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.
# Friday, November 05, 2010

Pondering a Round Rock

From a run in the Simi Hills earlier in the week.

Friday, November 05, 2010 6:26:00 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ladyface from Heartbreak Ridge
Ladyface from Heartbreak Ridge

I wasn't familiar with the routes on Ladyface, and wasn't certain I could get to the peak directly from the Heartbreak Ridge trail. But that's part of the fun of an adventure run. I had a general idea of what I wanted to do -- an out and back from the Phantom trailhead in Malibu Creek State Park to the top of Ladyface. And I had an idea of the time available to do it -- about four hours. The details would sort themselves out along the way.

Or at least that was the theory. It was now three in the afternoon, and I was one hour and 56 minutes into sorting out those details. Theoretically, I was supposed to be on the summit of Ladyface in about four minutes.

Earlier, I had run out of trail descending Heartbreak Ridge, and had used a network of coyote paths to get down to Cornell & Kanan roads. But then I chosen the wrong "trail" to start the climb of the peak.

For sure the route would follow one of the prominent ridges on the east side of the mountain. Since the descent of Heartbreak Ridge left me on the northeast side of the peak I had looked for a route there. One car was parked at the start of a dirt road, and a street vendor had indicated he'd seen people start the climb there. My thought was that maybe an established trail would work up the canyon and onto the northeast ridge.

Wrong Charlie Brown! The trail, which (ha!) turned out to be a freeride course, was a dead end. Following it burned about 10 minutes and a good chunk of elevation gain. I ran down and jumped up onto the northeast ridge, where I found a use trail.

Low on the ridge it looked like this trail might go to a subsidiary peak and not the true summit of Ladyface. Whatever it did, I was now short on time, and committed to this approach. I would follow it until either I ran out of time, or reached a summit.

The face was deep in shadow and wet from Friday night's rain. Still a couple hundred vertical feet below its top, I zig-zagged up through the steep outcrops of Conejo volcanic rock. It wasn't how I had pictured the trail on Ladyface, and I hadn't expected to be climbing on wet, mossy holds for the second weekend in a row.

Two hours and 3 minutes into the adventure I scrambled onto the summit. A surprised hiker asked, "Where did you come from?" I explained, and he commented, "I've never climbed Ladyface that way."

I jogged down the well-used, but somewhat manky trail on the southeast ridge, followed Kanan back to Cornell Rd., climbed back up Heartbreak Ridge, and made it back to the car a couple of minutes after five o'clock.

Sunday, October 31, 2010 8:35:43 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# Monday, October 25, 2010

The Color of Rain II

From Sunday's climb and run over Boney Mountain to Sandstone Peak.

Monday, October 25, 2010 7:41:45 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crags on Boney Mountain's western ridge.

The face was not steep, but I was glad the pockmarked volcanic rock had big holds. Rainwater filled some of the pockets, and patches of lichen and moss on the face were saturated and slippery. It wasn't a runout climb at the Needles or Tuolumne Meadows, but gravity still worked the same way. I reminded myself not to do something "stoopid."

At the top of the face I looked around and sighed, and then looked around and sighed again. It was another stunning morning on the western ridge of Boney Mountain. To the west a nearly full moon struggled to remain above the hills, its brightness veiled in a mix of clouds. Another storm was expected in the evening, and the sky told of its approach. Broad strokes of cirrus brushed the blue above, and here and there fingers of tattered stratus reached into the coastal canyons and clung to the wet hillsides.

Today's forecast for the Santa Monica National Recreation Area had called for mostly cloudy skies, and a high in the 60s. At the moment it was mostly sunny, but already there were hints of clouds developing on the ridges and mountaintops. At some point in the day the clouds would envelop the mountains, and transform the morning's expansive vistas into a dimensionless gray. I hoped to get up the ridge, over Tri-Peaks, and to Sandstone Peak before that happened.

By chance the clouds behaved, and the splendid views and weather continued all the way to Sandstone Peak, and beyond. The run back to the Wendy Drive trailhead on the Backbone, Sycamore Canyon, and Upper Sycamore trails could not have been better.

As I climbed the final little hill to the parking area I noticed I had no shadow. Over the course of the afternoon the cloud deck would continue to lower and thicken, and by evening light rain would begin across the area.

Some related posts: Clouds and Crags, Conejo Valley Sun and Boney Mountain Clouds, Sandstone Peak from Wendy Drive

Sunday, October 24, 2010 3:08:59 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Friday, October 22, 2010

Clouds on Rocky Peak road

The second of two vigorous upper level lows to batter Southern California this Autumn has pushed the water year rainfall totals for many stations around the area to above normal.  Does that mean we're likely to see the wet weather continue through the 2010-2011 rain season?

Probably not. Since last Winter, ENSO conditions in the equatorial Pacific have flip-flopped. The Multivariate ENSO Index (MEI) has plunged from the fifth strongest El Nino for Feb/Mar to the strongest La Nina for Aug/Sep. The Aug/Sep value of the MEI is the lowest since Jul/Aug of 1955. Generally, El Nino conditions result in wetter weather in Southern California, and La Nina drier.

A precipitation composite for eight years in which ENSO was transitioning from El Nino or Neutral conditions to La Nina indicates that "on average" the coastal Southern California climate division recorded about 4 to 5 inches less precipitation than normal for the period November through March. The percent of normal water year rainfall recorded at Downtown Los Angeles (USC) ranged from a low of 53% (1988, 8.08"), to a high of 99% (1973, 14.92"). The average rainfall for these years was 77%, or 11.7".

Maps generated using the ESRL/PSD page Risk of Seasonal Climate Extremes in the U.S. Related to ENSO do not indicate a higher than normal risk for an extremely dry rain season in Southern California when La Nina conditions are present.


La Nina composites from CPC's ENSO Temperature & Precipitation Composites page suggest the period Jan-Feb-Mar may be particularly dry, but this is not reflected in CPC's official seasonal precipitation forecasts.

CPC's Three-Month Precipitation Outlooks and NOAA Winter Outlook were updated yesterday. The precipitation outlook for Nov-Dec-Feb in the Coastal Southern California climate division shows equal chances of above average, near average, or below average precipitation. As the rain season progresses, these probabilities become only slightly skewed toward below normal precipitation. The skew becomes more pronounced in Feb-Mar-Apr when the probability of below normal precipitation increases to 45%.

The title photograph is from Sunday's out and back run from Chatsworth Reservoir to Rocky Peak.

Friday, October 22, 2010 8:20:06 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, October 17, 2010

Update Friday, May 13, 2011. Good news! Effective Monday, May 16, 2011, Angeles National Forest is reopening about half of the area of the Forest currently closed as a result of the Station Fire. This reduces the closure area from 186,318 acres to 88,411 acres, and opens most of the burn area south and east of Angeles Crest Highway (Hwy 2) from Bear Canyon east to Twin Peaks. Some of the trails and areas opened are the Sunset Ridge Trail, Bear Canyon Trail, segments of the Gabrielino Trail, Nature's Canteen Trail, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Disappointment, Valley Forge Trail, Kenyon DeVore Trail, Silver Moccasin Trail, Pacific Crest Trail (some rerouting), Twin Peaks and the Mt. Waterman-Twin Peaks Trail from Three Points. For more information see the news release, detailed map, and other information related to Closure Order No. 01-11-03 on the Angeles National Forest web site.

On September 20th, after issuing a press release with the title, "Angeles National Forest reopens areas offering hiking, picnicking,"  Angeles National Forest (ANF) reopened about 5 percent of the Station Fire closure area, and extended the closure of the remaining 186,320 acres another year to September 19, 2011. Here's an ANF map of the revised closure area (PDF).

According to the press release, most of the areas burned in the Station Fire remain closed "for public safety." When will these areas reopen? In the press release former ANF forest supervisor Jody Noiron states, "The Forest Service intent is to reopen areas severely damaged in the fire over the next few years as conditions allow."

It's hard to understand the rationale for the extent and duration of this closure. Over the past year, many dedicated forest users have participated in permitted work parties and events in the closure area. We've  been on the trails and roads. We know firsthand that many miles of trails and dirt roads are passable, and much of the closure area could reasonably be in use.

Remarkably, a year after the fire, the size of the Station Fire closure area remains LARGER than the area burned by the fire! Some areas in the Forest that were burned are open, and some large areas that did not burn are closed.

Other than the boilerplate "to protect natural resources and provide for public safety" in the closure order, and some bureaucratic arm-waving, there has been very little information released documenting why these areas of ANF should remain closed.

According to an article posted on the Pasadena Star News web site (08/22/10 by Beige Luciano-Adams), acting ANF forest supervisor Marty Dumpis said, "It's not just safety but also we have to allow the area to recover because if we allow people to start trampling over regrowth then they've just set it back another year. We hope people will be patient enough, allow natural recovery to begin, and then we can get some of these areas open."

Is that the way Angeles National Forest higher-ups see us? The hikers, runners, and riders that most frequently use these trails are among the most experienced that visit the Forest. Trails constrain use, and are a minuscule part of the recovery area. If credible evidence exists that trail use would delay the area's fire recovery, Angeles National Forest should make it available to the public.

To keep such a large area of public land closed for such an extended period following a Southern California fire is unprecedented. Even in the case of the largest Southern California fires, the Cedar and Zaca fires, closed areas in Cleveland and Los Padres National Forests were reopened within a year of the fire. In many cases fire closures in the National Forests of California have been lifted within days or weeks of a large fire. This reflects a general policy that closures be implemented and maintained as a last resort.

In a 2009 presentation following the Station Fire, Jody Noiren noted that Angeles National Forest:

- provides 72% of all open space in Los Angeles County
- has 17 million people living and working within 1 hour drive
- has 3.5 million visitors per year, of which half come from within a 50 mile radius of the Forest

It may simplify forest management, and be more convenient for the Forest Service to keep such a large area of Angeles National Forest closed, but it is clearly not in the public interest. Extending the Station Fire closure will not enhance recovery, increase protection of sensitive species, or prevent the spread of invasive plants. But it will deprive millions of people living and working nearby of an indispensable and intrinsic public resource.

Long experience in Southern California demonstrates that public lands can be reopened in a timely fashion following a fire without abusing resources, or putting the public in undue peril. It is time to stop the doublespeak and reopen all but the most severely damaged areas of the Station Fire burn area to public use.

The Station Fire closure area is in the congressional districts of Rep. David Dreier [R-CA26] and Rep. Howard McKeon [R-CA25]. California's senators are Sen. Barbara Boxer [D-CA] and Sen. Dianne Feinstein [D-CA]. Determine and contact your Congressperson.

Sunday, October 17, 2010 10:41:38 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, October 03, 2010

Fog in Malibu Canyon

Did a variation of the "Phantom" loop in Malibu Creek State Park this morning. The basic loop links together the Grassland, Liberty Canyon, Phantom, Cistern, Lookout, Yearling, Deer Leg, and Cage Creek Trails, as well as Crags Rd.

The peak in the haze on the left of the photograph in the distance is Saddle Peak. The peak on the right is Brent's Mountain.

Sunday, October 03, 2010 2:57:08 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, October 02, 2010

Sense of Direction

From Tuesday's run in the Simi Hills.

Saturday, October 02, 2010 4:05:52 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Friday, October 01, 2010

Hot on the heels of our record setting Autumn heatwave, an upper level low off the coast has been spinning subtropical moisture into Southern California. The unstable weather has produced some impressive clouds, isolated showers, strong thunderstorms, as well as a few rainbows. This thunderstorm development is north of Los Angeles.

From today's run in the Simi Hills.

Friday, October 01, 2010 4:01:20 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Thursday, September 30, 2010

...Or maybe tap water in a reusable container?

Here's more info about Boxed Water is Better.

From today's run at Ahmanson Ranch.

Thursday, September 30, 2010 3:54:53 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Study of the leaflets of a tree of heaven

Study of the leaflets of a tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima).

An invasive plant introduced from China, Ailanthus is very common along the Kern River. It appears to be well-adapted to growing in the cobble along stream banks. It spreads through root sprouting and seeds, producing thickets which displace native vegetation.

According to Wikipedia, the tree of heaven "Was mentioned in the oldest extant Chinese dictionary and listed in countless Chinese medical texts for its purported ability to cure ailments ranging from mental illness to baldness."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 3:43:43 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Williamson Rock in the San Gabriel Mountains, near Los Angeles.

Originally posted 5/27/07. Previously updated 9/15/10. Scoping letter info added 12/22/13.

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.


Located in Angeles National Forest (ANF), Williamson Rock is an area of exceptional scenic and recreational value. Because of its proximity to Los Angeles, variety of climbing routes, scenic beauty, and moderate summertime temperatures, it is one of the most popular rock climbing areas in Southern California.

In December 2005, in order to protect critical habitat of the mountain yellow-legged frog (MYLF), the Forest Service “temporarily” closed approximately 1,000 acres in the upper Little Rock Creek drainage in the San Gabriel Mountains. The closed area includes Williamson Rock, and the Pacific Crest Trail between Eagle's Roost and the Burkhart Trail.

In May 2007 the Forest Service issued a press release and scoping letter proposing an access trail and initiating an environmental analysis. Now, nearly five years after the "temporary" closure of Williamson Rock, and following many delays, Angeles National Forest has completed a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) whose bottom line recommendation is to extend the closure another three years!

In the draft EA, the Forest Service says the extension is needed,"while neighboring [MYLF] population segments are given time to rebound from the effects of wildfire and consequent watershed emergency."

The Forest Service's recommendation to extend the closure is based on a false premise, that closure of MYLF habitat, and adjacent land, will protect the MYLF population. There is substantial evidence that this is not the case. This was recognized in the 1999 paper (Mahony, et al.) in which researchers assessed the disappearances and declines among Australian frogs and proposed methods to prevent further losses:

"It is generally accepted that the least expensive way of preventing extinction and loss of biodiversity is the maintenance of habitats. This argument is well established in the conservation biology literature (Caughley and Gunn 1996), however, it does not consider or deal with a situation such as that which currently faces frogs in Australia and globally. One of the puzzling features is that species have disappeared from areas of pristine or near pristine habitat and areas of large reserves where there are no indications of habitat destruction. Similarly, there is no evidence that an introduced competitor or predator is responsible, apart from the hypothesis that an introduced pathogen is involved (Laurance et al. 1996). Preservation of habitat or declarations of new reserves would not have halted or prevented the loss of the majority of species."

Since this paper was published, there has been much research in this area, and there is a growing body of evidence that global declines in many species of frogs, including the MYLF, is due to infection from the chytrid fungus, Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd).

It is believed that the fungus is spread through its own movement in water, the flow of water, and by the activity of infected amphibians. Because infection has occurred in pristine, widely separated populations, it is hypothesized that other vectors, such as birds, fish, animals or insects, could play an important role in its spread. Research has shown that spread by birds and other mechanisms are a possibility (Johnson & Speare, 2005). It is also a possibility that Bd has been present in amphibian populations worldwide for some time (Rachowicz et al., 2006).

In support of its recommendation that the Williamson closure should be extended, the EA states, "Indirect impacts to the frogs include the spread of pathogens, such as chytrid fungus, inadvertently carried into the habitat by visitors."

I have found no published evidence that recreational activities, such as rock climbing, are the proximate cause of the spread of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis into MYLF habitat. It would seem especially unlikely in the context of rock climbing in usually warm and dry Southern California. Desiccation kills the fungus. In the 2005 study by Johnson & Speare, in which zoospores and zoosporangia were introduced on feathers, under most circumstances the fungus became inviable after 2 hours of drying.

According to the EA, all remaining units of the Southern California distinct vertebrate population segment (DPS) of the MYLF have already been confirmed positive for presence of Bd. This suggests that a frog unaffected by Bd is much more likely to be infected by natural mechanisms and vectors from within the infected population rather than by Bd brought into the habitat by a human visitor.

Under the EA's Alternative 3 (The Recreational Development Alternative), in which climbers would be routed away from MYLF habitat, the probability of climbers spreading Bd from outside the habitat, or physically harming the frogs, or disrupting their habitat, would appear to be almost nil.

Rather than extending an unnecessarily prohibitive closure that is unlikely to benefit the MYLF, a plan such as Alternative 3 (The Recreational Development Alternative) should be adopted, and Williamson Rock reopened to climbing.


The efforts of the climbing community are being coordinated by the Friends of Williamson Rock in partership with the Access Fund and the Allied Climbers of San Diego. The Access Fund is a national, non-profit climbers' organization dedicated to preserving the natural resources used by climbers, and climbers' access to those resources.

Comments regarding the draft EA, and the recommendation to extend the closure of Williamson Rock for another three years, must be submitted by October 1, 2010. Send to:

Darrell Vance
Attn: Williamson Rock Environmental Assessment
701 N. Santa Anita Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91006

For more information, see the Friends of Williamson Rock blog.

The photograph of Williamson Rock was taken on the PCT while doing the run Pleasant View Ridge on July 2, 2006.

Related post: Complications

Tuesday, September 28, 2010 3:16:47 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #