The sun had risen, casting a warm morning light on the Santa Monica Mountains. Overnight, low clouds flowed inland through Malibu Canyon, emphasizing the peaks and covering the valleys.
I had just started up Topanga Lookout Ridge and was less than a mile into the Topanga Lookout Ridge Loop. Rain had muddied the ground and cleansed the sky, producing crystal clear views in every direction.
The view of the western Santa Monica Mountains extended from the top of the Tapia climb on Mesa Peak Motorway, past Castro Peak, to Boney Mountain and the highest peak in the Santa Monica range — Sandstone Peak.
In my mind, I traced the route of the Backbone Trail along the crest. My route would take me to the Backbone Trail, but this morning I would enjoy running only a few of its sixty-eight spectacular miles.
The 17.5-mile Trailer Canyon – Santa Ynez Canyon Trail – Trippet Ranch Loop is a longer version of the venerable Trippet Ranch loop from the Top of Reseda. It might also be called the Three Vistas Loop because it visits three high points in Topanga State Park with 360-degree, panoramic views.
The run starts and ends the same as the Trippet Ranch Loop. After running up to the Hub on Fire Road #30, instead of continuing straight on Eagle Springs Fire Road, this route turns left on Temescal Ridge Fire Road. The fire road is followed up to where the Backbone Trail single-track forks left off the road. The Backbone Trail is followed a tenth of a mile east, where a path leads up and left to the top of Temescal Peak.
From Temescal Peak, the route returns to Temescal Ridge Fire Road. I usually follow the use-trail back down and across the Backbone Trail and then continue on the use-trail to the fire road.
The next stop, Temescal Lookout, is about a mile from the top of Temescal Peak and just off Temescal Ridge Fire Road. When doing this loop, I run up a dirt access road on the north side of the lookout and then descend a use trail on the south side. Once the site of a fire lookout, it also has an excellent view. This photo of Downtown and San Jacinto Peak was taken from the viewpoint.
After turning right (west) on Michael Lane, the street is followed around and down to Vereda de la Montura. A right turn here leads to the Santa Ynez Canyon Trailhead in about a quarter-mile. This is where some route-finding fun begins.
A bit more than a mile from the trailhead, the Santa Ynez Canyon Trail climbs out of the bottom of the canyon and up onto a broad ridge. Another mile of uphill, and it tops out at Eagle Springs Fire Road. After turning left, it’s less than a half-mile down to the Trippet Ranch parking lot.
The previous weekend I’d done the Trippet Ranch Loop, so knew what the expect on the remainder of the run. Other than being a little overgrown, the Musch Trail was in reasonable shape. There were still some late-season blooms of showy penstemon, yellow monkeyflower, and white snapdragon along the trail. This time of year, the round pincushions of buckwheat are common. Water was available at the start of the Musch Trail and at Musch Camp.
Eagle Rock is the third viewpoint on the loop, and the most popular. The massive rock formation overlooks Santa Ynez Canyon and has an airy, 360-degree view. On a clear day, Santa Monica Bay, Palos Verdes Peninsula, and Catalina can be seen to the south. On weekends, it’s rare to find the top empty. The summit had just been vacated as I climbed up and was reoccupied by another hiker as I walked down.
Returning to Eagle Rock Fire Road, I turned right and continued northeast a tenth of a mile to the top of the Garapito Trail.
A little more than three miles long, the Garapito Trail is one of my favorite trails in the Santa Monica Mountains. Several sections of the trail are overgrown at the moment. At one point, not too far from Fire Road #30, it was necessary to bushwhack through a dense patch of six-foot-tall giant rye grass.
Two lilies listed on the CNPS Inventory of Rare and Endangered Plants of California were blooming along the Garapito Trail — Plummer’s mariposa lily and Humboldt lily. Both plants have a Rare Plant Rank of 4.2, which indicates they are of limited distribution and moderately threatened in California. Thanks to our very wet rain season, the eye-catching red of scarlet larkspur was unusually prevalent along the trail.
The Garapito Trail ends at Fire Road #30. Normally the route would cross the fire road and follow the Bent Arrow Trail to dirt Mulholland, but the trail was damaged by rainy season storms and is still closed.
Turning left onto Fire Road #30, I retraced my steps from earlier in the morning and in a few minutes was back to the trailhead at the Top of Reseda (Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park).
When one of the runners coming down the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail saw me coming up the trail, he commented, “At least now we know the trail goes through!”
He was only half-joking. With all the wet weather, trails may not only be wet and muddy but might be flooded, severely eroded, blocked by trees and debris, or destroyed by runoff, mudslides, or slope failures.
It had rained the previous two days, and more rain was forecast in a day or two. I was on this stretch of the Backbone Trail because I wanted to check out a use trail near High Point (Goat Peak) in the Santa Monica Mountains. I could do that by slightly modifying the route described in “Racing the Weather to High Point (Goat Peak) and Back.”
Two use trails connect to the High Point trail near High Point. Both are on the east side of the ridge. When traveling northbound from High Point, the first trail encountered is the “Rivas Ridge Trail.” Its junction with the High Point trail is on a hilltop, a bit more than a tenth of a mile north of High Point. The junction with the other trail — aptly named the “Great Escape” — is about a tenth of a mile north of the Rivas Ridge trail junction and a quarter-mile north of High Point.
Instead of doing the run as a pure out and back, on the way back, I took the Great Escape down to the Backbone Trail. This short use trail connects to the Backbone Trail about 0.4 mile south of “The Oak Tree.” It was an interesting trail to explore and only added about a third of a mile to the regular out-and-back route.
The condition of the Backbone Trail between Fire Road #30 and The Oak Tree was about what you would expect during such an active rain season. There were a few slimy, slippery spots and some eroded stretches of trail. My shoes and socks were already soaked from the wet grass along the trail by the time I reached The Mud Puddle. This was good because I didn’t waste any time looking for a way around the flooded section of trail — I just waded right in. Nearby, a short section of trail had collapsed in a slide, but there was enough of a shoulder to easily go around it.
With the wet rain season, everything is growing like crazy. This includes poison oak, which was already dangling into the trail in several places. More wildflowers were beginning to bloom. This scarlet-red Fuchsia-flowered gooseberry was blooming along the Backbone Trail near its junction with the High Point Trail.
The paved turnout where I usually park at the Stunt Road trailhead was covered with mud, rocks, and debris. And near the entrance of Calabasas Peak fire road, two large boulders had been dragged to the shoulder to clear the road.
Following another big storm in a Winter of big storms, I was doing the Topanga Lookout Ridge Loop — curious to see what I could see. Nearby Stunt Ranch Reserve had recorded over 10 inches of rain the past three days, and there had been numerous reports of low elevation snow.
Continuing the theme of checking out local trails following the December 2022 – January 2023 series of rainstorms, this morning I did a trail run/hike from the Wendy Drive Trailhead in Newbury Park.
I was able to check out several trails — and get in a little climbing — by doing Sandstone Peak via Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge and Tri Peaks and then returning by way of the Backbone Trail, Big Sycamore Canyon, and the Upper Sycamore Trail.
The surprising headline is that the trails on this route held up better than expected. Although there was a lot of rain, the rain rates in this area must not have been excessive. Generally, it looked like streams were able to handle the runoff.
It didn’t come out of it unscathed, but the Blue Canyon segment of the Backbone Trail was less damaged than usual. Some route-finding through the cobble was required, but a new use trail was already starting to emerge. I was also surprised to see that several oft-repaired sections of the Upper Sycamore Trail were mostly intact. There was a lot of creek hopping on these trails, but it was good to hear the burble and gurgle of the rejuvenated streams.
Work done by the Santa Monica Mountains Trails Council prevented additional damage. In the past, a section of Old Boney segment of the Backbone Trail between the Chamberlain Trail junction and Blue Canyon has always had significant problems following rainstorms. Water would run down the trail, eroding ruts and exposing rocks. In one place, most of the trail had collapsed into the canyon. Thanks to the SMMTC, I ran it today without a second thought. A steep section of the Backbone Trail above Chamberlain Rock, repaired by the SMMTC, also held up well.
Speaking of which… As I was running down the Chamberlain Trail, I’d noticed some shoe tracks that were also headed down. This was a bit odd because there weren’t any tracks coming up. The puzzle was solved when I caught up to three hikers near Chamberlain Rock. They had also done the Western Ridge of Boney Mountain and were going to complete the loop via Sycamore Canyon.
Here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of a GPS track (yellow) to Sandstone Peak from Wendy Drive via Boney Mountain’s Western Ridge and Tri Peaks, then returning via Big Sycamore Canyon and the Upper Sycamore Trail. Two alternate routes are also shown (red). 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.
The forecast for the Los Angeles area (Saturday, December 10) was for a chance of rain in the afternoon, with rain developing overnight and continuing into Sunday morning. There was also a slight chance of light rain or drizzle in the Santa Monica Mountains in the morning.
It was overcast in the West Valley as I drove to the trailhead, and I wondered if my run would be dank and drizzly. But as I drove up Reseda Blvd. toward Marvin Braude Mulholland Gateway Park, I was surprised to find patches of blue sky overhead.
I started the run a little before 7:00 a.m. and headed up the connecting single-track trail to dirt Mulholland and Fire Road 30. Many runs from the Top of Reseda start this way, and I turned onto Fire Road 30 and continued up to the Hub — about 2.5 miles from the trailhead.
For the first couple of miles, I wasn’t sure how long a run I would do or where I was headed. But as I neared the Hub, I had to make a decision. To a large extent, a decision that depended on the weather.
What had been partly cloudy skies had coalesced into a layer of clouds that just touched the top of the highest peaks. I’d been thinking about doing an out-and-back to High Point (Goat Peak), but if the weather continued to deteriorate, the only view I would see from the peak would be the interior of a cloud. I finally decided to give it a go and hope the peak didn’t get socked in with clouds and fog.
Turning left at the Hub onto the Temescal Ridge Fire Road segment of the Backbone Trail, I ran about a half-mile to where the Backbone Trail forks left off the fire road and becomes a single-track trail. This is the popular Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail that eventually ends at Will Rogers Historic State Park.
From Temescal Ridge Fire Road, it’s about 4.25 miles on the Backbone Trail to the unsigned junction with the High Point use trail. It’s on the right and easy to miss. The turnoff is about a half-mile before “The Oak Tree” landmark on the Backbone Trail.
The High Point trail is an unofficial, unmaintained path but is usually in decent shape. There are a couple of short, steep, loose sections on the way to the peak. Nothing is signed, and some side paths diverge from the main trail.
When I reached High Point’s summit, the weather was holding but looked more threatening. Even so, the view was excellent. Panning from east to west underneath the ceiling of clouds, the view included the San Gabriels, Downtown, West L.A., the South Bay, Santa Monica, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Santa Monica Bay, and Catalina.
There were a couple of rogue sprinkles on the way back to the Top of Reseda, but the rain held off in the West Valley until late in the day.