mid November to mid April. Leading up to the flowering period for toyon the accumulated rainfall was a little above normal. The result was what you see in the title photo.
On the other hand, in 2020-2021, the rain season effectively began at the end of 2020 and ended in mid March. Less than half of normal rainfall was recorded going into the flowering period of toyon.
The toyon on Mesa Peak fire road that managed to produce some berries is situated near the crest of east-west oriented ridge. It probably benefits from enhanced precipitation because of its location.
When I parked at the Wendy Drive trailhead, there was just enough light to see a wide band of high clouds overhead. That was good news. With a well-advertised storm expected to move through the area the next day, I hadn’t been sure what weather to expect for today’s run.
The general forecast was for low clouds and fog in the morning, giving way to partly cloudy skies in the afternoon. I was going to be running one of the more scenic trails in the Santa Monica Mountains — the Ray Miller Trail. High clouds and sunshine were a much better option than running in the fog or with gloomy, overcast skies.
Shortly after leaving the trailhead, the band of high clouds became underlit by the reds, oranges and yellows of the rising sun. It was going to be a good run.
The route-finding on this run is relatively straightforward. From the Wendy Drive trailhead on Potrero Road, run over to the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center (see Satwiwa map). From the Culture Center run 4+ miles on Big Sycamore Canyon Road/Trail toward the beach. Some of this is paved.
Once past the junction of Sycamore Canyon and Wood Canyon fire roads, take either the Wood Canyon Vista Trail (Backbone Trail) or Fireline Trail up to the Overlook fire road. From the top of the Wood Canyon Vista Trail turn left on Overlook fire road, or from the top of Fireline turn right, and follow the road to the top of the Ray Miller Trail. The Fireline option is about 0.4 miles longer. Here’s a map from the State Park website. Note that the La Jolla Canyon Trail is closed.
The Ray Miller Trail drops about 1000′ over 2.6 scenic miles. There is usually water available at the parking lot at the trailhead. Today the conditions were about as good as they get. The trail was in excellent condition. The temperature was in the mid-70s. The marine layer was holding offshore and a few puffy clouds had formed over the higher peaks.
One of the things about the Ray Miller Trail is that run/hike up it is almost as enjoyable as the run down. It is a very popular, and there are almost always runners and hikers on the trail. Running up a section of trail, I thought I recognized someone going down. It was nine-time Badwater finisher Chris Frost. We talked for a while about trails, running and races.
From Overlook Fire road the route back to Wendy was a familiar one — Hell Hill, Wood Canyon Fire Road, Two Foxes Trail, Big Sycamore Canyon Road, Upper Sycamore Canyon Trail, Danielson Road, and the Satwiwa Loop Trail. Including a short jog over to PCH the run was a little over 24 miles with about 3100′ of elevation gain.