A Seasonal Prelude to Probable Magnificence
DATELINE: LOS ANGELES
While 22,000 Road Gerbils were getting their multi-figured money's worth out of the XIX Bill Burkathon here in the Great Satan By The Sea, I was a wee scampering Karma Squirrel skittering over the bosky flanks of Mt Wilson Phillips. Alone. Nearly naked. Cougar bait. And nary a Barking Duck [Torrence, Bingo, 1999] in sight.
I have raised my sights to being a Sunday ultra-trail pest this summer. Not that I'm interesting in running ultras, but tagging along as a whoopie-cushion while others are training strikes me as worthy. It's like watching a slo-mo circus train wreck, where clowns are ejected from overturned box-cars, only with dorky hats and hairy butts. But I get ahead of myself.
The weather had shifted from winter to spring in a few short days. Last week's chill and damp had given way to festive tendrils of happily buzzing flies, outriders to the hordes that will rise up and greet the rosy-fingered dawn a few weeks hence.
Mt Wilson-Phillip's crown of late-season snow was melting off, although snow in the north and west facing hollows were still covering the Rim Trail at the higher elevations. This would ensure a swift and eventful plunge into the abyss. Since my membership in the Sierra Club lapsed in 1988, and I was never a section-head, my ticket was not going to get punched yesterday. Leaving the lot, I hopped the 10' fence, avoiding impalement and disemboweling on the fence spikes, thus depriving carrion crows a full-spectrum non-GMO snack.
Running down the Mt Wilson Road the vistas to the east were stunning--snow-capped Baldy and lesser San Gabriel Mtn peaks were etched in crystalline white. I could only imagine how many round-faced snowboarders were lost in the ravines so far away. It was a Cheetoh for the imagination.
The Mt Lowe Saddle parking lot was crowded with round-bottomed Sierra Club hikers outnumbered by multi-colored body-armored mountain-bikers. I am grateful my sport does not require me to wear body armor. I gather it makes uphill running more challenging.
The descent down the Valley Forge Trail was truly enchanting. A full-on eastern exposure guaranteed a low-80's experience, lacking only the Thompson Twins and Wham! to round out the picture. This stretch is much warmer later, and I shiver with perverse anticipation imagining an August transit.
The trail drops steadily through scrub oak, canyon oak, but not black oak [Arkansas] towards the Gabrielino Trail at the bottom of the West Fork of the San Gabriel, intermittent with sun-blasted sections.
The Valley Forge trail is not popular with mountain bikers, which limits recreational tipping opportunities for the trail runner. There is something inherently satisfying about the sound of the wind in the trees, birds and squirrels having running feuds, and the fading shrieks of a mountain-biker going over the side of a trail after they've tried to run you down. It's times like these when I feel very close to Nature.
The West Fork Campground was empty of human activity. The preponderance of winged insect life again offered a small clue. I elected to continue via the Rincon-Red Box Road, rather than wrassle with the Gabrielino Trail which was probably overgrown entirely with poison oak. Think of it as an emerald-green car wash as the poison oak vines, bushes and shrubs caress you lovingly.
Any benefits of conditional virtue gained during the downhill were sternly and inexorably extracted on the continual uphill to Newcomb Saddle. I passed the Gabrielino Trail where it junctioned with the road. Keeping pure thoughts in mind, I renounced Satan and Temptation, opting for the Schlong and Winding Road to the Saddle. Those who've run Angeles Crest probably have Golden Memories of that aid station, where the Full Rubber Glove awaits the Initiate. The magic phrase is "my precioussssssss".
Newcomb Saddle offers clear vistas of the mountains to the north and east, the Santa Anita Race track to the south, and tucked into the eastern side of Mt Wilson-Phillips, Chantry Flats, Shipwreck of Hopes for many during Angeles Crest.
The trail was rejoined for the fat mile down to Newcomb Pass. Confused? Don't be. You sat through "Lord of the Rings" and you remembered Aragorn, Arathorn, Karamel Korn; and they all had bad '60s hair.
Now it was 6.9 miles back to Chantry. Dropping down through stands of incense cedar, spruce, canyon oak, mairsy doats, poison oak, manzanita [ABBA, 1975] and other misc green and grey shrub items. The streams are in full rip right now, and cold enough to make the Manly Parts Retract If So Desired.
The run finished up as it usually does--the vertically-bracing, searing .6 mile stroll out of the canyon straight up the black top, passing day hikers and stumbling children wondering how their ever going to make it all the way to Sturtevant Falls, 1.5 miles from the parking lot.
But that is another story altogether.