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The Unspoken Rules of Being a Badass: A Runner's Guide

My Day Running Up and Down Mount Wilson

Mount Wilson Summit Run – Sierra Madre, California
January 30, 2014

The stresses of life and letdowns from others can often beat us up and tear us down in our day to day life.

On Thursday I needed an escape. I needed a mountain to pound  against and wrestle with until my body was beat down and my head was clear.

I’ve been trying to maximize and find all the beautiful, wonderful, and amazing places to train and run in and near Los Angeles over the past few months.

So a couple of nights ago I was searching maps and googling different searches and found Mount Wilson. Every review I read about it talked about how serious a ‘hike’ it was and one reviewer described the climb as ‘hell on earth.’ Well after reading that I found myself at the base of Mount Wilson less than 10 hours later. It was about a 40 minute drive from Hollywood.

I knew the climb up to the summit of Mt. Wilson was roughly a 4,500-5,000 foot gain over the course of give or take 7 miles.

By the time I parked it was already 2:15pm which didn’t leave too much daylight to run/hike up to the top and run back down. The day was already void of sun as it was extremely overcast, foggy, and full of dark clouds. I knew I’d have to Run It Fast® up and back down to beat the dark on what was an unfamiliar trail.

Running Up Mount Wilson

I started up the trail and immediately saw a guest book/log and wrote out ‘Joshua Ho…’ before the pen dried out. I had on a hydration vest with two bottles and hoped it wasn’t a prelude to my own hydration fate up on the mountain.

Half a mile into the trail, I saw the last human I’d see over the next 3+ hours. I’d love to tell you the views were beautiful the higher I climbed, but I couldn’t see anything after 1,000 feet of climb up the mountain (see below).

The climb up Wilson was no joke. I was able to run portions of it the first 3.5 miles and fast hike the other parts. After about 3.5 miles it became even more steep as the thick fog and dark clouds started to circle around me. I had my first thoughts of not being to get back down before it was dark and the rains set in.

The temperatures started to drop and the misty rain started to come down faster 4 miles in. I was running in a cut-off shirt and started to think that it might get too wet and cold before I reached the summit. As I mentioned earlier, no humans were anywhere to be found, especially this high up on the trail. I debated turning back as my hamstrings and back were starting to ache. However, I kept marching forward and feeling more and more liberated and free the higher I escaped into the clouds. I wasn’t done battling the mountain, and I’d regret not finishing if I turned back prematurely.

The 5th mile up the mountain had over 900 feet of gain and seemed to go on forever. I could never see too far ahead due to lack of visibility, but the trail before me, where I was watching every single step I planted, was beautiful and rich with character.

The next two miles averaged about 600 feet of climb per mile, but almost felt relatively flat after that 5th mile. About 6 miles up the trail I hit a rough jeep road that I made pretty good time on. The last 1.3ish miles to the summit were on this road.

The first half of the climb up Mt. Wilson was a serious climb, but most runners/hikers in decent shape can do it. The last half (after the first 3 miles) gets very krunk. It’s technical, very steep, and desolate in nature. I’m sure most days there is a bit more, or at least some, traffic on the trail higher up towards the observatory, but there was none when I went up it. I kept wondering what wildlife hid behind the next turn or behind the fog, but all I came across were a few squirrels and birds.

The Summit of Mount Wilson

It took me 2:03:11 to reach the top of Mount Wilson. The distance from where I started at my car to the top was clocked at 7.3 miles. The total climb per Strava was listed just a hair above 5,000 feet to a point of 5,665 of elevation.

The top, as I had read elsewhere, was in fact anti-climatic. It was a welcome sight as I knew that the climbing was over and that I’d be running a lot faster back down the mountain trail to civilization. However the summit of Mount Wilson, it’s just a bunch of roads at the top, along with the observatory which was rather small, and not a single example of life.

Running Down Mount Wilson

The trip back down the mountain was a lot faster than the way up and therefore not worthy as of many words. It was a fast down that was at times too fast. Some of the more technical parts leave 2-3 inches to plant your foot or down the mountain to your death you go. So it was important to pay attention to every step and slow down and walk through some very tight passes.

The steep run down was refreshing and fast! I started to feel it in my quads half way down as they were starting to grow sore. The miles back down the mountain clicked off so much faster than the ones up it.

The flight down had of course 5,000 feet of descent and took 1:20:30.

Mount Wilson Run Details

Total Mount Wilson 14.7 mile run had 5,088 feet of climb and 5,088 feet of descent and took 3:20:41.

Mt Wilson Mile By Mile Ascent/Descent, Pace
Mile 1: +729 -70, 14:53
Mile 2: +686 -49, 15:47
Mile 3: +513 -42, 15:05
Mile 4: +718 -42, 18:42
Mile 5: +995 – 41, 21:40
Mile 6: +687 0, 18:51
Mile 7: +546 0, 17:01
Mile 8: +53 -404, 13:11
Mile 9: 0 -533, 9:56
Mile 10: 0 -952, 12:33
Mile 11: 0 -801, 10:24
Mile 12: +97 -480, 10:25
Mile 13: 0 -655, 9:50
Mile 14: +88 -683, 10:11
Mile 14.7: 0, -392, 5:07

It was a great run. I’m glad I decided on a whim to go do it. I felt cleansed, alive, and detoxed after it was over. I couldn’t help but feel alive in the rain and Los Angeles rush hour traffic as I slowly drove back home in much the same fashion as I had made my way to the top of Mt. Wilson.

I’d recommend this trail to anyone. It takes a big effort to make it all of the way to the top and back, but it’s still worth the drive and time even if you just want to do a handful of miles instead of the whole enchilada.

joshua holmes (RIF #1)

PS: You can park in front of the small park on E Mira Monta Ave for free and walk up or start up Mount Wilson Trail Road right next to it.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 1051 posts on Run It Fast®.

Joshua Holmes has completed 197 marathons/ultramarathons while running 100+ miles 43 including races such as the Badwater 135, Western States 100, The Last Annual Vol State 500K (3x). His favorite races to date are the Vol State 500K, Badwater 135, Barkley Fall Classic, Catalina Eco Marathon, Chimera 100, Across The Years, Savage Gulf Trail Marathon, Strolling Jim 40 Miler, Tunnel Hill 100, RUTS, EC100 and the Flying Monkey Marathon in his home state of Tennessee. Follow @bayou Follow @joshuaholmes on Instagram

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