Category Archives: nature

Backbone Trail: Encinal Canyon to Mishe Mokwa Out and Back Trail Run

Backbone Trail, Triunfo Lookout, Boney Mountain, and Sandstone Peak from Etz Meloy Mtwy
Backbone Trail, Triunfo Lookout, Boney Mountain, and Sandstone Peak from Etz Meloy Mtwy

Several segments of the Backbone Trail are spectacular and have superb scenery, but one of my favorites is the stretch between the Encinal Canyon and Mishe Mokwa Trailheads. Accentuated by dramatic rock faces and outcrops, expansive mountain views are at every turn.

Done as an out and back run, the 21-mile route has a modest 2500′ of elevation gain. This translates to a relatively moderate and runnable course with more than 18 miles of single-track.

I had not run this stretch since the Woolsey Fire ravaged the Simi Hills and western Santa Monica Mountains, a little more than a year ago. While I was discouraged to see the burned limbs of what had been 8′-12′ tall red shanks, it was heartening to see that the area was recovering, and was no longer a barren and blackened “moonscape.”

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Related post: Kanan to Mishe Mokwa to Wendy Drive

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Chilly Rocky Peak

Rocky Peak following a cold Christmas storm in 2019.
Rocky Peak

Rocky Peak Road is one of my go-to wet weather running spots. The sandy soil — thanks to the Chatsworth Formation sandstone — doesn’t cake on your shoes when it’s wet. It isn’t entirely mud-free, but as long as you don’t mind a few steep hills, it’s a good choice when the weather turns wet.

According to preliminary rainfall totals tabulated by the NWS, Rocky Peak recorded 1.22 inches of rain during the Christmas storm. The snow level had been forecast to drop to 2000′-2500′ in some areas, so as the storm was breaking up I headed over to Rocky Peak to get in a run, and see what I could see.

I’d dressed for a cool and breezy run, and was comfortable as I worked up the first steep hill. But I hadn’t run half a mile when I stopped and put on some gloves and a pair of stretch shorts. That helped, but the higher I went the colder it got. Up top, a little past Rocky Peak, my thermometer registered a chilly 38 degrees and the wind was gusting 10-15 mph. According to the NWS Wind Chill chart, that put the effective temperature at around 30 degrees.

And that’s what it felt like. Part of the problem was that I was running into the wind, which increased the chill. I had a wind shell in my pack, but once I’d reached my turnaround point and had the wind at my back, it wasn’t needed.

San Gabriel Mountains following a cold Christmas 2019 storm.
Mt. Lukens, Mt. Disappointment, San Gabriel Peak and Mt. Lowe.

There was no snow on Rocky Peak Road or Oat Mountain, but from time to time the setting sun broke through the clouds and highlighted the snow on the nearby mountains. It was a far different scene than on the usual Rocky Peak run.

December has been wet in the Los Angeles area. As of January 27, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded 4.84 inches of rain this December, which is nearly three inches above normal. Rain year and water year precipitation totals are also well above normal, and at the moment, ahead of last year. We’ll see what the new year brings!

Related post: Snow on Oat Mountain (2008)

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Looking for Boney Mountain

The Backbone Trail west of Exchange Peak, in the Boney Mountain Wilderness

If you look at the traditional USGS 7.5 minute Triunfo Pass and Newbury Park topographic maps, BONEY MOUNTAIN refers to the large, mountainous plateau that extends roughly from Peak 2417 on the west; to Peak 2793 on the north; and to Sandstone Peak on the east. However, when people say they are climbing “Boney Mountain,” they are usually referring to a high point north of Tri Peaks, on the northwest corner of the plateau, above Newbury Park. This illustration shows these features.

This high point has an elevation of about 2935′ and is typically reached by ascending the Upper Cabin Trail or Western Ridge route. When climbing to this point, most start at one of the Satwiwa trailheads, such as at Wendy Drive and Potrero Road. The high point is NOT the same as “Boney Peak,” which on recent maps is ascribed to a peak adjacent to Inspiration Point, and has an elevation of about 2825′.

Today’s running adventure ascended the Western Ridge route to point 2935 and then worked over to the Backbone Trail, by way of Tri Peaks. Part of today’s adventure was to investigate a peak near the top of the Chamberlain Trail that is labeled peak 2880 on traditional topo maps, but is labeled “Boney Mountain” on many online, GIS-based maps.

The traditional, hand-crafted USGS 7.5 minute topographic maps were produced from about 1945 to 1992, with map revisions continuing until 2006. These maps are now part of the USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection (HTMC) and still widely used. The intended replacements are the GIS-based “US Topo” maps, first released in 2012.

The USGS “US Topo” maps are digitally produced from GIS data. As a result, some features traditionally included in USGS topographic maps — such as trails, landmarks, buildings and recreational features — may not be included. It also appears there have been some issues with geocoding placenames.

The conditions for today’s run were fantastic. Wind-driven clouds condensed along Boney Mountain’s western escarpment, spilling and tumbling over its edge in dramatic fashion.

Clouds spilling over the lip of Boney Mountain's western escarpment.
Clouds spilling over the lip of Boney Mountain’s western escarpment.

As for the other Boney Mountain — Peak 2880 — it was brushy and the rock wasn’t the best, but climbing it did provide some fresh views of the Boney Mountain area. My guess is that the “BONEY MOUNTAIN” label, which described an area on the traditional maps, was treated like a point feature when geocoded. The nearest point happened to be Peak 2880, which speciously became “Boney Mountain.”

In the 2018 edition of the Triunfo Pass US Topo, the Boney Mountain label was moved to Tri Peaks, and the label for Tri Peaks was moved to another, unnamed, peak. In the current online version of the map, the Boney Mountain label and Tri Peaks label are at Tri Peaks. Over time the maps should improve, but until then, I’ll continue to use the traditional 7.5 minute USGS maps, or commercially produced maps that have been field verified.

And what about point 2935 – the high point on the crest that so many people climb? It really deserves a name. Given it overlooks the Danielson Monument and cabin site, maybe something like “Danielson Peak” would be fitting.

Here are a few photos taken on my hike and run.

Some related posts: After the Woolsey Fire: Boney Mountain and Pt. Mugu State Park, An End of Year Boney Mountain Adventure

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Congregating Crows on Lasky Mesa

A few of the crows congregating on Lasky Mesa this Fall (2019)

Crows have been congregating on the west end of Lasky Mesa this Fall, and the number appears to be increasing. On a run earlier this week, a friend and I watched four crows chase a small bird — probably a kestrel — off the west side of the mesa.

Winter gatherings of crows are not uncommon. NPR recently aired a story about the problems created by thousands of Winter-roosting crows in Rochester, Minnesota. Closer to home, and on a smaller scale, in January 2017 I was astonished to see hundreds of crows circling about in Cheeseboro Canyon.

The Cheeseboro Canyon gathering was transient, and I hope the one on Lasky Mesa is temporary as well. Too many of the brash birds could adversely impact the limited number of kestrels and other notable birds that call Lasky Mesa home.

Follow-up on January 15, 2020. On several occasions have seen flocks of crows flying west from Lasky Mesa, toward Las Virgenes Canyon. When conditions permit, the crows use thermals to gain altitude and continue west. I’ve also noticed a general westerly flight trend of small groups of crows flying across Lasky Mesa. It may be that Lasky Mesa is a convenient waypoint on their way to a roosting/breeding location farther to the west.

Follow-up on January 3, 2020. Today, a kestrel was back in the valley oak on the west end of Lasky Mesa. No crows were nearby. Later in the run I came across a small group of crows pestering a pair of northern harriers.

Follow-up on December 24, 2019. Saw about 30 crows flying down the west side of Lasky Mesa and about 20 more in a nearby tree.

Follow-up on December 19, 2019. While I’ve seen some small groups of crows in the Lasky Mesa area this week, the large congregation appears to have dispersed.

Some related posts: Under a Falcon’s Eye, Bird Games, Crows in Cheeseboro Canyon, A Raven Story

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Fall on the Upper Sycamore Trail

Fall on the Upper Sycamore Trail in Point Mugu State Park

The Upper Sycamore Trail connects Sycamore Canyon Road and Danielson Road in Pt. Mugu State Park.

The scenic single-track trail crosses upper Sycamore Creek several times as it works through the canyon — a canyon cut by the creek along the trace of the Sycamore Fault. About 1.4 miles long, the trail gains approximately 400′ in elevation on it’s way up to Danielson Road.

This morning I’d done part of the Ray Miller 50K course, along with Mugu Peak, and then returned up-canyon on the Two Foxes Trail and Sycamore Canyon Road. With the low sun, the sycamores changing color, and it being just a few days before Thanksgiving, the run through the canyon on the Upper Sycamore Trail was especially enjoyable.

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