The trail is a connector that joins East Las Virgenes Canyon with upper Las Virgenes Canyon. Our 15 mile loop started at the Victory trailhead, following the El Scorpion Trail to another long-used trail that climbs up to the ridge along the northern boundary of the preserve. From here we descended to Las Virgenes Canyon and worked over to Shepherd’s Flat and down Cheeseboro Canyon, eventually returning to the Victory trailhead by way of the main drag.
The area seen in the photograph is a small portion of the 24,000 acres that was burned in the Topanga Fire in late September 2005.
Although an undercoat of green is apparent, the drought in Southern California continues. According to NWS climate data, as of today, Downtown Los Angeles (USC) has recorded only 2.42 inches of rain since the water year began on July 1, 2006. This total is nearly 9 inches less than normal.
A friend cruises down Calabasas Peak Motorway on the way to the Stunt High Trail, Backbone Trail, Saddle Peak, and Tapia Park – a run of about 14 miles with an elevation gain of about 2600 ft., and loss of about 3600 ft.
Several excellent trail runs in the 11-15 mile range (or longer) can be done from the intersection of Malibu Canyon and Piuma Rd., near Tapia Park. These include an out and back to Saddle Peak (~13 mi), the Bulldog Loop (~14.5 mi), and point to point runs starting at the Secret Trail (~11 mi), or Tunnel #1 on Kanan Rd. (~12.5 mi).
It was nice to start a run in the rain and see a few mud puddles along the way! Southern California has had so little rain the last several months that any rain is something to celebrate. Since the start of the water year on July 1, the official weather station for Los Angeles at USC has recorded only 1.48 inches of rain. This is more than 5 inches below normal for the date, and depending on the rain received the next three days, the July 1 to January 31 rainfall total could be the 5th driest since recordkeeping began in 1877. (Downtown Los Angeles recorded only 0.02 inch over the three days, and according to a NWS statement issued February 1, July 1 to January 31 was the 5th driest on record.)
Unless you are particularly fond of mud, Rocky Peak Road is usually a good choice for a run if it’s raining, or has rained recently. Perched on a ridge on the border between Los Angeles and Ventura counties in Rocky Peak Park, its sandy soils are generally well drained. Except for a few short sections of road, mud isn’t too much of an issue unless you run beyond “fossil point,” the high point of the road at about mile 4.8. Here there is an outcrop of fossil scallop shells.
In addition to the Chumash-Hummingbird loop, another good trail run in the Rocky Peak Park area is the Chumash-Las Llajas loop. Both loops are about 9.2 miles long, have a mix of dirt road and technical single-track trail, and include some strenuous climbs. The Chumash-Las Llajas loop has less elevation gain/loss, and if you run the loop counter-clockwise, the downhill in Las Llajas Canyon makes for a fast-paced 4 mile descent.
I like to do the loop starting at the Las Llajas Canyon trailhead on Evening Sky Dr. A short jog to the east end of Evening Sky Dr., and across a field, and you’re on your way up the Chumash Trail. Here’s a Google earth image and Google Earth KMZ file of a GPS trace of my usual route, and another view of part of the route from near the high point on Rocky Peak Rd. (It is also possible to start the loop at the Chumash Trail trailhead at the end of Flanagan Dr.)
At Rocky Peak Road’s high point is an outcrop of fossil shells. According to the Dibblee geology map of the area, these may have been deposited in shallow marine lagoons a couple million years ago. There is a year around creek in Las Llajas Canyon, and the complex oil field geology is very different from the sandstones along the Chumash Trail and Rocky Peak Rd.
The last time I did this loop, I had run just turned off Rocky Peak Rd. and was working up toward a hilltop to an old oil field service road, when I heard the unmistakable rat-a-tat-tat of a dirt bike. Bike #1 popped over the crest of the hill, and as we passed I asked with a hand signal if there was a second bike. There was. We avoided each other and I continued over the hill and down the road.
A couple hundred yards down the road from the crest of the hill, I found this kangaroo rat. It could not have been dead for long. It was larger than I expected, and had remarkable coloration.
The photographs of the out service tanks and the kangaroo rat are from a run on November 11, 2006.
I paused for a moment on a narrow section of the Backbone Trail that zig-zags down a steep, eroded slope and then crosses a bridge over a narrow gorge before continuing down Rogers ridge. Below, a hiker stopped on the bridge to contemplate the canyon, and a mountain biker briefly walked his bike and then cranked up the switchbacks past me.
It had rained the day before, and the cold front had resulted in a chilly, puffy cloud, postcard kind of day with breezy panoramic views of the San Gabriel Mountains, Downtown, Century City, Santa Monica, Palos Verdes, and the Pacific Ocean.
The 7 mile segment of the Backbone Trail from Temescal Ridge fire road down to Will Rogers State Historic Park is one of my favorite (mostly) downhill stretches of trail in the Santa Monica Mountains. Over much of its length, the grade is not too steep, the footing consistent, and the running outstanding.
My usual route for this run starts the same as for the Trippet Ranch Loop and Garapito Figure 8 runs, going up to the Hub from the end of Reseda Blvd. From the Hub it’s about 0.6 mile along Temescal Ridge Fire Road to the point where the Backbone Trail takes off to the left from the road.
Once at Will Rogers, the Rivas Canyon Trail can be used to connect to Temescal Gateway Park, and then the Temescal Falls or Ridge trail used to connect with Temescal Ridge Fire Road and return to the Hub. (Mountain bikers use other routes.)
About ten feet in front of me, there was a flash of brown as a large animal leaped across the trail. In the balloon of time that accompanies a surge of adrenalin, I thought of the possibilities. The last time an animal startled me, I was running on a dirt road through ten foot tall chaparral in the Simi Hills. In that case a large bob cat had bolted from the brush.
Lingering in my mind was a trail runner’s recent encounter with a mountain lion while running at Whiting Ranch in Orange County. The last place I had seen mountain lion tracks was on a muddy nature trail, not far from where I was now. That was more than a year ago. It had rained overnight, but so far I had only seen tracks of coyote, dogs and deer.
Today, I was on the Musch Trail, doing one of my favorite cool weather runs — an approximately 12.2 mile, fire roads out, trails back course from the end of Reseda Blvd. to Trippet Ranch, in Topanga State Park.
As time warped back to normal, I saw the animal wasn’t a bob cat or mountain lion, it was a mule deer. A doe had stopped just a few feet from the trail. That was unusual. Also, it was strange that her full attention wasn’t on me. Instead, she seemed concerned about something behind her, uphill from the trail. I stood quietly and watched.
Now her big ears, and more of her attention, were focused on me. With the fawn at her side, she obviously didn’t like being out in the open. She scented the ground, checked her fawn, and then looked back up the hill. I couldn’t see any more deer from my position, but they could easily be hidden in the surrounding cover. Almost a minute and a half after the encounter began, the doe and fawn moved into the brush.
Slowly moving a few feet along the trail, I glanced up the hill and discovered two more members of the group, waiting for me to pass. I continued walking down the trail, and after few yards, picked up the pace, and resumed my run.