Gary Valle's Photography on the Run
Images taken on trail runs, and other adventures, in the Open Space and Wilderness areas of California, and beyond. All content, including photography, is Copyright © 2006-2012 Gary Valle. All Rights Reserved.
# Saturday, April 19, 2014

PCT on Sierra Pelona Ridge

Because of an unexpected change in the Powerhouse Fire closure area, the 2014 Leona Divide 50M and 50K courses have been rerouted just a couple of  weeks before the event. With these changes all but about 5 miles of the 50M and 50K are now on single track trail.

The new section of the 50 mile course is an out and back on the PCT from Bouquet Canyon to Aqua Dulce. It begins at about mile 8.6 of the course, then climbs up and over Sierra Pelona Ridge and descends to a turnaround point at mile 17.6 near Aqua Dulce. When runners return to Bouquet Canyon, they will have done about 26.6 miles.

Like my run on the LD course a few weeks ago, it had been many years since I'd run the Bouquet Canyon - Aqua Dulce section of the PCT and I was curious to see what it would add to the course.

However you look at it the Sierra Pelona segment is an exciting addition. Pick your superlative, the segment includes the:

  • highest point on the course - about 4550' on Sierra Pelona Ridge.
  • most technical sections of trail.
  • steepest section of trail.
  • most scenic segment of trail with great views and an assortment of wildflowers.
  • longest climb - about 6 miles from Aqua Dulce to Sierra Pelona Ridge.
  • biggest elevation gain - about 2100' from Aqua Dulce to Sierra Pelona Ridge.

On my way back down to Bouquet Canyon from Sierra Pelona Ridge I ran into Dave making his way back to Aqua Dulce. We'd crossed paths earlier on the other side of the ridge, and for the briefest moment he was dazzled by my Jorge-like speed. "You didn't...," he asked. No way, I explained, "I turned around only a couple of miles down from the ridge."

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Saturday, April 19, 2014 1:41:30 PM (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #   
# Saturday, April 05, 2014

North Bluff Trail on Santa Cruz Island

Great outing to Santa Cruz Island today as a guest of the Trail Runners Club.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Saturday, April 05, 2014 4:08:26 PM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #   
# 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)  #   
# Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mountain biker riding down East Las Virgenes Canyon in Ahmanson Ranch.

A spectacular Spring day for a run or a ride!

Thursday, March 27, 2014 3:50:31 PM (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)  #   
# 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, February 07, 2014

Hoka One One Mafate 2 (left) and Mafate 3 Trail Running Shoes
Hoka One One Mafate 2 (left) and Mafate 3

Since purchasing my first pair of Hoka One One Mafate 2s in October 2012 I have run in five pairs of Mafate 2s, and in December 2013 got my first pair of Mafate 3s:

Mafate 2 Pair #1 826 miles (Oct 2012)
Mafate 2 Pair #2 553 miles (Nov 2012)
Mafate 2 Pair #3 510 miles (Jan 2013)
Mafate 2 Pair #4 343 miles (Mar 2013)
Mafate 2 Pair #5 205 miles (Sep 2013)
Mafate 3 Pair #1 108 Miles (Dec 2013)

The Mafate 2s have been used in races ranging from 50K to 110K, for numerous trail runs in the mountains of Southern California, and for day to day training on local fire roads and trails.

Generally, the shoes have performed well and been durable. I've had no seam or sole blow-outs or other catastrophic failures. I've had no blisters. I've used the stock insole in all but one pair.

The Mafate 2 did have a problem that has been prevalent in just about every model of trail running shoe I've used -- variation in cushioning. With 826 miles on them so far my first pair of Mafate 2s (title photo) have been phenomenal shoes. I may get a 1000 miles out of them. Even though Pair #5 of the Mafate 2s were purchased the most recently and have the least mileage, they have the worst cushioning. They were a decent pair of shoes -- I ran the Kodiak 50M and Whiskey Flat Trail 50K in them -- they just didn't last.

Mafate 2 Pair #4 was used for an extravaganza of mountain running which included runs in the Angeles High Country, Sierra and ascending San Gorgonio Mountain three times in four weeks. The rocky, rough trails took their toll on the foam midsole, wearing it ragged and tearing a chunk from one of the toes. I still use the pair from time to time.

Another higher mileage issue with my Mafate 2s was that the fabric lining of the heel collar would wear through. This would leave a rough spot on the collar that wasn't Achilles-friendly.

Enter the Mafate 3. It's been my experience that manufacturers often screw up the design of a successful shoe when a new "improved" version of the shoe is released. Especially when said company has recently been acquired by a larger organization. In my opinion the Montrail Vitesse, arguably one of the most popular trail running shoes at the time, was ruined when Columbia Sportswear acquired Montrail.

Happily, this does not appear to be the case with the update of the Mafate 2 and the acquisition of Hoka One One by Deckers Outdoor Corporation. From what I can tell the design changes in the Mafate 3 are spot on.

I got my first pair of Mafate 3s over the holidays. Out of the box the shoes seemed to be more comfortable, with slightly more padding on the uppers and a bit more attention to the comfort of the interior of the shoe.

The Mafate 3 outsole is more narrow in the forefoot than its predecessor and as a result the shoe is a bit more nimble. The heel counter and collar has been redesigned. It fits better, is more comfortable, and looks like it will be more durable. A handy heel pull tab was also added.

One change I didn't like is the Mafate 3s use Hoka's speed-lacing system. I don't have an inherent problem with speed-laces. I've used them successfully on a couple dozen pairs of the Salomon XT Wings I, II & III and other Salomon shoes. After one run I replaced the speed-lacing of the Mafate 3s with regular lacing. The substitute laces that came in the box were far too short, so I just used the laces from a retired pair of Mafate 2s. Much better!

The cushioning of my initial pair of Mafate 3s is very good, but only time, miles and multiple pairs will tell if the cushioning is more consistent than in the Mafate 2.

The Mafate 3 runs very well, and with the improvements made in the Mafate 3 it may very well be my favorite trail running shoe to date. I just ordered another pair!

Friday, February 07, 2014 8:11:21 AM (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #