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Trail Race Is On – Trail in Good Shape Thanks to Dedicated Volunteers

Posted 5/17/08



By Bill Coburn and Pete Siberell

The Mt. Wilson Trail Race is scheduled for Saturday, May 24th at 7:30am sharp.  Though it is the 42nd running of the race, it is the 100 year anniversary of the first race, run by nine runners back in 1908.  The men ran seven miles from Sierra Madre up to Mt. Wilson, rested half an hour, then came back.

From 1912 to 1929, there was no race, some say because the runners' interest was waning due to the popularity of the automobile. Half-way between Sierra Madre and Mt. Wilson was an orchard of apples, cherries, plums and chestnuts that soon became a public resort known as "Orchard Camp." In 1930, the trail race was started again to draw attention to Orchard Camp, and for the first time, the race was expanded to include women and young girls.


The race was held sporadically until the late 1940's when it was abandoned completely. It was revived in the autumn of 1965, and over the years evolved to its present format.  In the spring of 1987, it was held in conjunction with Search and Rescue Days.  It has been run annually ever since, but this year, the Centennial of the first race, it nearly wasn’t.  The Santa Anita Fire closed down the trail and did some major damage to the hillside on which the trail sits. 


According to Pete Siberell, chairman of the Mt. Wilson Trail Race Committee, the work literally started while there were still fires on the mountain on Monday, April 28.  A meeting of the Committee was held in Kersting Court, and the members resolved to get the trail ready in time to have the race go on as planned.  “I received 15-20 calls and emails on that day from people who wanted to help,” said Siberell.  “The first step was assessing the damage, which we did in short order right after the trail was closed.  The majority of damage occurred in a stretch less than a mile-long, between the fire road just above the trailhead and the switchbacks just short of First Water.”  While there is significant damage on the ridge to the east of the trail, the ridge on which the trail runs is relatively unscathed north of First Water up to Orchard Camp, 3.3 miles up from the foot of the Trail.


Charlie Bell, a long-time Trail Blazer who has tended the trail for many years, went up the trail numerous times with other colleagues to assess its condition and to start grooming the trail.  His co-workers included Peter McNulty, Gary Hilliard, Mark Gage, John Grace, Mark Hacker, and Pete Siberell.  According to Siberell “The work was mostly clearing the “slough” made up of dirt and rocks that had fallen onto the trail from above when vegetation burned up, and clearing dead vegetation.  It made for extremely grimy work, as clouds of dust came back in our faces from below the trail.  Although we were equipped with masks, we looked like coal miners coming off the trail.”


Some volunteers worked on the trail during the day while it was still closed to the public, but many came after completing their work day at their jobs, arriving sometimes at 6pm or later and working for an hour and a half or two until the sun went down.  Sierra Madre resident John Grace put together a volunteer team for last Saturday morning (May 10).  John is affiliated with CORBA (California Off-Road Bicycling Association) and the Mt. Wilson Bicycling Association.  With help and donations, he organized about 20 workers.  The Department of Public Works lent tools, while the Only Place in Town provided sandwiches, Starbucks sent beverages, and Leanora Moss and Webb-Martin Realtors provided cash for refreshments.  Defending women’s champion (and pregnant) Sharon Pevsner delivered the sandwiches to the hungry workers.  The workers not only put final touches on the trail, but even worked above First Water on the part of the trail that was not fire-damaged.


Charlie Bell (who is the acknowledged expert on the trail, based on his years of experience helping to maintain it), the world famous Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team, and Pete Siberell with the Mt. Wilson Trail Race Committee had the final say as to when the Trail could be re-opened to the public.  Charlie assessed the trail on Friday, May 9 and thought the trail should be opened as soon as possible, for two reasons: first, so runners could familiarize themselves with the new section of the trail and second, so that runners and hikers could tramp down the trail as much as possible before the race, as it was soft in many sections. 


Jeremy Heiner, a Search and Rescue volunteer who is also on the MWTR committee, declared the trail safe with some recommended precautions.  And Pete Siberell ran up and down the trail numerous times to make sure the trail was race ready.  Upon hearing those recommendations, the city opened the trail the afternoon of May 9th and agreed with Siberell the race would be run as scheduled, absent any mudslides occurring before then!


That doesn’t mean the work is finished.  Crews will continue going up to clear slough that will have fallen on the trail between now and race day.  Heiner and Siberell will be going up the trail before race day to flag any spots still considered dangerous for runners, and Search and Rescue plans to add another eleven volunteers to the twenty he already had scheduled along the damaged trail on race day so they can be ready to respond in case of a fall.  And finally, Siberell will be sending out emails to runners to caution them about race conditions.  He will also provide specific pre-race instructions before the race begins on the morning of the race.


Said Siberell “As with the way the community came together during the fire, it has similarly bonded to bring the trail back to us, literally right before our eyes.  The 100th anniversary of the running of the Mt. Wilson Trail Race will take place, right over the very mountain that was ablaze and had all of us in such anxiety and suspense!  But knowing the citizens and their love of volunteering and the Mt. Wilson Trail, that is to be expected.”


The Committee stopped accepting applications weeks ago, when the maximum allotment of three hundred runners was met.  Runners who want to check in early can come to the Pasta Dinner event in Kersting Court on Friday night from 6P to 8PM.  Runners can pick up their race number and t-shirt early and have a great pasta dinner from Cafe 322. Proceeds from the race will go to SM Search & Rescue.  As a bonus, John Robinson will be providing a history of the Mt. Wilson Trail at 7:00P.


Spectators are encouraged to come out Saturday morning, as there will be plenty going on to entertain them while they wait for the competitors, friends and family to make it back across the finish line.  Kersting Court will be filled with booths from Elite Fitness Boot Camp, New Balance, Patagonia, Jamba Juice, Kaiser, the Sierra Madre Historical Society, and Train fitness center.  Local singer/songwriter Lisa Turner will be entertaining the crowds with her "Celtic-tinged acoustic power folk rock." And for the adults this year, the Sierra Madre Rotary is sponsoring a beer garden where folks can find a little post race refreshment.  Proceeds from the beer garden will be donated to the City’s Fire Fund.  There will be a Children's Art Show co-sponsored by the Sierra Madre Community Arts Commission.  And at 8am, half an hour after the Trail Race start, the Third Annual Kid’s Fun Run will take place for children three and up.  The Fun Run, sponsored by CATZ (MWTR Committee's Jim Liston is President) starts at the same starting line as the grown-ups’ race, and the kids run up Baldwin Ave. and back down to cross the same finish line as the adults.


Siberell is planning to put a sign up on the trailhead next week.  It is on behalf of the Mount Wilson Trail Race Committee, thanking the trail workers for their wonderful efforts.  The community is encouraged to come out on Race Day and show their support, as well, for both the runners of the grueling race, and the volunteers who helped ensure that this Centennial edition of the race is run.


Photos from Saturday, May 10th


Photos from Tuesday, May 6th - Pete Siberell put me in touch with Gary Hilliard, in order for me to be able to get access onto the trail while it was still closed to the public, so I could document some of the repair work, and hopefully draw some attention to the guys that worked so hard to get the trail in shape for the race.  These photos were taken starting at about 6:40pm on Tuesday, May 6th.  Note that these pictures are all from the lower part of the trail, below the switchbacks.  The trail is relatively untouched above First Water.

These pictures are taken from just a few hundred yards up from the foot of the trail

The yellow arrow points to Gary Hilliard, working on repair of the trail

Amazing what a zoom lens can do...shot taken from same location as last picture

John Grace (l) and Pete Siberell work on the trail

John and Pete again.  Until this night, I had no idea those hillside stabilization barriers were there, they'd always been covered by brush when I'd been up the trail before...

Gary Hilliard again

The first spot that the fire became obvious, a few  hundred yards from the bottom

If you look real close, you can see Gary working on the trail

There's that zoom lens again

Hilliard shovels slough off the path

Dust masks were a definite requirement

One of the burned cacti.  You can see the blooms that were on the leaves prior to the fire

I believe this gent's name was Mark?

In some places, the rocks were red from the chemicals dropped to fight the fire


Glad I don't live at the bottom of this ravine

Pete McNulty, John Grace, Pete Siberell, unknown, Gary Hilliard


Hard to tell from this angle, but that patch of smoke was probably 3' tall.  This is May 6th, 4 days after it was announced the fire was contained, 6 days after the flames were pretty much gone from this area.

I believe this gent's name was also Mark...This is just after the entrance to the trail, as I headed down the hill in the 7:45 range

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