Month: April 2008

Bailey Canyon Saved!


Fire update as of 4/30 @ 10:30

  • All evacuation orders have been lifted
  • Chantry, Mount Wilson Trail, and Bailey Canyon remain closed
  • Containment at 88%, with full containment expected on Friday 5/2
  • 584 acres destoryed, of which 238 acres are on National Forest land, and the remaining 346 acres belong to the City of Sierra Madre

It’s been 4 days since the Santa Anita Canyon fire started, and it was the first time waking up and not smelling smoke or seeing emergency personnel and vehicles scurrying about or hovering in the air. I decided to venture out to my beloved Bailey Canyon to see the extent of the damage, since from my vantage point from the foothills below, I couldn’t really tell if the fires got to any part of the canyon farther up.

Surprisingly, the gate to the parking lot was open — the fence was partly closed, but not locked. Also, there were no law enforcement anywhere along the roads around Carter like the previous days, and in fact, the service gate along the monastery was wide open — something I’ve never seen before. As i ascended up the canyon, I quickly realized the fire was halted along the eastern ridgeline just above the water tank (in the picture below, you can see the retardant, which is as far west as the fires got to).

Once I reached the top, I could not see below into Santa Anita Canyon to gauge how far the fire traveled along the Wilson Trail, but I’m thinking that parts of the connector along the southern ridgeline was hit based on the map above.

Thank you to all the firefighters and emergency personnel who worked night and day to save all the homes, and most of all, my special backyard — Bailey Canyon. Even with a tragedy like this, there is a silver lining.

Cimg5344Sign posted at Kersting’s Court in front of Lucky Baldwin’s.

Cimg5349Taken around the bench — notice the retardant above the water tank.
Cimg5355Fire retardant at the top of Jones Peak.
Cimg5356Damage seen from the top of Jones Peak, along the south-eastern hillside.
Cimg5358More damage.


Santa Anita Canyon Fire

Updated Tuesday (4/29 @ 11:00)

The fire finally seems to be under control — no flames, smoke, or ashes were visible this morning. There were occasional fly-bys from a single LAFD helicopter, and a lot of the streets that were previously closed, had been opened. Most of the emergency personnel were stationed along Carter, and near Mountain Trail and Grandview.

Here’s the latest:

  • 1055 firefighters working on the fire
  • 150 homes still evacuated
  • fire is 57% contained — full containment by May 2nd

The best news (other than no homes were destroyed, and no major injuries), was that Bailey Canyon appears to have been spared! From what I can tell from my vantage point is that the fire was contained on the western ridge along the canyon, directly adjacent to the east of Bailey. You can see the fire retardant along the spine just south-southwest of Jones Peak, which prevent the fire from creeping down into Bailey.

Our local Starbucks got a lot of donations from customers, and are giving fire/police/medical personnel free food/drinks. The Buccaneer (or the Buc, as the locals call refer to the neighborhood watering hole) was also showing their appreciation by providing free drinks (only soda though).


Thanks to the hundreds of emergency personnel who helped fight this fire and keep it from spreading along the steep and rugged terrain. Let’s hope that it’ll be 100% contained soon.

Updated Monday (4/28 @ 20:00)


Found these great maps at the Incident Response Website.  After studying it briefly, the fire seems to have gone as far as First Water along the Wilson Trail, so well before the heliport.  The fire’s origin was along Santa Anita on the way up to Chantry, at the second sharp switchback where they were doing construction after the large washout 2 years ago — those familiar with the street, it’s when the road turns sharply to the south-southeast (to your right).  Jones Peak, designated by an ‘X’ on the map at elevation 3375′ is the northern-most point of the fire.  The southern hillside, beginning directly south of Jones Peak, and spanning all the way east to Chantry has been scorched.  I believe Bailey Canyon has been spared (thank goodness!) — I could not see the area after I came back home after work, but will head out in the morning to see the extent of the damage.  Based on the map, and what I could see from the street, I believe the fire was confined to the eastern ridge along the canyon.

The evacuation has been lifted for all residents east of Baldwin, but is still in effect for those living north of Carter and Fairview between Michillinda and Baldwin.  There are rumors that the northeastern part of Pasadena will soon be evacuated as well — this will be the area at the end of Michillinda.  I drove up there earlier this evening, and it didn’t seem like there was much activity going on, since I was able to drive right up there without any problem.

Even though the flames are no longer visible, the danger is far from over, since it was a similar situation last night too, before the fire re-ignited in the middle of the night.

Photos from earlier today.

Cimg5294Neighborhood at the end of Baldwin.

Cimg5326Baldwin looking north.

Cimg5327Taken from St Rita’s.

Cimg5334Jones Peak from the field at the monastery.

Updated Monday (4/28 @ 14:00)

The fire apparently moved farther west, since the evacuation area has now expanded all the way to Michillinda, along with all areas north of Carter between Bailey Canyon and Mountain Trail.  Also, the stretch above Fairview between Michillinda and Grove have been evacuated — these are the southernmost homes adjacent to the monastery at the end of Sunnyside Avenue.  I was just there this morning, taking photos from the field.  I would imagine at this point that Bailey Canyon has fallen victim — that was my favorite area.  Very sad.  😦

Updated Monday (4/28 @ 10:30)

I just wanted to thank everyone who called or e-mailed to check up on me.  My house is directly south of the fire — about a mile away, but far enough that I’m not in danger of having to evacuate.

  • Fire dropped down from 30% contained to 23%.
  • Ground crews increased to 580 from 400
  • 538 acres charred
  • Schools all canceled

Sierra Madre News Net and The Foothill Cities Blog have very good updates.

Updated Monday (4/28 @ 7:30)

I woke up to a thick smell of smoke, which indicated to me that the fire had resumed overnight, but did not know the extent of it or its location.  My original intent this morning was to do a short run around my neighborhood like I usually do, but that quickly changed after having gone only a few yards from my house — too much smoke.  I went up Baldwin with my camera, and immediately saw that the flames had jumped the ridge line they were so good at protecting yesterday, and was down close to the homes again.  From what I could see, the entire southern slope from Santa Anita Cyn west of the Wilson Trail, all the way to the eastern ridge of Bailey Canyon is burning, or will be soon.  All homes adjacent to the foothills north of Carter, between Mountain Trail and Oak Crest are in danger.  Disturbingly absent, were the aircraft and fire engines which were so prevalent over the weekend.  I’ve yet to see/hear any helicopters or airplanes.

I’ll have photos uploaded soon.

Updated Sunday (4/27 @ 19:56)

Night has fallen, and the town is now eerily quiet — the buzz of helicopters overhead, media crew, and emergency personnel has subsided. Most notably, the flames are not visible like it was last night — seen from as far as Hollywood, over 20 miles away. Although the fire is no longer in view, the aftermath is evident — the smell of smoke lingers in the air, and a light dusting of ashes coats the tops of parked cars. The part of the hillside that fell victim to this tragedy looks like a mountaintop most commonly seen at over 12,000′ — ones above treeline, where there is no vegetation. It has been reported that the fire is now 30% contained, and without any wind to fan the flames, there may be an end in sight. Also, ground crews were spotted earlier along the ridge line, putting out hotspots by hand. Residents who were evacuated were rumored to be able to return to their homes in the morning. Emergency personnel are staging at Sierra Vista park, and there are two evacuation centers designated for this disaster, one of which is at the Hart Park House.

More info: City of Sierra Madre

Sunday (4/27 @ ~14:00)

The constant drone of aircraft started late yesterday afternoon, and has continued into today, with only a slight pause during the night  time.  The fire looked liked it started west of Chantry Flat, in an area where there are no trails from what I can tell.  Those familiar with the AC100 will know that it’s the mile 75 aid station.  I thought they would have it contained within that area, but by this morning, it had jumped the canyon, and slowly inched its way west.  I would imagine that Mt Wilson trail had been affected, and as a result, I expect the big race next month will be canceled.  The fire reached the top of Jones Peak, but as of now, does not look like it has continued into Bailey Canyon, but hard to tell what’s going on behind the ridge north of the peak.

Cimg5267Interestingly enough, we were not too far from this area doing the first AC100 trailwork along Wintercreek from the toll road, all the way down to Hoegees, which was only a couple miles from the fire.  We were already done and off the mountain when it started, so we luckily missed it.

As of 14:20 Sunday:

  • 10% contained; 4-5 days until fully contained
  • 550 homes under mandatory evacuation (over 1000 residents)400 acres burned
  • 400 firefighters
  • 4 fixed wing aircrafts, and 4 water drop helicopters
  • streets closed along Grandview between Mountain Trail and Santa Anita
  • Bailey Cyn, Chantry Flat closed
  • last fire burned 40 years ago
  • temperature 102
  • 50 wedding-goers were airlifted from Sturtevant Camp

Additional info:

Cimg5295Fire yesterday still east of the canyon.

Cimg5296Ashes on my car this morning.

Cimg5298Smoke darkens morning sky.

Cimg5299Fire jumps canyon and heads up to Jones Peak.

Cimg5315Almost at the top of Jones Peak.

Cimg5318Helicopter just east of Jones Peak.

Cimg5319Drops along ridge line south of Jones Peak.

Cimg5322Fixed wing fire-retardant drop along same ridge line.

Hiking the stairways of Echo Park, Silver Lake

You could climb Mt. Whitney — or, like writer Dan Koeppel, get exercise (and more vertical ascent) on a 16.2-mile ‘walking tour’ of Los Angeles’ outdoor stairs.

By Janet Cromley Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

One . . . more . . . step. Almost there. Top of the hill. Don’t step on the smashed guavas. Step over the giant philodendron. Ignore the snapping dog.

More than 75 years ago, Laurel and Hardy struggled to maneuver a piano up these 131 Silver Lake steps in the classic comedy “The Music Box,” cementing the staircase in cinematic history.

Hauling an oversized load up the oxygen-depleting ascent hasn’t gotten any easier, but it’s worth the trip.

Huff. Puff.

Wheeze a little while sucking a deep breath of eucalyptus into bursting lungs — and then, there it is: a dazzling string of vintage, eclectic homes at the top of the longest outdoor staircase you’ve ever scaled.

Looking back down the steps, one feels what early settlers may have felt gazing for the first time at the wilds of the Los Angeles basin: Mine. All mine.

The “Music Box” staircase, which shoots straight up from Vendome Street to Descanso Drive, is one of 52 stairways in 46-year-old writer Dan Koeppel’s personal 16.2-mile stair hike — comprising 4,182 steps, with a 7,445-foot elevation gain.

The walk hopscotches up and down a matrix of city-owned steps around Silver Lake and Echo Park, just north of downtown Los Angeles, and offers up dazzling overlooks of East Los Angeles, Griffith Park Observatory, the Hollywood sign, the Silver Lake Reservoir and downtown Los Angeles. The overall effect is a little like taking a local historical garden tour while going full throttle on a StairMaster.

The city-owned concrete steps scattered across Silver Lake and Echo Park today were built mostly in the mid-1920s as developers began to build upward into the hills, says Bob Herzog, co-chairman of the Silver Lake History Collective and a self-proclaimed “stair nut.” They lead down to former transit points for the storied Red Cars of the Pacific Electric Railway, a onetime network of rail lines and streetcars.

Some of the stairs have been removed, but many still remain on steep hillsides, flanked by vintage bungalows housing hardy folks willing to haul trash and groceries up and down as many as 200 steps. Some of the stairs are chronicled in the 1990 book by co-authors Adah Bakalinsky and Los Angeles Times reporter Larry Gordon. The Echo Park Historical Society offers tours of them.

The stairs have a devoted following of regular hikers, such as Silver Lake resident Charles Fleming, 52, a freelance book writer who takes friends along on monthly hikes. “The stairs give you a backyard view of the city that you don’t get from freeways and main arteries,” he says. “I’ve walked through areas where people are raising chickens and roosters and neighborhoods with artfully done tile or statuary or landscaping. You’d have no way of seeing that if you weren’t on a public staircase.”

Five years ago, Koeppel, who moved to Los Angeles from New York in 1991, began threading the stairs into a heart-pounding hike. As of this year, he has created something of a masterpiece: an intricate, winding trek through back alleys and small residential streets, exposing layers of the city’s history like the rings of a tree.

On a recent day he was escorting a small group of white-collar weekend warriors ages 32 to 65 up the first of the staircases. Their eventual goal: traverse the entire route, all 4,182 steps. The trek quickly revealed that this is not a hike for sissies. In fact, the elevation gain is 1,300 feet more than the gain between Whitney Portal — the trail head where most Mt. Whitney hikers begin — at 8,360 feet, and the summit at 14,505 feet.

But the terrific scenery and botanical display — agave, jade and other succulents, lemon trees, bougainvillea, night-blooming jasmine, and a smorgasbord of palm trees — gooses the hiker onward, even as the body cries out for mercy.

It was easy to see how the stairs became a preoccupation for Koeppel, a freelance writer and the author of “To See Every Bird on Earth” and “Banana.” In 2003, while training for a hike up Mt. Whitney and with writing deadlines looming, Koeppel gazed up the “Music Box” steps and grasped the possibilities.

“I was writing this book about my dad, and I was so stressed that I needed something I could do right out my door,” he says. A silent movie fan, Koeppel knew the history of the stairs and decided to create a little route.

“The first route was maybe six staircases, two or three miles,” he says — encompassing Griffith Park Boulevard to the west, Silver Lake Boulevard to the east, and the northern edge of the Silver Lake Reservoir.

Then, while casing out more of Silver Lake, he noticed more stairs — and then more — and decided to try to string them together. “I really just wanted to do a longer route,” he says.

Over the next two years, Koeppel began methodically hunting for stairs in his neighborhood and then beyond. He consulted walking guides, the Thomas Guide, two GPS systems, topographic software and websites offering interactive topographic data.

“I worked from the south,” he says, starting with the “Music Box” stairs “and added stairs as I explored northward, then expanded eastward (crossing the reservoir), then further east [into Echo Park], then turned the whole thing into a single route.”

He collected stairs with a singular passion, the way someone else might collect rare coins. He came by his extreme focus honestly, he says. His father, Richard Koeppel, is a world-class birder who has obsessively logged more than 7,000 sightings of birds over his lifetime.

Dan Koeppel continues to nurture the route, adding more staircases as he finds them and shortening it when he finds shortcuts, all while respecting The Rules. Ah, The Rules. Koeppel has refined a set of quirky regulations to accompany the hike: The route must not repeat a set of stairs, and stairs must be traversed only one way. No searching out new stairs in a car or asking mail carriers for directions. “That’s like asking a math professor to do your math homework,” he says.

Koeppel tries to do portions of the walk two or three times a week, and in the last few years an eclectic band of his friends and acquaintances has taken up the walk as well.

He still gets a thrill discovering stairs. “I found a new one in Silver Lake just a few months ago,” he reports. “There’s always one waiting to be found.”

Step-by-step directions for the route are available at, but keep in mind that there are not always street signs or house numbers along the route, so it’s easy to get lost.

“People need to see this as an adventure,” Koeppel says, “and not like they’re getting poor customer service.”


Record Temperature and Time Set

…at the 2008 Old Goats 50M/50K

Akos Konya (8:18:49) shattered David Dean and Ashley’s shared winning times from last year, as temperatures soared into the 90’s — both stats were entered in the record books.  Keira Henninger (9:08:10), who was second fastest last year, managed to do the same again, but became first overall female.  Ted Liao (9:38:57), was 3rd, and Jonas Hansen (9:40:04) came in 4th overall.  To round out the top 5, yours truly, managed to cross the finish line next — my time, unofficially 10:12, only seconds slower than last year (10:11:49), on a hotter day and more difficult course.  [Note: turned out my official time was 10:08:25, beating last year’s time by a little over 3 minutes.]

The temperatures leading up to the race were unseasonably warm — no, it was HOT, with thermometers reading in the 80’s.  Race day would be no different, evident as we stood waiting for the 6am start without any extra layers of clothing — ultimately, it would reach a high in the low 90’s, which I believe accounted for the slower times, and several runners cutting the course short from 50M to 50K.

Cimg5167This year, we (50 milers) would start along side the 50K runners, so I made sure to not get too caught up in their pace, but of course I didn’t listen to myself, and stayed near Greg and Eric a couple speedsters from OC.  The first 10 miles was a fast downhill to the Candy Store, and  I made the turn-around in about 1.5 hours.  I saw Bill Ramsey at the aid, just before starting the climb back up to Blue Jay (3300′) — he would later man the Bear Springs station.  I made it back up in about 3.5 hours, and learned I was 17th overall (which included both 50K/50M runners).  Now it was time for the long exposed 2.5 mile climb up Main Divide to the top of Trabuco (4000′).
I looked forward to getting back on single track again, and started down the Trabuco trail towards the Holy Jim aid, which was located just beyond the half way point (27.5 miles @ 1710′).  Somewhere along the 2300′ rocky descent, I caught a runner, and found out it was Eric.  We reached the 50K turnoff at Horse Thief together, where we wished each other well and parted ways.  Not too long afterwards, I ran into Doug (Michelle’s dad), who took my picture, and told me I was 7th overall — Akos not surprisingly in the lead, and Keira on his heels in second, who was “tapering” for Leona next weekend.

After exiting the trailhead, I caught and passed two runners along the fireroad leading to Holy Jim — I managed to move up to 5th.  Exactly 5 hours into the race, I arrived at the aid station, then 3 runners who were behind me all arrived at the same time, so I quickly left, because I knew the climb up Holy Jim would slow me down.  Last year, I bonked hard along this stretch, and was afraid of a relapse, not to mention the effects of the heat, which had already impacted my performance.  Then just before I hit the trailhead, I was passed by a runner, which dropped me back down to 6th.  I tried staying with him, but couldn’t maintain his pace — the other 2 I knew were close behind me, and thought for sure they’d catch me on the ascent.

Surprisingly, I held my position, and made it up to Main Divide (mile 32.5 @ 4000′) in about 1:40 (6:40 into the race), where I saw Bill again, then headed up to the high point of the course, not to mention all of OC — Santiago Peak (5600′).  This was the same climb (about 4000′ in 7.5 miles — similar to our Bailey Cyn to Mt Wilson ascent back home) we had to do at Twin Peaks early last year, and interestingly enough, it was unseasonably hot then too.  I saw Ted and Jonas (3rd/4th respectively) on the short out-and-back between Upper Holy Jim and the top, but they were too far ahead to catch.  The 5th place runner was still nowhere to be seen though, so figured I was closing in.  Once I saw the volunteer at the pickup truck, he said I’d see the turn-around sign up ahead, and would check me off on the return. I got to the peak, right at the base of the antennas at 7:30, but didn’t see the runner in front of me.  Somehow he missed the sign (don’t know how), and continued past it.  I told the volunteer, and he went to go find him — so now I was in 5th place due to his error.

Cimg5177I started my descent, and hit my favorite section of the course — Upper Holy Jim, and into Bear Springs (mile 38), where I would see Bill again before heading back to the finish.  After a few rolling hills and a short climb, I was at Trabuco Peak — 8 more miles to go.  From there to the Trabuco trailhead where we were almost 25 miles ago, I slowed significantly, and realized my goal of getting under 10 hours would probably not happen.  So instead of focusing on a time goal, I wanted to try and maintain my position.  I continuously looked over my shoulder to make sure no one was approaching, and being able to get a good view of the Main Divide behind me as it wound its way over the ridge across the Santa Anas helped.

I made it to the top of Trabuco at around 9:45, so was definitely not going to make it under 10, since it was still 3 miles to the finish.  As I ran down, I continued to glance back occasionally to see if anyone had gained any ground, but even though I didn’t see anyone, I maintained my pace, since it was very easy to make up a lot of time during that fast downhill stretch.  After reaching the blacktop, and looking up the Divide for the last time and seeing no one, I was pretty certain I would maintain my 5th place position — I did, and finished in 10:12.

With over 12,000′ of climbing, the OG50M is definitely one of the harder 50 mile courses out there, and with temperatures in the 90’s, it would also probably rank as one of my more difficult races to date.

Next week will be Leona Divide — I’ll be running the whole race with Catra (who ran Diablo on the same day), and it’ll be our first 50 miler together.  Relative to OG (12000′) and Diablo (13000′), Leona is going to feel pretty flat with only 9000′ of climbing.

Official results and photos here.

Blind Athlete Attempts 7 Marathons, in 7 Days, on 7 Continents

Blind Athlete Takes on Incredible Challenge to Run Seven Back-to-Back Marathons in One Week

LOS ANGELES, CA – On Tuesday, April 8, Pasadena will become the third stop on an incredible journey for Dave Heeley, a blind athlete from England, who is taking on the ultimate mental and physical challenge — to run seven marathons, in seven days, on seven continents. Braille Institute of America is proud to be the sponsor of the North American leg of Dave Heeley’s amazing journey. Hundreds of supporters, including staff, students and volunteers from Braille Institute’s Southern California regional centers, along with members of local running clubs, university cross country teams, other blind athletes and public supporters, will join Dave at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Tuesday, April 8, to extend the hand of support and international cooperation as he runs 26.2 miles around the Rose Bowl. Some will run along with him, others will walk and many will cheer their support from the sidelines, but all will be united in the common goal of raising awareness about the capabilities blind and visually impaired people. A press conference will be held at 10:30 a.m., and the race will begin at 11 a.m.

This extraordinary feat has only been accomplished by two internationally renowned adventurers — both of whom are supporting Dave in his attempt to become the first blind man on earth to run the 7/7/7 endurance marathon challenge. This grueling test of strength and determination began on Sunday, April 6, in Antarctica, as Dave completed the first leg of his more than 183-mile marathon. Each day, he will run 26.2 miles, crossing pain barriers and time zones, while battling jet lag and extreme exhaustion, to make it to the final finish line at the Flora London Marathon in England, on Sunday, April 13.

Dave Heeley’s ambition to become the first blind man in the world to complete this unique marathon sprang from his life-changing experience with the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in the United Kingdom, which is sponsoring the international race. After receiving orientation and mobility training, the center paired him with his first guide dog, and the freedom and independence it provided him changed his life. Now a guide dog owner for more than 10 years, Dave relishes the opportunity to raise money for the charity that helped him break down the barriers to independence in his own life. And he hopes to inspire other blind people to tackle the day-to-day challenges that face them with a renewed sense of optimism.
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“Every five seconds someone in the world loses their sight, and in many countries there are few, if any, services to help them,” said Dave. “Having dealt with the shock of losing my sight, I know how difficult it can be. I was fortunate enough to have had my life transformed by the Guide Dogs organization. Now I’m determined to raise awareness of visual impairment in an effort to improve services for blind and visually impaired people around the world.” If you would like additional information on Dave Heeley or the Los Angeles leg of the Seven Marathons Event, please contact Courtney Goines, media relations manager, at 323-663-1111, Ext. 3176.

Braille Institute is a private, nonprofit organization whose mission is to eliminate blindness and severe sight loss as a barrier to a fulfilling life. Through educational training, programs and services, Braille Institute helps tens of thousands of people each year regain and maintain their independence. Thanks to generous donations, Braille Institute services are available free of charge. More information can be found at