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 © 2006-2014 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.
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# Saturday, March 15, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 15, 2014 1:17:25 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mountain biker, tree and clouds

The Mortar Pothole

The "Mortar Pothole" is a water feature in the Simi Hills I've been monitoring on runs for more than 13 years. Its likeness to a mud puddle is deceiving; it typically has water from October or November into August -- a period of 9 to 10 months!

I've never seen the Pothole dry in the middle of a rain season, even during 2006-07, the driest water year on record in Los Angeles. But on February 17, 2014, following a 10 month period in which Los Angeles received only 1.2 inches of rain, the Pothole was dry and would remain dry until recharged by the 4+ inches of rain the area received from February 26 to March 2.

Now that the Pothole has been refilled and its groundwater sources at least partially replenished, water should persist in it well into Summer.

Ahmanson Blue Oak

Because I've been doing longer weekday runs I had not run past the blue oak at Ahmanson Ranch in a few months. Located north of Lasky Mesa, the tree may be one of the southernmost blue oaks in California. Regional climate modeling suggests that over the next century the range of blue oak may shift northward and diminish to nearly 60% of its current range, making the Ahmanson blue oak a potentially important bellwether of climate change.

After the recent rainfall I happen to run by the blue oak. Still in Winter dormancy, the tree had dropped many of its leaves and looked threadbare. Valley oaks in the area already had a flush of new, green leaves. Although the blue oak is very drought tolerant I wondered if the long period of dry weather might have claimed another victim.

A closer look at the blue oak's limbs on another run revealed tiny leaf buds, and some sprouting leaves. That was a relief -- the Ahmanson blue oak appears to be surviving the drought and will soon sport a new suit of leaves!

I checked on the blue oak on March 24th and its flush of new leaves were coming along nicely. This natural cistern, in the same drainage as the blue oak, still had water on March 18th.

Las Virgenes Creek

Even before our recent storms, small pools of standing water had developed in a few places along Las Virgenes Creek in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon. There are a number of springs along the creek and perhaps the suppression of plant growth by the drought and lower Winter evaporation rates created the pools.

From late Thursday (Feb 27) until late Saturday (Mar 1), the Cheeseboro Remote Automated Weather Station, located on a ridge on the west side of the canyon, recorded 4.26 inches of rain.

Surprisingly, the pools and the creek didn't look much different before and after the rain, and there was no evidence of surface water flow in the creek bed at the crossing just north of the Cheeseboro connector. The drainage above this point, dessicated by months of drought, absorbed many millions of gallons of rainfall!

This was not the case for all small creeks. Garapito Creek in Topanga State Park appears to have flowed for a period during the storm, but only puddles remained in the creek bed on Sunday, March 2.

Some larger local creeks peaked at flows not observed since March 2011. According to preliminary USGS data Sespe Creek at Fillmore peaked at 6,180 cfs and Calleguas Creek near Camarillo peaked at 2,970 cfs.

One thing that was very different at Las Virgenes Creek following the rain was the dramatic increase in the number of calling chorus frogs.

Rocky Peak Vernal Pools

The vernal pools on Rocky Peak are another water feature I've monitored for many years. They result from small scale aquifers in the sandy soil becoming saturated and occur during most rain seasons with normal rainfall. I have not had a chance to check them yet, but suspect that as in the case of Upper Las Virgenes Creek, most of the rainfall was absorbed by the very dry soil.

On March 19th I checked a group of vernal pools on Rocky Peak. One of the larger pools did contain some water. Based on the recession rings around the pool, it was being quickly absorbed. A week later, March 26th, I checked a pool in another area of Rocky Peak and found that it had recently contained a little water, but none remained.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 2:18:18 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Monday, March 03, 2014

Showery view from Parker Mesa

Beginning Wednesday evening and continuing into Sunday, two Pacific storm systems ended a nearly 14 month period of record-setting dry weather in Los Angeles and much of Southern California. Los Angeles experienced the driest calendar year on record in 2013, and until Friday had received less water year rainfall (since July 1) than in 2006-07, the driest water year since recordkeeping began in 1877.

According to preliminary precipitation data, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) recorded 4.52 inches of rain over the course of the storms, increasing its water year total from a desiccated 11% of normal to a not-too-bad-considering 50% of normal. Downtown Los Angeles' water year rain total now stands at 5.72 inches. This exceeds last year's cumulative precipitation total on this date by more than an inch, but still leaves us with deficit of nearly six inches.

Friday's rainfall total of 2.24 inches was the most recorded in 24 hours at Downtown Los Angeles since March 20, 2011, and Thursday's and Friday's total of 3.29 inches was the most rain recorded in 48 hours at Downtown Los Angeles since December 19 & 20, 2010. The storms increased February's rainfall total to near normal, and jump-started March with nearly half its normal amount of rain.

Foothill and mountain areas that faced into the storms' moist southerly flow recorded some impressive rainfall totals. According to this compilation of preliminary rainfall totals from the NWS Los Angeles/Oxnard, Opids Camp near Mt. Wilson recorded nearly 11 inches of rain, and several stations in the Ventura Mountains recorded double-digit rainfall totals.

Update March 4. With this recent rainfall 2013-14 will not be the driest water year in Los Angeles on record; but one good storm, or even two, "does not a rain season make." In the short term these storms have dramatically reduced the fire danger, provided crucial relief to plants and animals, and increased groundwater and reservoir storage. What happens in the longer term we'll just have to see. Over the next several days a series of systems are forecast to produce additional rain from Central California north into the PNW. While no rain is forecast in Southern California over the next week or so, and the 8-14 day outlook is for below average rainfall, some model runs have indicated the possibility of additional rain around mid-month. As long as the Pacific weather pattern remains progressive there should be additional opportunities for rain in the weeks ahead.

A related post with more technical detail and graphics is available on my weather and climate web site Southern California Weather Notes.

The title photo is from yesterday's showery run to Parker Mesa in Topanga State Park.

Monday, March 03, 2014 10:54:47 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, February 16, 2014

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014 8:40:47 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, February 09, 2014

Runner at Trippet Ranch in Topanga State Park

When I turned the corner at the Trippet Ranch parking lot and started up the hill toward the Musch Trail, I did a double take. The road was wet and it looked like it had been raining!

While it wasn't impossible that a rogue shower had been spawned from the deep layer of moisture flowing over the area, it was far more likely the road was just wet from on-again, off-again drizzle.

On the way over from the end of Reseda one thing is for sure -- there had been no rain. The dirt roads and trails had been in great shape. It would have been an exaggeration to describe them as damp. Although cool and cloudy, the weather was excellent for running and I'd removed my sleeves miles ago.

The Trippet Ranch Loop is a favorite. I'd taken the fire roads out from the end of Reseda, now on the way back it would be almost entirely single track trail.

Some related posts: Trippet Ranch Oaks, Trippet Ranch Mule Deer, The Heavenly Ranch in the Hills, Ferns Along the Garapito Trail, Garapito Trail Runs

Sunday, February 09, 2014 7:03:13 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, February 08, 2014

View west this morning from the Secret Trail in Calabasas toward Castro Peak and part of Malibu Creek State Park

This morning while the northern half of California continued to be inundated by an atmospheric river, recording inches of rain, in western Los Angeles County temps were cool; there was a mix of sun and wintry-looking clouds; but no rain.

The view is west from the Secret Trail in Calabasas toward Castro Peak and part of Malibu Creek State Park.

Saturday, February 08, 2014 4:28:45 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Friday, January 31, 2014

Dissipating wave clouds provide fuel for a fiery sunset

Tuesday afternoon during a run to Las Virgenes Canyon a series of extraordinary wave clouds developed in the skies of Southern California. Over the course of the 90 minute run the clouds slowly shifted and changed, eventually beginning to dissipate and provide fuel for a fiery sunset.

As mentioned in the post Lenticular Wave Clouds, the unusual "flying saucer" appearance of wave clouds has long drawn attention, the clouds having been depicted in 15th century art.

Here are a few additional photographs of the wave clouds as they developed and then dissipated. More photographs and information about wave clouds will be found in the links below.

Related posts: Lenticular Wave Clouds, Atmospheric Dynamics, Mountain Weather

Friday, January 31, 2014 2:18:12 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Thursday, January 30, 2014

It may have only been drizzle and very isolated light showers, but after the 13 driest months on record in Los Angeles and 42 days without measurable rain -- and counting -- being able to run in the "rain" this afternoon felt incredible.

If all the comments on Facebook and Twitter about the relief of having a little drizzle are any indication, we must have a built-in sense of the need for rain, and crave it when we don't get enough.

Thursday, January 30, 2014 5:55:54 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, January 25, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014 1:10:28 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, January 05, 2014

Strong winds on Mugu Peak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 05, 2014 8:40:39 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Saturday, January 04, 2014

Remember when it used to rain in Southern California? This is from a run at Ahmanson Ranch on January 6, 2005.

The 15 days from December 27, 2004 through January 10, 2005 were the wettest 15 consecutive days in downtown Los Angeles since record keeping began in 1877. Los Angeles would go on to have the second wettest water year on record, with 37.25 inches of rain for the period July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2005.

So far this water year -- since July 1, 2013 -- Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded only 0.97 inch of rain!

Saturday, January 04, 2014 6:18:55 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
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