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, October 25, 2014

Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail
Mt. Baldy from the North Backbone Trail

According to my car's thermometer the temperature in the west San Fernando Valley was 86 degrees. To the east a large patch of middle-level clouds had morphed into a large lenticular cloud. Over the course of a few minutes the wave cloud continued to transform, dividing into a train of alto-cumulus waves.

I just shook my head. A few hours earlier and 60 miles away, I had been freezing. The plan had been to do a "Baldy Over the Top" run to the old juniper on the north side of Pine Mountain. Around 8:45 am, as running partner Ann Ongena and I crested the cloud-capped, 10,064' summit of Mt. Baldy, the wind chill temperature had been around 30 degrees. The air temperature was in the low 40s, but with the wind blowing at least 40 mph and gusting to over 50 mph it had been brutally COLD. Especially in running shorts.

Spending zero time on the summit, we waved to the hikers huddled in the rock windbreaks as we sprinted by.  The hope had been that the wind (and temperature) would moderate as we descended the North Devil's Backbone on the back side of Baldy.

It didn't. Wind-driven clouds continued to sweep past the ridge as we ran down the steep path. At the first opportunity we stopped in the wind shadow of a clump of stunted lodgepole pines and put on wind/rain shells. The shells were three ounces of magic -- without them it would have been foolhardy to continue.

As we descended to the Baldy - Dawson Saddle and then climbed up to Dawson Peak I kept looking back over my shoulder to the cloud-shrouded summit of Mt. Baldy. Were there more clouds? Was the ceiling lower? Was there more vertical development?

The day before I had checked the forecast from the NWS and the forecast models. A dissipating cold front was approaching the area from the north, but wasn't expected to pass through until sometime tonight. No measurable rain was forecast for the Los Angeles area. The last time I had checked no clouds had been forecast for Saturday morning -- but there they were. I had expected some southwesterly winds ahead of the front, but nothing like this.

I didn't like being on the back side of the mountain in potentially bad weather knowing that "home" was on the front side. We had just enough gear to deal with the current conditions. I didn't think it was very likely, but if the weather deteriorated...

Many of the incidents that occur in the outdoors are the result of a series of misjudgments. If you're already on the edge it's usually best to call it before things get REALLY complicated.

And that's exactly what we did. After descending a short distance down the ridge from Dawson Peak we turned around. Even if the outing was going to be a bit shorter than planned, it was still going to be an outstanding hike and run in extraordinary conditions with over 6000 feet of elevation gain.

It was just as windy, cold and cloudy on the second trip over the top of Baldy as it had been on the first and we spent about the same number of milliseconds on the summit before picking up the Devil's Backbone trail and running down.

Some related posts: Mountain Weather, Atmospheric Dynamics

Saturday, October 25, 2014 4:45:30 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Monday, September 29, 2014

San Joaquin Ridge, September 2014

With this year's El Nino developing in fits and starts and drought-plagued California clinging to hopes of an above average snowpack, a little September snow is a big deal, even if it's just a dusting.

The first low pressure system of Fall resulted in significant rain in many areas of Central and Northern California, with amounts falling off quickly to the south. According to the NWS, Redding recorded over 3 inches of rain; Red Bluff nearly 2.5 inches; South Lake Tahoe 1.8 inches; Downtown Sacramento and San Francisco both recorded about 0.5 inch.

For a rain-starved, heat-desiccated Southern Californian it was great to get out and play in the snow. I had a window of about three hours to do a run and the run/hike up San Joaquin Ridge from Minaret Summit was superb!

Here are a few photos from the run.

Monday, September 29, 2014 3:30:43 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, September 20, 2014

Sugarloaf Mountain from the Skyline Trail near Big Bear Lake
Sugarloaf Mountain from the Skyline Trail

The contrast in temperature was remarkable. On a run at Ahmanson earlier in the week the temp had been over 100. Here on the north shore of Big Bear Lake it was about 60 degrees cooler.

It was 4:45 am and 54 two-legged runners, and one four-legged runner (Lacey) were scattered around the Meadow's Edge Picnic Area. Some runners were sitting in cars with the motor on and heater running, some were checking in and picking up their bib numbers and making last minute preparations. One bare-armed runner in shorts and a singlet had appropriated a bathroom in lieu of a jacket.

At about 5:00 am were were on our way. The stars glittered brightly on an inky background of mountain sky. Surrounded by a frame of pines the iconic Winter constellation Orion ran across the southeastern sky, the brilliant dog star Sirius following at his side.

There were many changes and improvements for the 2014 edition of the Kodiak 100M & 50M. In addition to the 50M beginning at Meadow's Edge and starting an hour earlier, nearly all of the miles to Rim Nordic (~ mile 23) were on dirt road. As much as I like single track, there were some significant benefits to this. Most importantly, it got us to Rim Nordic earlier in the day and in better shape to deal with the difficulties of the Siberia Creek section of the course..

The loss of the PCT single track on the first part of the 50 mile course was offset by the addition of the Skyline single track following the Siberia Creek climb. The Skyline and Siberia Creek Trails are both spectacular. When combined they are among the most challenging, aesthetic and rewarding trails in Southern California. Thanks to the trail work by the Big Bear Valley Trails Foundation and Kodiak volunteers the Siberia Creek Trail was in better shape this year.

The weather was outstanding! Once the sun was up, my sleeves came off and it was shorts and short-sleeves for the remainder of the day. Reflecting the good weather, the changes in the course, the improved aid stations, and perhaps a better understanding of the character of the course, the finishing rates for both the 50M and 100M were up significantly from last year. Half of the runners that started the 100M finished and about 85% of the 50 milers finished.

Here are some photos taken during the 50 mile. The 50M/100M mileages mentioned in the descriptions are approximate.

This interactive Google Earth view can selectively display GPS tracks for the 2014 Kodiak 50 mile (green) and 100 mile (orange), and last year's 50 mile (yellow) and 100 mile (red). The view can be zoomed, panned and tilted. Placemark locations and distances are also approximate. It may take a few seconds for the selected track to load.

Many thanks to R.D. Matt Smith and all of the event staff, volunteers, sponsors and runners! For more photos, stories, results and info checkout the Kodiak web site and Facebook page.

P.S. Lacey and her "Dad" Aaron Sorensen both finished the 50 mile in fine style!

Related post: Kodiak 100 & 50 Mile Ultramarathons 2013

Saturday, September 20, 2014 4:47:33 PM (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)  #   
# 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, May 17, 2014

Running the North Peak Trail on Mt. Diablo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few photos from the Diablo run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Symmetry of mariposa lily

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 04, 2014 2:46:35 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, April 26, 2014

Running through oaks on the PCT during the Leona Divide 50 mile ultrarun.

Last June when she heard the news that the Powerhouse Fire was burning in the Leona Divide area of Angeles National Forest ultra RD Keira Henninger must have shaken her head. Just a couple of weeks before the Springs Fire had burned a large part of her Ray Miller 50M/50K course in Pt. Mugu State Park -- now the Leona Divide 50M/50K course was on fire.

Some organizers might have just canceled these events outright, but applying the expertise and persistence that makes her a successful ultrarunner and race director Keira put together alternatives that were every bit as enjoyable, challenging and well-organized as the original events. The Ray Miller 50/50 was transformed into the highly regarded Sean O'Brien 50/50 and the Leona Divide 50/50 course was rerouted.

Then just two weeks before the event the Leona Divide courses had to be rerouted a second time because of an unexpected change in the Powerhouse Fire closure area. Not only were the 50M and 50K routes changed, the starting point for the race was changed from Lake Hughes to Green Valley. Here's an overview of the Leona Divide area that shows this year's course (yellow), last year's course (purple), and the perimeter of the Powerhouse Fire (red). Note that the Powerhouse Fire closure area (as of April 25, 2014) is much larger than the area burned by the fire.

If you didn't know its history, the 2014 Leona Divide 50/50 was so well organized you might have thought it always started in Green Valley. This year all but a few miles of the 50M and 50K courses were run on the Pacific Crest Trail. Here's an overview of the 2014 course and an interactive Google Earth browser view that can be zoomed, panned, tilted and rotated.

An elevation profile for the 50 mile course was created in SportTracks. Elevations were corrected using NED 1/3 arc second DEMs. Using a conservative smoothing setting (55) the elevation gain/loss for the 2014 course was estimated be around 8500' and for the 2013 course around 7500'. According to the GPS tracks the 2014 course was about 0.5 mile longer than the 2013 course.

The weather for the race could not have been more different than the torrid conditions experienced last year. The NWS issued a winter weather advisory for the Los Angeles County mountains Friday evening that extended into Saturday. Just before the start of the race my car's thermometer read 37 degrees. It had rained overnight and a few miles into the race, small patches of melting snow were mixed in with the purple chia along the trail. Temps were cool all day, ranging from from the low 40s up into the 50s. Winds were blustery, but were generally less than the 25-35 mph that had been expected.

All things considered, the weather was great for running. If you had any doubt the role heat acclimatization can play in finishing an ultra, you need only compare this year's six DNFs in the 50 mile to last year's 42!

My favorite part of the course was the "last minute" addition from Bouquet Canyon to Aqua Dulce. I previewed this segment last week, and in today's cool, blue sky - puffy cloud conditions it was outstanding. Because I HAD to make the cut-offs, I didn't take many photos, but here are a few photos taken along the way.

Many thanks to Keira Henninger, the numerous volunteers, the community of Green Valley, the Pacific Crest Trail Association and the Mojave Ranger District for helping to make this event happen. Congratulations to Jay Bonthius, the overall winner in his first 50 mile race, and Kami Semick who took first among the women and placed 10th overall. In the 50K Eric Lynch just edged Chris Glibert for the win in the Mens division and Margaret Nelsen was first in the Women's division. For more info, photos and all the results see the Leona Divide 50/50 web site and Facebook page.

Some related posts: Up and Over Sierra Pelona Ridge, Back on Leona Divide

Saturday, April 26, 2014 11:04:44 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bob Kimmerly bench on the Pacific Crest Trail

It had been "a while" since I'd run this segment of the Pacific Crest Trail. This photo will give you an idea of just how long. That year January was warm and dry and none of the local creeks had enough water to kayak, so Gary Gunder and I were doing a lot of running. Two of the most enjoyable runs we did were the segments of the PCT from Pine Canyon Rd to Lake Hughes Road (FS 7N05) and Lake Hughes Road to Sierra Highway in Aqua Dulce. These PCT segments are closely associated with the Leona Divide -- both the race and geographic feature -- and include some of the fastest single track trail in Southern California.

Today I was back in the Leona Divide neighborhood and getting reacquainted with the stretch of the PCT between Bouquet Canyon Road and San Francisquito Canyon Road. Bouquet Canyon Road is the turnaround point for the 2014 Leona Divide 50 mile and this 13 mile stretch -- done on the way out and the way back -- makes up most of the single track trail on the course.** With the Leona Divide 50/50 coming up April 26 a number of runners (Karl, Dave #1, Matt, Dave #2 and others) were also out on the trail.

This section of the PCT is about as non-technical as a single track trail can be. It's generally in very good shape with surprisingly few rocks, technical obstacles, or steep hills to slow you down. Most of the trail is in chaparral, out in the open, and on sun-facing slopes. The elevation ranges from about 3300' to 4300'. Trail mileages are close to what the trail signs advertise -- about 7 miles between San Francisquito Canyon Road and Spunky Edison Road, and 6 miles between Spunky Edison Road and the 50 mile turnaround at Bouquet Canyon Road.

The weather could not have been better for today's run. Some shaded sections of trail were lush and green from recent rains and in places yellow bush poppy, blue Phacelia, purple chia, scarlet bugler and other wildflowers bloomed along the trail. The midday temp was in the 60s at the Grass Mountain RAWS (just off the PCT near Leona Divide Road). The temps at this weather station were in the 80s during last year's Leona Divide 50/50 when "in the sun" temps reached over 100 degrees.

In today's cool conditions it was a long run kind of day, and the 26 miles were about as enjoyable as a longer trail run can be.

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

Saturday, March 29, 2014 10:14:52 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Wednesday, March 26, 2014

View northwest from Rocky Peak Road near its junction with the Chumash Trail

There seems to have been a change to a more seasonable weather pattern in California. It looks like Spring weather will prevail over the next week or so, with some opportunities for showers or a little rain in Southern California and more significant amounts of precipitation in Central and Northern California.

Even if it was a little cool and blustery, the unsettled weather was perfect for today's run on the Chumash Trail and Rocky Peak Road!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014 3:42:35 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
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