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, 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)  #   
# 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)  #   
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