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.
# Saturday, July 23, 2011

Running in the San Jacinto Wilderness, near Skunk Cabbage Meadow

It had been about four months since I'd been to the summit of Mt. San Jacinto. Last time there had been several feet of snow, and the summit had been an inhospitable place with frigid temperatures and buffeting winds. Not so today. Short sleeves and running shorts were the attire of the day, and the weather was more like Malibu Beach than the summit of a 10,000 foot peak.

I was running with Craig Kinard, a long-time backpacker, but relatively new convert to trail running. With the help of Team CrossFit Academy, Craig discovered he likes to run up mountains, and has done well in both the Baldy Run to the Top and Mt. Wilson trail races. Next month he's planning to run his first ultra -- the Mt. Disappointment 50K.

Today we were doing an approximately 20 mile course from Long Valley (8400'), near the top of the Palm Springs Tram, up to San Jacinto Peak (10,834'), then down to the historic Tahquitz Peak Fire Lookout (8,828'). From the Lookout we would return to the Tram by way of Hidden Lake Divide. Totaling about 4000', the ups and downs would be good training for the 6200' of elevation gain in this year's Mt. Disappointment race.

Winter snow translates to Summer water, and its beneficial effects could be seen in everything from the new growth on the chinquapin to the healthy green of the pines. Wellman Cienega was a green wonderland of ferns and corn lily, and near Skunk Cabbage Meadow bright yellow lemon lilies were sprinkled among the bracken and old growth Jeffrey pines. In places western azalea bloomed in profusion, its sweet fragrance mixing with the smells of damp earth and sun-warmed pine needles.

Smoke from the Eagle Fire remained trapped below a strong inversion most of the morning, and for a while views of Tahquitz Peak were crisp and clear. As temps warmed the inversion weakened and there was a flare-up on the Eagle Fire. By the time we reached Tahquitz Peak Lookout, a smoky haze had moved into the area.

At the fire lookout volunteer host Joe Mendoza described the history of the tower and demonstrated the use of the Osborne Fire Finder. Using an earlier sighting he plotted the location of the fire and showed us it was in the vicinity of Warner Hot Springs. He also showed us the "hot seat" used in lightning storms. Thanks Joe!

It was an outstanding run! Here's a Google Earth browser view of a GPS trace of the route, and an elevation profile generated in SportTracks.

Here are a few additional photographs:

Toro & Tahquitz Peaks

Near Miller Peak

Wellman Cienega

Corn Lily

Tahquitz Peak & Rock

Near Tahquitz Peak

Some related posts: Room with a View, Autumn Trail Running on Mt. San Jacinto, Mountain Weather

Saturday, July 23, 2011 8:53:56 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Friday, July 22, 2011

Orb spider on rose snapdragon

It's wonderful to be on a trail early in the morning. Like the dawn, footfalls are soft, and in the long shadows the cool edges of night remain.

But one of the tradeoffs of being first on a trail are the surprise face fulls of spider and web. On a run up Saddle Peak this June I must have swept 50 webs or more; all the time trying to duck under them, or at least catch them on my cap, whenever I glimpsed a silver thread.

Friday, July 22, 2011 4:42:42 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, July 17, 2011

Rock Formations Along Calabasas Peak Fire Road
Rock Formations Along Calabasas Peak Fire Road

There are several good trail runs that start at the trailhead for the Secret Trail on Mulholland Highway in Calabasas. All are a mix of single track trail and dirt road. The longer options listed incorporate segments of the Backbone Trail. Mileages and elevation gain/loss are approximate.

  • Out & Back to Calabasas Peak: 4.25 miles 870' gain/loss
  • Out & Back to Stunt Road: 7.5 miles 1500' gain/loss
  • Out & Back to Saddle Peak: 15.5 miles 3300' gain/loss
  • Secret Trail to Malibu Canyon via Saddle Peak: 14.3 miles 2600 gain' 3600' loss

Following yesterday's Mt. Disappointment training run, I was looking to do something without a huge elevation gain (Kenyon Devore was plenty) and not too long. The out and back to Stunt Road was the perfect run for the day.

Some related posts: Secret Trail to Calabasas Peak, A Long Run Kind of Day, Tapia Bound

Sunday, July 17, 2011 7:56:47 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, July 16, 2011

Valley Forge Trail (Before scheduled trail work)

This year the Mt. Disappointment 50K course will be the most difficult to date -- 33.1 miles with an elevation gain/loss of 6195' according to course info. And that isn't a fanciful elevation gain, exaggerated to hype the race. Ask any Mt. Dis runner, it's  real number that has left both the experienced and uninitiated crawling up the Kenyon Devore Trail at the end of the race.

To introduce us to the changes in the 2011 course, Gary & Pam Hilliard and Fausto & Cindy Rowlan arranged today's training run -- complete with course markings and an aid station. Pam and Cindy took care of the aid station at West Fork, and Fausto marked the course. (Thank you!!)

The 50K course is similar to last year's, but instead of running all the way down to Red Box on the Mt. Wilson Road, at about mile 2.5 it turns right onto the Valley Forge Trail and descends 2.7 miles to the Gabrielino Trail. The course then turns UP canyon and follows the Gabrielino Trail 1.6 miles to Red Box Road. From this point the 50K course is the same as 2010. The combination of bonus elevation gain, bonus distance, and additional technical trail could increase times in the middle of the pack by 30-40 minutes or more.

On today's training run we did the first 11 miles of the 50K course down to West Fork, then followed the last 5 miles of the course up the Gabrielino and Kenyon Devore trails to the top of Mt. Wilson. The training run was a little less than half the length, and a little more than half the elevation gain of the 50K course. Working up Kenyon Devore, even having done it numerous times, I was shaking my head and asking myself, "and how is this going to feel after 29 miles?"

About 30 runners participated, many of them sandwiching the training run between races and other difficult runs. Conversations ranged from whether you need to do long training runs to do ultras, to favorite gels and drinks. But one runner's story surpassed all others. He was in a wheelchair from age 6 to age 19, had corrective surgery, and since then has run nearly 200 marathons or ultras -- including a 50K the weekend before the training run!

Note: The title photo is of the Valley Forge Trail. Trail work is currently scheduled on this trail July 30th and August 6th.

Saturday, July 16, 2011 10:45:24 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, July 10, 2011

Manzanita Trail below Vincent Gap

Some runs in the San Gabriels are more adventurous than others, and I'd mentioned to Devy that on this run we would likely have to deal with rock slides, washed out sections of trail, an annoying amount of bugs, and warm -- if not hot -- temperatures. We might even run into a bear. Devy is the owner of Andes Adventures, and having cut his trail running teeth exploring Peru's Cordilleras Blanca and Huayhuash, his response was "sounds like fun, let's go!"

The loop is a favorite, combining sections of the High Desert National Recreation Trail and Pacific Crest Trail. The route starts at Islip Saddle (6593'), descends to South Fork Campground (4560'), then climbs all the way back up the summit of Mt. Baden-Powell (9,399'). From Baden-Powell it returns to Islip Saddle on the PCT. It's 23.5 miles of scenic single track trail with a cumulative elevation gain/loss of around 5700'. Done as part of a normal week of running, and with stops along the way, it usually takes about the same time to do this course as a hilly 50K race.

The South Fork and Manzanita trails are part of the High Desert National Recreation Trail. The 5.25 mile long South Fork Trail descends the rugged canyon of the South Fork of Big Pine Creek. Due to the tortured geology of the area -- the San Andreas fault zone is nearby -- the trail is in a constant state of change. Each time I've run it, its condition has been a bit different. It has many rocky sections, and at various points along the trail it is necessary to cross the debris from small rock slides.

According to the nearby Valyermo RAWS the temperature was around 80 degrees when we rolled into South Fork Campground. Not too bad. It would be near 100 later in the day, and it's not uncommon for temps to hit the 90's here by 8:00 or 9:00 in the morning. The (unmarked) Manzanita segment of the High Desert National Recreation Trail starts on the east side of the campground and in about 5.6 miles leads to Vincent Gap (6565').

The news of the day was the condition of the Manzanita Trail. Sections of this trail have been washed out for several years, and after December's record-setting rainfall it seemed the trail could only be worse. Surprise, surprise, the trail was mostly repaired! We didn't even have to use tree roots for handholds!

Vincent Gap is at about mile 11 on the route, and about 2200' into the 5000' climb up Baden-Powell from the desert. As you might expect on a nice Summer weekend the PCT up Baden-Powell was very busy. In part because we wanted to save some for the outstanding running between Baden-Powell and Islip, and in part because we couldn't go any faster, the pace was pretty leisurely going up the peak.

Ah... the water at Little Jimmy Spring... Like last week, still so cold I thought it was going to give me an ice cream headache.

Related post: Islip Saddle - Mt. Baden-Powell South Fork Loop

Sunday, July 10, 2011 7:53:14 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, July 09, 2011

It's been several weeks now since my bout of contact dermatitis from Turricula (aka Poodle-dog bush)*. The dermatitis was much better after a week, but took about two weeks to completely go away. I've heard this is typical, and several people commented that their Turricula experience was similar to mine.

Update July 12, 2011. A running friend who recently did some trail work removing Turricula on the Kenyon Devore Trail sent this photograph of a blotchy red rash that developed on his forearm. He first noticed a reaction four days after doing the trail work, and the photograph was taken 10 days after exposure. As in my case, several hours later he commented that the blotchy rash had merged into a more general inflammation with swelling.

The other day I was asked if I'd rather have dermatitis from poison oak or Turricula. The reactions are so different, they are hard to compare. Plus, my exposure to Turricula was probably a worst case scenario. It was as if the goo from the plant was painted on my arms and legs with a brush, and left to cure. I'm guessing that an equivalent exposure to poison oak would have been much, much worse.

I was a little worried that the extreme exposure to Turricula might make me hypersensitive to it, but that doesn't appear to be the case. About a week after recovering from the dermatitis, I did some trailwork with a group that cleared a section of overgrown trail in Shortcut Canyon. Not only was there Turricula, but poison oak and stinging nettle as well. With normal precautions -- long pants, long sleeves & gloves -- I didn't have a problem.

As long as you don't have to wade through it, the oceans of violet flowered Turricula in the Station Fire burn area are striking. I've heard Turricula described as an invasive plant. While it is an unbelievably prolific fire-follower that seems to invade an area after a fire, it is a native California plant. Given just how prevalent it is after a fire, it probably plays a key role in the recovery process, perhaps helping to restore the chemical balance of the soil, as well as providing mulch.

*The taxonomic name for Turricula parryi (Poodle-dog bush) has changed to Eriodictyon parryi. The Jepson Manual: Vascular Plants of California, Second Edition (2012) has returned Turricula to the genus Eriodictyon, as originally described by Gray. According to the Wikipedia entry for Turricula (April 11, 2012), "... molecular phylogenetic analysis carried out by Ferguson (1998) confirms that Turricula should be treated as a separate genus within a clade (Ferguson does not use the term "subfamily") that includes Eriodictyon, and also the genera Nama and Wigandia; Eriodictyon is the genus to which Turricula is closest in molecular terms, and is its sister taxon." I use "Turricula" and "Poodle-dog bush" interchangeably as a common name.

Saturday, July 09, 2011 7:31:17 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A western tiger swallowtail butterfly feeding on the nectar of the flowers of snow plant.

Even though snow plant (Sarcodes sanguinea) is an unusual plant that does not contain chlorophyll and depends on a tree and a fungus for its nourishment, it still has flowers, and the flowers still have nectar.

This was the first time I'd seen any kind of insect feeding on its flowers.

From Sunday's out & back run from Islip Saddle to Mt. Baden-Powell.

Some related posts: Snow Plant, Western Tiger Swallowtail

Tuesday, July 05, 2011 5:03:02 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Monday, July 04, 2011

Humboldt lily in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon

Was looking to get in a short run this morning and decided to check if any Humboldt lilies were blooming in Upper Las Virgenes Canyon.

The last time I'd seen Humboldt lilies bloom here was June 2006, following an unusually wet Spring and a two year period in which Downtown Los Angeles recorded 50+ inches of rain. 

This Spring some months were wet and some months were dry, but December 2010 was the wettest in Los Angeles in 121 years. Add to the mix that the last two water years Los Angeles recorded above average rainfall, and it seemed there was a pretty good chance the Upper Las Virgenes Canyon lilies would be in bloom.

I'd seen lily stalks in other areas in recent weeks, and some blooming Humboldt lilies in the San Gabriel Mountains, but when I checked Upper Las Virgenes Canyon in early May, there had been none. But today there was -- right in the middle of thorny patch of blackberry bushes.

Also blooming in the canyon were California wild rose and the non-native plant moth mullein -- so named because of the similarity of the flower's anthers to the fuzzy appearing antennae of a moth.

Related post: Humboldt Lily

Monday, July 04, 2011 4:53:33 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Sunday, July 03, 2011

Mt. Baldy from Mt. Baden-Powell
Storm-damaged Lodgepole Pine and Mt. Baldy

I was at the turnaround point of an out and back run from Islip Saddle (6593') to Mt. Baden-Powell (9,399'), and had descended a short distance down the south ridge of Baden-Powell to enjoy the ridge top view. It had been a good run so far. It was windier and cooler than expected, but that was a good thing. Temps in the valleys were forecast to top 100 degrees today.

I'd been surprised to find no snow on Baden-Powell. In good snow years, remnants of snow will typically last until at least the 4th of July. There was a patch here and there last year, and sizeable drifts in 2005. This year a little remained on the north face of Mt. Baldy, but that was it.

Even if no snow remained, there was evidence it had been a tough winter. It looked like an unusually severe ice storm had struck the area. Normally resistant to such damage, a stout lodgepole pine had had two of its limbs ripped from its trunk, peeling away a thick layer of bark and cambium. On the other side of the peak, near the Wally Waldron tree, an apparently healthy limber pine had collapsed.

If I had been surprised to find no snow on Baden-Powell, I was even more surprised to find no one on the summit. That wouldn't last. A number of hikers were working their way toward the peak from Islip Saddle and Dawson Saddle, and I was sure others were on the way up from Vincent Gap.

After visiting the Wally Waldron tree, and chatting briefly with a hiker, I turned eastward on the PCT -- next stop Throop Peak!

Some related posts: Islip Saddle - Mt. Baden-Powell Out & Back, Running Hot & Cold

Sunday, July 03, 2011 7:35:32 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Canchalagua (Centaurium venustum)

Relatively uncommon in the areas in which I run, the vivid rose-purple of Canchalagua (Centaurium venustum) is always a treat to see. Not only are its colors eye-catching, it's petals are unusually uniform and precisely formed, which makes the flowers stand out even more.  A closer look reveals bizarrely shaped anthers, which are fluted and spiraled.

The plant is reported to have been used medicinally, but according to Chumash Ethnobotany by Jan Timbrook & Chris Chapman, based on the field notes of John P. Harrington, it wasn't clear whether it was "a remedy of the old-time Indians, or of the whites."

Here's an advertisement from an 1852 volume of the American Whig Review, in which Canchalagua was specified as an ingredient of the patent medicine "Dr Rogers' Compound Syrup of Liverwort, Tar and Canchalagua." (The document was digitized by Google as part of the Making of America Project.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 9:55:36 AM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Monday, June 27, 2011

Jeffrey pine near Grouse Mountain

The tree above is a mature Jeffrey pine we passed descending Grouse Mountain on our trail run Sunday. In a clearing, the crown of this tree has become so large and asymmetric its trunk has become bowed. (Brett is standing by the tree to give an idea of its size.)

Jeffrey pines can vary in stature from the stunted and wind-blown tree photographed by Ansel Adams in Yosemite to this champion big tree in Trinity National Forest that is over 200 ft. tall.

Depending on the rigors of its environment, Jeffrey pines and other conifers may stop gaining height, but often continue to increase in girth, expand their crowns, or grow near or along the ground.

Trees may be shaped through the actions of wind, fire, pollution, rain, snow, ice, flowing water, lightning, hail, sunshine, UV radiation, soil creep, animals, insects, plants, fungi, geology, and more. We were wondering what caused the contorted shape of this tree near Sheep Camp.

Here are some additional examples of trees that have been shaped by their environment:
Monday, June 27, 2011 7:18:33 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, June 25, 2011

Nearing the summit area of Mt. Pinos

Enjoyed a combination Father's Day & July 4th visit from Brett over the weekend. Friday we did a fun run at Malibu Creek State Park and today we headed up to Mt. Pinos to get in a cooler, higher altitude run.

In addition to Mt. Pinos (8831'), there are three other peaks along the broad ridge traversed by the Vincent Tumamait Trail -- Sawmill Mountain (8818'), Grouse Mountain (8582'), and Mt. Abel/Cerro Noroeste (8280+'). I've run past the indistinct path to Grouse Mountain numerous times on the way to Mt. Abel, always commenting "someday I have to check that out." Finally, today we did.

On the way to Grouse we did the short detour to the top of Sawmill. Since my last visit the Chumash spirit tower on the peak had grown, no doubt from the many fine days and views enjoyed here. This morning the snow-covered mountains of the Southern Sierra could be seen above the haze of the San Joaquin Valley.

The ascent of Grouse was straightforward. Like Sawmill Mountain, it has two nearly equal height summits. We found a small granite crag northeast of the summit and climbed a short steep route on its west face. It had fun technical moves on mostly good holds, but in running shoes you had to pay attention -- especially on the downclimb!

On the way back to Mt. Pinos we stopped by Sheep Camp. The short side trip to this idyllic spot is essentially compulsory. It would be easy to spend the afternoon here, listening to the wind in the pines and the gurgling of the spring; smelling the sun-warmed pine needles; and enjoying the greens, yellows, reds and blues of Summer.

I always feel a little twinge of regret when leaving Sheep Camp, but it was a great day to be on the move, and soon we were back on the trail and enjoying that as well.
Some related posts: Vincent Tumamait Trail, Atmospheric Dynamics

Saturday, June 25, 2011 1:01:19 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #