My legs hadn’t fully recovered from a bit-too-long training run a couple of weeks ago and I’d been looking to do a 4 to 5 hour trail run that didn’t involve a huge amount of elevation gain. In the areas of Southern California where I run, it’s tough to find a 20 mile trail run that isn’t hilly. With “only” about 3000′ of gain, I’d opted to do an out and back to Mugu Peak from from the Wendy Drive trailhead in Newbury Park.
Mugu Peak is a very popular summit. With the La Jolla Canyon Trail still closed, most of the hikers doing the peak are now using the Chumash Trail as an alternate. Runners have more options and can reach the peak from the Ray Miller, Sycamore Canyon, and Wendy Drive trailheads.
At the moment I was about a mile north the Danielson Multi Use Area, running on a paved section of road in Big Sycamore Canyon. The Sin Nombre and Hidden Pond trails can be used to avoid this stretch of pavement, but at this point in a long run I usually just want to get to the Upper Sycamore Trail as quickly and easily as possible.
Running a couple of miles on pavement isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially in Sycamore Canyon. The road is lined with sycamores and oaks and there is plenty of shade. The uniformity of the road is both good and bad. It’s good because the running is more automatic and bad for the same reason. It can be tedious — especially on tired legs at the tail end of a long run.
The traffic along the road is usually not an issue. Today, I had passed a couple of groups of hikers and been passed by a few mountain bikers. Most of the time the road was empty.
I first heard the sound some distance behind me. Hissing isn’t quite the right word. It was a synchronized blend of aerodynamic, mechanical and road noises and it was getting closer. At first I thought it might be a ranger’s truck, but it didn’t sound like a vehicle. I glanced behind me to see a mass of approaching cyclists, and wondered how many bikes there would be.
I heard a shout of “Right!” as the lead cyclist alerted the group, and in an instant the peloton began to sweep past. I felt a little like the breakaway racer that is inevitably consumed by the unrelenting pack. For a few moments I could feel the push of the peloton and then they were gone.
The lead group was followed by a second group, nearly as large, and then an assortment of riders that had been left behind. After they were past, I settled back into the run and soon saw the yellow “narrow bridge” sign near the start of the Upper Sycamore Trail. Turning onto the rocky, narrow trail, I switched back into trail mode. A little less than three miles to go…by
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 on their annual scramble — and then continued to Tri Peaks and Sandstone Peak, the highest peak in the Santa Monica Mountains. A circuit of the Mishe Mokwa loop had added a few scenic miles and put me on 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…”
What?? Surprised by the answer, I blurted out something like, “You’re kidding, right?” 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 junction, 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.
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.by