Chilao campground, 6:30 am. The sun rising behind me is warm on the back of my neck. I’m drinking coffee.
I can see Mt. Wilson in the distance. I’d guess it’s a little less than 15 miles away. It looks very far.
That 15 miles will be miles 53 to 68 of AC100 – Chilao to Newcomb’s Saddle. This is where my race nearly fell apart last year.
This year will have to be a lot better in that section. The long downhill on fireroad from Shortcut is the last give-away of the course. Last year I walked it all, bitterly complaining. This year I need to run it.
I’m up here in Chilao this morning because I am running AC100. The last 2 years of my life seem to have been largely dedicated to the rather silly goal of running a 100 miles footrace through the San Gabriel Mountains. While the goal might be silly, the pursuit of it brings me up into these mountains weekend after weekend. These silly races have brought me to the Sierras, to Yosemite, to the Colorado Rockies…
Yesterday a group of us ran from Wrightwood to Islip Saddle, up Acorn Trail, over Blue Ridge along the PCT, with spectacular views of Mt. Baldy, up and over Mt. Baden Powell, the top of which features 2,000 year old limber pines – trees that date back to the time of Christ.
Western civilization is no older than those trees. The beginnings of Christianity, the birth of both Orthodox and Catholic Christianity, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, Calvinism, Lutheranism, Henry the VIII and the Church of England, the birth of Islam, the Crusades, thethe Black Death, the French Revolution, Columbus’ discovery of the AMericas, the Conquistadors, the slaughter of native Americans, the Spanish Civil War, the Pilgrims, the Age of Enlightenment, Michaelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso, Andy Warhol, the Civil War, WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the Chinese Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr., Hank Williams III, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Teddy Kennedy, Sid Vicious, Mark Twain, Truman Capote, the Marquis de Sade… all this and more, while those trees grew slowly, bending into the wind atop Baden Powell…
After the run, I headed into Wrightwood to pick up some groceries. There’s a used bookstore there that I love, and I stopped in to buy some books. Wrightwood is where AC100 starts.
Last night, I camped here at Chilao, Manzanita Ridge campground. Friday was the summer solstice. Sunday is the Super Moon – the largest full moon of the year, in which the moon is closest to the Earth, and it lit up the night sky.
All of this comes because of AC100. I never knew about limber pines, or Chilao, or the town of Wrightwood prior to this race. Odds are I would have never conquered my once paralyzing phobic fear of heights enough to get to the top of Baden Powell.
My little tent was bought specifically for these weekends training in the mountains. My larger tent was bought for camping at Western States. The sleeping bag was bought for Nanny Goat. All of these things, along with the trips to the Sierras, the runs through the Alabama Hills, through the Nelder Grove of giant seqouias, trips to Yosemite…come as a direct result of the silly hobby of running many more miles in the mountains than is necessary for fitness.
After morning coffee and packing up the tent, I headed out to Cloudburst. My plans weren’t solid. I figured I’d run down the PCT to the Burkhart Trail. After that I wasn’t sure. I could continue up Burkhart, running the AC100 course in reverse, an out-and-back that would end somewhere near or on Mt. Williamson, or I could do what I often like to do after a day of training on the course, which is explore some of the other trails.
As I was getting ready, Jorge Pacheco, Mari Lemus, Dominic Grossman, Katie Desplinter, & Howard Cohen all pulled up in two cars. They had camped at Guffy and were planning a point to point from Islip to Chilao, and were stashing water along the way and dropping off a car at the end. I’d met Howard for the first time the day before, riding with him to Wrightwood. As always, I can count on running into people I know in the mountains, but seldom in the city.
I headed down the PCT from Cloudburst. This is a wonderful trail to run down. The problem is during the race, we’re coming the other direction, and it’s a slog of a climb up. When I hit the intersection with Burkhart, I continued down instead of following the course in reverse and heading up to Buckhorn. I soon came to an intersection with the Rattlesnake Trail. Signs indicated that was the direction if I wanted to stay on the PCT.
I ran/hiked the Rattlesnake Trail for a while. It was a steady climb up, rather than the 8 miles down to Devil’s Punchbowl had I stayed on the Burkhart Trail. The trail was in bad shape. There were a lot of downed trees. At some point I put it together: this was the original Cooper Canyon section of the AC100 course that was now closed to protect the endangered Mountain Yellow Legged Frog.
I did not see any signs indicating the trail was closed at the intersection with Burkhart, but I should have figured it out on my own, simply because I knew the PCT was closed for a section. I turned around, headed back down, and took the much more traveled Burkhart Trail up to Buckhorn.
Now it was an out-and-back on the course. I headed up to eagle’s Roost, got back on the trail, up and over the scenic mound, and up Mt. Williamson. I’d heard the Mt. Williamson trail had been worked on and was in good shape. It seemed much less rocky than I remembered from last year. I’d never gone up it in this direction, and as always when running a course in reverse, you see things you never knew were there.
People always look at me funny when I say that Mt. Williamson is one of my favorite parts of the AC course. It’s a steep, hot, exposed climb, and we hit it just as the temperatures start to soar. It was where I saw the first signs of carnage during the race last year. It’s also harshly beautiful, and the run down (on the side I was now climbing up) is fun and very hot-dog-able.