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.

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