Category Archives: backbone trail

Another Triple-Digit Sunday

Pt. Mugu State Park from Boney Mountain
Sycamore Canyon, Laguna Peak, and the Channel Islands from Boney Mountain.

Update on August 17, 2022. As of today, my West Hills weather station has recorded a high of 100 degrees or higher for 12 consecutive days. 

It was another triple-digit Sunday. Once again the high in the west San Fernando Valley was forecast to hit one-hundred and something. I’d hope to beat most of the heat by getting an early start and running where it wouldn’t be quite so hot.

I hadn’t been able to get out to Stoney Point Saturday morning, so was looking to do a little easy climbing as part of my Sunday run. I was considering three options: Topanga Lookout Ridge, Strawberry Peak, and Boney Mountain.

Boney Mountain from connector trail above Danielson Road
Boney Mountain from connector trail above Danielson Road

While none of the three are difficult by rock climbing standards, all require the use of handholds and footholds, good route-finding skills, and good judgment. It is entirely possible to fall on any of them.

The Topanga Lookout Ridge loop is about 8.5 miles long with 2000′ of gain/loss. There are a few short climbing segments on the crest of the ridge that can be accessed from the  use trail.

The basic loop up the Western Ridge of Boney Mountain and over Tri Peaks to the Backbone Trail and back to Wendy Drive is about 15.5 miles long with 3400′ of gain/loss. It is longer and more difficult than  the Topanga Lookout Ridge loop.

The loop over the top of Strawberry Peak from the Colby Canyon Trailhead is about 12 miles long with 3100′ of gain/loss. There is some class 2/3 climbing on the west side of Strawberry, and it is essential to stay on route. There have been a number of rescues of those attempting to climb the peak.

View along the top of Boney Mountain's western escarpment.
View along the top of Boney Mountain’s western escarpment.

It was a few minutes past six when I pushed the start button on my Garmin and jogged down the hill from the trailhead at Wendy Drive. I’d run about a half-mile when I heard another runner behind me. We chatted for a couple minutes and I learned he was preparing to do the Wonderland Trail around Rainier and then the Bear 100.

We were both going to the same area, but by different routes. I was climbing Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge and then working over to the Backbone Trail. He was doing an out and back to Sandstone Peak via Upper Sycamore, Sycamore Canyon, and the Backbone Trail. We would run into each other again at the Danielson Multi-Use Area on the way back to Wendy Drive.

Morning shadows on Boney Mountain's western escarpment
Morning shadows on Boney Mountain’s western escarpment

As always, the climb up the Western Ridge (Mountaineer’s Route) was enjoyable. The rock climber in me always wants to check out potential lines, but this morning there wasn’t much time for that. The longer it took to get up Boney, the hotter it was going to be later in the run!

The temperature was already in the eighties when I reached the Backbone Trail. Before the fires and floods of past decade,  the run down the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail was one of the better running descents in the Santa Monica Mountains. From the Tri Peaks Trail junction to the Old Boney Trail it drops about 1500′ over three miles. Today, except for the stretch of trail near Chamberlain Rock, it was nearly back to its original form.

Holly-leaved cherries along the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail
Holly-leaved cherries along the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail

As in other areas of the Santa Monica Mountains, the effect of the heavy December rains was evident. The red shanks, and chaparral in general, seemed to be greener. This year there is a bumper crop of holly-leaved cherries, which must make the coyotes happy. Unlike last year, it looks like there should be some Christmas berries this Winter, since a number of Toyon were covered in green berries.

On the way down the Chamberlain Trail I started to fret that the water at Danielson might not be turned on. The water faucets in Sycamore Canyon are usually dependable, but on a run a few years ago the water system was turned off for servicing. Or what if there had been a drought-related water supply issue?

It turned out the water was still on, and I drank a lot of it. The remainder of the run went well, although I was a little surprised that the sensor on my pack recorded temps in the nineties in Sycamore Canyon. I had expected the south-facing stretch on Danielson road to be torrid, but a nice breeze kept the temperature tolerable.

Some related posts: Looking for Boney Mountain, Looking for Boney Bluff, Orange Sun Rising – A Boney Mountain Adventure Run

High Point (Goat Peak) Via the Rivas Ridge Use Trail

Rivas Ridge use trail
Rivas Ridge Use Trail

My run started at the Top of Reseda. I’d used the Backbone Trail to run over to Will Rogers State Park (~10 miles) and then picked up the Rivas Canyon Trail on the west side of the park.

Poison oak along the Rivas Canyon Trail
Poison oak along the Rivas Canyon Trail

Roughly 11 miles into the run, I’d turned off the Rivas Canyon Trail and onto the Rivas Ridge use trail. This path is an alternative to the High Point use trail, which I’d used to climb High Point (Goat Peak) a few weeks before.

Now, I was about a mile up the ridge and the run/hike was going well. The use trail was a little overgrown in places, which resulted in a few pokes and prods, but no real bushwhacking was required. As on the High Point Trail, there were some steep sections and loose cobble, but there were runnable sections as well.

I’d done a long run in Pt. Mugu State Park the previous Sunday and some good miles during the week, so my legs were feeling the steeps. Poles would have helped with that.

Bush sunflower along the Rivas Ridge use trail
Bush sunflower along the Rivas Ridge use trail

Climbing up one of those steep sections, I stopped to take a picture of a familiar section of the Backbone Trail — the Chicken Ridge Bridge. I reached for my phone, and I felt the color drain from my face. All I found was an empty pocket.

Instead of the zip pocket designed for the phone, I’d used a bottle pocket for easier access. The phone must have slipped out when I’d reached down for something or ducked under a limb, or?

For a moment I just stood there, then in a rapid-fire sequence, several thoughts came to mind:

“How far back down should I go?”

“Where were those limbs I crawled under?”

“Hope I have all the 2FA backup codes I need.”

“How many hours do I have to look for the phone?”

“Find My iPhone might work here…”

“Where did I take the last photo?”

Losing a phone can REALLY be a pain. The one question I didn’t ask was probably the most important: “When did I last do a FULL backup of my phone?”

In the middle of this rush of thoughts, and despite the whining of my legs, I started back down the trail.

The phone HAD to be somewhere between here and the last place I took a photo. That didn’t make me feel any better. That was a ways down. I’d gone off-trail into relatively thick brush to take a photo of a large patch of bush sunflowers.

When you’re descending a steep trail you’ve already climbed, and know that you’re going to have to climb back up it again, every step seems a long way down.

Down, down, down and no sign of the phone. Where was that patch of sunflowers anyway?

After being decoyed by another patch of flowers, I finally reached the point where I left the trail. Incredibly, I found the phone sitting on top of a thick mat of brush, where I had crawled under some limbs. L U C K Y!

Backbone Trail and Chicken Ridge Bridge from the Rivas Ridge use trail.
Backbone Trail and Chicken Ridge Bridge

Rejuvenated by the adrenalin of a successful search, the remainder of the run went surprisingly well. The trail topped out on the High Point use trail, on a peak just north of High Point/Goat Mountain. It didn’t take long to get to the top of High Point, and soon I was headed back north on the High Point Trail, and then retracing my steps on the Backbone Trail back to Reseda.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS track of the route, zoomed in on the keyhole part of the loop. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Some related posts: Goat Peak and the High Point Trail From the Top of ResedaWill Rogers – Rivas Canyon – Temescal Canyon Trail Run

Goat Peak and the High Point Trail From the Top of Reseda

Goat Peak and the High Point Trail
The High Point Trail

Like many that enjoy our local mountains, I’m always on the lookout for new trails, new peaks, and interesting loops. A couple of months ago, after running to “The Oak Tree” on the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail, I checked out the upper part of the High Point Trail.

This 2-mile long unofficial, unmaintained, use trail connects the Backbone Trail to the Rivas Canyon Trail. My thought was that I could use the trail to do a variation of the Will Rogers – Temescal Canyon Loop. Instead of running down the lower half of Rogers Road Trail to Will Rogers SHP, I could descend the High Point Trail, pick up the Rivas Canyon Trail, and then finish the loop by the usual route. On paper it made perfect sense.

Steep step in Cretaceous-age cobble on the High Point Trail
Steep step in Cretaceous-age cobble on the High Point Trail

As sometimes happens, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as it looked on the map. Blame the dinosaurs. The trail has several steep sections where eroding Cretaceous-age cobble does its best to take you for a ride. Plus, I happened to be using shoes worn smooth by nearly 500 miles of running.

More than one hiker going up the trail commented about my choice to descend the trail. Being careful not to do anything stoopid, the descent — and the rest of the loop — worked out OK.

Since doing the High Point Trail in the wrong direction and with worn-out shoes, I’ve wanted to go back and do a different loop that climbs UP the trail. That’s what I was doing this morning.

Hazy view of Santa Monica Bay from the High Point Trail
Santa Monica Bay from the High Point Trail

The first half of the run was the same as the Will Rogers – Temescal Canyon Loop. However, instead of continuing to Temescal Canyon on the Rivas Canyon Trail, I picked up the High Point Trail at the “cactus garden.” This is about 11.5 miles into the run. (The start of the High Point Trail has closely-spaced steps that have been eroded by runoff.)

As you might expect, going up the High Point Trail was much better than going down. Care was still required, but it was a far more enjoyable experience. Between the steep sections there was a surprising amount of runnable trail.

Chaparral on the High Point Trail.
Running through chaparral on the High Point Trail.

This time my shoe choice was the HOKA Speedgoat. These have a full-length, sticky-rubber outsole. I’ve had many pairs, and it’s my trail running shoe of choice for more difficult terrain.

From the top of Reseda, the Goat Peak High Point Trail keyhole loop worked out to about 20 miles, with about 3300′ of elevation gain. Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS track of the route, zoomed in on the keyhole part of the loop. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Catalina From Saddle Peak

Catalina From Saddle Peak

Another spectacular morning for a Southern California trail run.

The temperature on Saddle Peak was in the high-60s, with light winds out of the north.

The distance to Two Harbors from Saddle Peak is about 45 miles.

Will Rogers – Rivas Canyon – Temescal Canyon Trail Run

Backbone Trail above Will Rogers State Historic Park
Backbone Trail above Will Rogers State Historic Park

The previous weekend I’d done an out and back run from the “Top of Reseda” to the Oak Tree on the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail. It’s an enjoyable run I could do on one bottle of water and get back by mid-morning. Including Temescal Peak, the run was about 14 miles roundtrip, with about 1800′ of elevation gain/loss.

The Oak Tree on the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail
The “Oak Tree” on the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail

This weekend, I hadn’t expected to be back on the Backbone Trail and headed for the Oak Tree again, but last weekend’s run reminded me that I hadn’t done the Will Rogers – Rivas Canyon – Temescal Canyon/Ridge loop in a couple of years.

The 20+ mile loop is an outstanding trail run that is both challenging and scenic. Done clockwise from the Top of Reseda, the run down Rogers Road is as enjoyable as the climb out of Temescal Canyon is difficult. On paper, the elevation gain/loss is around 3400′, but for me the run is usually a bit more strenuous than that stat would suggest.

Century City, Downtown Los Angeles, San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak
Century City, Downtown Los Angeles, San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak

On the way out I usually do a short side trip to Temescal Peak, and on the way back a short detour to Temescal Lookout. With good visibility, both points have extensive, 360-degree views. Temescal Peak can be accessed from the Backbone Trail about 0.1 mile east of Temescal Ridge Fire Road via a use trail. Temescal Lookout is just off the Temescal Ridge Fire Road, about 0.5 mile north of the Trailer Canyon/Temescal Ridge Fire Road junction.

On a clear day, there is a long list of places and peaks visible along the route. Among them are Century City, Downtown, Santa Monica Bay, Palos Verdes, Catalina, Boney Mountain, Hines Peak, San Gabriel Mountains, Mt. Baldy, Santiago Peak, and sometimes San Gorgonio Mountain and San Jacinto Peak.

The steep climb on Temescal Ridge Fire Road up to Green Peak
The steep climb on Temescal Ridge Fire Road up to Green Peak

Water is usually available at Will Rogers State Historic Park at the restrooms adjacent to the main parking lot and polo field. I’ve also topped off my water at the Temescal Canyon trailhead. The Rivas Canyon Trail is used to connect Will Rogers SHP to Temescal Canyon.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of the Will Rogers – Temescal trail run. The map can be zoomed, tilted, rotated, and panned. To change the view, use the control on the upper right side of the screen. Track and placename locations are approximate and subject to errors. Poor weather, and other conditions may make this route unsuitable for this activity.

Some related posts: Will Rogers – Temescal Loop, Christmas Eve Trail Run, Chilly Los Angeles, Century City Clouds and Sun, Downtown Los Angeles and San Jacinto Peak

Not So Busy Sandstone Peak

Boney Mountain area peaks from the top of Sandstone Peak.
Boney Mountain area peaks from the top of Sandstone Peak.

With the closure of Los Padres, Angeles, San Bernardino, and Cleveland National Forests until Thursday, I did not expect to find the summit of the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains empty. Even if it was by happenstance, I’ve rarely found the summit of Sandstone unoccupied on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

Like last weekend’s run, this morning’s trail run started at the Wendy Drive Trailhead on Potrero Road in Newbury Park. But today’s route had a lot more elevation gain, and some steep scrambling up the rocks of Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge. It’s an adventurous way to do Boney Mountain, Tri Peaks, and Sandstone Peak, and get in some excellent running on a very scenic stretch of the Backbone Trail.

Overall, the route was in the best shape I’ve seen since the 2018 Woolsey Fire. The path that works up the north side of Tri Peaks and around the east side of its summit blocks was relatively clear. Following trailwork by the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council, the Chamberlain Trail segment of the Backbone Trail was once again an enjoyable downhill run.

Here’s an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS trace of my usual route (yellow) to Sandstone Peak from Wendy Drive via Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge, and return via Big Sycamore Canyon. A GPS track of the Cabin trail is also shown. Variations of the route include doing the Mishe Mokwa loop after climbing Sandstone Peak; and returning to Sycamore Canyon via Serrano Valley/Canyon instead of Blue Canyon.

Some related posts: Sandstone Peak from Wendy Drive, Over Boney Mountain to Sandstone Peak and Serrano Valley, An End of Year Boney Mountain Adventure, Too Many Flowers on the Chamberlain Trail