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, 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, December 22, 2013

Williamson Rock - Angeles National Forest

Update 12/22/13. New Williamson Rock/PCT scoping letter, dated 12/18/13, from Angeles National Forest to "consider resuming recreation opportunities in the currently closed area, in and around Williamson Rock." The following information regarding comments is excerpted from the letter WITH THE EMAIL ADDRESS CORRECTED per Justin Seastrand (FS):

To Submit Comments

Two opportunities will be provided for you to submit written comments specific to this proposed project, prior to a final decision. The first opportunity is the scoping period, which is currently underway and will continue through January 24, 2014. Issues identified during scoping will help determine the range of issues to be considered in the environmental analysis and will help determine whether alternatives to the proposed action should be developed and analyzed. A project website - - has been established and will be used to post documents and periodic updates on the process.

In order to receive full consideration your comments should be postmarked or received by January 24, 2014. Comments may be mailed to the following address:

Jose Henriquez, Williamson Rock/PCT ID Team
Angeles National Forest
701 N. Santa Anita Ave
Arcadia, CA 91006-2725

Comments may also be e-mailed to the following:

To help us identify your e-mails faster, please use "Williamson Rock" as part of the subject heading/e-mail title.

To be most useful, your comments should focus on specific issues, and identify which aspect of the proposed action your comments are addressing. Please include concerns you believe should be considered before a decision on the proposed action is reached. Your comments must also contain the following:

Name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address (if available);
Title of the project (Williamson Rock); and
Comments, along with supporting reasons, that you believe the Forest Service
should consider in evaluating the proposal.

Upon completion of the environmental analysis and prior to the signing of a decision document, a second designated opportunity to comment will be provided to the public. A copy of the draft environmental document and draft Decision Notice will be posted to the project website for review and comment. You will be notified at that time, by letter, web notification, and publication of a legal notice.

All comments received become a part of the project record and are available for public review.


The following was posted 10/5/12.

It's been nearly seven years since the Forest Service “temporarily” closed approximately 1,000 acres in the upper Little Rock Creek drainage in the San Gabriel Mountains in order to protect critical habitat of the mountain yellow-legged frog (MYLF). The closed area includes Williamson Rock, a once-popular rock climbing area, and a key 3.5 mile segment of the Pacific Crest Trail between Eagle's Roost and the Burkhart Trail.

As might be expected when an issue is complex and involves several concerned parties, resolution has been painfully slow. Williamson Rock is a large formation encompassing many smaller climbing sub-areas. The majority of these areas are outside of MYLF habitat. The Recreational Development Alternative protects MYLF habitat while allowing recreational access to other areas of the formation. (See the Friends of Williamson Rock web site for more information.)

Last year United States District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel (Northern District of California) ordered Angeles National Forest to "halt all construction and close access to the Williamson Rock Area of the Angeles National Forest until the Amended Biological Opinion and accompanying ITS is filed and the matter is reviewed by the parties and the court." It is unclear how much time will be required to complete these filings and subsequent reviews.

In the meantime, a recent article in the Los Angeles Times suggests there might be some reason for optimism concerning the fate of the MYLF, with "the fist-sized amphibians breeding in numbers not seen in decades."

The title photograph is from last Sunday's Pleasant View Ridge run.

Sunday, December 22, 2013 2:43:56 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, November 10, 2013

Santiago Peak (Saddleback) from the Rim Trail on Mt. Wilson

As I ran through the scrub oak near the summit of Mt. Wilson, my footfalls and the distant hum of a generator were the only sounds that disrupted the quiet of the early morning. A patchwork of high clouds covered the sky, muting the rising sun and prolonging the dawn-like light.

Suddenly, I caught the movement of something large off to the side on the trail ahead. It took a moment to decipher the scene, but over a second or two the camouflaged bowhunter emerged from the background of oak leaves and limbs. Never turning to look at me, he continued to creep up a game trail toward the observatory grounds.

Sunday, November 10, 2013 7:04:01 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, November 02, 2013

Sunrise behind San Jacinto Peak from the Mt. Wilson Trail.

As I worked up the Mt. Wilson Trail the first flare of sunlight gleamed from behind Mt. San Jacinto. The entire mountain was backlit by the sun, an aura of sunbeams radiating from its ridges. It was about 7:15 and along with a few other hikers and runners, I was chugging up the well-used trail from its Mira Monte Avenue trailhead.

Other than going to the top of Mt. Wilson, I had no specific plan in mind. I'd see how I felt on top and then decide whether to run back down the Mt. Wilson Trail or do something longer.

The run/hike to the top is a little over 7 miles one way with an elevation gain of about 4700'. It's a spectacular trail that works up rugged Little Santa Anita Canyon to historic Orchard Camp (about mile 3.5), and then climbs up to Manzanita Ridge and the Winter Creek Trail junction (about mile 5.4). Around mile 6 the trail joins the Mt. Wilson Toll Road for about a half-mile, then forks from it on the right, leading in another half-mile to the main parking lot at Skyline Park.

In addition to the original Mt. Wilson Trail there are four other trails that start/end at the top of Mt. Wilson: the Kenyon Devore Trail, Rim Trail, Sturtevant Trail and the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. Using these trails and interconnecting trails and roads a multitude of Mt. Wilson runs and hikes are possible.

At around 9:30 I topped out at the Skyline parking lot and while filling my Camelbak at a water faucet pondered some options. I could just retrace my steps and run back down the Mt. Wilson Trail. That would be the simplest and would be nearly all downhill. Tempting. But the weather was Autumn perfect and the visibility at least 100 miles. It was early and there was plenty of time to do a longer outing.

I'd been toying with the idea of descending the Sturtevant Trail to the Mt. Zion Trail, taking that trail to Hoegees Camp, and then ascending the Winter Creek Trail back up to the Mt. Wilson Trail at Manzanita Ridge. Variations of this loop are popular and most often done from Chantry Flats.

I didn't know what it would be like to do the loop from the Mt. Wilson Trail, but I had a pretty good idea. On the way up Wilson I'd peered down, down, down into the canyon ascended by the Winter Creek Trail. It looked like the climb out would add another couple thousand feet to an already stout tally.

And it did! Overall the trails were in great shape and there were many miles of superb running. Near Sturtevant Camp at the Mt. Zion Trail junction (about mile 10.3) and continuing above Spruce Grove on the Mt. Zion Trail the forests of bigcone Douglas-fir, oak, alder and bay were so dense and shady I had to check if my sunglasses were still on.

The difficulty of the ascent of the Winter Creek Trail from Hoegees Camp (about mile 13) on tired legs was offset by the beauty of the canyon. At the top of the Winter Creek Trail, I jumped onto the Manzanita Ridge Trail, so that added a little extra gain. I was happy to finally see the bench at the Mt. Wilson Trail & Manzanita Ridge junction (about mile 15.4).

Although there are several places that a fall could "ruin your whole day," the run down on the Mt. Wilson Trail is one of my favorite descents in Southern California. It's generally not super steep and there are long stretches of relatively straightforward trail.

The run worked out to 20+ miles with an elevation gain/loss of about 7200'. Although a bit strenuous, it visited some of the most scenic areas found on Mt. Wilson.

Saturday, November 02, 2013 12:20:09 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, August 17, 2013

Young deer on the PCT on Blue Ridge in the San Gabriel Mountains

The trail run from Inspiration Point to Islip Saddle traverses a rolling section of the PCT along Blue Ridge, descends to Vincent Gap (6565') and then climbs a switchbacking trail to the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell (9399'). The run continues along the crest of the San Gabriels on the PCT past several 9000' peaks to Little Jimmy Spring and campground. From there it is a couple of miles to the parking lot in the saddle between Mt. Islip and Mt. Williamson.

A longer version of the run continues over the shoulder of Mt. Williamson to Eagles Roost. Many runners stop at Eagles Roost because of the now seven year (!) closure of the 3.5 mile segment of the PCT between Eagles Roost and Cooper Canyon. Continuing past Eagles Roost requires running 2.7 miles on Highway 2 to Buckhorn Campground, picking up the Burkhart Trail and following it down to the PCT in Cooper Canyon.

Today we were looking to do under 20 miles and keep the elevation gain to something sensible. Tim had run this stretch just a couple weeks before while doing the Angeles Crest 100 -- his first 100 miler. Craig had crewed and paced a friend in the AC100 and was training for an upcoming 50 miler. Over the past several weeks I'd been doing a series of higher altitude runs and was also training for a 50 miler.

So far the run had been really relaxed and low key. We'd encountered a pair of young deer near Jackson Flat. They'd eyed us curiously before bounding off into the trees and the encounter seemed to have set the tone for the run. From time to time we stopped to enjoy a view point, look at the geology, or take a picture of a big ol' tree. Rabbitbrush was blooming everywhere, adding a bright yellow accent to the rocks and ridges.

Saturday, August 17, 2013 4:09:07 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, July 13, 2013

Runners on the trail to Telegraph Peak

What better place to be running on a hot July day in LA than the highest point in Los Angeles County -- Mt. Baldy! Last Saturday I'd done the Ski Hut loop on Mt. Baldy (officially Mt. San Antonio), and today I was doing another variation of the loop, this time with Skye and Ann.

Note that I use the term "with" here somewhat loosely. They've been training for the TransRockies Run this August, and putting in a lot of time and miles on the trails. How much? Today's run was just part of a 90+ mile, 22,000' gain week for Ann.

Even though both of them had done hilly 23-24 mile runs the day before, I still had to try and find ways to slow them down:

"You know the route-finding on the next section of trail is a little tricky..."


"Let me get a little ahead so I can get a photo of you guys coming up the trail..."


"I'm not sure I got that rock out of my shoe. Can you guys hang on for a second..."


"Pleaseee slooow dooownn..."

On the way up we did a variation of the Ski Hut/Baldy Bowl Trail that goes to the site where two Grumman F6F-5N Hellcat fighters crashed in a snowstorm March 21, 1949. Seeing the wreckage was a somber reminder of just how unforgiving mountain weather can be. It also brought to mind the image of a similar big-engined, vintage, single-prop fighter doing a spectacular, banked, high speed pass (just) over the summit of Mt. Baldy not long after I'd crossed the Run-to-the-Top finish line a few years ago. Today there wasn't going to be a problem with the weather, or for that matter, anything else.

After topping out on Baldy we ran over to West Baldy and back, and then continued down the Devil's Backbone Trail to the Notch. The running from the Baldy-Harwood saddle down to and along the Devil's Backbone is scenic and technical, and just about as good as mountain trail running gets.

We refilled our hydration packs at the Notch restaurant and then continued on to Thunder Mountain and Telegraph Mountain. The view of Baldy from Telegraph was excellent and it was easy to see Baldy Bowl and the route of the Ski Hut/Baldy Bowl Trail. We'd already done most of the 6000' of elevation gain we would do today, and about 3000' of the loss. Now on the 6.5 mile descent from Telegraph to Manker Flat we'd get to do the other 3000'.

Here are few additional photos from the run. Click the image for more info and a larger image.

Near the Top

Descending Baldy

Above Harwood Saddle

Devil's Backbone

Devil's Backbone

Baldy Peaks
Saturday, July 13, 2013 3:50:40 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, July 06, 2013

Hikers on the summit of Mt. Baldy

As might be expected on a holiday weekend, it was busy on Mt. Baldy. Hikers and runners were doing the peak by all the regular routes -- the Ski Hut/Baldy Bowl, Devil's Backbone, Bear Canyon/South Ridge and North Backbone trails.

I did a variation of the Ski Hut loop. This loop starts at Manker Flat (about 6160') and ascends Mt. Baldy (10,064') via the Ski Hut/Baldy Bowl Trail and then descends the peak using the Devil's Backbone Trail and ski area service road. Along the way I also ran over to West Baldy (9988') and Thunder Mountain (8587'). This variation is about 14.5 miles with 5000' gain/loss vs 10.5 miles and 3900' gain/loss for the basic loop. If you throw in Telegraph Peak, it adds another 3.5 miles and 1000' of gain/loss.

The weather was spectacular with just enough clouds to make the sky interesting. Temps were comfortably cool on top, and although warmer down at the Notch, OK for running over to Thunder.

Some related posts: Back to Baldy, Mt. Baldy Run Over the Top, South Ridge Relic, Up & Down Mt. Baldy's South Ridge

Saturday, July 06, 2013 2:41:01 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Friday, June 28, 2013

Ann and Skye on trail 10W04, between Mt. Waterman and Three Points

Did the 20 mile Three Points - Mt. Waterman Loop a couple of times this month. The first time was during a heat wave similar to what we're going through now. It was one of those days when you drive to the trailhead early in the morning, open the car door, and the "brisk" mountain air is a surprising 75 or 80 degrees. After doing the run I checked the temperatures recorded at nearby Chilao, and by 9:00 a.m. the temperature was already at 90°F.

The title photo is of Ann and Skye on trail 10W04, between Mt. Waterman and Three Points. Here's another photo of them in an area covered with bracken fern on a section of the trail that burned in the 2009 Station Fire. It doesn't look like it, but they are on a trail!

Last weekend I did the loop again, and the temperature was about 15 degrees cooler. What a difference!

Some related posts: Three Points - Mt. Waterman Loop, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail, Three Points Loop Plus Mt. Waterman

Friday, June 28, 2013 4:52:01 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, June 22, 2013

Big leaf maple leaves along the Gabrielino Trail

A soothing panoply of big leaf maple leaves along the Gabrielino Trail between Devore Camp and West Fork.

From last weekend's Mt. Wilson - Devore Camp - West Fork trail run.

Some related posts: Mill Creek Canyon Maple Leaves, Maple Leaves Along the Ritchey Canyon Trail, Big Leaf Maple Leaves

Saturday, June 22, 2013 1:25:31 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Friday, June 21, 2013

Chaparral Yucca Along the Kenyon Devore Trail

Chaparral yuuca (Hesperoyucca whipplei) at about 4700' on the Kenyon Devore Trail below Mt. Wilson. The plant was classified as Yucca whipplei for many decades.

From last weekend's Mt. Wilson - Devore Camp - West Fork loop.

Friday, June 21, 2013 12:44:05 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, June 16, 2013

Morning sun on the dome of the Mt. Wilson Observatory

I'd paused to rinse my arms and legs, hoping to wash away at least a little of the poison oak and Poodle-dog bush I'd been unable to avoid. I was at a small spring part way up the Kenyon Devore Trail, doing a variation of a loop that my son and I had done a year before.

Today's run had started on the top of Mt. Wilson, descended the Rim Trail to Newcomb Pass then followed the Gabrielino Trail down to the Rincon - Red Box Road. This year instead of taking the forest road down to West Fork, I stayed on the Gabrielino Trail and descended to Devore Camp, and then worked back upstream on the Gabrielino Trail past West Fork to the Kenyon Devore Trail.

Sunday, June 16, 2013 7:45:58 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, June 15, 2013

Southern Pacific rattlesnake on the Burkhart Trail below Buckhorn at about 6200 feet in the San Gabriel Mountains

This southern Pacific rattlesnake was on the Burkhart Trail below Buckhorn at about 6200' in the San Gabriel Mountains. We encountered the snake last Saturday while doing a loop from Three Points around Mt. Waterman. It's the second rattlesnake I've seen while doing this loop. The other encounter was on the Three Points - Mt. Waterman trail in a grassy area on the south side of Mt. Waterman at about 7000'.

The highest elevation I recall seeing a southern Pacific rattlesnake was at about 7200', near the summit of Suicide Rock, in the San Jacinto Mountains near Idyllwild. In Rattlesnakes: Their Habits, Life Histories, and Influence on Mankind, Volume 1 (Klauber, University of California Press, 1972) there are accounts of northern Pacific rattlesnake encounters at 11,000' in the Sierra Nevada, and southern Pacific rattle encounters at 10,000' and above in the Big Bear area and near the summit of San Jacinto Peak (10,843').

My most unusual rattlesnake encounter to date was while kayaking the Forks of the Kern in the southern Sierra Nevada. I had just done the entrance move on the rapid Big Bean and had stopped in a small eddy on the left side of the river, just above the most difficult part of the rapid. My kayak was facing up river and was nearly against the bank. I was looking back over my left shoulder, mesmerized by the power of the water pouring over the big drop. Preparing to do the move, I was totally focused on the river, when suddenly -- above the roar of the rapid -- there was the startling buzz of a rattlesnake at my right ear. I turned to see a rattlesnake on the bank at shoulder level. Fortunately the snake just rattled and did not strike. Double-adrenalized, I peeled out from the eddy and paddled over the drop.

For a brief description and a photo of each of the six species of rattlesnake that occur in Southern California see Rattlesnakes of Southern California (Loma Linda University Medical Center). I also found much interesting information about rattlesnakes on the web page of Loma Linda University Professor William Hayes.

Saturday, June 15, 2013 5:05:37 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
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