Saddle Peak

Saddle Peak from BackBone Trail on Bulldog Loop.
Saddle Peak from BackBone Trail on Bulldog Loop

Was up early, hoping to beat the heat and do a local run. It looked as though thick high clouds would keep temps down for a while, so several good runs were a possibility. After some debate, I decided on an out and back run to Saddle Peak.

My usual route starts at Piuma Rd. & Malibu Canyon, and follows the Backbone Trail approximately 6.5 miles to a short spur trail which leads to the actual summits of Saddle Peak. Much of the route used to part of the Bulldog 50K, and can be combined with the Bulldog Loop to do a self-supported 27.5 mile run. Here’s a Google Earth image of a GPS trace of both routes.

While both the Bulldog and Saddle Peak routes have great views, are about the same length, and have similar elevation gains, there is one significant difference. Except for a short, 0.3 mile stretch along Piuma Rd., all of the Saddle Peak route is on single track trail.

The trail covers a variety of terrain and habitats. Some sections are lush and shaded, with bay trees, moss-covered rocks and several species of ferns. Other sections are rough and exposed, and can be brutally hot. Not far from where the trail tops out, it passes through a unique area of steeply inclined sandstone slabs.

(Photograph of Saddle Peak is from a Bulldog Loop run on October 2, 2005.)

Humboldt Lily

Humboldt Lily (Lilium humboldtii ssp. ocellatum) in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve.

I had been running for nearly an hour, and the heat was oppressive. Following an unusually cool Spring, it had been tough to adjust to afternoon temperatures of nearly 100 degrees. Running from the Victory Trailhead of the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve, the exposed “main drag” had been like an oven. The refreshing green hills of Spring had turned a golden brown, and the muddy ruts of a Ranger’s truck had been baked to the hardness of concrete. In Las Virgenes Canyon there had still been a little water in the creek, and I had scooped water into my hat and poured the cooling liquid over my head and down my back.

That had been a couple miles ago. Now the best the stream could do is turn the trail sandy as it snaked along the canyon. Running through the broken shadows of Oaks, Willows and Sycamores, I rounded a corner, and could only exclaim, “Wow!”

If the red of a Snow Plant is startling to see on the forest floor, then seeing the gold and burgundy of a Humboldt Lily (Lilium humboldtii ssp. ocellatum) in a shaded corner of this sizzling landscape is at least surprising. This showy lily is a California native, not an escaped ornamental. It occurs sporadically in shaded canyon bottoms, often near stream courses. Because of its specific habitat, it is relatively uncommon. As a result it is listed in the California Native Plant Society’s Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants as being uncommon and fairly endangered in California.

(Photograph from yesterday, June 22, 2006.)

Snow Plant

Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is so different from the norm that each encounter is memorable.

Snow Plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is so different from the norm that each encounter is memorable. In a world where most plants are green, its startling red color and unusual structure always make an impact.

Snow plant pushing up through detritus.
On Sunday, while running on the Tumamait Trail between Mts. Pinos and Abel, I had the opportunity to photograph Snow Plant in its early stages of above ground development. This revealed how the plant uses specialized bracts as armor while pushing up through detritus on the forest floor.

A bract is a modified leaf that is usually located near a flower, but differs in size and appearance from a normal leaf. A bract can be as simple as leaf that is reduced in size, or it can be modified to serve some other function, such as appearing to be a petal. On the Snow Plant they are relatively long, red strips that overlap and create a protective barrier as the bullet-shaped plant pushes to the surface.

Once fully erupted, the plant expands and the bracts unfurl to reveal the flowers. Over a period of a few days, the bracts continue to wither, fully exposing the flowers.

For additional snow plant photographs, see the posts Three Points – Mt. Waterman Loop and Snow Plant Still Life, and also Snow Plant on

Related post: Pine Drops

Bee Fly On Western Wallflower

Bee Fly on a Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum).

The fuzzy critter with the beady eyes is a Bee Fly. Its darting, hummingbird-like movements caught my eye while running on the Tumamait Trail near Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) on Sunday. It was feeding on a Western Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum). Fully consumed by the morning’s experiences, I had been marveling at the vibrant yellow of Wallflowers along the trail.

With only a cursory glance, someone might mistake a Bee Fly for a bee. It does buzz. But the resemblance is superficial. It is smaller than a Honey Bee, and more thick-bodied. It has long legs, and a long proboscis to collect nectar. These can be seen in the inset photographs.

Looking at these photographs it struck me that there probably is a relationship between the length of the Bee Fly’s proboscis, and the length of its legs. It can be seen in the photos that the Bee Fly uses its legs to grasp a plant while flying and feeding. This helps stabilize its flight, conserves energy, and enables a quick escape from a possible predator. It would seem that the legs have evolved to be just long enough to accomplish this task.

Vincent Tumamait Trail

Mt. Pinos from the Vincent Tumamait Trail

Mt. Pinos from the Vincent Tumamait Trail

There are several options for runs and hikes in the Mt. Pinos area. On the long side is the 25+ mile run from the lower McGill trailhead to Mt. Abel (Cerro Noroeste) mentioned in Snow Plant Still Life. Another valley-to-summit adventure is the approximately 20 mile out & back run/hike to the summit of Mt. Pinos from Three Falls Boy Scout Camp in Lockwood Valley.

This day I was looking to escape the heat of the San Fernando Valley, but do something a little less ambitious than either of those runs. The North Fork would be too hot, and McGill to Abel too strenuous. Instead, I opted for a third alternative, the Vincent Tumamait Trail between Mt. Pinos and Mt. Abel. By doing a short side trip to the spring at Sheep Camp, I could carry one water bottle and keep things simple.

The route, including the spur to Sheep Camp, works out to be about 14.5 miles, with 3000 ft. or so of elevation gain. There’s a lot of up and down as the trail works its way along the forested ridge, and past the broad summits of Sawmill Mountain and Grouse Mountain.  The trail ends at the Cerro Noroeste road, but it is not difficult to find a way up the steep slope above the road to the summit of Mt. Abel.

In kayaking there is saying that you “never run the same river twice.” The same is true of trails. Each experience on a particular trail is unique. This would be a day of unblemished blue skies and tired legs, the subtle scents of sun-warmed pine needles and Jeffry Pine on the air. A day of bounding deer, Paintbrush reds, and Wallflower yellows. It would be one to contemplate the fallen trees of Cerro Noroeste, the peculiar shape of the Larkspur leaf, the intricacies of the snow plant, and the hummingbird flight of the Bee Fly.

The photograph is a glimpse of Mt. Pinos from the saddle west of the peak. With sufficient snow cover, and the right conditions, I’ve enjoyed good skiing on these slopes, as well as along the ridge leading to Sawmill and Grouse Mountains. Here’s a view of Grouse Mountain from near Mt. Abel.

Here’s a Google Earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of my route.

Photography and inspiration from running and other adventures in the Open Space and Wilderness areas of California, and beyond. All content, including photography, is Copyright © 2006-2022 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.