HIKE02: Hondo Canyon

We had a busy Saturday planned, so we got off to an earlier start than last time.  After a quick stop for our normal pre-hike McDonald's breakfast to go, we were on the freeway by 9AM.

This week's target was to tackle a new hike for us that followed a four and a half mile section of the Backbone Trail out of Topanga State Park.  One of our local trail books suggested approaching the hike as a shuttle trek (Take two cars and drop one off at the end) where you only walk downhill.  That wouldn't meet our needs so we ignored the advice, took only one car, and started at the bottom. At nine miles for the round trip, up nearly 1,500 feet on the walk out, this would be our longest trek to date.

We didn't know much about what awaited us, but it turned out to be a delightful walk that I haven't stopped recommending to friends who regularly day hike in the Santa Monica mountains.  Three things became clear as soon as we started...

First, the parking was merely a pull-off with space for maybe six cars so the trail wasn't likely to be too crowded (plus it was free!) Second, it began as a wooded narrow path along a small creek. (not a fire road!) Third, at the start we passed a pleasant group of three women who were completing their walk. (also round trip) They gushed about the perfect trail ahead--but more importantly they were all wearing shirts with this symbol to the left, so clearly they MUST have known what they were talking about.

The trail weaved in and out of a strip of heavy trees and a grassy meadow.  I have to imagine that come summer it will all be dry and ugly, but none of that was a concern today.

With the early sun low, heat wasn't much of an issue on the way up even when there wasn't shade.  About a quarter-mile in we crossed a collapsing cement bridge over the creek. Liz decided to do a tap dance. I couldn't tell you why. Energy was high at the start.

Wildflowers were in full bloom most of the way up. Perhaps one day I'll actually learn how to identify a few.  We've been seeing some of these for a few weeks now, just not quite this prominently blooming.

As we continued, the trail flattened for a bit away from trees on a ridge high above the creek below.  We could hear it flowing strongly but could no longer see it.  Unlike Malibu Creek that flows at a minimal trickle all year, I'd be surprised if this one wasn't dry by summer.  Across the canyon was a house where some pot-growing off-the-grid old Topanga hippy probably lived.  A few hundred yards from the house sat a chair under a solo tree beneath a bleached red rock cliff. That's the life.

Around this point we walked up a steep hill through another meadow and Liz was starting to become impatient with the sun and our uphill climb. She asked me how far I thought we'd gone.  "Maybe a mile?" I replied. Her face didn't paint a comforting picture for our journey ahead. Fortunately, we dipped back into the shade of thicker trees shortly after so the concern was brushed aside.  We passed through a damaged gateway, curious about what this fence once tried to keep out.....or in.

A man with a dog passed us going up.  Dogs aren't allowed on this trail!  The nerve!  (I'd do the same if we had one.)  He was the first person we saw after the hike-symbol shirt women.  From here the trail transitioned to switchbacks as we climbed the hillside. And we faced a big chunk of the total elevation gain over a one and a half mile stretch.  It was tiring, but the shade was nice--something lacking on the 1,000 foot over one mile gain of the short Temescal workout trail that I enjoyed through the Autumn months for a quick morning hike.  

We passed our friend with the dog heading back down just as the trail left the protection of tree-cover for chaparral and grass. If he made it to the top already, we couldn't be far.

Almost there...

Finally, we crested the top and walked a little farther to an overlook that would be our turn-around point. We'd been ascending for over two hours so the cool breezes rolling up the canyons from Malibu were a nice pick-up. Once we reached the overlook, Liz decided to follow her bottom-of-the-hill tap dancing and celebrate by jumping on road gate. The view inland to the north wasn't as clear as I've seen, but we could still see mostly across the valley so no complaints. It looked better in person. Isn't that always the case?

The houses at the top of the trail are a bit nicer than what we saw earlier in Topanga Canyon. I doubted an old pot-growing hippy lived in this one.
At the overlook we encountered a few bikers and a weird dude that wouldn't move his arms off the Backbone Trail map as we tried to view it.  I considered taking a picture of him, but thought better of it after looking into his soulless eyes for half a second. We each had a peanut bar and started our descent.  (By the way, our longer hikes are requiring something more than a little old peanut bar at the mid-point.  Need to remember to up the energy food for next time.)

Shortly after we returned to the steeper tree-covered switchback section, Liz was walking a few paces ahead of me on the trail. Just as she stepped over a rock outcrop on the path, we heard the loudest, most unsettling sound I have ever heard hiking.

Liz and I do what anyone who has never encountered a rattlesnake would do....we each run in opposite directions.  As I had yet to step past the rock covering this creature, I was the one who ran the wrong way. Fortunately no one was around to laugh at our precarious situation.  With about 40 feet separating us, we determined it had to be a rattlesnake BUT probably wouldn't attack us velociraptor-style.  I ran back to Liz and the damn thing did it again. This time I didn't stop, leaped over the rocks and we were on our way back down again. And no, we have no photographic evidence of this as I wasn't about to stuff a camera into the damn thing's lair.

Along the journey we did see plenty of other small lizards on trails, on rocks, and pretty much everywhere. The little buggers are fearless.

We made good time booking it down, but by the time we were about halfway our old and constant enemy--the sun--decided to make a play at us.  After the switchbacks, much of the morning shade had disappeared. It was manageable going down, but I wasn't jealous of the half-dozen or so people we saw heading in the opposite direction.  

As we approached the bottom, I think the last couple we passed were on mushrooms.  She had to step into the bushes and look away as we passed, he couldn't stop giggling when while attempting to say hello, and they both looked like background players from Jesus Christ Superstar.  It was an appropriately cliche final encounter for our first hike out of Topanga Canyon.

By the time we reached the car, we had been hiking a bit over four hours. We were out of water and hungry. Stopped at a sketchy market for an immediate recharge and continued our non-stop Saturday afternoon with a late lunch and a birthday party in BFE.  

Liz woke up on Sunday so sore that she could hardly move and my feet had a few blisters. I'm still unsure how we'll manage to extend our trips to longer hikes that are more sun-drenched as the weather continues to warm. We'll see as the journey continues.

Next week this show hits the road with a stop in Santa Barbara county.


HIKE01: Malibu Creek State Park--Lost Cabin

Word has it that Malibu Creek is one of the most popular State Parks in the Los Angeles area.  All this time, and we've never even been there. 

We got started a bit later than usual--didn't leave the house until after 9, meaning we didn't reach the park until a bit after 10.  Upon arrival we were greeted with a nice $12 fee. Gotta love the California budget crisis.

Not too crowded as we headed down the path on this first really warm Sunday morning of the year. The park stretches along Malibu Creek between high hills of sand stone and volcanic rock.

The "trail" began by way of a wide gravel road following the creek. Ugh. Not a fan of gravel road hiking. It's pretty common in Southern California as many trails double as fire roads. Or maybe many fire roads double as trails. I'm not exactly sure. In any case they're usually hot, shadeless and tiring. The saving grace here was the ample shade provided by large oak trees along the path.  Can't complain about any local trail with shade as they're not as common as I'd like.  I can manage, but with her fair skin and red hair, sun is a truly major concern for Liz. I'm sure I'll write an entire explanation of our effort to fight that challenge soon...

About a mile in, the gravel road climbed over a ridge and the trees disappeared. Uh oh. Fortunately, we quickly dropped down to the water level and the wide road narrowed to a narrow path. OK, this is a trail.

We crossed a bridge that showed evidence of flooding from the heavy rain this winter and then continued on a rocky, muddy scramble at water level.  Saw a paddle boat stuck in a tree--more evidence of the flooding and especially incredible since Malibu Creek runs at barely a trickle in the summer months.

The path opened up again when we stumbled on the site where M*A*S*H was filmed.

A couple signs with photos, two rusted out trucks and a replica of the directional post from the show marked the location. Most of the trail up to this point had been flat so we originally planned to fork off on a short spur that climbed 900 feet.  But we had only walked an easy 2 and a half miles and wanted a workout. There was a lake and damn ahead if we soldiered on.  After taking a wrong turn, we never found the lake and the damn was hard to see thanks to an annoying fence.  We did annoy a couple enjoying a picnic alone at the end of the trial when we sat for a snack before heading back.

The sun was getting heavy by the time we got back to the M*A*S*H site.  We really needed the uphill workout so I convinced Liz that we should still take that spur.  By this point the sun was getting to Liz and she didn't really want to continue.  I pushed her, probably a little too much, but we made it to the top to be rewarded with cool breezes and an empty hillside painted with wildflowers.

We didn't see a single other person on the Lost Cabin spur trail. That was nice. As soon as we reconnected with the main trail the park's crowds started to become more apparent.  Watched a man try to push a stroller over the ragged rocks near the flood-stranded paddle boat.  It wasn't working.  He turned around just as we passed him.  And there was a kid sitting in it.  Is that abuse?

The closer we got to the car, the more families we saw. Each one seemed to have more children running amuck.  We stopped in a visitor center for a cold drink and I swear the place was filled with thirty bebes screaming and yelling and thowing food.  At least 80% of our walk had been relatively peaceful.

We walked the last bit on the opposite side of the creek unaware that no bridge would carry us over the water at the end. From what we heard, you can usually walk across without stepping into the water. Should we back and around?  That would mean about a mile more sun and Liz was done....I was too.  Took off the shoes, pulled up the pants, and splashed across. A couple stairs and we were done. It was nearly 3PM.

8 miles.  900 feet elevation gain.  4 1/2 hours.  Tired and sunburned.   We have a long way to go.


I can do that.

There are many more difficult day hikes in this world than the 16-mile round-trip trek to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.  I have't been to those places.  I haven't seen those challenges first hand.

50,000 people hike to the top of it every year, so what's the big deal?  Well for starters over 3,000,000 people visit the park...making it about

Yes, it's iconic. (It was on the California state quarter.) Yes, it's on the list of hikes everyone is supposed to conquer.  But I never was much of a hiker so lists like that mean very little to me.  I enjoyed it, but I'm not the intense kind of granola outdoorsy type as a lot of other people I know.  I don't even really like to camp.  So simply put, it's just one of those things I've wanted to do for a very, very long time...from before I even saw the incredible granite monolith with my own eyes for the first time seven years ago.

On that first trip, we had no realistic expectation to get far as we were sickingly out of shape--I weighed over 30 pounds more than I do now.  With a need to feel at least a little active on our first trek to the valley, Liz and I walked up the first mile or so from the parking lot to the base of Vernal Falls and it practically killed us.

On visit number two, I was on a revival road trip of sorts with my old friend, Ryan Howe.  My physical condition was only a bit better, but we somehow pushed ourselves 3.5 miles up the trail--ending at the top of Nevada Falls. This was a grueling 1,900 foot climb up along the cliffs of two massive waterfalls. It was a gorgeous hike but we were both drop dead exhausted by the end. (I recall nearly falling asleep eating pasta in the cabin that night). And the top of Nevada Falls isn't even close to half the distance or elevation to the top. Plus, it doesn't involve the dreaded cable climb (we'll get back to that one another time).

Ever since that trip I've talked about wanting to go back--this time prepared--to make the entire journey. It presented several challenges--1. We needed to take up hiking.  2. We needed to find the time to get back to Yosemite (it's over six hours from our house), preferably in the late Spring or early Summer before the waterfalls calmed to a trickle. 3. We needed to prepare ourselves with increasingly difficult and longer hikes.

We moved on the first challenge last January.  Around the time that Barack Obama was inaugurated, Liz and I bought our first hiking shoes and a daypack. We started going on short nearby hikes of a few miles. But our options were limited and without a trip planned we had no reason to progressively push ourselves.  While four-mile hikes might be great for exercise and fresh air, they weren't going to get us up Half Dome.

There were a lot of conversations with no action and Half Dome was starting to feel like a lofty crazy idea.  Liz went to Boston for the summer and by the time she returned it would be way too late to be ready before the trail closed for winter.  We often make plans and don't follow through. It's a problem we have and the goal (and trip it required) was only becoming more emblematic of that with each passing day.

That changed a few days before Valentine's Day when we talked about it seriously once again. Liz took that as a cue to frame a picture I took on our first trip and give it me. She said, "We can do this." And we've been realistically moving forward to make it happen ever since.

It's crazy how fast things move the moment you commit to the decision in your head. I don't know why I don't act in such a way more often.  Soon we pulled out a couple Los Angeles hiking guidebooks and started tagging trails for preparation. And two weeks ago I booked a place for us to stay at the end of June. Finally, an end date.

Time for a subplot.

The main reason I've been showing the blog so little attention lately (beyond my laughable ADD) is that I haven't been happy with the focus.  It was a lot of the wedding...then a lot of DJ GIRL...and then, well, just a bit of a lot.

So for the next few months I'm going to try and keep things more on track. We can call this a detour, a subplot, it doesn't really matter. It's just something to share. Don't worry...when I soon sell that next script or DJ GIRL moves into full production, I'll be happy to break format a smidgen just for you.

So here's what I'll be focused on reaching for the next few months:  

The basics:
Hike Distance:  14.2 miles (22.7 km) round trip via Mist Trail
16.5 miles (26.5 km) round trip via John Muir Trail
20 miles (32 km) round trip via Glacier Point
23 miles (37) km round trip via Tenaya 
7 miles (11 km) round trip from Little Yosemite Valley campground
Half Dome Elevation:  8,842 feet (2,650 meters)
Total Elevation Gain:  4,800 feet (1,600 meters) from Yosemite Valley
Hiking Time:  10 - 14 hours