Gary Valle's Photography on the Run
Images taken on trail runs, and other adventures, in the Open Space and Wilderness areas of California, and beyond. All content, including photography, is Copyright © 2006-2014 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.
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# Saturday, January 10, 2015

Craig on the Colby Canyon Trail segment of the circuit around Strawberry Peak.

Did the circuit around Strawberry Peak with Craig this morning. There was a little rain on the last few miles of the run, but the changeable weather just made the run better.

Saturday, January 10, 2015 4:02:56 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Wednesday, December 31, 2014

View of Blue Canyon from Boney Mountain

The photo above was taken from the edge of the western escarpment of the Boney Mountain massif in the western Santa Monica Mountains. The western side of the mountain is a huge bowl that funnels runoff into Blue Canyon. Blue Canyon can be seen on the left side of the photograph. It is a tributary of Big Sycamore Canyon. More than 60% of the Blue Canyon drainage was burned in the May 2013 Springs Fire.

In the early morning hours of Friday, December 12, 2014, a very strong cold front, enhanced with moisture from an atmospheric river, produced a line of strong storms that produced rain rates in the Springs Fire burn area as high as 2 inches per hour. This resulted in widespread flash floods and debris flows in the burn area, much of which is in Pt. Mugu State Park. Mud and debris flows originating from the burn area inundated homes below Conejo Mountain and closed Pacific Coast Highway.

This slideshow includes photos of the aftermath of the flash floods and debris flows in Blue Canyon, Sycamore Canyon and Upper Sycamore. These were taken on a trail run on December 14, 2014. Also included are some NWS Los Angeles/Oxnard tweets and some additional meteorological images and info.

Note: According to the Pt. Mugu State Park web site, the Park is closed until "at least January 12, 2015."

Wednesday, December 31, 2014 2:22:30 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, December 28, 2014

Frank and Lynn on the radar platform at San Vicente Mountain Park.

Frank and Lynn on the radar platform at San Vicente Mountain Park.

This was the easternmost point on a rambling run on dirt Mulholland.

Sunday, December 28, 2014 2:18:33 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, December 27, 2014

Runners working their way up Conejo Mountain on the Tour du Conejo Dos Vientos

The first stop on Ann Ongena's excellent end of year "Tour du Conejo Dos Vientos" was Conejo Mountain. In keeping with run's theme, it was a bit breezy on top -- maybe 45-50 mph.

This warm-up (warm up?) was followed by a fun circuit linking trails in the Dos Vientos Open Space trail system.

Saturday, December 27, 2014 2:12:33 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Comparison of Whitney (Trail), San Gorgonio (Vivian Creek) and San Jacinto (Devils Slide)

Updated November 12, 2014. Added Register Ridge on Mt. Baldy and the Siberia Creek Trail in Big Bear.

Southern California is noted for its foothills and mountains. It's so hilly here that most trail runs have at least one good climb. Even if you aren't a high mileage runner, the elevation gained on those hills can add up fast. So far this year SportTracks puts my cumulative elevation gain at about 320,000 feet.

I was curious to see how some of the "hills" in Southern California compare, so I wrote a Flash application that interactively displays the elevation profiles of a selection of SoCal ascents. Generally trails were picked that could be done in day from L.A. The selection includes some East Side Sierra ascents, routes up most of the major Southern California peaks, and some hills from some Southern California races.

The profiles and other stats are based on DEM corrected data from GPS tracks. All distances, elevations, elevation gains and elevation profiles are approximate. Elevations have been corrected and elevation gains (conservatively) calculated using SportTracks.

The Flash app is loading a lot of data, so it may take a while to load. The app is best viewed on a desktop, laptop, or tablet. It can't be viewed on an iPad/iPhone unless a browser that supports Flash, such as Photon, is used. Here is the updated selection of elevation profiles and the selection from 2012. The "Fit Selected" button is used to fit the chart to the currently selected set of elevation profiles. The "Fit Elev/Distance" button is used to format the chart according to user specified elevations and distances.

In this selection of hills Cactus to Clouds is the longest (14.7 miles) and has the most altitude gain (10,812 feet). Register Ridge on Mt. Baldy has the steepest mile (1745 fpm) and is the steepest overall (1127 fpm). Mt. Whitney has the highest finishing elevation (14,505 feet).

Following are some additional details about each of the ascents, including the length of the climb, elevation gain, average gradient and steepest mile. The distance specified is just for climb described -- not the entire run. The headings below are the shorthand name of the climb used in the legend of the app.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014 10:12:25 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail
Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail

According to my car's thermometer the temperature in the west San Fernando Valley was 86 degrees. To the east a large patch of middle-level clouds had morphed into a large lenticular cloud. Over the course of a few minutes the wave cloud continued to transform, dividing into a train of alto-cumulus waves.

I just shook my head. A few hours earlier and 60 miles away, I had been freezing. The plan had been to do a "Baldy Over the Top" run to the old juniper on the north side of Pine Mountain. Around 8:45 am, as running partner Ann Ongena and I crested the cloud-capped, 10,064' summit of Mt. Baldy, the wind chill temperature had been around 30 degrees. The air temperature was in the low 40s, but with the wind blowing at least 40 mph and gusting to over 50 mph it had been brutally COLD. Especially in running shorts.

Spending zero time on the summit, we waved to the hikers huddled in the rock windbreaks as we sprinted by.  The hope had been that the wind (and temperature) would moderate as we descended the North Devil's Backbone on the back side of Baldy.

It didn't. Wind-driven clouds continued to sweep past the ridge as we ran down the steep path. At the first opportunity we stopped in the wind shadow of a clump of stunted lodgepole pines and put on wind/rain shells. The shells were three ounces of magic -- without them it would have been foolhardy to continue.

As we descended to the Baldy - Dawson Saddle and then climbed up to Dawson Peak I kept looking back over my shoulder to the cloud-shrouded summit of Mt. Baldy. Were there more clouds? Was the ceiling lower? Was there more vertical development?

The day before I had checked the forecast from the NWS and the forecast models. A dissipating cold front was approaching the area from the north, but wasn't expected to pass through until sometime tonight. No measurable rain was forecast for the Los Angeles area. The last time I had checked no clouds had been forecast for Saturday morning -- but there they were. I had expected some southwesterly winds ahead of the front, but nothing like this.

I didn't like being on the back side of the mountain in potentially bad weather knowing that "home" was on the front side. We had just enough gear to deal with the current conditions. I didn't think it was very likely, but if the weather deteriorated...

Many of the incidents that occur in the outdoors are the result of a series of misjudgments. If you're already on the edge it's usually best to call it before things get REALLY complicated.

And that's exactly what we did. After descending a short distance down the ridge from Dawson Peak we turned around. Even if the outing was going to be a bit shorter than planned, it was still going to be an outstanding hike and run in extraordinary conditions with over 6000 feet of elevation gain.

It was just as windy, cold and cloudy on the second trip over the top of Baldy as it had been on the first and we spent about the same number of milliseconds on the summit before picking up the Devil's Backbone trail and running down.

Some related posts: Mountain Weather, Atmospheric Dynamics

Saturday, October 25, 2014 4:45:30 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Monday, September 29, 2014

San Joaquin Ridge, September 2014

With this year's El Nino developing in fits and starts and drought-plagued California clinging to hopes of an above average snowpack, a little September snow is a big deal, even if it's just a dusting.

The first low pressure system of Fall resulted in significant rain in many areas of Central and Northern California, with amounts falling off quickly to the south. According to the NWS, Redding recorded over 3 inches of rain; Red Bluff nearly 2.5 inches; South Lake Tahoe 1.8 inches; Downtown Sacramento and San Francisco both recorded about 0.5 inch.

For a rain-starved, heat-desiccated Southern Californian it was great to get out and play in the snow. I had a window of about three hours to do a run and the run/hike up San Joaquin Ridge from Minaret Summit was superb!

Here are a few photos from the run.

Monday, September 29, 2014 3:30:43 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sugarloaf Mountain from the Skyline Trail near Big Bear Lake
Sugarloaf Mountain from the Skyline Trail

The contrast in temperature was remarkable. On a run at Ahmanson earlier in the week the temp had been over 100. Here on the north shore of Big Bear Lake it was about 60 degrees cooler.

It was 4:45 am and 54 two-legged runners, and one four-legged runner (Lacey) were scattered around the Meadow's Edge Picnic Area. Some runners were sitting in cars with the motor on and heater running, some were checking in and picking up their bib numbers and making last minute preparations. One bare-armed runner in shorts and a singlet had appropriated a bathroom in lieu of a jacket.

At about 5:00 am were were on our way. The stars glittered brightly on an inky background of mountain sky. Surrounded by a frame of pines the iconic Winter constellation Orion ran across the southeastern sky, the brilliant dog star Sirius following at his side.

There were many changes and improvements for the 2014 edition of the Kodiak 100M & 50M. In addition to the 50M beginning at Meadow's Edge and starting an hour earlier, nearly all of the miles to Rim Nordic (~ mile 23) were on dirt road. As much as I like single track, there were some significant benefits to this. Most importantly, it got us to Rim Nordic earlier in the day and in better shape to deal with the difficulties of the Siberia Creek section of the course..

The loss of the PCT single track on the first part of the 50 mile course was offset by the addition of the Skyline single track following the Siberia Creek climb. The Skyline and Siberia Creek Trails are both spectacular. When combined they are among the most challenging, aesthetic and rewarding trails in Southern California. Thanks to the trail work by the Big Bear Valley Trails Foundation and Kodiak volunteers the Siberia Creek Trail was in better shape this year.

The weather was outstanding! Once the sun was up, my sleeves came off and it was shorts and short-sleeves for the remainder of the day. Reflecting the good weather, the changes in the course, the improved aid stations, and perhaps a better understanding of the character of the course, the finishing rates for both the 50M and 100M were up significantly from last year. Half of the runners that started the 100M finished and about 85% of the 50 milers finished.

Here are some photos taken during the 50 mile. The 50M/100M mileages mentioned in the descriptions are approximate.

This interactive Google Earth view can selectively display GPS tracks for the 2014 Kodiak 50 mile (green) and 100 mile (orange), and last year's 50 mile (yellow) and 100 mile (red). The view can be zoomed, panned and tilted. Placemark locations and distances are also approximate. It may take a few seconds for the selected track to load.

Many thanks to R.D. Matt Smith and all of the event staff, volunteers, sponsors and runners! For more photos, stories, results and info checkout the Kodiak web site and Facebook page.

P.S. Lacey and her "Dad" Aaron Sorensen both finished the 50 mile in fine style!

Related post: Kodiak 100 & 50 Mile Ultramarathons 2013

Saturday, September 20, 2014 4:47:33 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pacific Crest Reservoir, a snow-making pond at Mountain High Resort in the San Gabriel Mountains

At an elevation of nearly 7400' Inspiration Point is one of the most exhilarating places in the San Gabriel Mountains to start a trail run. Here the Pacific Crest Trail follows along Blue Ridge, an exceptionally scenic ridge with views of the range's tallest mountains and deepest canyons.

Today I was looking to do something at higher altitude and it occurred to me that I could run east on the PCT from Inspiration Point  and add a bit of adventure by ascending Mt. Baldy's North Devil's Backbone to the Pine Mountain Juniper. I'd first noticed this old tree on a climb of the North Devil's Backbone in 2006. In 2010 I hiked and ran over the top of Mt. Baldy from Manker Flat and measured the girth of the tree. It's rocky, ridgetop location and relatively arid environment might have significantly slowed its growth and it could be older than the 800 years or so its size suggests.

Even though it was Labor Day weekend, and the weather was perfect, no one was on the North Devil's Backbone trail.

Here are a few photos from the run.

Some related posts: Pine Mountain Juniper, Lightning Tree, Mt. Baldy North Backbone Trail, North Backbone Trail Revisited, Mt. Baldy Run Over the Top

Saturday, August 30, 2014 8:29:11 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, August 23, 2014

View down west ridge of Strawberry Peak

It was about 8:30 a.m. and I was nearly to the top of the steep, rocky ridge on the west side of Strawberry Peak. I gazed over the rocks and ridges to the layer of stratus that partially filled the Los Angeles basin and valleys and tried to find Saddle Peak or Castro Peak. These peaks would mark the location of Malibu Creek State Park. Today some friends were doing the Bulldog 50K and I wondered if the marine layer was too shallow to take the edge off the heat forecast for later in the day.

The loop over the top of Strawberry Peak is a more adventurous variation of the Strawberry Peak Circuit. Closed for 4 1/2 years by the Station Fire, the trails necessary to do the circuit and approach the peak -- Josephine Peak Fire Road, Strawberry Spur Trail, part of the Colby Canyon Trail and Strawberry Peak Trail -- reopened in late May. The trails from Josephine Saddle to the summit of Strawberry and from the summit down to Lawlor Saddle are unofficial paths created by use.

I'd done the circuit around Strawberry in July a couple of weeks before the Angeles Crest 100. Today's hike, run and climb over the top of the peak was a fun way to continue to recover from the exertions of that event. As was the case with the Strawberry Peak Circuit, I started the loop at Clear Creek, but it is also possible to start at Switzer's Picnic Area or Red Box.

Like anything adventurous, if it's in your comfort zone the challenges can be fun; if not, the adventure can quickly turn into a nightmare. This route requires rock climbing and route-finding skill and a bad choice can ruin your whole day.  Strawberry Peak has been the site of numerous search and rescue operations. The rock on the west side of the peak is of variable quality and if you go off-route it's easy to become trapped in a spot where you can't safely go up or down.

Not only is the route-finding tricky on the rock climbing sections. As a result of the growth of Poodle-dog bush following the Station Fire, the use trail on the upper ridge on the west side of the peak is more circuitous than it used to be. Although much of the Poodle-dog bush was wilting and in some cases dying, it can still cause dermatitis. By staying on the use trail it was mostly avoidable. There was a bear track on this section of the ridge and I wondered if the tracks I'd seen on the Strawberry Peak Circuit were from the same bear.

The last section of rock climbing ends abruptly just below the summit. The use trail on the east side of the summit involves no rock climbing and sees much more traffic. Though steep and loose, by fell-running standards it is mostly runnable. At Lawlor Saddle the maintained trail begins and continues to Red Box. From there the loop is closed using the Gabrielino Trail and Nature's Canteen Trail. Since I was last on the trail in July, the Nature's Canteen Trail had been re-cut and was in great shape.

Some related posts: Strawberry Peak Traverse, Strawberry Peak Circuit

Saturday, August 23, 2014 4:20:20 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, August 02, 2014

As I chugged up the Acorn Trail the eastern sky kept pace, becoming increasingly brighter with each stride. Dawn revealed a red-tinged layer of high clouds illuminated by a muted sun. This was good news. As late as Thursday afternoon the NWS forecast for the Los Angeles County Mountains on race day had been for typically hot AC100 weather:

.SATURDAY...SUNNY. HIGHS FROM 90 TO 100 AT LOW ELEVATIONS TO THE
UPPER 70S TO MID 80S AT HIGH ELEVATIONS. SOUTHWEST WINDS 15 TO 25
MPH IN THE AFTERNOON.
.SATURDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLEAR IN THE EVENING THEN BECOMING PARTLY
CLOUDY...

But even in Southern California in the dog days of Summer the weather forecast isn't a given. One wildcard was the summer monsoon. A surge of subtropical moisture was forecast to move into Southern California over the weekend and it wasn't clear just how much of Los Angeles County would be affected. Another wildcard was a low pressure wave that computer models showed rotating up into the Los Angeles area Saturday night. This feature would destabilize the airmass, increasing the chance of precipitation. As things turned out, both wildcards came into play.

Saturday, August 02, 2014 11:51:42 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Friday, August 01, 2014

Sitting on the bench at Inspiration Point, I gazed across mile deep Vincent Gulch to the towering northeast face of Mt. Baden-Powell. My eye traced the peak's right-hand skyline from near Vincent Gap up, up and to a small step just below Baden-Powell's summit. At that small step, marked by a gnarled and ancient Limber pine, was the 9,225' high point of the Angeles Crest 100 course.

Tomorrow about 140 of us would pass this bench, descend to Vincent Gap, and then climb the switchbacks of Mt. Baden-Powell to that tree. Over the course of 100 miles, those that finished the AC100 would ascend the equivalent of nearly eight Mt. Baden-Powells and would descend the equivalent of around ten -- a daunting task by any standard.

During this year's AC100 training runs a question that has inevitable come up is "How many times have your run AC?" When I've responded that the AC100 would be my first attempt at running 100 miles the reaction has often been one of polite surprise and concern. Why at age 66 -- or any age -- would I choose such a challenging event as my first 100?

The answer is a simple one. My goal isn't to run a 100 miles. If that were the goal I'm pretty sure I could pick an event with a less demanding course and click off the miles. My goal is to become fully enveloped in the experience of running 100 miles through a mountain range that I have enjoyed for more than 40 years.

Over that time I've run, hiked, climbed, skied, and kayaked the San Gabriel Mountains. I've soared above its peaks in a hang glider. I've worked on its trails. On every visit I try to learn more about its flora, fauna, geology and weather. Photography from its peaks and within its canyons is a passion.

This year my dream of running the AC100 ended at Newcomb Saddle. I could not have had better conditions for running the race or a better crew or pacers. Quads and mind blown, I felt I couldn't continue. After sleeping an hour at Newcomb, and with the help of my pacer, I was able to hobble down to Chantry Flat.

It is one thing to know something intellectually and quite another to know it from personal experience. It was amazing and humbling. I learned a lot, and look forward to participating in the event again next year.

Many thanks to Hal Winton, Ken Hamada and everyone that helped to make the event happen. And a special thanks to the aid station personnel at Newcomb Saddle that did their best to get me moving before the cutoff!

Some related posts: Monsoon Weather for the 2014 Angeles Crest 100Crest of the Angeles, Mid January Trail Run from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell, Mt. Wilson - Newcomb Pass - Chantry Flat Loop

Friday, August 01, 2014 3:27:29 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
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