Category Archives: backbone trail

An End of Year Boney Mountain Adventure

Runners on Boney Mountain's western ridge

The last day of 2017 had been a near perfect day for a trail run. I’d started my adventure with an ascent of Boney Mountain’s western ridge, joining the Trail Runners Club for part of the climb. After reaching the top of Boney Mountain’s western ridge, I continued to Tri Peaks and Sandstone Peak, the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. From Sandstone Peak, a few scenic miles were added by completing the Mishe Mokwa loop. This brought me back to the Chamberlain segment of the Backbone Trail, headed west.

About a half-mile past the Backbone Trail’s western junction with the Tri Peaks Trail, the Backbone Trail begins a 4.7 mile, 2400′ descent to Sycamore Canyon. I had started this descent and was nearly down to Chamberlain Rock, when I heard voices on the trail ahead. They sounded like they were just around the next switchback. Slowing to a walk, I rounded the sharp corner. Three smiling hikers said hello, and I wished them a Happy New Year.

It’s a little unusual to see a group of hikers on this section and for a moment I wondered if they might be doing the full length of the 68 mile Backbone Trail. I asked how they were doing and one of them casually replied, “Doing great — we’re just headed down to the Sandstone Peak parking lot…”

Surprised by the answer, I asked, “The trailhead on Yerba Buena?” They were miles from where they thought they were and headed in the opposite direction they should be. Every step down the trail was taking them farther and farther away from their intended destination. They looked fit, experienced and well-prepared, but somewhere along the way, they had taken a very wrong turn.

From what I could determine they had intended to do the Mishe Mokwa – Sandstone Peak loop counterclockwise, or a variation that involved Tri Peaks. Apparently, at the top of the Mishe Mokwa Trail instead of continuing toward Sandstone Peak on the Backbone Trail, the hikers decided to take the Tri Peaks Trail. They followed the Tri Peaks Trail until it ended at the Chamberlain/Backbone Trail, about two miles west of Sandstone Peak.

At this point, to get back to Sandstone Peak (and their car), they needed to turn left (east). Instead, they turned right and headed down the Chamberlain Trail. One of the three hikers suspected they had gone in the wrong direction, but wasn’t able to convince the others.

The good news is they only had gone about a mile down Chamberlain from the Tri Peaks Trail junction. This put them about 2.5 miles from Sandstone Peak and about 4 miles from their car. It was around noon and the weather was good. If they had no route-finding issues on the way back they would probably still have time to do Sandstone Peak. They just would be doing more of an End of the Year adventure than they planned.

Here are a few photos taken along the way.

Some related posts: Boney Mountain Western Ridge & Loop, Balance Rock, Misplaced on Mt. Wilson

Bulldog Loop Near Corral Canyon

Backbone Trail near Corral Canyon.

The high point of the 14+ mile Bulldog Loop in Malibu Creek State Park is near the center of the skyline in the photo above. The Bulldog fire road can be seen cutting across the peaks on the right. Bulldog tops out at the Castro Peak fire road, which is the fire road leading up from the Corral Canyon Road parking area. Castro Peak (privately owned) is the peak on the left with the antennae.

Top of the Bulldog climb in Malibu Creek State Park.
Top of the Bulldog climb in Malibu Creek State Park.

From Crags Road to Castro Peak fire road, the Bulldog fire road gains about 1727 feet in 3.4 miles. The steepest mile starts at mile 2.0 of the climb and gains about 732 feet.

Today I was running the loop clockwise, so got to run down Bulldog for a change!

Some related posts: Best Trailhead to Start the Bulldog Loop?, Malibu Creek State Park Scenic Loop, Vertical Relief, M*A*S*H Sunrise

Topanga Lookout Loop, Plus Saddle Peak

Topanga Lookout Ridge

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.

Related post: Topanga Lookout Ridge Loop

Ray Miller Training Run

Pacific coast and Mugu Peak from the Ray Miller segment of the Backbone Trail.

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.

Moon setting over Rancho Sierra Vista/ Satwiwa.
Moon setting over Rancho Sierra Vista/ Satwiwa.

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.

PCH at the Ray Miller Trailhead.
PCH at the Ray Miller Trailhead.

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 Mugu Peak Trail starts in upper La Jolla Canyon and climbs up and around Mugu Peak.
The Mugu Peak Trail starts in upper La Jolla Canyon and climbs up and around Mugu Peak.

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.