A run doesn’t have to be long or difficult to be interesting. I’d done the Ray Miller 50K the week before, so was looking to do something not too long or strenuous. That didn’t mean it couldn’t be a run with an adventurous edge. After considering several options, I finally settled on the Topanga Lookout Ridge Loop, plus a short side trip to the summit of Saddle Peak.
This 8.5 mile route combines a fun run, hike and scramble up a mile and a half long ridge to the Topanga Lookout with a scenic run on a segment of the Backbone Trail. The return to the Cold Canyon trailhead on Stunt Road is accomplished by descending the Stunt High Trail from its junction with the Backbone Trail.
The Backbone Trail climbs to its second highest point near Saddle Peak and it takes only a few minutes to run over to the summit of the peak. Despite rumors to the contrary the West peak (with all the antennae) is the higher peak. That’s where the benchmark is, and 1/9th arc-sec DEM data puts its elevation about 18′ higher than the East peak.
There’s magic in the morning, when the owls hoot softly and there is a chill in the air.
I’d started my run from the Wendy Dr. trailhead when there was just enough light to see the trail. The moon was poised low in the western sky, full and bright. As I passed the frame of the Chumash ‘Ap at the Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center I’d thought about the Chumash, and how well they must have known this land. It is one thing to visit a place, and quite another to live there.
Today the plan had been to run to the Ray Miller Trailhead and do a little of the Ray Miller 50K course along the way. At the start of the run I hadn’t decided which route I was going to take to Ray Miller — Hell Hill or Fireline. I’d finally opted for Fireline, since that route would follow the last 5 miles of the 50M/50K course and is much more runnable.
I hadn’t run Fireline since the 2013 Ray Miller 50K. With only 7 miles on my legs (instead of 26) it didn’t seem nearly as steep. Once at the top of Fireline, and after doing a bit more uphill on Overlook fire road, I eventually got to the best part of today’s run — the 2.5 miles of scenic downhill on the Backbone Trail to the Ray Miller trailhead on PCH.
The Pacific was painted in a palette of wide-gamut blues and although it was hazy offshore, there were excellent views along the coast. To the west Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands could just be seen in the ocean haze and Mugu Peak loomed golden in the morning sun. The Ray Miller Trail is very popular and on the way down I passed several runners in the first miles of their morning run.
At the Ray Miller parking lot my Garmin fenix read 12 miles. Just like climbing a mountain, getting to the turnaround point of a long self-supported run is only part of the adventure. I gulped down some water at the water fountain; checked how much water I had left in my pack; ate a Snickers left over from Halloween; and then started the 1000′ climb back up the Ray Miller Trail to the Overlook fire road.
The run was going well and at the start of the climb I was thinking about following the 50M/50K course up and around Mugu Peak before starting the trek back to Wendy Drive. By the time I’d reached the top of Ray Miller and had climbed up to the high point of Overlook fire road my mileage appetite wasn’t so big. Following a short side trip into La Jolla Valley, I returned to the Overlook fire road, descended Hell Hill and Wood Canyon, and started working my way back up Sycamore Canyon on the Two Foxes Trail.
At the Danielson Multi-use area there was a large group participating in a guided hike. A familiar runner with a distinctive hat was making his way around the group. It was photographer and ultrarunner Larry Gassan. Larry joined me for the remainder of the run and his stories made the run back up Sycamore Canyon and Upper Sycamore much more interesting.
Earlier, from the Etz Meloy fire road, Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands had seemed to be magnified by the ocean haze — the lighter-colored rocks of San Pedro Point clearly visible on the east end of Santa Cruz. To the south, Santa Barbara Island, the smallest of the Channel Islands, had been visible near the horizon.
I was doing an out and back run on the Backbone Trail from the Kanan Road trailhead, and wondering if I had enough water to go to Mishe Mokwa and then the 15 miles back to Kanan. The irony was that, following several years of drought, this Winter it had rained and rained. Water was everywhere, but I had not thought to bring a UV pen or filter.
Reaching the point where the trail turns to the north and has a great view of Sandstone Peak, Circle X and the Mishe Mokwa trailhead I again debated turning around. Across the canyon, sunlight gleamed from the cars parked at the Mishe Mokwa Trailhead. The rocky knolls below the trailhead were green with rain and though I couldn’t see them from here, would be covered with a spectacular patchwork of purple and yellow shooting stars.
Hmm… I’d run a little over 13 miles, so Mishe Mokwa was less than two trail miles away. Going there would add about 3.5 miles to my run. I lifted my pack to see how much water I had left, and then continued down the trail.
I usually do the 21 mile Will Rogers – Temescal loop once or twice a year, and that’s just long enough to forget the difficulty of the strenuous climbs, and remember the outstanding downhill on the Backbone trail, great views of the city, and lush growth in Temescal Canyon.
If the day is warm the return from the coast can be particularly brutal. Today it was cloudy and cool for much of the run, and it wasn’t until the final mile on the Bent Arrow Trail that the sun broke through.