The photograph above was taken a few steps off the Backbone Trail, between the Corral Canyon Trailhead and Mesa Peak Motorway fire road. Also in the area was a set of table and chairs that might be used for an ocean-view card game or a lunch break.
These scenes were about halfway through a variation of the Bulldog Loop that starts/ends at the Cistern Trailhead on Mulholland Highway. The route follows the Cistern, Lookout, and Cage Creek Trails down to the Crags Road Trail, just east of where it crosses Malibu Creek.
A permanent bridge used to span the creek, but after being washed out several times in Winter floods, a “seasonal” bridge was put in place. The seasonal bridge is removed when there is a threat of flooding, such as during the rainy season.
This morning, the temperature in the canyon was in the mid-thirties. That was cool enough that I didn’t want to get wet, and I hoped the removal of the bridge had been delayed. But several days of rain were in the forecast, and as I neared the creek, I could see the bridge now lay alongside trail.
At times the site of a religious colony, a grit mine, an oil field, and a housing development, Las Llajas Canyon is now part of the Marr Ranch Open Space and Rocky Peak Park. Its oak groves, gurgling stream, varied plants, and unique geology make it a popular place to hike, run or ride.
According to California Place Names, Las Llajas might have originated from a misspelling of the Spanish word “llagas,” which literally means sores or wounds. Perhaps this was a reference to the area’s natural oil seeps. These would have been an important resource for the Chumash and early settlers.
The trailhead for Las Llajas Canyon is on Evening Sky Drive in Simi Valley. From the trailhead, it’s about 3.4 miles up the (mostly) dirt road to a windmill and oak-shaded trail junction. From the junction, a connecting trail crosses the creek and then climbs steeply to Rocky Peak Road. A strenuous 9.2 mile loop — Chumash-Las Llajas Loop — follows this route.
There are also some less-used side trails in Las Llajas Canyon. A use trail on the canyon’s east side starts about 0.4 mile from the trailhead and connects to Rocky Peak Road near the highest point in Rocky Peak Park. A very steep, eroded hill marks the beginning of the route. The trail ends at a large cairn near Rocky Peak Road. Fossiliferous limestone, composed of seashells, is found here. It is similar to that found at Coquina Mine.
About a half-mile up the trail splits — the Coquina Mine use trail switches back to the right, while a trail connecting to the Marr Ranch Trail continues straight ahead. After the switchback, the Coquina Mine trail traverses across a steep, rocky face that overlooks Las Lajas Canyon and then continues to the top of the peak. As the trail winds up the mountain, there are bits and pieces of rusted mining equipment and abandoned dig sites — signposts of success and failure on the meandering trail of time.
“Thank you so much for this extraordinary image of a P&H 206! Our company built Model 206 machines during the 1920s and 1930s. They were offered in shovel configuration, such as the machine you discovered in Southern California, and also in construction crane, dragline, clamshell, pile driver and backhoe options. It is amazing to behold such a well-preserved Model 206. The arid environment must be a factor.”
“During the last 20 years there has been irregular production from deposits of shell limestone on Rancho Simi, north and east of north from Santa Susana. The quarries are on hills 2 1/2 miles apart and 1 to 2 miles from the Los Angeles County line.”
The report goes on to summarize the operation at Coquina Mine:
“In 1929 Tapo Alto Shell & Fertilizer Company leased the deposit and produced limestone until 1935. They dug limestone with a 1/4-cubic-yard gasoline shovel, and screened and crushed it in a plant having a daily capacity of 15 tons. The principal product was poultry grit…”
“Present quarry is 200 feet long by 70 feet wide, with a 40-foot face. Material is handled by gasoline shovel, having a 1/4-yard dipper, into a l 1/2-ton truck which hauls it about 200 feet to the brow of the hill where it is dumped into a chute 300 feet long. This chute empties into a hopper which discharges into the boot of an elevator; to trommel screen, 4-mesh, screenings to bin, thence to elevator and Cottrell vibrating screens ; products to two-compartment bin ; over-size from trommel to rolls and bin. The plant is so arranged that either product can be put on dump by means of a conveyor. Plant is operated by 25-h.p. Fairbanks Morse gas engine. Plant has a daily capacity of about 15 tons. Products are — 8 + 10-mesh for chickens and — 10-mesh for little chicks.”
It’s a section of the westbound Backbone Trail that starts two miles west of Sandstone Peak and continues down the Chamberlain, Old Boney, and Blue Canyon Trails to the Danielson Multi-Use Area and Big Sycamore Canyon Fire Road. At the point where the trail turns south on the fire road, it has dropped about 2400 feet in 4.8 miles. Continuing south on the fire road, the Backbone Trail gradually descends another 100 feet over a mile and a half until it starts up the Wood Canyon Vista Trail.
What about the long downhill between Saddle Peak and Malibu Canyon? That would be a contender if it weren’t for a gradual uphill that starts a little east of the Piuma Road crossing. It gains about 180 feet over 0.8 mile. If that break in the downhill is ignored, then the stats for the two descents are similar.
Fires and heavy rain the past decade have taken their toll on the Backbone Trail and other trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. Today, except for a short stretch near Chamberlain Rock, most of the long downhill was in decent shape and enjoyable to run.
Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS trace of my route. The eastern ridge route is also shown. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned using the navigation control on the right. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.
I was beginning to wonder if I would get a chance to do the Three Points Loop around Mt. Waterman this year. Angeles Crest Highway had been closed from Red Box to Vincent Gap for many months, and CalTrans projected it might not open until Thanksgiving.
That’s why Friday (November 3) I was excited to hear Angeles Crest Highway had reopened between Upper Big Tujunga Rd. and Islip Saddle.
At dawn, a couple days later, I pulled into the Three Points parking lot, put on some sunscreen, grabbed my pack, and set out to see what was happening on the Three Points loop around Mt. Waterman.
I’d done the loop many times and in many situations — clockwise, counterclockwise, after the Station Fire closure, after the Bobcat Fire closure, with snow at the higher elevations, in hot weather and in cold. When the trails are in good shape and the weather isn’t too hot, the 20-mile loop is an outstanding trail run. Today, it was a challenge just to complete the loop.
At lower elevation, sections of Three Points – Mt. Waterman Trail (10W04) were overgrown with mountain whitethorn — requiring several “grin and bear it” passages. Higher, long stretches of the little-used path were covered with a second season of grass. This made route-finding difficult, particularly where the trail descends to the Twin Peaks Trail junction.
It was an intriguing puzzle to solve, and eventually I made it to the junction of the summit trail and the trail down to Angeles Crest Highway, near Buckhorn (10W05). The trail down to Buckhorn sees much more use than the trail from Three Points and is much better defined. Besides a couple of downed trees, the run down was one of the more enjoyable parts of the loop. The trail is usually very busy, but I didn’t encounter anyone coming up the trail.
As expected, Buckhorn Campground was closed and no water was available. It was a warm day — around 75 degrees — but with the November sun low in the sky, not as warm as 75 degrees in July. If I needed more water, there were several places I could refill.
The Burkhart Trail (below Buckhorn) was the only place I encountered a few hikers. They were returning from Cooper Canyon Falls. When I got down to the PCT and saw how much water was in the creek, I did the short side trip to the falls and took this video snapshot. It’s unusual for the falls to be flowing this time of year.
After checking out the falls, I resumed my westward journey on the PCT. Within feet of the creek crossing, an ugly tangle of fallen trees completely blocked the trail. This was just the first of several problems on the PCT between the Burkhart Trail junction and Cooper Canyon Camp. There were the usual downed trees, but there were also several sections of badly overgrown trail. These green thickets were generally adjacent to the creek, where the trail had been (or still was) wet.
Needing water, and to empty the debris from my shoes, I stopped for a few minutes at Cooper Canyon Trail Camp. Several campsites are nestled in a pleasant area along the creek. With Angeles Crest Highway open, I thought I might see someone here, but like Buckhorn Campground, it was empty.
After reaching Cloudburst Summit, the remainder of the run was more or less usual for the loop. There was some Poodle-dog bush and a small rockslide along the PCT on the way to Camp Glenwood, but neither were an issue. The run was more challenging than usual — and a bit slower — but it had been (mostly) fun and fascinating to work through it.
Angeles Crest Highway was still closed between Red Box and Vincent Gap, and the heatwave continued. I was trying to decide where to run.
I briefly considered the Circuit Around Strawberry Peak, but yesterday at 10:00 a.m., the “in-the-shade” temperature at Clear Creek was already 92°F, and the “in-the-sun” fuel temperature 109°F. By 1:00 p.m., the fuel temp reached a scorching 122°F!
Although trailheads such as Three Points and Islip Saddle couldn’t be accessed using Angeles Crest Highway, the highway was open from Wrightwood to Inspiration Point and Vincent Gap. After seeing the temps at Clear Creek, it took about two seconds to make the decision to head to the San Gabriels’ high country.
From Inspiration Point (7,365′), I ran east on the PCT about 7 miles to the North Backbone Trailhead on Mt. Baldy. Over most of that stretch, the temperature was a blissful 60-something degrees. Other times, I’ve driven to this trailhead — which requires a high-clearance vehicle — or run to the trailhead from Wrightwood. But the run along Blue Ridge is a favorite. It is especially scenic, with fantastic views of Mt. Baden-Powell, Iron Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Mt. Baldy.
Another 10 minutes of climbing and I reached the Pine Mountain Juniper. Straddling the rocky crest at an elevation of about 9000′, this stalwart tree is estimated to be 800 – 1000 years old. It is a remarkable tree in a remarkable location. Except for one short, steep, eroded section, the remainder of the trail to the top of Pine Mountain (9648′) was relatively straightforward.
Pine is the second-highest peak in the San Gabriels and has excellent views of the surrounding terrain. It is higher than Mt. Baden-Powell (9399′) and Dawson Peak (9575′) but a few hundred feet lower than Mt. Baldy (10,064′).
From Pine Mountain, the North Backbone trail continues over Dawson Peak another 2.5 miles to Mt. Baldy. There was still a long ribbon of snow along the east side of the upper North Backbone, but it looked like the trail might avoid it. I would have liked to confirm that, but today the top of Pine was my planned turnaround point. As it was, with the warm weather, I thought I might run short on water on the return to Inspiration Point.
Leaving Pine behind, I started back down — jogging when it made sense — but trying not to do anything stoopid. On the way down, I kept reaching behind me and squeezing the bladder in my hydration pack. I guess I was hoping that it would magically be more full than the last time I checked. It never was.
Back at the North Backbone Trailhead, and definitely low on water, I decided it was a good time to run the dirt road back to the top of the Acorn Trail and see how much shorter it was than the PCT. The answer was not much — only about a tenth of a mile.
I’d been willing to push the water envelope because it had been a heavy snow year. I expected the spring near Guffy Camp would probably be running. I’d passed the side trail to the spring a bunch of times but never ventured down the steep slope. My impression was that the spring was often low or nearly dry. This time when I reached the side trail, I headed down.
And down and down… It sure seemed like a long way to the spring, but when I checked the track, it was less than a quarter-mile with an elevation loss of about 200′.
Back on the PCT, the temperature was generally in the mid-eighties but was warmer on south-facing slopes. At about 1:00 p.m., the in-the-sun fuel temperature at the Big Pines RAWS was 109°F. I was very happy to have the extra water.