The photo above is from an afternoon run at Sage Ranch Park on August 31, 2017, during our recent heat wave. The thunderstorm in the distance is over Santa Clarita.
Around the time the photo was taken the temperature at the Cheeseboro RAWS was 110 °F, with an “in the sun” fuel temperature of 119 °F. The temperature at Ahmanson Ranch, where I often run on weekdays, was probably higher. I was running at Sage Ranch to try and take the edge off the heat — even if the reduction in temperature was only a few degrees.
During the heat wave the high temperature at Pierce College in Woodland Hills in the West San Fernando Valley exceeded 100 °F on nine consecutive days (August 24 to September 3) and exceeded 110 °F on five consecutive days (August 28 to September 1). Numerous temperature records were broken in Southern California and across the state. On September 1, Downtown San Francisco set a new all-time record high temperature of 106 °F.
At my West Hills weather station the high temperature for the month of June was 109 °F; for July 111 °F; for August 112 °F; and so far this September the high has been 113 °F. If I’m not heat-acclimated by now, I never will be.
I had heard runners behind me since the last aid station. Now that we had passed the 8000′ high point of the course and were headed downhill, the group was going to pass me. I was at about mile 47 of the Kodiak 50 Mile race, and trying to shake off some demons that had been plaguing me for the last 7 miles.
It was my fourth Kodiak 50M and except for these last few miles it had been a mostly enjoyable day on the trails and forest roads of Big Bear Lake. There is no better run than a run in the mountains, and for my money no better 50 Mile race in Southern California than the Kodiak 50M. The Kodiak races (100M, 50M, Front 50K, Back 50K) have a character all their own, and at least for now — no lottery or histrionics. Just enter, train hard and then run!
The race had started before dawn near Fawnskin, on the north side of Big Bear Lake. It had been a chilly forty-something degrees at the trailhead, but warmed quickly as we ascended the Grays Peak Trail. Today would be the first day of a record-setting heat wave in SoCal and temps for the race would be the warmest in its five year history. By the time we reached Snow Valley and were descending the windless, exposed, south-facing slopes of Bear Canyon, the “in the sun” temps would be around 100.
The highlight of the 50M race for me is the climb out of Bear Canyon on the Siberia Creek Trail. This classic 7 mile ascent gains around 2910′ from Bear Creek (4770′) to the Champion aid station (7680′). You only get to do the Siberia Creek climb when the 50M is run counter-clockwise around the west end of the lake. This has been the case each year except for 2016.
Expecting it to be hot and knowing how tough this climb can be, I filled my Camelbak(TM) to the brim and also took an extra bottle. (Thanks Aaron and Lacey!) What I didn’t do was take the time to cool off in the stream. A couple minutes of cooling here might have helped keep the race demons at bay.
It was deceivingly cool in the shade of the trees along Bear Creek, but that didn’t last long. By the time I got to the top of the Siberia Creek climb I was just about out of water, dehydrated and over-heated. I laughed when I thought about how cold it was here in 2013. That year racers resting at the Champion aid station huddled in blankets and sipped hot soup to try and stay warm. Not today! I tried to take the time to rehydrate, but the clock was ticking. I grabbed a cup of ice and started up the fire road.
Though still generous, the cutoffs for the 50 milers have been substantially tightened since the 2015 event. Descending from the Grandview aid station to the Aspen Glen aid station I knew I was close to the cutoff and that was confirmed when a runner coming up the trail told me I only had 5 minutes remaining. The aid station personnel at Aspen Glen were phenomenal and I was in and out of there with water, my headlamp, and a couple of GUs in 48 seconds. I was excited to have made the cutoff, but knew I was going to have to push it to make the Finish by 9:00 p.m.
I had forgotten just how far east the Pine Knot Trail goes before ascending to Grandview. At one point it seemed the trail was going to descend all the way to the lake. I hadn’t seen a trail marker in some time and no other runners were in sight. I began to think I might have missed a turn and stopped to look more closely at the tracks on the trail. The imprints of a Brooks Cascadia and Altra Olympus stood out from the others. They were as good as a trail marker, and assured me I was still on course.
Eventually the Pine Knot Trail and I found our way back up to the Grandview aid station, but somewhere along the way I had become nauseated. Without asking, my body decided blood would be more useful for cooling and propulsion than for absorbing fluids and nutrients. My stomach had one message for me, “Sorry, we are closed!” It’s a common issue in longer runs, and given time, most runners work through it.
Unfortunately time was at a premium; all I could do is ralph, turn onto the Skyline Trail, and take the first steps toward the last aid station. I felt a little better after that and could sip a little water. The good news was that along with the sun, the temperature and my water requirements would be going down. What wasn’t going down was the trail. My recollection of this section was that it was a long five miles, but I did not recall all the ups along the way.
The last mile of the trail to the aid station paralleled the next section of the course and from time to time a runner would shout encouragement from the road above. I’d hoped to make it to the last aid station without having to stop and put on my headlamp and pulled into the station by the light of a quarter moon. Still nauseated, I put on my light and headed up the road.
Like a wrangler movin’ stock down from the high country, sweep Vanessa Kline encouraged the group of runners. We only had about 3 miles to go.
“You gotta keep running! You can do it! If you don’t run, you won’t make the cutoff!”
Most of the group did just that; they kept running and made the cutoff. Despite Vanessa’s best effort to get me moving a little faster, I crossed the finish line seven minutes after the 9:00 p.m. deadline.
I would have liked to make the cutoff, but I’m OK with the unofficial finish. I wasn’t trying to get UTMB points or to qualify for a 100 mile — I was running Kodiak for fun. I like the course and the way the event is organized. I’ve had faster Kodiak times and I’ve had slower. What didn’t change was that I was still smiling at the Finish.
I was lost in thought and working up one of less-used trails that ascends San Gorgonio Mountain — the Falls Creek Trail. For every 100 people that do the mountain from the Vivian Creek and South Fork trailheads, I’d guess one or two ascend it by the Momyer – Alger Creek – Falls Creek – Divide Trail route.
I was thinking about many things — a rattlesnake I’d almost stepped on here; the old Falls Creek trail that ascended directly from the valley; whether it would be cloudy on the summit; what wildflowers I might see; and a multitude of other thoughts. I was also thinking about tracks.
It’s a habit of mine to check the tracks on a trail. In addition to identifying the animal tracks, it’s fun to try and guess who might be on the trail ahead. Is it one person or a group? If it’s a group, how many? How long ago were the tracks made? Most of the shoe tracks on the trail today were old, but I kept getting a glimpse of one track that looked like it could have been from the previous afternoon or early this morning. My impression was that it was a solo hiker.
I had not caught the “hiker” by Alger Camp, so either the mystery person was fast and still on the trail ahead, or they had left Alger Camp early, or they had hiked in the day before and had camped farther up the trail. Or maybe there wasn’t a mystery hiker.
There is some very good running between Alger Camp and the Falls Creek drainage. Captivated by the running and my surroundings, I’d pretty much forgotten about the mystery hiker. I’d passed the turnoff to Dobb’s Camp about 45 minutes before and was working up toward Plummer Meadows when a person suddenly emerged from the trees 25 yards to my right, and rushed toward me, shouting, “Sir… sir!” There was such urgency in their quest I was startled, and it took me a moment to realize the individual was a Forest Ranger.
The Ranger said something like, “I assume you have a wilderness permit?”
I assured the Ranger I did, and pulled off my pack.
“Where are you headed?”
I responded, “The peak.”
The Ranger then asked if I was coming back the same way. I explained that after doing Gorgonio, I would be running down the Vivian Creek Trail and then down the road to the Momyer trailhead. Scrutinizing my day use permit, the Ranger asked a few more questions, and then thanked me and sent me on my way.
I was a little later getting to Gorgonio’s summit than the previous Saturday, and it was a busy place. Where last week there had been one person on the summit, this week there were around a dozen. Summits are generally happy places and the conversation can be about just about anything. Today the main topics were Lumix cameras and hummingbirds.
By the time I was headed down there was a fairly extensive deck of clouds over the mountain. But today the clouds didn’t have the convective instability and vertical development of the previous week. There would be no showers or thunder; the clouds would just keep the temperature comfortably cool.
In some ways the run down the Vivian Creek Trail is more demanding than the climb up from Momyer. The legs have some miles on them and the trail is very rocky. Last Saturday I hadn’t used poles doing the Dollar Lake – Dry Lake loop from South Fork. This week I did use them on the way up, and I think my legs felt better on the descent as a result.
The most dangerous part of the loop might be the mile and a half run from the Vivian Creek Trailhead to the Momyer Trailhead on Valley of the Falls Drive. In some stretches there’s not much of a shoulder and the road’s busy enough on a weekend that passing cars sometimes need all of it.
Even with the little bit of road-running, I much prefer the Falls Creek loop to chugging up and down Vivian Creek. It’s a favorite I always enjoy!
The north side of San Gorgonio Mountain was closed in June 2015 when the Lake Fire burned approximately 31,359 acres of forest, chaparral, sage, pinyon and Joshua tree habitat at elevations ranging from about 10,700′ to 5350′. As a result of the determined efforts of firefighters, only one residence and some remote outbuildings were lost.
Of the 30,487 acres reviewed by the Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team 4,327 acres (14%) were categorized as Unburned; 17,100 acres (56%) as having Low soil burn severity; 8,420 acres (28%) as having Moderate soil burn severity; and 640 acres (2%)with High soil burn severity. (Note that soil burn severity isn’t necessarily synonymous with fire intensity and fire effects such as tree loss.)
I’d been keeping an eye on the Alerts & Notices section of the San Bernardino National Forest web site to see if the Lake Fire closure order would be renewed. I was curious to see the extent and impacts of the Lake Fire and how the area was recovering. Plus, the Dollar Lake – Dry Lake keyhole loop is an outstanding trail run — one of the best in Southern California. In addition to climbing San Gorgonio Mountain (11,499′), it encompasses some of the most scenic areas on the peak.
A week and a half after the opening I pulled into the South Fork parking lot on Jenks Lake Road, excited to get on the trail. There was a slight chance of thunderstorms in the forecast, and I hoped to be off the summit and on my way down by 10:30 or 11:00.
Most of the run is in the San Gorgonio Wilderness and a wilderness permit is required. Check a map, but the general sequence of trails is the South Fork Trail, Dollar Lake Trail, Divide Trail, Summit Trail, Sky High Trail, Dry Lake Trail and then back down the South Fork Trail to the trailhead. This Google Earth image shows the western part of the Lake Fire burn area in relation to San Gorgonio Mountain and some of the area’s trails.
Here are a few photos taken during the run:
Click an arrow or swipe to advance to the next image or return to a previous image.
Overview of the western flank of the 31,359 acre 2015 Lake Fire burn area and FRAP fire history. The fire database showed two previous fires in the area -- a fire in 1950 (309 acres) and in 1951 (1412 acres). The yellow trace is the GPS track of my run.
Crown-sprouting California black oaks along the South Fork Trail about 0.5 mile from the trailhead. July 29, 2017.
Mix of burned and scorched trees below Horse Meadow about 1.1 mile from the South Fork trailhead. July 29, 2017.
It was a close call at Horse Meadows, but the cabins and most of the trees appeared to be OK.
Post-fire understory regrowth above Horse Meadows folowing the 2015 Lake Fire. The regrowth helps protect and promote the germination and growth of pine seedlings. July 29, 2017.
Woolly mullein (Verbascum thapsus), an invasive species, along the South Fork Trail. July 29, 2017.
Prickly poppy blooming along the South Fork Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
The change in soil chemistry and other factors influence the growth of plants following a fire, in this case promoting the growth of southern goldenrod. July 29, 2017.
The western part of the BAER Soil Burn Severity Map with my route highlighted. The full map can be found here. Of the 30,487 acres reviewed by the BAER Team 60% were categorized as either unburned (14%) or low soil burn intensity (56%).
Coyote tobacco along the South Fork Trail. The flowers of the plant were open in the morning and closed in the afternoon. The plant changes the time of day the flowers are open to protect itself from hungry caterpillars that hatch from eggs deposited by pollinating moths.
A Jeffrey pine on the Dollar Lake Trail above South Fork Meadows on San Gorgonio Mountain that was previously struck by lightning and then scorched in the 2015 Lake Fire. This image from 2013 shows the size of the tree. July 29, 2017.
South Fork Meadows from the Dollar Lake Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
Dollar Lake Saddle from the Dollar Lake Trail about 5 miles from the South Fork Trailhead following the 2015 Lake Fire. July 29, 2017.
Regrowth of chinquapin along the Dollar Lake Trail on San Gorgonio Mountain following the 2015 Lake Fire. July 29, 2017.
Chinquapin produces a nut, several of which are encased in each thorny burr.
Nearing Dollar Lake Saddle on the Dollar Lake Trail. The 2015 Lake Fire burned a number of limber pines in this area. July 29, 2017.
Continuing on the Divide Trail above the Little Charlton - Jepson saddle. At this point the elevation is about 10, 600' and it's about two miles to the summit of San Gorgonio.
View west from near the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain on July 29, 2017. That small patch of snow was nearly gone a week later.
The final section of trail leading to the summit of 11, 499' San Gorgonio Mountain, the highest peak in Southern California. There was only one other person on the summit at 10:45 a.m. He had ascended the peak via the Vivian Creek Trail.
San Jacinto Peak (10839') from the Sky High Trail on the south side of San Gorgonio Mountain.
Cumulus clouds were already beginning to develop over San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak when I left Gorgonio's summit at 10:45 a.m. and by 1:00 p.m. or so it was mostly cloudy. Thunder rumbled in the distance a couple of times.
These lodgepole pines along the Fish Creek Trail were previously killed by a bark beetle infestation. Some of the dead trees were burned in the Lake Fire.
Dry Lake on San Gorgonio Mountain. July 29, 2017.
Creek crossing on the Dry lake Trail at South Fork Meadows, near its junction with the Dollar Lake and South Fork Trails. July 29, 2017.
Paintbrush and yarrow along the South Fork Trail. July 29, 2017.
Sugarloaf Mountain (9952') from the South Fork Trail.
Goldenrod and penstemon along the South Fork Trail about a quarter-mile from the trailhead. July 29, 2017.
On this particular run I also wanted to check out the Fish Creek Trail and the “use trail” down to Lodgepole Springs and Dry Lake, so rather than continuing down the Dry Lake Trail from Mineshaft Saddle, I turned right (east) and followed the Fish Creek Trail to Fish Creek Saddle.
There were some downed trees and a lot of fire debris on the Fish Creek Trail. Extra care was required and I probably hiked as much of it as I ran. As I worked toward Fish Creek Saddle I could not tell how much of the canyon leading down to Lodgepole Spring had burned. The slopes on the southwest side of Grinnell Mountain had burned and some areas along the Fish Creek Trail had burned as well. Whether I descended to Lodgepole Spring from Fish Creek Saddle or returned to Mineshaft Saddle would be a judgment call.
Arriving at Fish Creek Saddle I was glad to see the forest was intact. The path down to Lodgepole Spring looked promising, but had not been used in some time. As it turned out most of the trees along the path had not burned. In places, runoff from the burned slopes above had resulted in some erosion and small flows of sandy soil. There were also the usual downed trees, but other than being a little challenging to follow, the path was generally OK.
I was nearly off the trail when the “chance of thunderstorms” forecast materialized into threatening gray clouds, a few sprinkles, and a couple of rumbles of thunder.
Developing thunderstorm over the Acton area, north of Los Angeles, from Ahmanson Ranch near the Los Angeles County – Ventura County border. The photo was taken about 4:10 p.m. PDT today, during another hot and humid Ahmanson run.
Cloud tops were reported to be over 50,000 feet. The distance from Ahmanson Ranch (now Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve) to Acton is about 35 miles.
I was glad I didn’t turn around and head back to the car. At the beginning of the run smoke from the Whittier Fire (near Lake Cachuma) covered Mt. Pinos in an ugly shroud. Fortunately, a couple of hours into the run, the wind shifted to the north, removing the smoky veil and greatly improving the visibility and air quality.
Even it was smoky, at least the weather was cool. Following the torrid conditions at the Mt. Disappointment 50K the previous Saturday, and hot weather during the week, cool was good.
Mt. Pinos is often a good choice for escaping the triple digit heat of a Los Angeles heatwave. The elevation of the Chula Vista trailhead (8350′) is higher than the highest trailhead on Angeles Crest Highway — Dawson Saddle (7909′) and about 1000′ higher than the popular Inspiration Point (7370′) trailhead on the PCT.
My usual “Pinos to Abel” run starts at the Chula Vista trailhead and follows a dirt service road to the summit of Mt. Pinos (8831′). At the nearby wildlife viewing area it picks up the Vincent Tumamait Trail and heads west, taking a short detour to Sawmill Mountain (8818′) and the Chumash spirit tower, and then continues toward Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste). The trail ends at Cerro Noroeste Road, but a short climb up through the pine trees leads to the summit of Mt. Abel (8280+’) and Campo Alto. On the way back I usually run down the North Fork Trail to the spring at Sheep Camp, and sometimes extend the run by descending to Lily Meadows Camp (6250′).
It’s rare to see other runners doing the Pinos to Abel run. Dan and Dameon first passed me descending from Mt. Pinos. Our paths would cross several times over the course of the morning. They were running in the Mt. Pinos area for the first time and having a great time exploring the trails.
One of those times was on the top of Mt. Abel. They were thinking about hitting Grouse Mountain (8582′) on the way back to Pinos and asked about the route. The use trail to Grouse branches off the Vincent Tumamait Trail near a saddle ENE of the peak and about 0.3 mile west of the North Fork Trail junction. It leads to the northern summit of Grouse’s twin summits in about a quarter-mile.
I didn’t do Grouse Mountain today, but did take the North Fork Trail down to Sheep Camp. Today, the plan was to just go a “little way” down the trail below Sheep Camp to see if a particular plant was flowering. Beyond Sheep Camp the North Fork Trail drops like a rock, and it turned into one of those, “I’ll just go a little farther down” kind of things. Before I came to my senses I’d lost nearly 1000′ in elevation while looking for the plant.
After chugging back up to the spring at Sheep Camp, I refilled my Camelbak(TM) and then continued up to the Vincent Tumamait Trail and headed east, retracing my steps to Mt. Pinos, and back to the trailhead.
The heat was oppressive. The air was sweltering and still, reminding me of hot nights in the South, when heat lightning flashed on the horizon, and any movement was an effort. An adductor muscle in my left leg started to cramp and I jumped up from the reclining chair. Heat, and more heat had been the theme of this day. I had returned home from running my eleventh, and hottest, Mt. Disappointment 50K, only to be caught in a widespread power failure caused by a transformer explosion and fire in a Northridge distribution station.
How hot was it for the 2017 Mt. Disappointment races on Mt. Wilson?
– Between 11:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. the in the sun temps recorded by the Clear Creek RAWS (on the 50K course) ranged from 115 °F to 121 °F. Out of the sun temps ranged from 94 °F to 98 °F.
– Between 10:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. an ANF portable weather station adjacent to the Mt. Wilson Observatory recorded in the sun temps ranging from 106 °F to 114 °F. Out of the sun temps ranged from 92 °F to 96 °F.
– The temperature (inside a ventilated instrument housing) on Mt. Wilson at CBS Radio reached a high of 103 degrees. This appears to be the highest temperature at that location since it came online in 2008 and may have been the hottest temperature on Mt. Wilson in several decades.
– Downtown Los Angeles (USC) reached a record high for the date of 98 degrees, breaking a 131 year old record.
Even more remarkable than the weather were the performances of the top runners. Ruperto Romero was the overall winner of the 50K with an astounding time of 4:38:44. This was only a couple of minutes slower than his winning 2015 time — when temps were 20-30 degrees cooler. In what must have been an exciting finish in the Women’s division, Elizabeth Ochoa cranked out a 6:19:45, just edging out Ana Guijarro by eight seconds. Victor Martinez won the 25K in 2:08:01, with Jay Nadeau taking the top women’s time in 3:05:13. All the Mt. Disappointment results are available on UltraSignup.
The heat continued to build past noon, peaking between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. This made for a long day for those of us in the back of the pack. At 1:00 p.m Red Box Road was a blast furnace, facing directly into the sun. I was very glad to have scouted the final seven miles of the course last weekend. The creeks crossing the road really helped to keep from becoming over-heated. Strayns Creek on the Kenyon Devore climb also helped me to cool down.
Many thanks to Gary and Pam Hilliard and all the Mt. Disappointment staff, volunteers, sponsors and runners. The aid station personnel were phenomenal, and all their assistance was much appreciated. The efforts of the Forest Service were also much appreciated. ANF personnel were on the trails and at the aid stations, helping runners.
The photograph above was taken a little more than a mile from the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail, in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Mt. Wilson. The deep canyon seen through the trees is Strayns Canyon, which the trail follows on its way from the West Fork San Gabriel River to the shoulder of Mt. Wilson.
Today, I’d run down the Kenyon Devore and Gabrieleno Trails to West Fork and then up the Red Box – Rincon Road to point on the map marked Camp Ah-DA-Hi. (A former Woodcraft Rangers Camp.) With hot weather forecast next Saturday for the Mt. Disappointment 50K, I’d been glad to see the small streams that had been dry during the drought were running again.
Trails have stories to tell and when I run or hike a trail I’m always curious about its history. A trail between the West Fork San Gabriel River and Mt. Wilson is shown in the 1:62500 1897 edition of the USGS 1894 Los Angeles Sheet. Like many trails of the era, it followed a ridge, in this case a ridge just east of Strayns Canyon.
The first USGS map to show a trail along Strayns Creek was the 1:24000 1934 Mt. Wilson Advance Sheet. The trail remained unnamed in USGS maps until the 1966 edition of the 1:24000 Mt. Wilson Quadrangle, when it was labeled the Rattlesnake Trail. The trail was renamed the Kenyon Devore Trail in the 1995 edition of the map in tribute to Forest Service patrolman, hydrographer, and Angeles National Forest volunteer, Kenyon DeVore.
The Kenyon Devore Trail is part of the Mt. Disappointment 50K course. It is one of several trails maintained by runner-volunteers under the guidance of Forest Service volunteer and Mt. Disappointment Race Director, Gary Hilliard. Today, as I was on my way back up to Mt. Wilson, I ran into Gary and two volunteers cutting logs from the trail in preparation for next Saturday’s event.
I have to laugh about what happened on the Kenyon Devore climb one hot year. I’d jammed my Camelbak(TM) with so much ice at the West Fork aid station that when water was added, it melded and froze into one large chunk. I didn’t discover this until about halfway up the climb, when I ran out of water. You can’t drink a chunk of ice and even at 90 degrees, the ice was melting at an agonizingly slow rate. At best I could only get a minuscule sip of water from the pack every few minutes, and it nearly imploded from my efforts.
We were nearly to the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail and the South Ridge Trail and about a half-mile from Tahquitz Peak (8846′). It was hot. In the shade the temp was in the high 80s, but in direct sun the temperature was close to 100°F.
A few hours earlier Skye and I had grabbed the first car up on the Palm Springs Tram and done the 5 mile, 2435′ ascent of San Jacinto Peak. At 10,800’+ at 10:00 in the morning it had been 70°F — warm for one of the higher mountains of Southern California. Remarkably, a couple of small patches of snow remained on the south side of the summit.
Where we were now, 70 degrees would feel like a refrigerator. We’d given up that cooler clime and all the elevation we’d gained, and run five miles down the Wellman Divide Trail and PCT to Saddle Junction — a descent of about 2700′. The temperature had increased all the way down.
We might as well have been in a drying oven. The combination of the hot weather, a high sun, low humidity and higher altitude had desiccated me. At the turn-off off from the PCT to Tahquitz Peak I lifted my pack and squeezed the reservoir — again. In the few minutes since I last checked, no water had magically found its way into my pack. There was less than 20 ounces remaining and that wasn’t going to be enough.
After running over to Tahquitz Peak and visiting the lookout, there was still the minor detail of getting back to the Tram. The Mountain Fire closure was still in effect, which meant we could not use the Willow Springs Trail and would have to retrace our steps and climb all the way back up to Wellman Divide.
During the drought I would bring extra water when doing this route, and stash it along the trail. With this year’s good snowpack it seemed we should be able to find water if we needed it.
Prior to the Mountain Fire I’d used Willow Creek as a water source, but since the Willow Springs Trail was closed, that was out. The seep at Wellman Cienaga was too far up and the flow was low. Skunk Cabbage Meadow and Tahquitz Valley were a possibility. Originally included in the Mountain Fire closure area, they had reopened. I recalled a water source in Skunk Cabbage Meadow, but didn’t remember much about it.
When we got to Tahquitz Peak we asked Joe, the volunteer Ranger at the Tahquitz Peak Lookout, what he thought would be a good water source. He suggested Tahquitz Creek in Tahquitz Valley. I hadn’t been to Tahquitz Valley, so this was a great time to check it out.
Although small in its upper reaches, Tahquitz Creek had plenty of water. Using a UV Pen, we refilled our packs and drank until we couldn’t drink any more. Continuing, we found there was also water available at Skunk Cabbage Meadow. At least for now. I wouldn’t hazard a guess how long these water sources will last.
Ah water, wonderful water. With water the hike and run back to Wellman Divide was just a sweaty, strenuous and scenic climb, and not the hellish ascent it might have been.
I rounded the corner, driving from deep shade into the golden glare of the rising sun. There was almost no traffic on Angeles Crest Highway. Up ahead, in the shade of some trees, there was something in the road. Was it a rock or a pine cone? Driving into the sun it was hard to tell. At this time of the morning — before the CalTrans truck has swept the road — one small rock can ruin your whole day. Getting to the trailhead unscathed is always the first challenge of the day.
Today, Craig and I were planning to do a point to point run from Inspiration Point to Islip Saddle — one of the best stretches of trail in the San Gabriel Mountains.
PCTA volunteer Ray Drasher often takes care of clearing the trees from this section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It’s quite an undertaking to get the required stock and equipment to the trailhead and then cut trees spread over several miles of trail. Because of conflicting reports, Ray wasn’t sure whether there were trees still on the trail or not. We’d let him know after the run.
On the drive up you could see it was going to be a spectacular day in the Angeles high country. A low pressure trough moving through central California had pulled in the marine layer and a tumultuous ocean of cloud reached from the south-facing canyons far out over the Pacific.
I drove through the double tunnels at Mt. Williamson and then around a left-hand curve. Up ahead I could see the northwest ridge of Mt. Islip dropping down to Islip Saddle. What the heck? Orange cones? The gate is closed? The HIGHWAY is closed? That didn’t make sense; the Winter closure had ended weeks before.
After parking, I talked to a hiker who said it was closed for “road work.” I assumed there must have been a rock slide in one of the problematic areas between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap. Later I learned the problem was a “sink hole” west of the Grassy Hollow Visitor Center.
After Craig arrived we discussed route options to Mt. Baden-Powell. Either we did the South Fork loop, which I’d done a couple weeks before, or we did an out and back on the PCT. We opted for the out and back.
The run was as spectacular as expected. The visibility above the deck of stratus was at least 100 miles. San Bernardino Peak, San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto were easy marks to the east and Owens Peak and the Southern Sierra could be seen to the north. Before it was immersed in a tide of cloud, the summit of Santiago Peak (Saddleback) had been visible to the south. High clouds and a gusty westerly wind kept the temperatures moderate. Only one very small patch of snow remained on the trail.
I’d hoped to be able to tell Ray the trees had been cleared from the trail, but no — they were still there. He said the next time I ran there, they would be gone. Thanks Ray!
Each year around Memorial Day weekend I like to do a run that includes Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′). It’s a good time to check how much snow remains at the higher elevations of the San Gabriel Mountains. In a heavy snow season, such as 2004-2005, higher sections of trail may still be buried in snow and drifts can persist into July. In below average years, such as we experienced from 2013 to 2016, there may be little or no snow.
There are several good runs that summit Mt. Baden-Powell. If Hwy 2 is still closed between Islip Saddle and Vincent Gap, I’ll usually do an out and back from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell. If Hwy 2 is open, then a point to point run from Inspiration Point to Islip Saddle or Eagles Roost is a good option. Today the choice was one of my favorite loops in the San Gabriels. It starts at Islip Saddle, descends to South Fork Campground, then climbs about 5000′ to the summit Mt. Baden-Powell. From Baden-Powell the route follows the Pacific Crest Trail back to Islip Saddle.
This was my third time on the PCT between Islip Saddle and Mt. Baden-Powell this Spring. The first was at the beginning of April and was more of a snow hike than a run. The micro spikes went on at 7000′, less than 0.7 mile from the Islip Saddle trailhead. The second trip was two weeks later, in mid-April. Micro spikes were still helpful in a couple of places and there was still plenty of snow on the north side of the crest. Based on other seasons with a similar amount of snow, I thought some patches of snow might last into June, or even early July. Today (May 27) only a few patches remain on Baden-Powell and along the crest, and these will soon be gone.
Except for being a little disappointed there wasn’t more snow, the run went well. The South Fork Trail was rocky and rough — as usual. The Manzanita Trail, which connects South Fork Campground to Vincent Gap, has seen a lot of work in recent years and is in relatively good shape. Even the gnats weren’t bad. I saw no one on the South Fork and Manzanita Trails. As might be expected on a Saturday on Memorial Day Weekend, there were “a few” hikers, thru-hikers and runners on the PCT.