## Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

### Expected Rainfall… or why you shouldn’t use the mean or standard deviation

November 17, 2016

How much rain do we usually get?

There are three common answers to this: the mean (average), the median (halfway point) and the mode (most common). For a “normal distribution” these three are all the same, but in the case of Santa Barbara’s yearly rainfall they are not.

 Mean 18.0 inches Median 15.3 inches Mode 13.4 inches

Let us look at the rainfall distribution pattern for Santa Barbara. Here I use the horizontal axis to displaying the number of inches of rain that fell in a year (rounded down to the nearest inch) against the count of the number of years that had that much rain. (These data are available from the county public works department.)

Santa Barbara’s historical rainfall data stretches back (patchily) to 1868. All in all there are 145 years of data (as of Nov 2016).

#### The Mode

The first problem with using the mode is calculating it. SB’s yearly rainfall is reported in hundredths of an inch. This level of precision means it is extremely unlikely that any two years will have exactly the same amount of rainfall, so there is no amount that occurs most frequently.

That, of course, is easily solved by dropping precision and just looking at the number of inches that fell in a year (as I have done in the graph above). But there’s a hidden problem with this method. I lumped years together by having a series of intervals that start at 0. But suppose I started at .5 inches instead? If this were a normal distribution that wouldn’t make much difference, but here…

The distribution looks quite different now. That tends to argue against the utility of the mode.

Probably if I had several thousands of years of data (and the climate didn’t change in that period) much of this variation would smooth out. But I’ve only got 145 years, and the climate is so variable that this isn’t enough.

Now let’s compare our actual distribution to a normal distribution centered on the mode and with a standard deviation set to the square root of the variation about the mode.

They do not look alike. Part of the problem is that there can never be less than no rain, but the normal distribution acts is if there could be. The variation less than the mode is much less than the variation above the mode (a range of 9 inches below, but 35 inches above).

The mechanism I choose to calculate the mode is to create a series of bins, each one inch wide and offset from one another by .1 inches. So the first bin would count all years that had between [0,1) inches, the second bin [.1,1.1), and so forth. Clearly any give year will end up in 10 bins rather than just one (but that’s fine). Then I look for the bin with the most number of years. This method suggests that the mode is at 13.4 inches — or in the bin counting years where the rainfall was between [12.9,13.9) inches.

But this does not produce stable results. Below is a graph showing the mean (blue), median (green), mode (red) of accumulated rainfall as the year progresses (rain years in Santa Barbara start in September).

(Click on the graph to see a more legible version)

The mean describes a very smooth curve. The median has small bumps, but is pretty smooth. On the other hand the mode dances all over the place with a 10 inch jump in April – from 18 inches down to 8.

Again if I had a much larger sample, presumably these fluctuations would calm a bit, but for the noisy mid-sized dataset I have available the mode does not provide a useful tool.

#### The Mean

The average is what we usually think of as the best metric for looking at the mid-point of a distribution. But with Santa Barbara’s rainfall it doesn’t work very well.

Because we occasionally get 45+ inches of rain this distorts the mean in a way that is not useful when trying to figure out what a normal year looks like. In fact about 61% of years have less rainfall than the average, which makes the average seem rather unusual.

#### The Standard Deviation

The standard deviation is defined as the square root of the variation about the mean (or as the variation about the point which minimizes the variation — which happens to be the mean).

As the mean isn’t useful to us, one might presume that the standard deviation is also not much use.

However that’s to some extent a question of semantics, we could examine the square root of the variation about the median instead.

Here we once again bump up against the asymmetry of our distribution. There is simply more variation above the median than there is below. Calculating the square root of the variation for rainfall below the median gives a value of 4.5 inches, while that above the median is 11.6, and the combined value is 8.8.

So perhaps we should look at negative and positive variation about the median instead of one combined number?

(the median is the dark green line, the light green solid lines show the positive and negative “standard deviation”s from the median, and the dashed lines show percentiles)

The negative 1 “standard deviation” line tracks close to the 15th percentile, and the positive 1 “standard deviation line tracks close to the 85th percentile. In a normal distribution the 1 standard deviation lines should track the 15.9th percentile and the 84.1th percentile. So my peculiar definition seems as if would describe the variations of this distribution comparably to the standard definition for a normal distribution.

But it’s so complicated to explain and use, that for most purposes using the median with percentile lines is probably better.

#### A better viewpoint

My friend Dave suggested looking at the logarithms of the rainfall to see if that revealed a better pattern. And it does.

It still isn’t perfect, but the mean and median have moved closer together and the standard deviation is similar on both sides of the mean. The mode is still in the wrong place for a normal distribution.

 Mean 16.3 inches Median 15.3 inches Mode 13.5 inches

### High Shoals Falls

August 12, 2016

It had rained hard the night before, but by 11 it was partly sunny and I persuaded my brother and his family to go hiking with me for a picnic at High Shoals Falls. None of us had ever been there, but it was close enough and was supposed to be impressive. So we bundled into the car and drove off.

The trail is off Indian Grave Gap Road, a dirt forest service track not far from Unicoi Gap.

The road was a bit more run down than I had anticipated. First we had to ford High Shoals Creek, and then go up a rutted road for a mile or so.

It also proved more popular than I had anticipated and the small parking area was full, so we parked at the side of the road and walked back. It began to spit rain as we walked, but too lightly to worry about.

The trail itself is only a mile or so long, rather steeply downhill.

It began to rain harder, but we decided to press on.

After a quarter mile or so we were in a deluge and we turned and went back.

By the time we reached the highway it had, of course, stopped. I considered turning back, but I was soaked and it just didn’t appeal.

The next morning I decided to try it differently. I couldn’t face asking people to go again. I set out alone to Unicoi Gap, and ran up Rocky Mountain, and down the trail to Indian Grave Gap Rd. and then down the road to the trail head.

No rain this day. Fewer cars too.

On the way down I found some Lungwort Lichen, which I’d never seen before.

There are actually two waterfalls on the trail. The first is Blue Hole Falls (the water drops into a deep pool which is supposed to be blue, though it did not look so to me). Clicking on the image below loads a video.

Not far beyond that is High Shoals Falls itself

When I researched the trail I read something on the net from the Atlanta Trails group, but I also read a 40 year old trail guide of my father’s. This guide indicated that the trail made a loop, and at the trail head there had indeed been two trails, so I took a side trail that I hoped would lead back to the start.

It didn’t. It lead me to someone’s back yard. Oops.

I turned back, and passed a blooming Rhododendron. This is surprising, because I think of them as blooming in June.

When I got back to the trailhead I took the other route, but it was clearly not maintained and soon degenerated into nothing. Oh well. Best not to rely on 40 year old trail guides.

I ran back up the road and found an interesting Yellow Fringed Orchid, which I don’t believe I’ve seen before.

At Indian Grave Gap itself I turned back onto the appalachian trail to run up to the top of Tray Mtn. and back down to Unicoi Gap.

### Flowers on Nine Trails

March 25, 2016

My best guess for the flowers on the Nine Trails course tomorrow…

 Asparagaceae Dichelostemma capitatum blue dicks Jan–July Melanthiaceae Toxicoscordion fremontii Star Lily Feb–July Poaceae Avena barbata Slender Wild Oat Mar–May Apiaceae Torilis arvensis Field Hedge Parsley March Sanicula arguta Sharp-Toothed Sanicle Feb–May Sanicula crassicaulis Pacific Sanicle Feb–May Apiastrum angustifolium Wild Celery Mar–May Tauschia arguta southern tauscia Jan–June Asteraceae Cotula australis Southern Brass Buttons Jan–June Matricaria discoidea pineapple weed Feb–June Baccharis salicifolia Mulefat July–May Logfia filaginoides California Cottonrose Feb–Mar Pseudognaphalium biolettii twocolor cudweed Aug–May Bidens pilosa Beggar’s ticks All year Encelia californica Bush sunflower All year Venegasia carpesioides canyon sunflower All year Senecio vulgaris Old man of Spring Dec–May Centaurea solstitialis Yellow star thistle Mar–Dec S. asper Prickly sow-thistle Dec–July Uropappus lindleyi Silver Puffs Mar–June Adoxaceae Sambucus nigra-caerulea Blue Elderberry All year Apocynaceae Vinca major periwinkle All year Rubiaceae Galium porrigens graceful bedstraw Feb–Aug Lamiaceae Stachys rigida woodmint Dec–Oct Salvia mellifera black sage Dec–Sep Salvia spathacea hummingbirdsage Nov–July Oleaceae Fraxinus dipetala Flowering Ash Feb–Apr Orobanchaceae Castilleja foliolosa Woolly Indian Paintbrush Jan–July Phrymaceae Mimulus aurantiacus sticky monkeyflower Dec–Sep Plantaginaceae Antirrhinum kelloggii climbing snapdragon Feb–June Collinsia heterophylla Chinese Houses Feb–July Scrophulariaceae Scrophularia californica California Figwort Jan–Oct Convolvulaceae Calystegia macrostegia Coastal Morning Glory All year Solanaceae Solanum douglasii white nightshade All year Solanum xanti purple nightshade All year Boraginaceae Amsinckia menziesii common Fiddleneck Feb–June Cryptantha sp. popcornflower Jan–Aug Eriodictyon crassifolium Bicolored Yerba Santa Mar–Apr Eucrypta chrysanthemifolia spotted hideseed Jan–July Phacelia grandiflora large flowered phacelia Feb–Aug Phacelia viscida-albiflora white Sticky Phacelia Jan–July Pholistoma auritum fiesta flower Jan–June Loasaceae Mentzelia micrantha Stick-Leaf January Ericaceae Arctostaphylos glandulosa Eastwood manzanita Jan–May Comarostaphylis diversifolia Summer Holly Feb–July Polemoniaceae Gilia capitata Globe gilia Feb–July Leptodactylon californicum Prickly-phlox Jan–July Grossulariaceae Ribes speciosum Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry Dec–Apr Saxifragaceae Lithophragma cymbalaria Mission Star Feb–May Micranthes californica California Saxifrage Feb–May Amaranthaceae Chenopodium murale Nettle-leaved goosefoot Dec–June Caryophyllaceae Stellaria media chickweed Dec–June Montiaceae Calandrinia menziesii Red-maids Jan–May Claytonia perfoliata miner’s lettuce Jan–June Nyctaginaceae Mirabilis laevis Wishbone bush Dec–July Brassicaceae Brassica nigra black mustard Dec–July Capsella bursa-pastoris Shepherd’s purse Jan–May Cardamine californica milk maids Dec–May Cardamine oligosperma bittercress Jan–Apr Caulanthus lasiophyllus California mustard Feb–June Hirschfeldia incana Summer Mustard All year Sisymbrium officinale Hedge Mustard Feb–June Thysanocarpus curvipes Fringe Pod Feb–May Geraniaceae Erodium botrys long-beaked storksbill Jan–Sep Erodium cicutarium Red-stemmed storksbill Dec–Aug Geranium dissectum cut-leaved geranium Feb–May Cistaceae Helianthemum scoparium Common Rush-Rose All year Onagraceae C. hirtella Hairy suncup Feb–Apr Eulobus californicus California suncup Jan–Aug Anacardiaceae Rhus integrifolia Lemonade Berry Sep–Apr Toxicodendron diversilobum poison oak Dec–May Cucurbitaceae Marah fabaceus common manroot Nov–May Marah macrocarpus Chilicothe Jan–Mar Fabaceae Lathyrus vestitus common pacific pea Sep–June Lupinus hirsutissimus stinging lupine Jan–June Lupinus nanus sky lupine Feb–June Lupinus succulentus arroyo lupine Dec–July Acmispon glaber Deerweed All year Acmispon grandiflorus Chaparral lotus Dec–June Acmispon maritimus Coastal Lotus Jan–July Medicago polymorpha Bur Clover Dec–June Melilotus indicus yellow sweet clover Sep–July Fagaceae Quercus agrifolia Coast live oak Jan–May Rhamnaceae Ceanothus spinosus Greenbark Dec–Aug Ceanothus thyrsiflorus Blue Bush Dec–June Rhamnus crocea Spiny Redberry Feb–Mar Rhamnus ilicifolia Holly-leaved Redberry Feb–May Rosaceae Cercocarpus betuloides Mountain Mahogany Feb–June Prunus ilicifolia Holly-leaved cherry Jan–June Rubus ursinus california blackberry Dec–Aug Euphorbiaceae Ricinus communis Castor bean All year Oxalidaceae Oxalis corniculata Yellow Sorrel Dec–June Oxalis pes-caprae sourgrass Nov–June Papaveraceae Dendromecon rigida Bush poppy All year Eschscholzia caespitosa Tufted Poppy Jan–Sep Fumaria parviflora fine leaved fumitory Jan–Apr Ranunculaceae Clematis lasiantha wild clematis Jan–May Delphinium parryi purple larkspur Feb–June Ranunculus californicus California Buttercup Jan–May Thalictrum fendleri Fendler’s Meadow-rue Feb–May Aytoniaceae Asterella California Asterella Dryopteridaceae Dryopteris Coastal Wood Fern Polypodiaceae Polypodium California Polypody Blechnaceae Woodwardia Giant Chain Fern Elgaria California Aligator Lizard Nymphalidae Euphydryas Variable Checkerspot Papilionidae Papilio Western Tiger Swallowtail Arionidae Ariolimax Pacific Banana Slug

### The Waterfall on Gidney Creek

March 9, 2016

Gidney Creek has its headwaters near the little bench on the backside of Cold Spring trail (the one about half a mile down from Camino Cielo with the watertrough beside it). Gidney flows down, roughly parallel to the trail until Forbush Camp at which point it turns west, out of my ken and eventually flows into Gibraltar Reservoir just east of the back side of Gibraltar Rd.

Forbush sits on a divide and on a wet enough day there’s a little spring in the meadow, perhaps 100 yards from Gidney but which flows east down Forbush Canyon to Cottam meadow where it merges with Blue Creek. It’s kind of neat to see a place where two different watersheds diverge.

Perhaps two thirds of the way down to Forbush there’s a spot where you can turn and look back up the canyon, and if you are lucky you’ll see a waterfall. This doesn’t happen very often, there must be a good flow down Gidney Creek, and I hadn’t seen it for years.

But I saw it yesterday.

There was water flowing near the bench, and I could hear the stream intermittently as I ran downhill, so when I got to the magic spot I turned and looked back and there it was.

It’s hard to get a good look at it because you can’t even see it except at this one spot, and you’re fairly far away there. It’s even harder to take a good picture because, looking north, you are always looking into the sun, and because the waterfall itself is in a shaded nook surrounded by sun.

Maybe if I had a stronger zoom and could get rid of the bright background… But that camera is too heavy to run with.

I ran on down to the Grotto, and then back. The waterfall was still flowing, and I thought what a pity it was not to be able to take a better picture (at this hour the view was even worse because there was more light nearby but still none on the falls.

As I plodded up the trail I was tempted to go down to the creek and look at the falls from close up. After all, who knew when they’d next be running? Eventually I got to the place on the trail which I estimated to be about the closest I could get to the falls.

I cast about and found a spot where there was an opening in the brush and plunged down.

According to my GPS the horizontal distance between the place I left the trail and the creekbed where I ended up is about 65 meters (as the rock plummets). The vertical distance is about 100 meters (take this with a grain of salt, GPS altitudes are not very accurate). Or about a 50° incline on average. It’s steep.

For a while the open space continued, but then the chaparral closed in. Chaparral has lots of tough wiry branches that tangle up with each other. In theory there’s an open space underneath, but not here — too close to the creek probably.

Oh, and it looks as if about half the wiry branches are actually poison oak vines. I don’t usually worry much about poison oak, but then I don’t usually push through thickets of the stuff either.

The chaparral liked my cap too, and kept pulling it off my head. Eventually I just carried it in my hand (which meant one hand less for climbing with).

After I’d been going for a while I realized that I was being stupid. If I had an accident no one would ever find me down here. Cold Spring trail is fairly well traveled (even the back side) and there were people camped at Forbush, so if I had problems on trail someone would find me, but no one would come down here.

Still, I was more than halfway down. It seemed a shame not to continue now.

I ended up about 10 feet above the stream with a fairly vertical drop to reach it. I decided to leave my cap on the rock here while I turned all my hands to climbing. If going down was difficult, how was I going to get up? I decided to ignore that question.

I managed to slither down in one piece.

It took about 15 minutes to cover those 65 meters.

The stream was in a deep channel with closed canopy forest above it. It began to seem unlikely that I’d actually be able to see the waterfall from this angle… but having come so far (or at least having spent so much effort to move such a short distance) it seemed silly not to go and look.

The going was easier now, no plants to hold me back, but the rocks beside the stream were slippery and the stream was steep. I was below the waterfall and had another few decameters to go upstream.

If I had been willing to sit still, it would have been pretty.

Eventually I could see the falls peeping through the trees

And finally I pulled myself into the open area around the falls. A little shallow pool. A very thin stream of water, but it looked an impressive drop. Hmm.

I wonder…

This cascade seems awfully well screened by trees, perhaps it’s not the fall I saw from the trail, maybe there’s another one right above it?

But I have absolutely no interest in trying to climb higher. This cascade is quite enough for me.

I turn back.

Looking, essentially down, the way back looks steep. And slippery.

But I manage it, though I do worry a little about finding my route up again. And even that I find eventually.

I go a little below the precipitous drop I took on the way down and find an alternate route up.

I recover my hat.

I follow my footsteps up for a while, but after a bit I lose them. Oh well, I just have to push my way up, I can’t really get lost.

Eventually I reach a spot where I can see, and find the trail to my left and below me, so now I head downward (through a poison oak tangle) and eventually reach the trail.

I’m glad I saw that waterfall, but I don’t think I need to do that ever again.

Next time I ran the trail, nine days later, the waterfall had gone.

### Christmas Run

December 25, 2015

Every year I plan to do a run on Christmas Day. Or a bike ride. It’s a peaceful time to be out.

I was thinking I would run from my door to Upper Oso via Arroyo Burro trail, not Hwy 154. I thought it would be considerably shorter than the highway (though a good deal slower than driving).

About a week in advance the weather forecast showed a big rain on Christmas day, so I started thinking I might go out Christmas Eve instead. Then the forecast wiggled around and Christmas Eve was also supposed to be rainy. So I decided I’d do my long run on the 22nd.

Of course when the morning of the 22nd dawned there was suddenly a 20% chance of rain starting at 9:15. Well, 20% didn’t seem likely. I set out a little after 7, I saw a rainbow and then it started to drizzle.

So much for the forecast.

With the drought there is almost nothing blooming now, so I had my eye out for lichens. Lichens react quickly to the rain and often change color — the outer fungal layer draws back revealing the more colorful algal layer underneath.

I was also looking for fern fiddleheads and liverwort thalli. Last year they were all over the place by now, but this year I’ve just seen a few starts which have since died back.

When I got to the Jesusita mudbank, the mud had reached the point of being slippery, but not yet of being sticky. So it didn’t stick to my shoes, but did make the climb difficult. Still, it wasn’t really cold and the rain was barely noticeable, so after a bit I thought about taking off a layer, but I waited a little longer.

Once I got out of the canyon containing San Roque Creek I felt the wind, which was quite strong and suddenly chilly. I decided I’d keep all my layers on.

I found a wild cucumber vine in bloom, the first I’ve seen this year (and about a month later than I usually see the first). That was an encouraging start, but it was the only winter bloom I saw that day.

Arroyo Burro trail is quite overgrown for about a mile after the 420 rock, but after that there’s a little valley with a nice stream (which had no water in it) and the climb becomes more scenic. This is also the boundary of the Jesusita burn and the vegetation becomes older (probably unburnt since the Coyote Fire in the 60s). Anyway I start to see lichens now.

The rain has brought out the yellow in the goldspeck lichen (¿Candelariella rosulans?) which covers the trunks of the shrubs, here on bigpod Ceanothus.

As I climbed up to the pass with Camino Cielo the wind picked up. It is usually more intense on the ridgeline and when it is blustery below it is very windy above… And the wind made the rain seem worse. Or maybe it was worse. Anyway I was soaked and cold.

And my glasses fogged up. I was in a cloud here, so it was naturally foggy too. I couldn’t see where I was going and ended up on a side trail I’d never known was there. I didn’t realize it until I came to the water tank that I also didn’t know about.

So I scrubbed off my glasses, but that didn’t help I still couldn’t see. Eventually I realized that the road had to be downhill of where I was, so down I went. And got across.

The shooting range is still closed because of fire danger. This is a comfort when you run past a range in dense fog.

And down the other side, and out of the wind and fog. I took out a cliff bar, and had to use my mouth to tear it open.

The backside of the mountains must have had more rain than the front, I found lots of Polypody fiddleheads, and some Asterella thalli. Neither of these have I seen in the front country this year, though I have seen both on other back country trails.

But there wasn’t anything blooming here.

Further down the trail there are Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata), a species not seen in the front country and I was interested if they had a similar lichen load to the Coast Live Oak of the front country. The problem is that lichens prefer branches in oaks (rather than trunks) and Valley Oaks tend to be tall. Much taller than Coast Live Oaks. Generally too tall for me to see their branches.

But one nice thing about high winds is that you get broken branches lying on the ground

And here on this one small bit of Oak branch I’ve got at least four different lichens. In the upper right the bushy whitish thing is Oakmoss Lichen (Evernia prunastri), in the middle left the bushy orange thing with the weird circles is Orange Bush Lichen (Teloschistes flavicans), the small yellow areas are probably some kind of Goldspeck Lichen (Candelariella sp.), and the grey flaky patches are probably Common Ruffled Lichen (Parmotrema perlatum). This one little stub of a stick has just about everything I was hoping to see.

At the bottom of Arroyo Burro the mud had turned sticky as well as slippery and I had to run off the trail if I wanted to stay upright. The rain was slackening now, and when I got to the river there wasn’t even a puddle visible in the ford.

It is 12 miles from my house to Paradise Rd. 13.5 miles to Lower Oso, and 14.2 to Upper Oso. At least according to my watch.

When it was time for a bite to eat I found my fingers too cold to open the package. They were too weak even to pull against the grip of my mouth. I pressed my fingers against my thighs in an attempt to warm them, and after about 5 minutes I was able to eat.

On the way back I avoided the worst of the mud but taking an alternate route, but even when I couldn’t avoid it, it seemed much less of a bother going up than coming down.

As I neared the top I felt the wind picking up again, occasional drizzles of rain and my glasses were fogging, so, although it wasn’t time to eat yet, I tore open a packet in case my hands numbed out again.

At the top, I was running with the wind (so warmer) and the fog wasn’t as bad as it had been, though hardly clear. But my hands were warm enough that I could have opened my food package.

A half an hour later I had ducked under the cloud cover and weak sunlight was peaking through, and when I got to the overgrown section it was almost sunny.

When I reached the trail bottom and looked back…

it’s quite a different view from what I saw 5 hours earlier.

Although I spent about three hours in continuous rain, with a second light drizzle when I got back to the ridgeline, the county’s downtown rain gauge reported no precipitation at all. Looking at how the rainfall went across the county, it looks as if the storm was stronger farther north but petered out when it got to the mountains. So the downtown forecast was somewhat accurate, rain was unlikely there, I had just assumed that meant rain would also be unlikely 5 miles away, but that was not the case.

And, of course, when Christmas did roll around there was absolutely no chance of rain — bright sunny skies, high winds, no clouds. So I biked out to Refugio and then up Refugio Rd.

I always forget just how steep Refugio Road is, and how much steeper it seems when it follows a ~20 mile ride just to get to the base. And the wind came blowing down the canyon too.

I wanted to see if the refugio manzanitas were in bloom. This is a rare species that only grows between Refugio and Gaviota. I met it for the first time last January, but I suspected it would be blooming earlier than that, so I went for a look.

There are a few spots on Refugio Rd. where it grows, and more on Camino Ciello. I didn’t want to have to climb all the way up to the top, so at the first patch I stopped and looked hard at the plants. Two were in bloom, so I didn’t have to go any further.

One had old flowers dropped underneath it so it had clearly been blooming for a while. Next year I’ll need to check even earlier.

### The Appalachian Trail — in Georgia

October 10, 2015
S

ome years ago my father announced that he was going to have to give up his goal of hiking all of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia (in sections, not a through hike). He felt he was getting too old and his balance was not up to it. He said he only had one 5 mile section left to do, the one at the very start.

The problem with the start of the Appalachian Trail is that you can’t get there by car. Before you start hiking the AT you must do an 8.3 mile hike just to reach the start. And that 8.3 mile hike was beyond him — to say nothing of the subsequent 5 miles, and somehow returning. He had checked out the Hiker’s Inn which is 4¼ miles from the start (and reachable by a 5 mile hike) but that still left him with a 2*9 mile hike on one day (my father does not like camping).

So he was giving up the idea.

But I (who had not been aware that this was a goal of his) thought that might make a neat goal for me. I intended to run it, of course. I wasn’t 90 yet, and I thought I could make it. It’s only about 75 miles, or 85 if you include the Approach Trail.

So I set out to do it.

No rush, but each time I visited my parents I’d do a section of the trail. Our house is maybe 15 miles from the center of the AT in Georgia, so I sort of worked my way out from the middle. Each section had to be done as an out and back stretch — I didn’t want to discommode anyone else by having a car at each end of a section — so in fact I’ve run all of the AT twice.

The closest highway access to the trail (for us) is at Hogpen/Tessnutee and Unicoi gaps so I ran the sections starting at them first. Then I ventured out to Neel’s Gap and Dick’s Creek Gap. Last Thanksgiving I ran from Dick’s Creek Gap to the NC border (at first being confused because Garmin Connect showed the wrong location for the border and suggested that I had not reached it).

This summer I ran from Woody Gap to Hightower Gap. But there I was stuck, like my father, with the start of the trail yet to do.

The problem is that from Woody Gap to Amicalola Falls (where the approach trail starts) is a ~29 mile stretch with no highway access. Now I could run 29 miles in a day… but that would require getting someone to drive me around and leave a car, and I didn’t want to do that. I had run from Woody Gap to Hightower, which meant that all I needed was to run from Amicalola to Hightower which was ~17 miles. Or 34 miles there and back. I’ve run that far in a day before, but not often and I didn’t want to do it unsupported in strange territory.

Of course there are dirt forest service roads that criss-cross the mountains, most of the mountain gaps have some sort of road crossing through them, but they are often in bad shape and I didn’t really want to drive them in a rental car with city suspension.

But my first cousin had hiked the AT from the start up into NC and he had managed to get up to the AT about a mile from the start at Springer Mountain.

This intrigued my father. He had not felt up to the 8 mile hike up to Springer from Amicalola, but felt he could manage a 1 mile hike to it. He still wouldn’t hike the entire trail, but at least he’d get to the start. But now he was worried about the state of the road (my father likes to worry).

So at the beginning of this visit I had ~17 miles of AT to do, and I wanted to scout out the trail and the road for my father.

I decided that I would make two expotitions. The first would start at Amicalola Falls and go up the Approach Trail to the start at Springer, and then continue on the .9 miles to the forest service road to make sure I would recognize it when I drove up the road.

The second expotition was to drive up the road to that spot, park, and run out to Hightower Gap and return. I know it sounds simple. Just drive up the road. The problem is that the roads are often unmarked (or if they are marked have a different name from what is on the map), and the maps show roads that aren’t there (or aren’t visible) and don’t always show roads that are there (but might actually be someone’s long driveway if I really knew the area).

So you can’t look for road signs, and you can’t count turnings.

I expected to get lost.

And I did, but not very.

The road was in worse shape than I had hoped. So on my return journey I looked at a map posted on a sign at the parking area up there (foolish me, I had not brought a map of my own), and saw a road that claimed to reach Ga. 60, a road I knew. So I set out on it. The map had not said how far it was to 60, and although the road was in good condition, it was also much longer than the route I’d taken up. So I reverted to that first choice when I described it to my father.

Sadly, when the day came, my father was not feeling up to it. So I wasn’t able to take him. And then the next day it was raining.

Perhaps on my next visit…

But in the process of scouting for my father I had managed to complete my goal and I ran the last sections of the AT I needed.

The Appalachian Trail used to start at Mt. Oglethorpe, but in the 1958 this start was deemed to commercial, and the official start was moved to Springer Mountain. But 8 miles of the original trail remains and has become the AT Approach Trail. Behind the Amicalola Falls Visitor Center is a gate that informs you it is 2,108.5 miles to Mt Katahoin, Maine.

As the name implies Amicalola Falls State Park is the home to a waterfall, and the Approach trail climbs towards this. After a bit it stops being a conventional “trail” and becomes a set of steps. The sign reminded me of various signs in London Underground stations which warn you that there are “320 stairs to climb and only people in good health should attempt this. Otherwise use the lifts.”

There are no lifts at Amicalola Falls.

The falls are spectacular though.

Once you reach the base of the falls you are treated to even more steps to take you up to the top.

You can’t see the falls from the top. But there is a nice view of the valley below.

And here the trail turns back into a trail. It heads off away from the state park and into the woods.

Back at my parents’ house there isn’t much in the way of fall color yet, but here, at a slightly higher altitude the leaves appear to be turning…

East coast trails are marked with blazes on the trees along the route, usually painted but sometimes nailed on. The Appalachian Trail is marked with a white rectangular blaze, and the various spur trails to it are marked with blue blazes. The trail to the hiker’s inn here is marked with a yellow rectangular blaze. That’s a new one to me, I had previously thought that “yellow blazes” was a euphemism for the highway (the dashed yellow lines that divide the lanes) and have only heard “yellow blazing” as a derogatory term to mean someone who hitch-hiked to skip difficult sections of the trail. A little further along I found the Breton MacKaye Trail which was marked with white diamond blazes.

The approach trail is considered a spur and is marked with blue blazes.

A little further up the trail I find my first gentian. I think this is Sampson’s Snakeroot (Gentiana villosa). I don’t see them often, but today they are quite common — I’m not usually here in October and I guess this is when they bloom. I’ve seen one in September, and my sister used to find them at Thanksgiving some times.

The odd thing about these flowers is they never seem to open, they are always closed buds. But today I watched as bumblebees flew to the flower, pulled the petals apart, wormed its way inside, wiggled around, and then came out again. Sometimes when it came out the flower remained open — perhaps this is a signal to other bees not to try pollinating this flower again.

Eventually I reach the top of Springer Mtn. There is no fancy gate here, just a plaque embedded into the rock.

Now I proceed along the AT.

After a little while I reach the road and there I find a large parking area and a big sign. So I now have a clear idea of where to deposit my father.

The next day I meander around the nameless dirt roads until I find the sign. And then I run out along the AT to Hightower Gap. I have now completed the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail.

This section of trail is not terribly interesting, but it does have a very nice waterfall about halfway along it.

### Succumbed to a Cell-Phone

April 2, 2015

I have finally succumbed to the blandishments of the modern world and bought a cell-phone.

Not, I hasten to add, because I have any desire to talk to people, gracious no, this device has no service. Simply because I was tired of my point-and-shoot cameras dying after a year or two of use.

As I far as I can tell, the most common point of failure in my point-and-shoots has been the part where the servomotors extend the lens. Either when it is turned on, to focus, or to zoom. But a cell-phone’s camera has no external moving parts that rain or fog can corrode.

So I thought I’d try a cell-phone as a replacement. I did some research, no one seems to take cell-phone cameras very seriously, I couldn’t find any of the data I wanted (like quality of macro pictures). But the Samsung Galaxy S5 seemed to get vaguely good reviews, so I bought a used one — and that, a year after its release, was only slightly more than a good point and shoot.

It doesn’t take as good pictures.

I take pictures for two reasons, 1) to have a picture (this usually needs a good quality macro lens) and 2) to remind myself of what, when and where I saw something. I do a lot more of the second type than the first at the moment, and the cell-phone is adequate for that purpose.

But it is also a small portable computer. And I have ported my wildflower database program to the cell-phone now.

The main display shows a list of all species I have seen, photographed and identified in SB county (with a little spill over into Ventura, Kern, LA, and SLO). Each species has a picture (which defaults to the flower but can be either plant, leaf or seed as well), a latin and common name, and a blooming period. Underneath the image are little calendars showing when I have seen it blooming in the past.

There are ways to restrict the species displayed. One could ask to see all yellow flowers that bloomed in April on Jesusita trail, for instance.

On the phone it’s rather squinchy, only about one species can be seen. It’s a bit better on a tablet, where there is some context around each species.

Seeing just a list of flowers becomes dull over time. The display is a bit more functional than that. First, and most important I can add a new sighting to the database

In fact I did that this morning in my run up Jesusita. I used my phone to add 93 sightings. It took about 2 hours to get to the top (which is very slow, so I need to speed up the workflow somehow), and crashed 4 times, but it didn’t lose any data. And that’s what is most important.

It can also show you where the plant can be found, either by drawing a map, or by giving you directions on how to get there.

Each of the little blue circles represents a location where the plant was seen. If you put your finger on one of them (or indeed anywhere on the map) you get the following display which will tell you how to get to that location from where you are now.

Once you start moving the big question mark will turn into an arrow showing you the direction you should be moving to get to the desired location.

Would anyone local be interested in having this installed on their android device? (doesn’t work on iPhones, and is still much under development, but it has some basic functionality now).

### Blown and buffeted by the wind

December 27, 2014

Now one autumn morning when the wind had blown all the leaves off the trees in the night, and was trying to blow the branches off, Pooh and Piglet were sitting in the Thoughtful Spot and wondering.

The House at Pooh Corner — A. A. Milne

Every Christmas I like to go out for a long run. There tend to be very few people out on Christmas morning. Little traffic to get in the way. It’s a soothing time to run.

In the past I have run along the coast, up to Ellwood and back, but this year I decided to do another of my 50 mile trail run experiments.

I had initially planned to run Red Rock again (for consistency) but there was a mudslide all over Paradise Rd. and, while I could probably run through it now, I couldn’t bike or drive through it to leave water. So I decided to do a variant of the Blue Canyon Loop. I found one that was 25+ miles (so I’d do it twice), and I could leave water at Romero+Camino Cielo, Cold Spring+CC and have some in my car at Romero trailhead.

The days before Christmas had been hot (84°F), which would not make for good running. On Christmas Eve the forecast was for the next day to have a high of 67° (whew) but “winds 30-40mph, gusting up to 65”. Now if you know your Beaufort Scale that means “Gale force winds gusting up to Hurricane”

So that was going to be interesting.

But they were supposed to die down by noon.

The forecast didn’t say what would happen after noon…

I started at 4am. It was dark. And windy. I climbed up Romero Rd. sometimes the wind was in front of me, blowing me back, sometimes behind helping me up. There didn’t seem to be any sense to it. I guess the canyons twisted it around so it could come from any direction. Sometimes I was in wind shadow.

There was no moon (it was waxing crescent and had long since set). City lights down below and out to sea the oil islands lit up like Christmas trees.

“If I get lost, or injured, or blown away, it’s my own damn fault.”

As I reached Romero Saddle the wind became ferocious. I thought of my water jug hidden under a manzanita bush — but it was so cold in that wind, and the wind was so strong and I couldn’t imagine how I’d be able to put water in my pack in the dark with the wind… so I left it there. I hadn’t drunk much anyway.

The wind was against them now, and Piglet’s ears streamed behind him like banners as he fought his way along, and it seemed hours before he got them into the shelter of the Hundred Acre Wood and they stood up straight again, to listen, a little nervously, to the roaring of the gale among the tree-tops.

“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”

“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.

Piglet was comforted by this, and in a little while…

One nice thing about running in the chaparral is that there are no trees to fall on you.

So I wasn’t worried myself.

The trees are only to be found around the creeks, and I didn’t reach a creek until I was well below the ridge and out of the worst of the gale.

At one point I tried to adjust my camelback, and I needed both hands, and the flashlight got tilted up. And suddenly I found I had run into the cliff face on the side of the road. It was dirt, and I laughed at myself as I bounced off. After that I kept the light pointing in front of me.

It was still pitch black. But I knew I just had to run down until I got to the bridge over Blue Creek and then the trail was maybe 100yds after that. It had been a while since I last used the trailhead, but there is no other bridge on the road…

Eventually I found the bridge and, after a short search, the trail.

I’m not as familiar with the upper part of Blue Canyon trail as I am with the lower, and the dark didn’t help. I made a couple of attempts to run up the walls of the canyon but was never taken in for long.

When I got to the segment of Blue Canyon between Romero and Cottam it was almost light enough to see. I reached Cottam a little before 7 and it was full light (but the sun had yet to rise over the mountains so it was still shaded). I sat down at the picnic table there and got out my book and read for 15 minutes. It was a bit chilly, but I was out of the worst of the wind and still had all my layers on. It was OK.

Cottam Meadow (back on an October morning)

I had been a little worried that I might stiffen up, but that didn’t really happen. It took a minute or two to warm up again, but no worse than has happened to me many times when I pause after a tempo run to wait for other people before continuing.

Just on the edge of the meadow I found

a bear print. Just one. Several days old I think (the ground wasn’t soft enough to take my prints today, though other people’s prints were there beside the bear’s). Anyway not worrying.

Cottam is the lowest point in the back country. It’s where Forbush Creek runs into Blue Creek. I’m now climbing up Forbush Canyon and there is water in it, as there was in Blue. I’ll have to go look for the confluence when I return to Cottam.

I catch my first glimpse of the sun.

I pass a sycamore with a few leaves that haven’t fallen yet, so I grab them. I think I will need them when I reach the pit toilet at Forbush.

There are lots and lots of Calochortus basal leaves poking out of the ground here. And all up Cold Spring trail too, when I get to it.

But as I climb up the back side of Cold Spring and out of Forbush I begin to feel the wind again. And it increases the higher I get.

I drain my camelback, and just before the top I replenish it from the water stash there.

As I cross Camino Cielo my cap blows off. I run after it and finally trap it. Luckily it did not blow all the way down to Montecito.

Then down Cold Spring. There’s a current blooming up here, and a silk tassel bush, and a few long-stem buckwheat. But not much. not much.

At one point a gust of wind blows me so strongly that it stops me dead in my tracks. When you walk you always have a foot on the ground so it’s easier to fight the wind, but each running pace contains a jump into the air when the wind can catch you and blow you backward.

A large Greenbark has fallen across the trail here, I guess the wind did it in (I was last up here last Friday, after the rains, and it was fine then)

Trees are so rare in the chaparral that the one place they grow here is just known as “The Trees” and everyone understands it. There are two Eucalyptus growing about half-way down the trail. Today the wind is whipping them about and the noise is astonishing.

They don’t fall on me, but for a long time I can still hear the wind in their branches.

Then down to the powerlines and I follow the road all the way back toward Romero.

The wind grabs my cap several more times, but I always manage to recover it. I wonder why I’m losing my cap in this direction when I didn’t in the dark (and thank goodness I didn’t in the dark). Eventually I end up carrying the cap.

The road is littered with snapped branches, some of them quite thick. That oak branch was about 2 inches in diameter, and the laurel sumac one is more than an inch. And how laurel sumac can snap is beyond me. They just bend when I try to snap their branches.

I pause at my car and read my book for another 15 minutes. This time I feel no stiffness at all when I start moving (it is warm in the car, I bet that makes a difference).

I consider what I’ll need for my next loop. How many layers? I ran all the first loop with four, but it is warmer now and the wind is supposed to drop soon. I take off one layer. Gloves? Nah, they can stay. Flashlight? I probably won’t need it, but, eh, might as well carry it, just in case disaster strikes.

I decide to run the next loop in reverse order. Kim had said she might run one loop starting at 6 — so she’s two hours behind me, if she’s there — but if I run backwards I might see her.

I don’t.

I do see other people. There seem to be more people around at 10:30AM than at 4. Odd that.

I think I’ll walk up the fireroad now. It’s steep.

Just beyond San Ysidro I see that a strange creature has crawled out of its bed to bask in the sun. I think it must be a Psammead, so I don’t disturb it (they can be bad tempered).

The wind does seem to have dropped a bit. My cap is safe.

Back up Cold Spring to Camino Cielo. I run right past the water stash at first and have to go back. I pretty much drained my water too. That’s good.

As I approach Cottam I remember that I want to look for the confluence, so I go crashing off trail to do so. I discover that the wind has snapped mistletoe out of the sycamores here and I pass several scraps with berries. It’s Christmas. I pause and pick one up. I’ll take it to the contra-dance this evening. I’ve only another 14 miles to go.

I reach the place where the confluence should be, but it isn’t. I go up and down a bit. I’m clearly in the channel of Forbush creek and it is dry as a bone. A quarter mile back it was in full flow, and presumably, it is flowing underneath the sand I’m walking on. But that isn’t obvious up above. Still Blue Creek looks nice here.

Then back to the picnic table at Cottam and another 15 minute break. Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to calm my stomach. Oh well.

Then another run up Blue Canyon. Some of the stream crossings in Upper Blue Canyon are quite nice looking.

Once I’m out of the canyon and onto the road again the wind picks up. Sigh. It did drop around noon, but the forecast didn’t say what would happen after that.

I wish I had my gloves. My fingers are cold.

At Camino Cielo the wind is again ferocious. I take off my cap to keep it safe while I fill up my camelback. And then down the other side. The sun is nearing the horizon but hasn’t set yet. About two miles down the road I start noticing some nice color on the cliffs and I think soon I can take a nice sunset picture. And then it is gone. The sun has set behind me and I missed that chance.

I’m glad I did bring the flashlight.

### Solstice at NIRA

December 27, 2014

‘Twas Advent’s Fourth Sunday, when all through the camp,
Not a creature was stirring not even a scamp.

Kevin wanted to camp at NIRA (something, something Recreation Area) and then run Upper Manzana trail out to the Sisquoc River and back (about 30 miles round trip).

Somehow that changed and we all drove out from SB early in the morning.

For the last decade or so I have tried to watch the sun rise and set on the day of the winter solstice (it’s pretty easy to be up and about for both at this time of year). This year we were driving through Happy Canyon when the sun arose.

It takes more than an hour to get to NIRA from SB. I’ve only been there once before myself (Cynthia took me this summer but we only hiked about 6 miles in). The road simply ends at a campsite shaded by Live and Valley Oaks.

We set off up the trail, which winds above Manzana Creek. There was water in it, more water than this summer but still not much.

It’s interesting that the trees which cluster around our creeks tend to be deciduous (Sycamores, Cottonwoods, Alders, Willows), but those a little further uphill (Bay Laurel, Coast Live Oak) keep their leaves.

I, of course, was interested in seeing if there was any difference to the vegetation this far out in the back country. In the summer I found a few things that I hadn’t seem before. At this time of year there’s not much to be seen. A few tall wire-lettuces still blooming after the summer, and lots of young forbs, too young for me to identify.

I found a Juniper bush (tree?) near the Mazana Narrows. I think it was a Juniper, but maybe it’s a Cypress…

And Kevin pointed out a gooseberry in bloom. I have seen no gooseberries in bloom in the front country yet.

Then we started to climb out of the canyon up to the ridgeline above. Much drier here.

And definitely a Juniper bush. I know I haven’t seen these in the front country.

The ridgeline isn’t what I was expecting. I assumed there would be a knife-edge ridge the way there is at Camino Cielo, but there was a wide sort of flat area through which a little stream meandered.

Then we crossed over and down into the watershed of the Sisquoc.

Kevin pointed out a stick and asked me if I could identify it. He said he called it “Spiny Ceanothus”. Now the genus Ceanothus means spiny, so that’s not much help. In the front country there is Ceanothus spinosus which means the spiny, spiny thing. but this wasn’t that. It looked more like a chaparral pea to me than anything, but it wasn’t that either. I kept my eye open after that and found some sticks with leaves on them. After that I realized it was all over the place. But I’d never noticed it before. It doesn’t seem to grow in the front country. Proper name seems to be Ceanothus leucodermis, or chaparral whitethorn.

This side also had a calm meandering stream and we followed it down to the Sisquoc.

We found several sets of Coyote prints in muddy parts of the trail.

And something that looked like an unhappy clustered tarweed (but it is far too late for that to be blooming now, so maybe it’s a tarweed I’m not familiar with).

When the got to the Sisquoc it looked like a real stream from my childhood. Gently flowing, full of water.

There’s a forest service cabin on the other side of the stream, fully furnished, and apparently open to anyone who hikes that far. We had lunch there, and turned back.

We were coming down the 154 just in time to catch the last of the sunset over Goleta:

### Running to North Carolina

November 29, 2014

Since most people are running Red Rock this weekend I wanted to do something fun too. So I decided to run to North Carolina on the Appalachian Trail.

Some years ago my father mentioned that he had hoped to hike all of the trail in Georgia. He was then 89 and missing one section, the bit near the start (or finish) at Springer Mountain. Unfortunately for him there is no easy way to even get to the start, and he has (regretfully) given up the idea.

But I decided it would be an interesting thing to try. When I’m up here I frequently run on bits of the trail, the bits that are closest to me, which turn out to be those near the middle of the trail. So I’ve been running the trail from the inside out.

Anyway I have reached the point where I had about an 8 mile run to get to the NC border. (And a 20 odd mile run to get to Springer Mtn.)

So this morning I got up at 6. The temperature on the front porch was 24°F. Brrr. This is disturbing because the AT is 2000+ft higher than we are here and is usually cooler. It’s been a long time since I ran when it was this cold. So I put on lots of layers.

I reach the trailhead and for once it feels warmer there than back home. Still cold of course. The parking lot is jammed. I consider this trailhead to be the backside of beyond. I didn’t expect to see anyone here. I can’t actually find a spot and must pull over on the side of the road. I’m here pretty early so I assume these people are camping. Brrrr.

The trail climbs steeply out of Dick’s Creek Gap for about a mile providing good views off to the right.

Footing is a bit tricky at first. I’m not sure if the leaves are naturally slippery or if they are coated in a thin layer of ice. There is certainly some ice, thin crystals of it push up the dirt.

It’s fairly bare. No leaves, no wildflowers. But there are some ferns. Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) is green all year long as is Creeping Cedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum).

When I reach the top of the climb, I find I’m a bit warmer than I want, so I shed two layers and bundle them up and leave them by the side of the trail. I hope no one will take them…

The sun is shining down on this side now…

The trail goes beside a little bog here. There is no ice. Can it really be above freezing? And above freezing all night? After a bit the bog turns into a creek which runs beside the trail for a way. (View looking backwards, uphill)

Then we drop down into a stand of loblolly pines. This is a bit unusual as most of the trail (here anyway) goes through hardwoods. And at the bottom of the stand is Cowart Gap. What kind of name is “Cowart”? Cows don’t do art.

A little under 2 miles. Time for a bite to eat.

And look here! Some snow! Perhaps left over from the midnight rain we had 3 days ago? Anyway Christmas Ferns don’t seem to care.

I pop over to the back side of the mountain, out of the sun and here, finally is some real ice. A little stream comes trickling down and the rocks around it are coated with icicles.

And just beyond this is a rock covered with Common Polypody. I guess they are evergreen too.

I pass through Plum Orchard Gap (Really? There was a plum orchard here once? no sign of it now). And then on to Blue Ridge Gap. This gap has a forest service road and there’s a car parked here. The sign says it’s 3.1 miles to Bly Gap, which is just a little beyond the NC border. So I think I’ll go that far into NC.

Hmm. I’m entering the Nantahala wilderness. That’s a new one wilderness area for me.

As I approach the NC border I run through an area with more snow than I’ve seen so far. The whole slope is covered with a light dusting. And a marginal woodfern seems happy enough to be in the middle of snow.

And then the border… A small sign tacked up to a tree.

I continue on to Bly Gap where I meet my first hiker for the day. He’s a photographer who likes the gnarled tree that grows here. He’s taking pictures of it in every season and he encourages me to do so too.

When I get home I load my route into Garmin … and it shows that I didn’t quite reach the NC border. Um. I look it up. The NC/Ga border is at 35°N. And the mark on the tree is at 34.9931375°N — that’s about half a mile south of the border. Bly gap is only marginally better, it’s a third of a mile short. Now my watch uses GPS with a 5 meter expected error for each location. I could believe 10, even 20 meters. But not 800. The trail is mis-marked.

Damn it! I’m going to have to do the whole thing over again.

So I went back the following August.

I programmed my cell-phone to ring an alert once I crossed the 35°N line. I ran it. I got to 35°N and I ran on for another mile or so, just in case. Then I got back home. Back in November I had looked at two sources, one was garmin, and one was something I’d found on the internet (can’t find it now). Both appear to have been incorrect.

This time I looked more carefully. The boundary was supposed to be at 35°N, but was badly surveyed. The surveyed line is not at 35°N, it’s a bit below, and it wiggles. There was even a border war between GA and NC back in 1804 (I’d always thought there was only one “War between States”). The current boundary is this badly surveyed line, and not 35°N. The signpost on the AT is probably correct.

Damn it! I didn’t have to do the whole thing over again.