[Author’s Note: This is the eighth installment of a monthly series to pay homage to some of my favorite trails. These are not trail guides, per se, but rather tributes to some of the finest running trails in the United States.]
High above the Los Angeles Basin in Southern California is Angeles National Forest, home to one of North America’s oldest 100-mile ultramarathons, the Angeles Crest 100 Mile. First run in 1986, the Angeles Crest 100 starts in the small mountain town of Wrightwood, runs along the crest of the San Gabriel Mountains for the better part of 80 miles, and finally descends steeply into the Los Angeles Basin to the finish line in Altadena, California.
The first part of the course runs southbound on the Pacific Crest Trail, with the most iconic portion being the stunning 12.1-mile trail between Vincent Gap and Islip Saddle. Beginning at a small parking lot just off the Angeles Crest Highway at Vincent Gap, the trail ascends 2,650 feet in 3.6 miles to the high point of the course at 9,300 feet altitude, just below the summit of Mount Baden-Powell. Crisscrossing the face of the mountain, runners navigate 49 switchbacks on their way to the spine of the San Gabriels, where the Wally Waldron Tree – an ancient 2,000-year-old timber pine – stands sentry.
From the summit of Mount Baden-Powell at mile 16 of the race, runners are treated to an expansive view to the west, where far in the distance they can see Mount Wilson at mile 79. From the summit edge, runners traverse a narrow ridge for two miles, skirting the summits of Mount Burnham and Throop Peak, crossing through the narrow gap of Dawson Saddle, before beginning the long, steady descent to Islip Saddle nearly 3,000 feet below.
In my nearly 30 years of ultrarunning experience, I can think of few, if any, sections of trail as singularly glorious as the eight-mile descent from the Baden-Powell ridge to Islip Saddle on the Angeles Crest 100 course. The smooth, flowing singletrack, high alpine flora, and stunning vistas stretching in both directions make this one of those sections you truly never want to come to an end. On race day, of course, this 12-mile section requires careful planning with fluids and fuel as it will take runners anywhere from 2.5 to four hours to complete. Luckily, as if put there by the ultra gods, two miles from Islip Saddle and just a few yards off the trail is Little Jimmy Spring, a source of some of the coldest and most delicious water I have ever had the pleasure to drink. A stop at Little Jimmy is a must for any runner taking on this section.
Over the past several years, times have been tough for the Angeles Crest 100, as the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires have caused consecutive cancelations. Sadly, at the time of this writing, sections of the Angeles Crest Highway remain closed as crews continue to clear wildfire debris. With any luck, by 2022, the area will reopen and the trail will once again showcase the splendor that is the backcountry of the San Gabriel Mountains.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Overtown Brewing Company in Monrovia, California. One of the more unique beers I’ve tasted is their White Walker Ale, an Icelandic White Ale that is both crisp and bold with a touch of citrus. Boasting a slight Belgian character, White Walker Ale has a style all its own.
Call for Comments
Have you ever run the Angeles Crest 100 Mile? What is your favorite section?