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:


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 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)  #   
# 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)  #   
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