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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# Sunday, July 13, 2014

North face Strawberry Peak

After being closed 4 1/2 years because of the 2009 Station Fire, Strawberry Peak and the trails comprising the Strawberry Peak loop reopened on May 25, 2014. Today, I finally got a chance to get back on the 15+ mile circuit around Strawberry, and was excited to find that much of it was in better shape than before fire.

I'd heard that COBRA was instrumental in the restoration of the loop, but that is only part of the story. The preservation and maintenance of trails is now largely a community effort -- in this case CORBA, Mount Wilson Bicycling Association, Sierra Club, Los Angeles Conservation Corps, National Forest Foundation, REI, Bellfree Contractors, and the BSA all contributed to the effort. See the post Strawberry Peak Restoration Update on the COBRA web site for additional details.

The loop, which was part of the Mt. Disappointment 50K from 2005 to 2009, circumnavigates Strawberry Peak. The trails that comprise the loop are Josephine Fire Road, Strawberry Spur Trail, Colby Canyon Trail, Strawberry Peak Trail, Gabrielino Trail, and Nature's Canteen Trail. The loop can be started at Red Box, Switzer's or Clear Creek. I usually start it at Clear Creek so I can refill my hydration pack from the water faucet at the Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center at Red Box. (Note: Water might not be available here, especially in winter!)

Some things to note. The Colby Canyon Trail and the use trail up Strawberry Peak are somewhat hidden from view when you first get to Josephine Saddle. The trails are on the east side of the saddle, and well used. The Gabrielino Trail between Red Box and Switzer's Picnic area is generally in good shape, but watch out for Poodle-dog bush. The start of Nature's Canteen Trail is not currently marked. It can be picked up near the top of the paved road that climbs up from Switzer's, near the telephone/power line poles. It starts on the west side of the road. Most of the trail was overgrown, but it looked like it was being restored, starting at its west end.

I was glad to see that most of the bigcone Douglas-fir on the north side of the peak survived the fire and that Strawberry Potrero was mostly intact. There was a nice set of bear tracks between Strawberry Potrero and the steep section of the Strawberry Peak Trail above the Colby Canyon Trail junction.

Here's an overview of the Strawberry Peak circuit and an interactive Google Earth browser view of the route that can be zoomed, panned, tilted and rotated.

Some related posts: Strawberry Peak Traverse, Blue Skies and Short Sleeves on Strawberry Peak

Sunday, July 13, 2014 8:24:22 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lemon lily along the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail. border=0 src=

The bright yellow lemon lilies marked the trail. I hopped up on the log, followed it to it's end, and stepped off. An ill-defined path through thick ferns gradually became more distinct and after a few yards became easier to follow.

I was on the Three Points - Mt. Waterman Trail (10W04) and doing a clockwise circuit of the 20 mile Three Points - Mt. Waterman loop. Counterclockwise because it was a way I could get in some additional training on the Cooper Canyon section of the AC100 course and also check how the south-facing slopes of Mt. Waterman were recovering from the 2009 Station Fire.

The Mt. Waterman Trail is less used than the major trails in the area, such as the PCT and Silver Moccasin Trail.  While it has seen some post-fire maintenance, it has more of the character of a "use trail" -- as it did before the Station Fire. The trail is indistinct at times, winding its way around fallen trees and simply defining its route through use.

Some sections of the Mt. Waterman Trail near Three Points were severely burned. Higher up the mountain the fire made long runs up parallel ravines and ridges, creating a patchwork of burned understory and trees. The chaparral in the severely-burned areas appears to be recovering at a more or less normal rate. Of course the trees will take longer to grow, and it was great to see some pine seedlings and incense cedar seedlings have sprouted in the burn area.

The loop joined the AC100 course at Buckhorn Campground, descending the Burkhart Trail and then following the PCT up Cooper Canyon to Cloudburst Summit. From here it is nearly all downhill to Three Points.

Some related posts: Lemon Lily Along the Burkhart Trail, Three Points Loop Twice, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail, After the Station Fire: Three Points - Mt. Waterman Loop

Saturday, July 12, 2014 4:48:51 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, June 28, 2014

That's Art and Ann just west of the summit of San Gorgonio Mountain, which can be seen behind them. The peak is the highest in Southern California, with a summit elevation of about 11,500'.

The ascent of the peak had gone well. Including a stop a South Fork Meadows to top off our water, and another quick stop to talk to Dan the Ranger, we'd left the car just after 7:00 and made it to the summit about 10:30 am. With the short-sleeves and shorts summer weather and zero chance of thunderstorm, the summit was a busy place.

We were doing a variation of the South Fork - Dollar Lake Trail - Dry Lake Trail keyhole loop. The variation was that instead of descending the Dry Lake Trail from Mine Shaft Saddle, we continued over to Fish Creek Saddle and descended a "use trail" past (dry) Lodgepole Spring, rejoining the Dry Lake Trail at the Dry Lake outlet.

It seems to me that doing the loop counterclockwise -- going up the Dollar Lake Trail -- maximizes the runnability of the route as a whole. With spectacular trails and scenery the route is every bit as enjoyable as a run in the Sierra, and is my favorite route up Gorgonio from the South Fork trailhead.

Some related posts: Dollar Lake - Dry Lake Trail Run, Falls Creek Loop August 2013, San Gorgonio High Line 2009

Saturday, June 28, 2014 2:01:52 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, June 21, 2014

Between Vincent Gap and Islip Saddle the Pacific Crest Trail follows one of the most scenic stretches of trail in Southern California, skirting the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell (9399') and passing Mt. Burnham, Throop Peak and Mt. Hawkins before leaving the crest at Windy Gap (7600'), just east of Mt. Islip. It has long been a favorite of hikers and runners.

There are several ways this classic stretch of trail can be incorporated into a run or hike. Today we were doing the segment as part of a training run for the 2014 Angeles Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run. The AC100 starts at Wrightwood, California; then using parts of the PCT, Silver Moccasin, Gabrielino and several other trails, the AC100 works west through the peaks and canyons of the San Gabriel Mountains to Loma Alta Park near JPL.

Saturday, June 21, 2014 8:10:37 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, May 18, 2014

Running across the Golden Gate Bridge

If you've driven across the Golden Gate Bridge during the afternoon and seen the throngs crowding the sidewalks you might think of running across the Bridge as being akin to game of pedestrian pinball. But there are times when you can have the Bridge nearly to yourself and enjoy a meditative run across this icon of icons.

According to the Golden Gate Bridge web site the east (pedestrian) Sidewalk opens at 5:00 am year around. Starting a couple of miles away I reached the south side of the Bridge at 7:00 am on a Sunday, and even at that late hour there were very few people on the Bridge.

The distance across the bridge from gate to gate is about 1.7 miles. The Coastal Trail can be accessed from the north side of the Bridge, so depending on where you start in San Francisco you could run across the Bridge and then do a nice trail run on the Coastal Trail and only add 3.7 miles (or so) to your total distance.

Sunday, May 18, 2014 2:56:15 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, May 17, 2014

Running the North Peak Trail on Mt. Diablo

More often than not when you run down a mountain, you've also had to climb up it. Not so today. Today our Mt. Diablo run started on the summit of Mt. Diablo (3849'), worked over to North Peak (3557'), and then descended the Bald Ridge, Eagle Peak and Mitchell Rock Trails to the trailhead at the Mitchell Canyon Interpretive Center and Ranger Station.

I was more than happy to save the ascent of Mt. Diablo for another day. With the AC100 just a couple months away my mileage has been on the increase. Yesterday, after driving up to San Francisco, Brett had taken me on a run on Mt. Tamalpais. Earlier today I'd done a run to Fort Point and this afternoon would be doing another run when we returned to the city.

Except for an astoundingly steep and slippery section of service road between Prospector's Gap and North Peak, today's run was nearly all single track trail. Not the "cruise downhill, don't have to think about it" kind of single track, but technically interesting single track that tries hard to find a way to trip you up and knock you down.

One of the reasons for doing Diablo was to see if we could find the rare and endangered Mount Diablo fairy lantern (Calochortus pulchellus). There were a surprising number (50-100) of the yellow flowers along the North Peak and Bald Ridge Trails. It might be assumed that this was due to the area being burned in the September 2013 Morgan Fire, however there appeared to be as many instances of the plant outside the burn area as inside. I think there is another explanation.

The unusual pattern of rainfall that we experienced this rain season in Southern California was replicated across much of the state, including the Bay Area. As of February 1 San Francisco Airport (KSFO) had recorded only 1.5 inches of rain since July 1 and storms in February and early March accounted for a large part of this season's rainfall.

This pattern of rainfall, sun and temperature appears to have favored wild lilies, particularly mariposa lilies of the genus Calochortus, such as the Mt. Diablo fairy lantern. The butterfly mariposa (Calochortus venustus) was very widespread on Mt. Diablo, numbering in the thousands. It appears to fill a similar ecological niche as the Catalina mariposa (Calochortus catalinae) in the Santa Monica Mountains. The Catalina mariposa was also very abundant this year, along with some other members of the Lily family.

Here are a few photos from the Diablo run.

Coastal Trail Runs and Pacific Coast Trail Runs offer trail running events that start and finish at the Mitchell Canyon Trailhead on Mt. Diablo. Race distances vary from 8K to 50K.

For more information about Mt. Diablo see the Mt. Diablo State Park, Save Mount Diablo and Mount Diablo Interpretive Association web sites. This State Park brochure includes a trail map.

Saturday, May 17, 2014 2:50:55 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Friday, May 16, 2014

Running ahead of me at a brisk pace, Brett suddenly stopped and turned, gesturing for me to slow and be quiet. On the shaded trail ahead I could see something large and brown hunched over on the trail. It took a moment to realize that it was a big male turkey in full regalia.

We were on Mt. Tamalpais, and about a half-mile into an afternoon run from the Bootjack parking area in Mt. Tamalpais State Park. This scenic loop was the first of several runs over a too-short Bay area weekend visit. One of the innumerable loops and variations in and near the Park, our route included segments of the Old Mine, Rock Spring and Matt Davis Trails.

According to this November 2012 article in the Marin Independent Journal the turkeys were introduced into Marin County in 1988 by Fish & Game to provide hunting opportunities on private land. They have since become a nuisance and usurp resources from native species. During the birds' mating season they have reportedly frightened hikers and bikers. (I might have scoffed at that statement before seeing the size of this tom.)

It was a warm in the sun, cool in the shade afternoon with the temperature in the mid-70s. Earlier in the week an offshore flow had pushed temperatures in the Bay area well into the 90s. The heatwave produced numerous record highs, with the temperature at San Francisco Airport reaching over 90 degrees on Tuesday and Wednesday. The remote automated weather station (RAWS) on Middle Peak can be used to get an idea of the weather on Mt. Tam.

Today the winds were onshore, but the visibility was still very good. The twin summits of Mt. Diablo could be clearly seen across the bay, about 40 miles away. Mt. Diablo would be the site of one of tomorrow's runs. Rumor had it the rare Mt. Diablo fairy lantern was blooming, and Brett had planned a run on Diablo that included North Peak, Bald Ridge and Eagle Peak.

Here are a few photos from today's run on Mt. Tam. More info can be found on the Mt. Tamalpais State Park and the Friends of Mt. Tam web sites. This State Park brochure includes a trail map.

Friday, May 16, 2014 3:02:57 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, May 04, 2014

Symmetry of mariposa lily

For most of the Winter it looked like there would be very few wildflowers this Spring in the Santa Monica Mountains. The drought had taken its toll, and many chaparral plants were in survival mode. Most were desiccated, some were diseased and a few were dying. Winter-bloomers such as wishbone bush, prickly phlox, shooting star, big berry manzanita and big pod Ceanothus were practically nonexistent.

Then it rained. From February 26 to March 2 many areas of Southern California recorded more than four inches of rain. Los Angeles had the most rain over five days since 2010. Although the rain didn't end the drought, it did end one of the driest periods in 100 years, and brought crucial relief to the plants and animals.

The response to the rain was virtually immediate and has continued throughout the Spring. The rain resuscitated the vegetation and wildlife and revived habitats. Now, when you run, hike or ride a trail in the Santa Monica Mountains, if you don't look too closely, the growth and flowering of plants in the chaparral appears to be almost normal.

Rainfall in the area has been only about 40% of normal, but in a few cases plants have responded as if the rain season had been much wetter. Plants fill more than geographical niches in an ecosystem. They fill sub-seasonal niches of rainfall, temperature, sunlight and other parameters. If rainfall occurs at an optimum time or in an optimum pattern for a plant, its benefits can be amplified. The large number of Catalina mariposa lily and wild hyacinth blooming this Spring demonstrate this effect. The growth of non-native black mustard is also more robust and widespread than might have been expected.

Here's a slideshow of some of the wildflowers currently blooming in the Topanga State Park area of the Santa Monica Mountains. All of the photographs are from this morning's 12-something mile loop to Trippet Ranch from the "end of Reseda" at Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park.

Some related posts: Garapito Trail Runs, The Heavenly Ranch in the Hills

Sunday, May 04, 2014 2:46:35 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, April 19, 2014

PCT on Sierra Pelona Ridge

Because of an unexpected change in the Powerhouse Fire closure area, the 2014 Leona Divide 50M and 50K courses have been rerouted just a couple of  weeks before the event. With these changes all but about 5 miles of the 50M and 50K are now on single track trail.

The new section of the 50 mile course is an out and back on the PCT from Bouquet Canyon to Aqua Dulce. It begins at about mile 8.6 of the course, then climbs up and over Sierra Pelona Ridge and descends to a turnaround point at mile 17.6 near Aqua Dulce. When runners return to Bouquet Canyon, they will have done about 26.6 miles.

Like my run on the LD course a few weeks ago, it had been many years since I'd run the Bouquet Canyon - Aqua Dulce section of the PCT and I was curious to see what it would add to the course.

However you look at it the Sierra Pelona segment is an exciting addition. Pick your superlative, the segment includes the:

  • highest point on the course - about 4550' on Sierra Pelona Ridge.
  • most technical sections of trail.
  • steepest section of trail.
  • most scenic segment of trail with great views and an assortment of wildflowers.
  • longest climb - about 6 miles from Aqua Dulce to Sierra Pelona Ridge.
  • biggest elevation gain - about 2100' from Aqua Dulce to Sierra Pelona Ridge.

On my way back down to Bouquet Canyon from Sierra Pelona Ridge I ran into Dave making his way back to Aqua Dulce. We'd crossed paths earlier on the other side of the ridge, and for the briefest moment he was dazzled by my Jorge-like speed. "You didn't...," he asked. No way, I explained, "I turned around only a couple of miles down from the ridge."

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Saturday, April 19, 2014 1:41:30 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# 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.

**Note: The 50M and 50K courses have been rerouted. See the Leona Divide 50/50 web site and the related post Up and Over Sierra Pelona Ridge.

Saturday, March 29, 2014 10:14:52 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mountain biker riding down East Las Virgenes Canyon in Ahmanson Ranch.

A spectacular Spring day for a run or a ride!

Thursday, March 27, 2014 3:50:31 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
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