On June 1, Angeles National Forest reduced the size of the Bobcat Fire Closure, opening up most of the upper West Fork San Gabriel River area. Curious to see how the West Fork area is recovering from the Bobcat Fire, today I ran a slightly shortened version of the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment 25K course.
Since the Mt. Wilson parking lot is usually closed until mid-morning, this morning’s run started and ended at a small turnout near the top of the Kenyon Devore Trail on the loop road on Mt. Wilson. The ANFTR Trail Races start at the main Mt. Wilson parking lot.
I’d recently done the San Gabriel Peak and Bill Riley Trails and knew they were in reasonable condition. And I’d read that AC100 Trail Work Teams led by Gary Hilliard and Ken Hamada had cleared the Gabrielino and Kenyon Devore Trails earlier this year. So, I didn’t expect to have a repeat of the epic fallen-tree obstacle course that I experienced doing this course in 2020.
The seasonal bridge across Malibu Creek is back! No sketchy log to test your balance or thigh-deep water to wade through — just walk across.
This afternoon I’d returned to Malibu Creek State Park to check on the bridge, count the surviving coast redwoods on the Forest Trail, and see what was happening on the Lost Cabin Trail.
When running the Bulldog Loop a couple of weeks ago, I did a quick check of some of the redwoods on the Forest Trail but skipped the back half of the trail. Today, I crawled through the downed trees blocking the trail and checked the rest of the trees.
I counted seven surviving redwoods. Several of these are multi-tree groups consisting of two or more trees. These family groups were counted as one tree. One of the trees, and perhaps more, was naturally germinated. Most of the trees looked healthy, but appearances can be deceiving.
One redwood is just a few feet from the Crags Road Trail. It’s on the right side of the trail, just past the seasonal bridge, when going west on Crags Road toward the M*A*S*H site. The unique conifer is easy to spot among the other trees.
The start of the Lost Cabin Trail is on the left as you enter the M*A*S*H site going west on Crags Road. Like the Forest Trail, it is less used and isolated but has a character all its own. Today, the Lost Cabin Trail was a trove of brightly colored wildflowers.
Brett was down for a few days, and as an initial run we did a loop from the Victory Trailhead of Ahmanson Ranch, through part of Las Virgenes Canyon, up onto Lasky Mesa, and then back to the trailhead.
Upper Las Virgenes Creek still flowed. Valley oaks were full with new leaves. The green grasses of the rain season had finally turned, and rare May cumulus clouds were painted on postcard skies.
Usually, I prefer to start the Strawberry Peak Summit Loop at the Colby Canyon Trailhead on Angeles Crest Highway. But it had been a while since I’d done the loop from Clear Creek, and I was feeling a little nostalgic. One of the aid stations for the ANFTR/Mt. Disappointment race is at Clear Creek, and the course climbs Josephine Fire Road.
I was also curious how my time to Josephine Saddle using the fire road would compare to the direct route up the Colby Canyon Trail. As it turned out, at a moderate pace it was about the same either way.
The use trail up from Josephine Saddle was in decent condition. It looked like it may have recently had a snip here and there. Part way up the path, an outcrop on the ridgeline provides a good warmup for the climbing higher up. The circuitous path eventually ends at the base of the steep, jumbled northwest ridge of Strawberry Peak. I was surprised to find two small patches of snow here.
It’s difficult to describe the route on the ridge since there are many variations. It’s not fear-mongering to say that people get into trouble on this section. A common comment about this segment is, “Don’t climb anything sketchy or difficult.” But what is an easy scramble for one person may be nearly impossible for another. With 50+ years of rock climbing experience, I still remind myself not to climb up anything I’m not 100% sure I can climb down. If you don’t have “real” rock climbing experience, go with someone that knows the route.
Following a wet, snowy, cold Winter, I took extra care while climbing. Solid holds and blocks can sometimes be loosened over the Winter and fail unexpectedly. This morning, I didn’t notice any obvious changes on the route I climbed.
The setting changes dramatically on the east side of Strawberry Peak. You go from the cool shadows of a steep, rocky face with (typically) no one around to a sunny, sandy, busy summit and trail.
As I approached the summit, a couple of people were setting up to do a video for a vlog. Another person had just reached the top, and another hiker wasn’t far behind. With snow in the high country, Hwy 2 still closed at Red Box, and the Bobcat Fire Closure still in effect, the trail up Strawberry was a popular option. The question of the day from the people coming up was, “How many false summits are there?”
Overall, the Strawberry Peak Trail was in reasonable shape. The trail needed a little work in a few places, but as far as mountain trails go, its condition was about what you would expect. In several places, the trail was carpeted with the remnants of old yucca leaves. Very nice!
Just before reaching Red Box, I snapped a photo of the snow on Mt. Baldy. At Red Box, all but one parking space was taken, and that one was snagged by an arriving car.
As I started down the Gabrielino Trail from Red Box, LASD Air Rescue 5 began to orbit overhead. Apparently, there had been yet another vehicle accident on Angeles Crest Highway. It wasn’t long until I heard the whaling sound of sirens coming up the canyon.
Some trailwork had been done on the upper half of Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Switzer’s. Quite a few small trees and limbs had been removed from the trail, and the bushes trimmed. Most of the work (as of today) ended at mass of fallen trees halfway down the trail.
Upper Arroyo Seco was flowing. The sound of water plunging over the debris dams made the flow seem higher than it was. There were a couple of minor creek crossings.
Switzer’s was busy — as usual. To finish the loop, I walked up the stairs to the access road and hiked up to the start of Nature’s Canteen Trail. It was a bit overgrown, but I was back at Clear Creek in a few minutes.
Update May 5, 2023. Did a run this afternoon in Malibu Creek State Park and the seasonal bridge across Malibu Creek on the Crags Road Trail is back in place!
As I approached the M*A*S*H site, I could see some people taking photos. I stopped to say hi, and without skipping a beat, one of them asked, “Did you wade across the creek?”
He was asking about the creek crossing where Crags Road crosses Malibu Creek upstream of Century Lake and east of the M*A*S*H site.
There’s a substantial log spanning the creek at the moment, and I wanted to answer that I danced across it with my eyes closed. But instead, I explained that I decided to wade — and for sure keep my phone dry — rather than take a chance of falling uncontrolled into three feet of water, ker-splash.
Speaking of which, this morning, I talked to a mountain biker who saw the bridge pulled off to the side of the creek before any flooding had occurred and thought it may have been hauled away. Good news! According to the Malibu Creek Docents, the bridge is seasonal and was designed to be portable. It was removed and stored before this Winter’s rain. It is expected to be reinstalled when the threat of flooding is over — which should be soon.
After crossing Malibu Creek and before continuing to the M*A*S*H site, I took a quick detour on the Forest Trail. Bordered by Century Lake on one side, and steep, rocky slopes on the other, the Forest Trail has a character all its own. It’s a wonderful place to observe, reflect, and enjoy nature. It’s also home to several coast redwoods. Unfortunately, less than half the trees originally growing along the trail survived the 2011-2015 drought. This morning, a redwood that died several years ago had fallen and was partially blocking the trail near its halfway point.
As has been the case in most of Southern California this Spring, the wildflowers on this run were spectacular. Canyon sunflower was particularly prevalent, with many thousands of the bright-yellow blossoms covering the hillsides burned in the 2018 Woolsey Fire.
Also exciting was my first rattlesnake encounter of 2023. I was running down Castro Peak Mtwy Fire Road from the Bulldog “T” when I saw something in the road that looked like a partially exposed root. As I neared, I could see it was a very dark — almost black — Southern Pacific Rattlesnake.
The snake was stretched out straight on the road, basking in the sun. As I approached, it did move, and it did not rattle. Usually, snakes in this state are pretty docile, and I can cautiously walk a few feet behind them. Yikes! This one was super-aggressive. In the blink of an eye, it turned and moved toward me, doubling back on itself. I jumped a mile! It coiled but still did not rattle! It must have recently emerged from its Winter hideaway.