Archive for the '04 Trail Running' Category

Picking splinters out of my thighs…

So with the weather making it too wet to climb outside, but not enough snow yet to ski, I’ve been pushed into the rock gym and back to trail running. My legs really aren’t up to the pounding, so I’ve been starting slow, with shorter runs and a lot of time off in between to let my feet and knees get re-acquainted to the work.

So on the 24th I checked out Lynch Canyon for the first time. This is the open space I stumbled across during a run on what I thought was some ranchers property. Well, it is some ranchers property, as all the cows will demonstrate, but its become open space and is accessible for hikers, bikers, and horses. Not to shabby.

Photo: Looking up North Lynch Canyon. The Middle Canyon turns left at the trees.

I ended up running for 40 minutes instead of the 30 I had planned, but I ran up the Middle fork along dirt road before turning right on cow-paths-turned-trails to cross the ridge and drop along the South Canyon back toward the interstate before crossing back to the car park. There were a lot of cows with calves, making them a little more aggressive and less likely to run off as I approached. So I just worked on avoided the calves as much as I could and didn’t have any trouble.

A few days later I returned to Lake Herman, the site of my last post. I hoped that I’d discover a use trail circumnavigating the lake when I left my car and started running counter-clockwise. All sorts of water birds were in a constant panic as I ran along the shore. In less than 10 minutes I ran into a bramble and turned away from the water – trying to outflank it by running inland. No luck – I stopped when I reached the road and turned back. When I reached the car flocks of Canada geese and turkeys had mingled together on the grass – with three of the turkeys puffing up and strutting to try to impress the hens. Pretty neat. To make my time I continued on around the lake clockwise and ran up the hill that makes the north end of the dam. After stopping at a small sunset shack I headed down the other side of Colima Herman and headed back to the car.

Photo: The view across Lake Herman from the top of Herman Hill. I was able to follow a common use/deer trail along the shore until I reached the grove of trees in the photo. From there I tried to run inland but stopped when I reached the road and turned back.

When I got home I looked at the wreckage that were my legs. There are a lot of sharp prickly things in California’s grasslands, and brush ups against my thighs left welts all over. More surprising were the splinters I found right above me knees. I had to scare up a pair of tweezers to remove them, and have no idea where they came from!

Lake Herman probably has one or two more interesting runs left, and will always be a fun way to add distance to the Vallejo-Benicia Ridge trail system (it connects). Lynch Canyon, on the other hand, so much bigger, and has at least 6 more loops that could last over an hour and four ridges good for some real cross country.

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First Run of the Fall – 18 October


I haven’t gotten to run since June. It was great today to take an hour and check out a nearby unknown – Lake Herman. Located in the hills between Benicia and Vallejo, Lake Herman is one of Benicia’s reservoirs. According to the maps, a single trail links the lake to the Vallejo-Benicia Ridge Trail system, so I thought to go check it out.
I found a great place for short to mid-length runs. More exploring will determine if a trail circumnavigates the entire lake. Even if there isn’t, there is still a maze of trails to explore amongst the hills surrounding the lake.
I only ran out-and-back for 30 minutes, but I’m looking forward to heading back and running at Lake Herman more.

Mt St Helena, The Bear

I set out yesterday to have a climbing session with a little trail run. But along the way…
I’ve been eager to try out a top-rope soloing system, and I thought that the Bear Wall on Mt St Helena would be a perfect place. I had run past the cliff last fall and spied what I thought would be a straightforward 4th class approach to the ledge system that runs across the middle of the face and above the first tier of routes. Ideal, I thought, for setting up a top rope session. So I packed up my gear and a static line and headed out.
I ran into a group of 13 & 14 year-olds, their teachers, and a climbing instructor getting ready to lead them up to the Quarry. The instructor and I recognized each other from last fall, nodded a friendly hello, and then I decided I wanted to be gone. So I took the more direct, shadier, and steeper old trail up the stream, past the Quarry and to the cell-tower road. Cumulus clouds and a light air glided across the sun and my skin to keep me cool, and after a steep scramble I reached the left side of the Wall.
I stopped for a moment to re-organize my gear and get some water. Then I put on my harness, racked my equipment, and put on my climbing shoes. I carefully stacked the rope in my pack so that I could easily pull it out when I reached the anchor for the first climb. Then I shouldered my pack and took off.
The route I had envisioned proved to be steeper then it looked from the ground. Doesn’t it always? It was dirtier too, the rock was covered with this dry scabby lichen that crumbled under my hands. Soon I was making 4th class moves high above the ground, finally standing atop a pillar, only to be stumped by a simple 5th class move. I just couldn’t commit. I didn’t have the confidence in the stone that I know I’ll have in July after a month of climbing rock. And between my stance on the pedestal and that step-and-pull across the gulf onto the sloping edge was a 40-foot drop to the ground. So I retreated, I bailed, I chickened out, I down-climbed, I saved myself, I lived-to-fight-another-day, I drank some water and wondered, “What the f…?”
Looking at the hand-drawn lines in the only guidebook in print, a staple back, and it appeared that another possible approach existed on the right side of the cliff. So I moved over and tried this new corner, 4th class again but across cleaner, more confidence-inspiring rock. But then I was stumped by a final 10 feet of vertical/mildly overhanging, and no visual promise that it would work. So down again, carefully feeling for the holds and stepping on the edges that I had moved upwards on not so long ago.
After all this time, I’m still on the ground with the rope at my feet and nothing to show for it. And now I’ve run out of time and drive to do anything else but to take off the shoes, the equipment, the harness and stow it all in my pack. A few more minutes and I’m trotting down the trail leading away from the right side of wall.
This trail is a much better option to the left. It descends gradually instead of steeply, graded instead of gravely, through desert oak and pine trees instead of down a wash, improved instead of eroding, and regained the road by a mellow opening in the trees instead of a steep and sudden embankment. Note to self.
20 mintes later I’m sweating and breathing hard. I ran the other trail back to the parking lot, the trail I had avoided before for being the least steep, longer, and sunnier route to the cliff.
So instead I had a trail run with a little bit of 4th class climbing and pack training thrown in!

Busted on Elkhorn Peak


I’d love to tell you about how cool this run was, except for the part in the middle that wasn’t. I’ve been a smart-ass in earlier posts and had a little disclaimer about trespassing and not getting caught if you don’t have permission. Take this story as a lesson.

I connected the Jameson Canyon to Skyline Regional Park in Napa via Elkhorn Peak. I followed my usual routine: I picked a fenceline that wasn’t marked with “No Trespassing” signs every 1/3 mile, crossed through a gate in the fence, and started my run. I intentionally picked a spot farthest from farmhouses on either side – I don’t want the owners to think I’m coming to cause trouble, or casing out their homes, or something.

The run up towards Elkhorn Peak was bushy, with grass and plants up to my chest, slowing me down to a walk. It wasn’t until I reached a ridge-top dirt road, leading to another gate and cow trails, that my pace picked up. As I reached Elkhorn Peak I saw a farmer driving around the lower fields on a four-wheeler, but really thought nothing about it. There were three fences between him and I, and three barns and houses in sight, so I had no idea if I was even on the same property as when I started this run. The Scottish thistle on the final slopes of the peak, following an old road, were thigh-high and they hurt. After a cool scramble down the steep and wooded south side of the peak I stopped to shake the dirt from my shoes, tighten my laces, and take a picture of my legs.

Moments after I started again I saw a farmer – the same one it turns out – on a four wheeler with a cool Aussie cattle dog riding shotgun. He said, “I was going to find you!” and I replied, “Of course you would…”

“Why were you running away from me?” he challenged.

“Beg your pardon?” I said, stumped. Running away? He repeated the question.

“I wasn’t running away,” I tried to explain, “I’m running. Training. Trying to run from the highway to that cell tower over there.”

I won’t go into details, but his arguement was: 1) I was trespassing, 2) I had to have permission, 3) I may scare the cattle, and 4) He had one hand driving a pickup looking for me and another on horseback. He was one seriously pissed off farmer.

I stayed as polite as could be and told him how: 1) I wasn’t hunting or fishing, 2) I worked to avoid any building and cattle to avoid scarying owners or cows, 3) I used only gates and hadn’t climbed over any fences, 4) there weren’t any “No Trespassing” signs around the perimeter of the farm that I found and 5) I didn’t think it was reasonable to knock on every door in Jameson Canyon to determine who to ask “please” from. As I understood it, I wasn’t trespassing, and I was being low impact and quiet.

This very abbreviated synopsis reflects a conversation that last for about a half hour, with me getting more and more nervous. PG had dropped me off, and my car was parked at the end of the run. If this dude wanted me to walk out with him, it was completely within his right, and I’d be stuck with hitch-hiking to my car. You could see the same gears turning in his head when he learned about this.

We talked a little bit about where I lived (barely 10 miles away, but a world apart in realities), and what I did for work.

“You don’t get enough exercise with that?” he asked.

“Guess I’m not a very still person.” I answered. Phew – if he’s willing to joke about it, he’s willing to let me go.

And he did, but warned me never to be on his land again, and not to bother coming by and trying to ask for permission next time, ’cause there wouldn’t be a next time. So I’m stumped trying to find another way around Jameson Canyon to Skyline Park.

Which is too bad, because the rest of the run was beautiful. Old oaks trees hugging the hillsides, a loan small watering pond, and one for-sure-not-legal fence crossing lead me into the very southernmost tip of Skyline Park. I discovered a fawn who couldn’t have been more than a day old, trying to hide in the non-existent cover on the trail. Her mother watched anxiously 20 yards away wondering what harm I’d give her child. After a few photos I carefully stepped around the terrified baby and continued on. I followed the Skyline, Buckeye, and Ridge-To-River trails through the park and to my car.

Statistics: Elkhorn Peak – Skyline Regional Park Run. 9.4 miles on cross-country, unmaintained dirt roads, unmaintained trails, and maintained trails. 350 feet elevation gained, 860 feet elevation descended. 2:14 minutes (including a +30 minute conversation with an irate land-owner).

Disclaimer: Always make sure to gain permission before traveling over private property.

Post script 22 April: I had a conversation last week with a California District Attorney about trespassing (he was my client on a trip). Turns out I was right, but as soon as someone has notified you that you are trespassing, you’re required to leave the property. Still, its polite to get permission first, and I’m going to make a bigger effort to do so.

Cows Are Cool: The Three Canyons Run

Spring in California, I’m quickly realizing, means hills that look like Ireland-in-the-movies. Rich green fields of grass only knee high, soft soil, and cows. Lots and lots of cows. But cows can be cool – they make trails.


Cow trails, I’m discovering, follow all the terrain features a trail runner would want. Along creeks and fence lines. Through passes. On top of ridges. Avoiding pointless elevation gains by side-hilling and following contours.

I learned this lesson last Thursday when I ran from American to Jameson Canyon via Lynch Canyon, a run I’m going to call (unimaginatively but poetically) The Three Canyons Run. This is going to be the next section of my Vallejo to the Golden Gate Bridge Trail Run.

The run was surprisingly short and fun. I followed a dirt road up a valley, through a eucalyptus grove to a cow trail that followed the hillside, contouring it perfectly, until directed by a fence line to a second grove of tall grey trees. Once past this second grove the trail continued to the end of the valley before turning to the right and crossing into the pass. Just before reaching that pass I was surprised to find…trail signs! Not signs of a trail, and not tracks of some wild animal, but actual signage. “Kestrel Trail,” and “Ridge Trail”. I crossed through the pass and entered a four way saddle, which was littered with more trails signs. “Canyon Trail”, “North Ridge Trail”, and “South Ridge Trail”, and “Bay Ridge Trail System.” I thought I’d be running through a bunch of farmer’s fields. Where the hell am I?

Running a little further, I had my “ah-hah” moment: A sign saying this was the boundary of the Lynch Canyon Open Space, maintained by the Solano Land Trust. As I finished reading the words and realizing what I was running on, a man approached me on an four-wheeler. It turned out to be a member of the family that donated Lynch Canyon! Fantastic. We talked about how Vallejo has been growing, and what my running was all about, and as I ran away from my first encounter with a landowner I felt a lot better about my plans.


I know that some of my running crosses private property, but I make a special effort to keep a low profile and not damage property or stir up livestock too much. I explained as much to the gentleman I met, who said it was no problem, and offered to let his neighbors know I may be around. I think I’m going to start carrying a name card to give in these encounters too.

After the farmer my run followed a long series of ridges, traced by – again – a cow trail that made for easy route-finding. The trail finally vanished at the final slopes leading into Jameson Canyon, and a quick cell phone call had my girlfriend coming to pick me up on Highway 12. Perfect.

Statistics: Three Canyons Run, from American Canyon to Jameson Canyon via Lynch Canyon. 5.25 miles on dirt road, trail and unimproved trail, 590 feel of elevation gained, 770 of elevation descended. 53 minutes.

Disclaimer again: You should always get a landowner’s permission to cross private property.

Check out http://www.solanolandtrust.org for information about Open Space lands in Solano County. I only wish that there was one site for all the public open space in the North Bay!

Saint John’s Mountain


This run was the second part of my recon for a North Bay traverse. I’ve run this route completely once before, and parts of it several times. This time I wanted to follow a new trail I’ve found and figure out the best way to link several sections of trail through private properties without causing too much trouble.

The run started where the Vallejo Ridge ended, on Lake Herman Road and the south-east corner of the Blue Rock Springs Golf Course. Because “No Parking” signs exist everywhere parking would be best along Lake Herman Road, I ended up parking in a gravel pull-out directly across from the main entrance to the quarry.

I walked back to the corner of the golf-course and made my first route-finding decision. Do I run along a dirt road that follows the fence on the quarry side of the property, or do I enter the golf course and follow the fence along that side? I picked the golf course, since I didn’t know where the road actually went or what kind of traffic would be on it.

The golf course was not fun. The cart track follows the fence for much of the east side of the property, and what looked like adequate trees to screen my presence were in fact few and sparse. I ended up walking the course since I thought a runner would provoke more questions, until I finally reached the north-east corner and climbed over the fence. To my humor the road followed the fence almost all the way around the east side of the course, and I probably could have run along that side in 15 minutes with no hassle. A note for next time.

From the north-east corner of the course, the climb to the top of Blue Rock was quick. On a previous run I found a trail leading north-west from the park along the western slopes of Sulphur Spring Mountain, and I was curious where it went. So this time I followed it, and found a great trail, built intentionally for foot traffic. The trail ended, suddenly, at St. John’s Mine Road, so I started to follow the road into the valley behind, where I knew open fields would lead to the Saint Johns Mountain Trail (or Hiddenbrooke trail). The road ended at several gates, and I picked the one that I could see led to my trail system, and followed a pair of dirt roads that switched back up the slope before ending right at the trail.

Once I gained the trail the run became very normal, and I ran the final miles north heading to the Park & Ride lot at American Canyon and I-80, where I had locked a bicycle beforehand. A bike path follows I-80 back to Columbus Parkway, and bike lanes led all the way back to Lake Herman Road and my car.

Conclusion: The route from Vallejo Ridge to Blue Rock Springs Park is still a grey area. Running through the Golf Course is impossible, but running through the quarry is blatant trespassing. An alternative route may exist just east of the quarry, running north up Sky Valley. The trail between Blue Rock Springs Park and St. John’s Mine Road is fantastic, but mis-leading. On my way home I spotted a similar trail leading from the now-closed Columbus Parkway fire station – perhaps they connect? Anyways, another route that I’ve run before crosses open fields and stays farther away from properties (something that property-owners like). This wrinkle is going to have to be re-examined later to determine the best way.

Statistics: Saint John’s Mountain. 6.7 miles total, 0.6 miles on pavement, 0.9 miles across the golf course, only 0.1 mile of actual cross-country, and 5.1 miles of maintained trails or dirt road. 1260 feet elevation gained, 1190 feet loss. 1:13 minutes.
Return to car by bicycle, 5.5 miles. 780 feet elevation gained, 820 feet loss. 28 minutes.

DISCLAIMER: You should always get the owner’s permission to cross their property, especially if “No Trespassing” signs exist. Otherwise you should run fast and don’t get caught.

Vallejo Ridge


This starts a project of mine – to run the length of North Bay, from Vallejo to the Marin Headlands, unsupported and in a single, multi-day push, staying on trails and off the pavement for as much as possible, and connecting as much of the Bay Area Ridge Trail System as practical.

Vallejo Ridge is my name for the Vallejo-Benicia Buffer, a section of Open Land that runs from I-780 to Lake Herman Road. BARTS has a sections of designated trail running from the corner of Columbus Parkway and Rose Drive to the last block of Ascot Parkaway in between Georgia Street and Newcastle Drive.

So last Thursday my girlfriend joined me for a run of the ridge, from the south to the north. She only wanted to run 3 miles, so she planned on doing an out-and-back run, then rake the car around to the other end of the ridge to pick me up. The area is not dog-restricted (something hard to find around here), so we brought our 12-year old, Montana, along to keep her company.

The run south to north features a series of three hill climbs, each with a shorter descent off the backside then climbing again a little higher than before. Great switchbacks, showing some intelligent trail building, keeps the climb reasonable and allowed me to keep a running pace uphill. Just before Channing Circle Park, which intersects the trail, is the 1.5 mile mark, so I stopped there to see my girlfriend and the dog turn around and head back to the car – I’d see them again at the corner of Columbus Parkway and Lake Herman Road.

The trail contours around the ridge before climbing long switchbacks up the south-west slope of the highest point, 719 Mountain, then along its long summit spine, before dropping down its north-west side. The trail drops down into a basin at 560 feet, then climbs one last hill before descending to Ascot Boulevard.

I stepped off the official trail in this basin and headed north, following the ridge. I quickly found an old farm road that followed, off and on, a fence-line along the ridge. Two hill climbs led to the only piece of pavement on the ridge: a single lane road leading to two water tanks at the summit of the northern-most high point of the ridge. But instead of following the pavement I crossed the road and continued along the last steep track that also lead to the tanks.

The road turns left at the west side of the tanks, leading almost directly to the south-east corner of the Columbus Parkway and Lake Herman Road intersection. But I ran around the fenced-in water tanks to the north-east corner, then dropped straight down the hill to Lake Herman Road.

I think next time I will follow the road to the intersection, or head further east to reach Lake Herman Road just past the quarry. Another run for another day is to to turn off at Channing Circle Park and run to Benicia Community Park and Lake Herman Recreation Area.

Statistics: Vallejo Ridge. 4.5 miles total distance, 2.5 miles on maintained trails, 1.75 miles on non-maintained trail, 0.25 miles cross-country. 960 feet elevation gained, 660 feet elevation gained. 0:44 minutes.