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 © 2006-2012 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.
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# Saturday, April 05, 2014

North Bluff Trail on Santa Cruz Island

Great outing to Santa Cruz Island today as a guest of the Trail Runners Club.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Saturday, April 05, 2014 4:08:26 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bob Kimmerly bench on the Pacific Crest Trail

It had been "a while" since I'd run this segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. This photo will give you an idea of just how long. That year January was warm and dry and none of the local creeks had enough water to kayak, so Gary Gunder and I were doing a lot of running. Two of the most enjoyable runs we did were the segments of the PCT from Pine Canyon Rd to Lake Hughes Road (FS 7N05) and Lake Hughes Road to Sierra Highway in Aqua Dulce. These PCT segments are closely associated with the Leona Divide -- both the race and geographic feature -- and include some of the fastest single track trail in Southern California.

Today I was back in the Leona Divide neighborhood and getting reacquainted with the stretch of the PCT between Bouquet Canyon Road and San Francisquito Canyon Road. Bouquet Canyon Road is the turnaround point for the 2014 Leona Divide 50 mile and this 13 mile stretch -- done on the way out and the way back -- makes up most of the single track trail on the course. With the Leona Divide 50/50 coming up April 26 a number of runners (Karl, Dave #1, Matt, Dave #2 and others) were also out on the trail.

This section of the PCT is about as non-technical as a single track trail can be. It's generally in very good shape with surprisingly few rocks, technical obstacles, or steep hills to slow you down. Most of the trail is in chaparral, out in the open, and on sun-facing slopes. The elevation ranges from about 3300' to 4300'. Trail mileages are close to what the trail signs advertise -- about 7 miles between San Francisquito Canyon Road and Spunky Edison Road, and 6 miles between Spunky Edison Road and the 50 mile turnaround at Bouquet Canyon Road.

The weather could not have been better for today's run. Some shaded sections of trail were lush and green from recent rains and in places yellow bush poppy, blue Phacelia, purple chia, scarlet bugler and other wildflowers bloomed along the trail. The midday temp was in the 60s at the Grass Mountain RAWS (just off the PCT near Leona Divide Road). The temps at this weather station were in the 80s during last year's Leona Divide 50/50 when "in the sun" temps reached over 100 degrees.

In today's cool conditions it was a long run kind of day, and the 26 miles were about as enjoyable as a longer trail run can be.

Saturday, March 29, 2014 10:14:52 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, March 15, 2014

Headlamps of runners in the Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra on the Rogers Road Trail.
Runners on the Backbone Trail at About Mile 2 of the Backbone Ultra

Last year I ran the Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra and enjoyed everything about it -- the trails and scenery, the runners, the volunteers, the approach of the organizers, and just the general vibe of the event. The Backbone Ultra team did a superb job, and as far as I know there no major issues. Nobody got lost or seriously injured. The runners and volunteers were respectful to the environment and everyone I talked to had a great time participating in the event.

Still I wondered. Because of its complex logistics and administrative requirements would there be a 2nd annual Backbone Trail Ultra? Then on August 22, a little after lunchtime, the news was posted -- there would be a "Game 2!" I needn't have worried, RDs Howard Cohen and Mike Epler were on it!

On March 15 at 6:07 a.m., at Will Rogers State Park, under the light of a 99% full moon, myself and 46 other runners in the first start group began our Backbone Trail adventure.

In the weeks leading up to the Backbone Ultra I'd been closely watching the weather. Two weeks prior to the run the area was inundated by the most rain in 48 hours since 2011. There had been some concern that heavy rainfall in the Springs Fire burn area in Pt. Mugu State Park would severely damage trails. That didn't happen.

Ten days out it looked like an upper level low might affect the area. That didn't happen. As the event neared, the forecast trended drier and warmer -- much warmer. Friday as I was getting my drop bag ready, @NWSLosAngeles tweeted "Still expecting high temps to approach records at some locations this weekend" along with this graphic. That did happen!

On Saturday, the first day of the event, Santa Ana winds pushed the temperature at noon at Malibu & Piuma to 86 degrees -- 16 degrees higher than during last year's event! Note that this is the temperature in a ventilated, white-painted box several feet off the ground. The "in the sun" temperature, near the ground, on south-facing slopes was likely in the 90's. Even more telling, the temperature at Circle X was in the 80's from noon until 5:00 p.m. and at midnight was 74 degrees!

It must have been something to be on the Backbone Trail at its highpoint near Sandstone Peak in the middle of the night, with 100 mile visibility, a full moon and warm weather. I am really bummed to have missed that! I didn't get to experience it because I had some kind of heat-related issue and dropped at the Encinal Aid Station at around mile 43.

This is the first time heat has kept me from completing a run or race. So what was the problem? Probably a combination of things. I don't think I was under-trained or over-trained. I hadn't just had the flu or a cold. My taper seemed OK. It wasn't under-hydration, at least not in the first 30 miles. My best guess is that anticipating the heat, I drank too much early on. Not having trained much in the heat this year probably also contributed. It's hard to know for sure. Sometimes it's just not your day!

Although I didn't get to the finish this year, I still very much enjoyed the miles I did run on the Backbone Trail. Here's a slideshow of some images taken along the way.

It is a tribute to the many people that helped support the Backbone Trail Ultra that -- by a substantial margin -- there were more volunteers than runners! Many thanks to:

- RDs Howard Cohen & Mike Epler and their team Fred & Lauren Case, Willie Roland, Tres Smith, Erica Gratton and Dan Dicke.
- California State Parks and the National Park Service.
- Trippet Aid: Rene Canizales and the New Basin Blues.
- Stunt Aid: Alison Chavez/Amy Chavez and the SoCal Coyotes.
- Piuma Aid: Art Byrne and the Trail Runners Club.
- Corral Aid: George Plomarity and Patagonia.
- Kanan Aid: Paul Van Zuyle and his leprechauns.
- Encinal Aid: Bill Kee and wife Paula and the Coyote Cohorts.
- Mishe Mokwa Aid: Manley Klassen and wife Mara and the Coyote Cohorts.
- Sycamore  Aid: Puerto Mauricio and the Coyote Cohorts.
- Finish: Erica Gratton & Janna Williams and the Conejo Valley Trail Runners.
- Breakfast: Luis Escobar, Jerry Gonzales and team.
- Medical: The Josepho Team and Ventura County Search and Rescue.
- HAM radio operators at each of the aid stations and the finish.
- Volunteers at the road crossings at Stunt, Piuma, Malibu Canyon, Latigo Canyon, Encinal Canyon, Mulholland Highway and Yerba Buena times 2.
- Sweeps: Kathy Higgins, Rene Canizales, Erin Chavin & Pedro Martinez, Ken Hughes and Jack Fierstadt.
- All the Course Markers & Safety Patrols.

Some related posts: Backbone Training Run 2014 #1, Backbone Training Run 2014 #2, Run, Lop and Shiver, Backbone Ultra 2013

Saturday, March 15, 2014 1:17:25 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, February 16, 2014

Approaching the top of the first steep climb in the 2014 Bandit 50K

As I worked up the hill toward "Fossil Point" I drank the last mouthful of water from my bottle. I wasn't surprised that I had run out. The morning temperature had been the warmest in the six year history of the event, and the midday temp in the sun felt like it was in the mid-80's -- maybe higher.

In Southern California it has been the kind of Winter that those in northern climes can only dream about: Day after day with fair skies and the temperature in the 70's and 80's. Great for trail running, but with the trade-off that we had had the least amount of rain in over a century.

Chugging up the steep hill I thought about how the run had gone so far. Even if it was a little warm, it was still a pretty good day for a trail run!

Sunday, February 16, 2014 8:40:47 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, January 25, 2014

Backbone Trail Ultra Training Run #2 2014
Rock Formations Along Wet Fork Arroyo Sequit from the Backbone Trail

The Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra was one of the most enjoyable runs I did last year. The low key approach with the emphasis on the experience rather than the clock was the perfect fit for my first 100K+ run. To be able to run the entire Backbone Trail with great support, company and entertainment was fantastic.

Today's run -- the second of four 2014 Backbone Ultra training runs -- was from Kanan Road to the Mishe Mokwa trailhead near Circle X. This approximately 15 mile segment is one of the most scenic on the Backbone Trail with expansive views and superlative sections of single track trail. The 850' climb from Encinal Canyon to Etz Meloy Motorway is so well-graded you (almost) don't realize you're gaining elevation.

I was looking to get in some extra mileage and it turned out running cohort Ann Ongena was as well. Ann was marking the course for the training run, so the plan was to do the Kanan to Mishe Mokwa segment and then continue from Mishe Mokwa another 13 miles or so to the Wendy Drive trailhead in Newbury Park.

Saturday, January 25, 2014 2:51:06 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mt. Burnham from the PCT in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles
Mt. Burnham from the PCT

It's been warm in Southern California. Thursday Bob Hope Airport reached a high of 90 degrees and it seems every couple of days another high temperature record is broken or one SoCal city or another is the hottest spot in the nation.

Not only has it been really warm, it's been really dry. Downtown Los Angeles recorded only 0.2 inch of rain in December and not a measurable drop of rain has fallen so far this January. We already set the record for the driest calendar year, and at the moment we're vying for the driest water year on record.

The unusually warm and dry weather made me wonder what the conditions were like in the Angeles high country. Might the PCT be runnable between Islip Saddle (6593') and Mt. Baden-Powell (9399')? As warm and as dry as its been, how much snow could there be? 

At Islip Saddle there was very little snow. Here and there tiny remnants hid under the snowbush, but for the most part the north slopes of Mt. Islip looked more like July than January. 

I encountered the first larger patches of snow and ice in the deeply shaded corners of trail before Little Jimmy Campground and Spring. It was easily traversed, but reminded me of November runs on San Jacinto Peak and San Gorgonio Mountain, when early season snow had melted and refrozen, turning sections of trail into a skating rink.

The thing is, it doesn't take a lot of snow to transform a straightforward trail run into a slip and slide adventure, especially when the snow is icy. As warm as it was in the sun, several sections of the PCT between Islip and Baden-Powell never see the sun in Winter and were surprisingly cold. Even if it was 80-something degrees in the lowlands.

In this case if you wanted to bypass most of the snow patches you could do that by following the crest. On the way to Baden-Powell I tried to stay on the trail to see what sections were clear.  On the way back I climbed Mt. Burnham, Throop Peak, Mt. Hawkins and a couple other peaklets, so stayed on the crest.

Here's a very short video (under 2 minutes) that will give you an idea what the conditions were like.

Saturday, January 18, 2014 1:10:28 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, January 12, 2014

Backbone Trail Training 2014 - Stunt to Kanan

With the 2nd Annual Coyote Backbone Trail Ultra a mere 62 days away 28 assorted trail runners gathered under the tutelage of Mike Epler for Backbone Training Run #1.

The run was from the top of Stunt Road, at about mile 18 of the BBT, to Kanan Road at about mile 37. The segment included one of the three big climbs on the BBT and near Saddle Peak reached the second highest point on the Backbone Trail. Race day the segment will follow a long climb from Topanga Canyon up Hondo Canyon to Fossil Ridge. The elevation gain on the approximately 19 mile run was around 3400 feet and the elevation loss about 4300 feet.

It was a superb run on an excellent section of the Backbone Trail! Here's a short slideshow with a few photos from the run.

Sunday, January 12, 2014 9:08:26 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, January 05, 2014

Strong winds on Mugu Peak

Offshore wind events have been frequent this rain season. They often follow "inside slider" systems that miss Southern California and take a more inland track over the West. The result is more wind and less rain.

Los Angeles wrapped up calendar year 2013 with the least amount of rainfall on record. When talking about rainfall in Southern California it is more common to refer to the "water year" which runs from July 1 to June 30. Our rain season generally runs from October to April, so the water year includes all the months of a particular rain season.

So when was the driest water year in Los Angeles? It was just a few years ago, in 2006-2007 when only 3.21 inches of rain was recorded. There were also many wind events in that dry rain season, and like this January not a lot of green in the hills. To date we have had less rainfall this water year than in 2006-2007!

For the most part this Fall and Winter I've been able to work around the wind events and do runs that more or less escaped the wind. I thought that was going to be the case again today. The predicted offshore event seemed to be behind schedule and when I left for the Wendy Drive trailhead there wasn't much wind.

There were stirrings of an offshore breeze at the trailhead and I commented to a hiker that I hoped the winds would hold off until later in the day. The plan was to do the out and back run from Wendy Drive to Mugu Peak. Because of the myriad of route choices, this is a fun run to do as a time challenge. What is the fastest route? Try it and see.

Things looked good all the way down Sycamore Canyon and into La Jolla Valley, but the wind started to pick up as I worked toward Mugu Peak.

Once on the peak it was like flipping a switch on a wind tunnel! I was ahead of my PR to the peak by several minutes and I was trying to push the pace. That was not happening and several times I had to pause and put a hand down as I staggered in the middle of a big step.

I caught up to a couple of people just before the final steep push to the summit. The wind flow was not as turbulent and gusty here and one of them started to run. With each stride the dust streaked from his shoes and I stopped to take some photos and this HD video snapshot.  The smoother winds didn't last for long, and neither did the running.

Mugu Peak's next door neighbor to the west, Laguna Peak, has recorded a wind gust of 125 mph. In this photo from Boney Mountain Mugu Peak is on the far left and Laguna Peak has the communications equipment on the summit. Today I'd estimate the strongest gusts on Mugu Peak were in the range of 50-60 mph. The winds were strong enough that the sewn end of a fluttering strap was like a whip and just as capable of raising a welt.

I spent zero time on the summit and was very happy to get back down to La Jolla Valley.

Some related posts: Wendy Drive - Mugu Peak Challenge, La Jolla Valley & Mugu Peak from Wendy Drive

Sunday, January 05, 2014 8:40:39 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Las Llajas Canyon, in the eastern Simi Valley

Not everywhere is parched and brown in moisture-starved Southern California. There are a few places that have slurped up a few extra raindrops and are turning green.

This patch of green is in Las Llajas Canyon, in the eastern Simi Valley. Judging from the green growth and dried mud on the road in the upper part of the canyon, there must have been some extra rainfall here. There was even some water in one section of the creek.

Las Llajas Canyon is part of the 50K & 30K courses in the Bandit Trail Runs coming up February 16, 2014 at Corriganville Park in Simi Valley, CA.

Some related posts: Bandit 50K 2013 Notes, Las Llajas Longhorns, Chumash-Las Llajas Loop

Wednesday, January 01, 2014 4:17:30 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve Spectacular

With some long runs looming in the not too distant future it seems many of my runs are ending after dark -- even on New Year's Eve.

There's an extra measure of involvement when the sun is setting and it's an hour back to the trailhead. Yes, it's easy to carry a headlamp, but it's more fun to try and get along without it. Without the headlamp you become part of your surroundings, with it you're just a visitor.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013 3:34:22 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, December 29, 2013

Windblown stratus on Santa Monica Bay with Palos Verdes Peninsula in the distance

The tinge of frost on the rusty M*A*S*H ambulance wasn't so much of a surprise, but that there was not even a breath of wind at the M*A*S*H site was astonishing.

Overnight unrelenting winds had rushed and roared through the palm trees above the house and I'd steeled myself for what would surely be a difficult run.

But when I arrived at the Cistern trailhead on Mulholland Drive there was almost no wind. A layer of cold air trapped against the crest of the Santa Monica Mountains in the Malibu Creek drainage was shielding the area from the wind. At least for a while.

When I'd left the house in the West Valley the temperature had been a balmy 64 degrees. As I turned onto Mulholland Highway from Malibu Canyon Road my car's thermometer had read 32 degrees and at the trailhead it had been 46 degrees. Along Malibu Creek at the M*A*S*H site I'd guess the temperature was in the mid-thirties.

Incredibly, the climb up Bulldog Motorway was one of the most pleasant I've done. Near freezing temperatures gave way to warming Winter sunshine, and as I worked up the grade I wondered how long the respite from the wind would last. To the northeast I could see the telltale dusty haze from strong offshore winds in the San Fernando Valley. At some point those winds would scour out the protective layer of cold air or I would climb above it.

It wasn't until about halfway up the Bulldog climb that the wind started to pick up. But it was still far less windy than I had expected. Several sections of Castro Peak and Mesa Peak fire roads were in the lee of the crest, and the running was excellent. The variegated patterns of sun, stratus and wind on the Pacific was spectacular.

Once I was off the crest the wind diminished to little more than a zephyr. In many areas -- such as at Tapia Park and along Crags Road there was no wind at all.

But it was still windy in the West Valley. When I got home from the run I checked the Cheeseboro RAWS, which is about 6 miles NNE of Malibu Creek State Park. Between 9:30 and 10:30, when it had been dead still on Crags Road, the Cheeseboro RAWS had recorded steady winds of 30 mph, gusting to as high as 50 mph!

The title photo is of windblown stratus on Santa Monica Bay with Palos Verdes Peninsula in the distance.

Some related posts: Malibu Creek State Park Scenic Loop, Vertical Relief

Sunday, December 29, 2013 10:47:48 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Friday, December 20, 2013

Sunset and Moonrise Miles are Free

Long colors spread across the sky, flamboyant and vivid, fading with time.

Gravity is suspended and the world glides effortlessly by.

In growing darkness warm hillsides cling to the day and cold canyons foretell the night.

Running is more by feel than by sight.

A full December moon rises, eerie in the clouds. Coyotes yip, yip, yip on a nearby hill.

An owl waits, and then fills the silence with a hoot, hoot, hooo...

I switch on my headlamp and it all disappears.

Friday, December 20, 2013 9:26:25 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
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