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.”
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.
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.
Fire followers are plants that grow in a recently burned area in much larger numbers than before a fire. In some cases the species may rarely have been observed in the area prior to the fire.
A good example of a fire follower is Poodle-dog bush (Eriodictyon parryi), which became widespread in the San Gabriel Mountains following the 2009 Station Fire.
A wet rain season also increases the population of many species. Combine a fire and wet rain season and plant distributions and populations can be dramatically altered.
Yesterday, I did a long run in the Santa Monica Mountains that included several miles of the Backbone Trail between Sandstone Peak and the Danielson Multi-use area in Sycamore Canyon. This area was burned in 2018 Woolsey Fire and there were some stunning displays of fire followers and other wildflowers.
Although not as numerous as the large-flowered Phacelia, I’ve never seen so many fire poppies along the Backbone Trail. Its orange-red color is striking and stands out sharply against the brown, charcoal-infused soil. Also more abundant this year is the vibrant yellow collarless poppy.
The sun had not yet risen and the poppies along Danielson Road were still tightly furled against the morning’s chill. The purl of Upper Sycamore Creek resonated in the canyon below — a wonderful tone that in recent years has too often been squelched by drought.
I was running to the Old Boney Trail and the start of the ridge that follows along Boney Mountain’s western escarpment to the massif’s huge summit plateau. Several of the Santa Monica Mountains highest peaks are on this plateau, including the range’s highest peak, Sandstone Peak.
In December I’d climbed this route to check the impact of the Woolsey Fire on the area. From the top of the ridge I’d been disheartened by what I saw. Tri Peaks and Sandstone Peak and much of the top of the Boney Mountain massif were a blackened, barren mess.
Now, three months later, I was headed back to Boney Mountain and would continue to Sandstone Peak for the first time since the fire.
Parked in a turnout on Mulholland Hwy, I finished putting on sunscreen and then pushed the Start/Stop button on my watch to dial in the GPS and pair my HRM. Outside, it was a chilly 43 degrees. Sunrise was nearing and the strengthening March sun was forecast to push temps well into the 70s.
In the aftermath of Woolsey Fire, I’d returned to Malibu Creek State Park to see the wildflowers; gauge the response of the creek to heavy Winter rains; check on the health of the redwoods along the Forest Trail, and assess the ongoing recovery of the burned chaparral.
Today’s run of the Bulldog Loop would be a follow-up to two runs in the park in December 2018, which found a fire-ravaged landscape just beginning the long process of recovery.
The Ray Miller Trailhead in Pt. Mugu State Park marks the western end of the Backbone Trail, a 68-mile scenic trail along the spine of the Santa Monica Mountains. The Ray Miller Trail’s long, winding descent into La Jolla Canyon is a favorite of runners and hikers, and a fitting end to those traversing the BBT from east to west.
My run this morning was to the Ray Miller Trailhead (and back) from Satwiwa, starting at the Wendy Drive trailhead in Newbury Park. The Wendy Drive Trailhead is very popular and is the starting point for many good runs, hikes and rides. To get an idea of the route options, see the detailed trail maps on the Pt. Mugu State Park page of VenturaCountryTrails.org.
Today I was looking to do a longer run, so didn’t take the usual route. On the way down Big Sycamore Canyon, I skipped the turns at Wood Canyon (Hell Hill), Wood Canyon Vista Trail (BBT) and Fireline Trail and at Overlook Fire Road, some eight miles into the run, finally headed uphill.
The top of the Ray Miller Trail is a stout 2.5 -mile climb from the bottom of Overlook Fire Road. Along the way there were excellent views of Sycamore Canyon, Serrano Valley and Boney Mountain.
About a half-mile down the Ray Miller Trail there is a popular overlook of the coast. The day was clear and there were stunning views of the Pacific and the Channel Islands. Brushed by whispers of wind, the cerulean blue Pacific filled my view for much of the descent to the parking lot.
It was an odd feeling to run down to the parking lot with runners who were cheerfully finishing their morning run, knowing that I had many more miles to go. After a quick stop at the water spigot, I turned, and sighed, and took the first steps back up the hill and toward Satwiwa.