Category Archives: backbone trail

Looking for Storm Damage in Point Mugu State Park

Boney Mountain crags

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.

Vernal stream on the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail
Vernal stream on the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail

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.

This section of Old Boney segment of the Backbone Trail repaired by the SMMTC withstood the Dec 2022 - Jan 2023 storms.
Section of the Old Boney/Backbone Trail repaired by the SMMTC that withstood the Dec 2022 – Jan 2023 storms.

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.

Some related posts: Looking for Boney Mountain, Pt. Mugu State Park Debris Flows and Flash Floods (December 2014), Sandstone Peak from Wendy Drive

Racing the Weather to High Point (Goat Peak) and Back

High Point (Goat Peak), Santa Monica Bay, and clouds.
High Point (Goat Peak)

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.

Sunrise view of Hondo Canyon, Topanga Lookout, and Henry Ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Hondo Canyon, Topanga Lookout, and Henry Ridge from the top of Fire Road 30.

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.

Chaparral currant (Ribes malvaceum) along the Backbone Trail
Chaparral currant

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.

Summit of High Point (Goat Peak), with the San Gabriels, Downtown, and West L.A in the background
Summit of High Point (Goat Peak)

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.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of the High Point (Goat Peak) Out and Back from the Top of Reseda. 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.

Some related posts: High Point (Goat Peak) Via the Rivas Ridge Use Trail, Goat Peak and the High Point Trail

Toyon Berries Everywhere

Toyon berries along the Backbone Trail

Last November and December there were almost no Toyon bushes in the Santa Monica Mountains with berries. This year the colorful orange-red “Christmas berries” are everywhere.

The heavily-laden bush pictured above (and many others) were along the Rogers Road segment of the Backbone Trail, between Will Rogers State Park and Temescal Ridge Fire Road.

Related post: Looking For Christmas Berries

Red Rock Canyon – Hondo Canyon – Saddle Peak Loop (3D Terrain Map)

Red Rock Canyon, near Topanga, California.

It was clear and cool when I started up Calabasas Peak fire road from the trailhead on Stunt Road.

Several good trail runs and hikes start here; among them are out and backs to Calabasas Peak and Saddle Peak and an adventurous loop up Topanga Lookout Ridge to Topanga Lookout and Saddle Peak. This morning’s trail run was also going to be a loop, and it was a loop that I hadn’t done before.

Two-thirds of a mile of uphill on the dirt road brought me to a bench and the top of Red Rock Canyon. This is also where the use trail up Topanga Lookout Ridge begins. This time, instead of starting up the ridge, I turned right onto the fire road and began the winding descent into Red Rock Canyon.

Sandstone rock formation in Red Rock Canyon.
Sandstone rock formation in Red Rock Canyon.

In the canyon, there are Sespe Formation sandstone rock outcrops with a variety of intriguing shapes and colors. About a mile from Calabasas Peak Mtwy is the parking area for Red Rock Canyon Park. From here, the road continues a little less than a mile to Old Topanga Canyon Road.

Running 1.5 miles on a narrow canyon road with little or no shoulder can be hazardous to your health. Doing the run early on a Sunday morning helped. There were about the same number of cyclists as cars, and there weren’t that many of either. The diciest part was a section of road with no shoulder on a blind curve. I was glad to get past that and to the Hondo Canyon Trailhead.

Hondo Canyon from the Backbone Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Hondo Canyon from the Backbone Trail

Hondo Canyon is one of the many memorable sections of the Backbone Trail. From Old Topanga, the trail climbs through oaks, grassland, chaparral, and California bay for about four miles to the Fossil Ridge Trail. The trail hides the 1600′ elevation gain well, and long sections of the trail are runnable.

Just below Saddle Peak Road, the Backbone Trail turns right and follows along Fossil Ridge three-quarters of a mile to the service road used to access Topanga Lookout. A left turn leads to the intersection of Saddle Peak Road, Schueren Road, and Stunt Road at the Lois Ewen Scenic Overlook.

The antennae-festooned west summit of Saddle Peak in the Santa Monica Mountains
Antennae-festooned west summit of Saddle Peak.

The remainder of the loop follows the same route as the Topanga Lookout Ridge – Saddle Peak loop. Initially, it follows the Backbone Trail west, past a large water tank to a spur trail that goes to the twin summits of Saddle Peak. The West summit, with all the electronics, is slightly higher, but is now closed. The flat East summit is about a quarter-mile from the Backbone Trail.

Returning to The Backbone Trail and continuing west, it’s about 1.25 miles down to the Stunt High Trail junction. From there, it’s another 2.6 miles on the Stunt High Trail down to the Calabasas Peak/Stunt High trailhead and the end of the 14.3 mile loop.

Here is an interactive, 3D terrain view of the Red Rock Canyon – Hondo Canyon – Saddle Peak loop. The Topanga Lookout 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.

Some related posts: Red Rock Canyon from the Red Rock Trail; July Fourth Trail Run to Trippet Ranch, Hondo Canyon and Saddle Peak; Topanga Lookout Loop, Plus Saddle Peak

Sunlit Rocks Along Castro Peak Motorway

Rock formation along Castro Peak Mtwy fire road.

As I worked up the Bulldog climb on this morning’s run, I started to reminisce about the original Bulldog 50K course. When I reached the top, instead of making the usual turn to the left on Castro Peak Mtwy, I turned right, toward Castro Peak.

Barrier marking the private property line on Castro Peak Mtwy fire road
Barrier marking the private property line on Castro Peak Mtwy fire road.

Prior to 2004, this was the route of the Bulldog 50K. Back then, the 50K course worked over the shoulder of Castro Peak to the top of Upper Solstice Canyon, and then followed the Backbone Trail back to the top of Corral Canyon. The course had to be changed when the landowner closed a short stretch of dirt road on Castro Peak.

Today, I ran a bit more than a half-mile before reaching the razor and barbed-wire-laced barrier blocking the road. Then it was back to running the Bulldog – Phantom Loop combo and enjoying the spectacular Fall day.

Some related posts: Sean O’Brien 50K Training Run, Bulldog Training Run 2022, Bulldog Loop Plus the Phantom Loop

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