Rancho Simi Trail Blazers

A Division of the Rancho Simi Foundation


        2017        

March 18th – Backbone Trail Part 6:  Malibu Canyon Road Trailhead to the Stunt Road Trailhead

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Eighteen hikers met on another pleasant spring morning to tackle the sixth section of the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail.  After dropping off several shuttle vehicles along Saddle Peak Road (at the Stunt Road intersection) we carpooled to Malibu Canyon in search of parking near the Piuma Road trailhead. 

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After a couple of futile attempts, we finally parked in Tapia Park and hiked 0.5 mile to the signed trailhead along Piuma Road.  As we began our hike, we crossed a creek where the destructive effects of the winter’s rain was quite evident.  However, we immediately entered a dense oak woodland (ferns were abundant and a variety of wildflowers were blooming) as the trail rose steadily upward for about 2.5 miles to a road crossing.  After crossing Piuma Road the trail climbed noticeably more steeply through continuing shade (mostly provided by ceanothus) until we crossed a flowing stream and soon emerged into an open section of trail bordered with thousands of blue dick wildflowers as well as smatterings of other wildflowers; also we had excellent views of the surrounding area.  Eventually we stopped for lunch at a point where there was shade but also a great distant view to the northwest.  We continued our hike up the mountain to Saddle Peak where the view toward the ocean was blocked by the incoming fog.  We climbed up on some beautiful rock formations near the peak and enjoyed spectacular inland views.  We then descended past a large water tank to Stunt Road and our shuttle vehicles, thus completing an 8.0-mile one-way hike with about 2,700’ of elevation gain and 900’ of elevation loss.

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March 18th – Backbone Trail Part 5: Latigo Canyon Trailhead to Malibu Canyon Trailhead

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Twenty-two hikers tackled the fifth section of the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail on a pleasant cool, spring-like winter morning (perfect for hiking).  After dropping off several shuttle vehicles along Malibu Canyon Road (at the Piuma Road intersection) we carpooled to the Latigo Canyon trailhead.

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We began our hike along the trail as it headed northwest down into a heavily shaded canyon adorned by a variety of blooming wildflowers.  We then headed northeast through a riparian woodland along a seasonal creek with running water (which we crossed at least ten times), passing  several meadows filled with bright green grass.  The trail then rose and fell as it wound along chaparral-covered slopes on its way to Corral Canyon Road.  After crossing the road, we soon found ourselves walking among (and on) a variety of stunning sandstone rock formations.  We decided to take our lunch break atop the highest such formation where we examined the ruins of an old dwelling and enjoyed the views afforded by our high perch.  (unfortunately an offshore marine layer hid the ocean from view).  After lunch, we headed east along the Mesa Peak Fire Road toward (but not to) Mesa Peak.  This section of the hike provided excellent views of the mountains and valleys to the north.  About seven miles into the hike we turned north and began a three-mile descent through an oak woodland into Malibu Canyon where we had left our shuttle vehicles, thus completing a 10.3-mile one-way hike with about 1,500’ of elevation gain and a little over 3,000’ of elevation loss.  We retrieved the vehicles we had left along Malibu Canyon Road as well as the shuttle vehicles at the Latigo Canyon trailhead and headed home, looking forward to hiking the remaining three sections of the Backbone Trail.

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March 1st – 5th:  Death Valley National Park (Furnace Creek Campground)

March 1, 2017Arrival and Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral

10 Rancho Simi Trailblazers gathered at the Furnace Creek Campground (200’) along CA Hwy 190 adjacent to the Death Valley National Park (DVNP) Visitor Center for several days of camping, hiking, and sightseeing in a starkly scenic desert setting consisting of salt flats and sand dunes in the valley itself flanked on the east and west by towering mountain ranges capped by Telescope Peak (11,049’)

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in the Panamint Mountains to the west.  Many interesting canyons penetrate the surrounding foothills/mountains and provide a myriad of hiking opportunities with stunning geologic sights.  After setting up camp, we drove a few miles south on Hwy 190 and then Badwater Road to the entrance of Golden Canyon, a popular hiking destination.  This canyon has been described as “The finest badlands scenery in the park: bright red rocks quickly give way to dark brown conglomerate and layers of green mudstone.”  The relatively narrow canyon quickly proved to be every bit as scenic as its description indicated.  Given our late start we decided to take the left fork at the first trail junction we reached; it was a “use trail” which led us upward to the Red Cathedral where we took some photos.  NOTE: An earlier start and proper route finding would lead hikers several miles further up to Zabriskie Point, a noted scenic lookout (but not to worry, we drove up there the following day).  We returned the way we came and returned to the campground having hiked 2.8 miles with 560’ of elevation gain/loss.  That evening after dinner we enjoyed a campfire and an accomplished neighbor’s singing.

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Golden Canyon to Red Cathedral

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March 2, 2017 – Desolation Canyon, Badwater Basin, Natural Bridge, Zabriskie Point, and Dantes View

After breakfast we carpooled south past the Golden Canyon parking lot to the parking area at the Desolation Canyon trailhead.  NOTE: The unpaved road leading to the parking area is poorly marked (a “no camping” sign is set back some distance from Badwater Road so it’s easily missed). 

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A description of this hike states that “This lightly used route follows a narrow serpentine canyon through a landscape of colorful badlands.”  We found this to be true as we hiked through the scenic canyon and climbed (and later descended) several dry waterfalls, helping each other up/down as needed.  Eventually we emerged atop a promontory that provided views of the surrounding area.  We returned the way we came, completing a 4.4-mile hike with 823’ of elevation gain/loss.

Next we drove to Badwater Basin “Noted as the lowest point in North America (282’ below sea level)” and followed a wide footpath out into the salt flats.  We returned to our vehicles having walked 1.4 miles with 15’ of elevation/gain loss.  It was unusual (to say the least) to see a sign on the nearby mountain’s wall showing the sea level nearly 300’ overhead.

We then drove a short distance back toward Golden Canyon and hiked to Natural Bridge, “a rare rock span that arcs across the narrow shady defile of lower Natural Bridge Canyon.”  We followed the canyon a short distance past the bridge, stopping for a lunch break along the way.  We returned to our vehicles the way we came, completing a 1.4-mile hike with 324’ of elevation gain/loss.

Next we undertook the long drive to Dante’s View (5,476’) via Hwy 190.  Along the way we stopped at Zabriskie Point (705’) to enjoy the spectacular views available there.  Dante’s View from the parking lot at the end of the access road is near the edge of the Black Mountains on the east side of Death Valley; “it gives the best overall views of the southern half of the park” looking down on the Badwater salt flats (-282’) and westward to the Panamint Mountains and snow-capped Telescope Peak (11,049’).  We hiked a short distance down to another observation point, enjoyed the views, and returned to our vehicles having completed a 0.6-mile hike with 129’ of elevation gain/loss.  We then returned to the Furnace Creek Campground.

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Desolation Canyon

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Badwater Basin

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Natural Bridge

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Zabriskie Point

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Dantes View

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March 3, 2017 – Mosaic Canyon, Ubehebe Crater, and the Salt Creek Trail

After breakfast we carpooled north and then west on Hwy 190 to the Mosaic Canyon trailhead near Stovepipe Wells Village.  Shortly after entering the canyon “hikers [enter] a narrow chasm where beautiful stream-polished marble and mosaic breccia are well-exposed.” The hike then continues up-canyon requiring climbing (and later descending)

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dry waterfalls until it reaches a high impassible dry waterfall where we turned around.  We returned the way we came, completing a 5.1-mile hike with 1,040’ of elevation gain/loss.

Next we headed east on Hwy 190 and then north on Scotty’s Castle Road until we eventually reached a fork in the road where we turned left and followed the access road to the Ubehebe Crater (the right fork to Scotty’s Castle was closed due to flooding in Grapevine Canyon caused by a severe thunderstorm on 10/18/2015).  The Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater 600’ deep and half a mile across; it was “created by steam and gas explosions when hot magma rising up from the depths reached ground water.”  Three hikers descended to the bottom of the crater (thus subjecting themselves to the steep climb back up to the rim); the remaining hikers followed the trail around the rim of the crater enjoying views into the crater as well as panoramic views of the surrounding landscape including snow-capped mountains in nearly every direction (they were subjected to strong winds for a portion of their hike).  The rim hikers completed a 2.2-mile hike with 750’ of elevation gain/loss.

Next we headed back toward the campground, stopping along the way for a pleasant walkabout on the Salt Creek Trail, a boardwalk “trail” along the creek that allowed us to view the rare Salt Creek Pupfish, a very small species which is on the Endangered Species list.  Our walkabout was 1 mile with about 10’ of elevation gain/loss.  We then returned to the campground.

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Mosaic Canyon

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Ubehebe Crater

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Salt Creek

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March 4, 2017 – Fall Canyon, Rhyolite (ghost town), Goldwell Open Air Museum, and Beatty, NV

After breakfast we carpooled north on Hwy 190 and then Scotty’s Castle Road to the Titus Canyon turnoff which we followed to the parking lot at the mouth of Titus Canyon; the same parking lot serves as the trailhead for Fall Canyon.  NOTE: Titus Canyon remains closed due to the October, 2015 flooding in Death Valley. 

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We began our hike by heading north on a well-defined trail that led to the actual mouth of Fall Canyon.  The canyon “is remote and little-visited; deep and moderately narrow for many miles with occasional shaded, cave-like passageways of great beauty … smooth granitic walls [sometimes have] a bluish tint.”  We hiked through the scenic canyon mostly on soft gravel until we reached a towering impassible dry waterfall.  After taking some photos we returned the way we came, completing an 8.4-mile hike with 1,200’ of elevation gain/loss.

After some discussion we decided to visit Rhyolite (ghost town) and the Goldwell Open Air Museum (even though Titus Canyon was closed to vehicular traffic).  After a fairly long drive we roamed around the mostly vanished mining ghost town of Bullfrog and then ambled around the outdoor art museum admiring the unique sculptures on display.

Lastly we decided to drive the few miles to Beatty, NV to get gasoline, ice cream, Subway sandwiches, Denny’s, etc.  As we drove back to the campground from Beatty we were battered with high winds.  The campground experienced similar high winds most of the night, making sleeping difficult.

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Fall Canyon

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Rhyolite (ghost town) and the Goldwell Open Air Museum

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March 5, 2017 – Strike camp and drive home Darwin Falls and Randsburg

Due to the high winds the night before (and the resultant lack of sleep) everyone packed up and headed home, skipping the traditional breakfast at the Furnace Creek Inn.

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Three of the hikers stopped and hiked to Darwin Falls which is located in the mountains southwest of Panamint Springs, but still within the park.  The easy one-mile trail eventually became a streambed with flowing water as it led us to the lovely waterfall and pool in a seemingly unlikely location in an otherwise arid landscape.  Two hikers visited Randsburg, a living ghost town, on the way home.   Gold was discovered near the town in 1895 and a mining camp quickly formed, and was named Rand Camp.

As we crossed the desert between Panamint Springs and Olancha we were assaulted by gale-force winds blowing sand and dirt at our vehicle; visibility was sometimes as poor as a couple of car lengths.  We also encountered intermittent rain showers most of the way home from Olancha.

All-in-all we had a great trip to a national treasure, hiking 29.6 miles with 5,111’ of elevation gain/loss (including Darwin Falls).

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Randsburg (living ghost town)

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Darwin Falls

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February 25th – Backbone Trail Part 4: Encinal Canyon Road Trailhead to Latigo Canyon Road Trailhead Shuttle

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On a clear chilly winter morning after dropping off several shuttle vehicles along Latigo Canyon Road, nineteen hikers carpooled from Simi Valley to the point along Encinal Canyon Road at which the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail (BBT) begins its descent into Trancas Canyon. 

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Shortly after we began our hike along the fourth section of the BBT, we began hearing the pleasant sound of rushing water, a sound seldom heard in recent years.  Soon we could see the nearby stream which was swollen by recent rain.  We crossed the stream on a bridge and then followed the stream up-canyon through a pleasant woodland.  After trading pleasantries with a large National Park Service ranger-led group of hikers and crossing the stream on a second bridge, the trail began climbing to the east through chaparral and ceanothus.  It then wound through upper Zuma Canyon, providing excellent views of a nice waterfall to the northwest, until we reached Kanan Dume Road just north of tunnel #1.  After a lunch/rest stop, we followed the trail as it led uphill to the south and then eastward over the tunnel and into more woods in Newton Canyon.  The erosive effects of recent downpours along most of our hike’s route were quite evident, but the scenery was beautiful as were blooming flora (such as Indian paintbrush, blooming ceanothus trees, miner’s lettuce, ferns, bright green grasses, and Indian warrior plants) and the various flowing streams lent a soothing quality to much of the hike.  Eventually the trail rose to meet Latigo Canyon Road, across which we had parked our shuttle vehicles.  We returned to Simi Valley having completed a 7.6-mile one-way hike with around 2,000’ of elevation gain and 1,400’ of elevation loss on yet another beautiful day for hiking.

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February 11th – Backbone Trail Part 3: Mishe Mokwa Trailhead to Encinal Canyon Road Trailhead Shuttle

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After dropping off several shuttle vehicles along Encinal Canyon Road, sixteen hikers carpooled to the parking lot opposite the Mishe Mokwa trailhead on Yerba Buena Road where we began our hike along the third section of the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail (BBT) on another pleasant winter morning.

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As we headed east along the south flank of the mountain, we encountered some bicycle riders and lots of runners.  The early morning rain had stopped but had left puddles and muddy stretches of trail behind.  However, there were great views of mountains and coastal valleys gleaming with beautiful green grasses.  There were also blooming wildflowers (particularly shooting stars) and the ubiquitous white blossoms on the ceanothus trees.  After a while we reached the road crossing at Little Sycamore Canyon Road where we encountered a large group of hikers being led by National Park Service rangers [for a fee] along the same route; also we were joined for a few miles by Dr. James Caballero the author of Mileage Hiking Maps [one of our hike leaders had the opportunity to hike the BBT for the first time with “Doc” in 2006].  We crossed the road and climbed up along a short new section of the BBT (which allowed us to avoid trespassing) to its junction with the Etz Meloy Motorway (an old dirt road) from which there were panoramic views to the north (toward the San Fernando Valley and to the south (toward the ocean).  Eventually we reached a section of trail that descended via lots of switchbacks to the road crossing at Mulholland Highway.  We stopped for a lunch/rest break among some pine trees immediately after crossing Mulholland Highway.  The final mile of the Day 3 hike led us along a pretty section of trail (where we spotted several Indian warrior plants) to our shuttle vehicles parked along Encinal Canyon Road, completing a 10.3-mile one-way hike with 973’ of elevation gain and 1,680’ of elevation loss on another beautiful day for hiking.

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February 4th – Backbone Trail Part 2: Backbone Trailhead (across from Mishe Mokwa Trailhead) to Encinal Canyon Road Trailhead Shuttle

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After dropping off several shuttle vehicles at the Big Sycamore Canyon Campground parking lot, sixteen hikers carpooled to the northern (upper) end of Yerba Buena Road at Triunfo Pass to hike the second section of the Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail (BBT) on a cool foggy winter morning.  The hike began at the “Mushy” Mokwa trailhead.

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The muddy trail rose to the west through heavy chaparral to a junction with a short very muddy connector trail which led to the Sandstone Peak Trail (the remainder of our route was nearly “mudless.”  As we gained elevation we had clear views to the north of the reddish-colored Echo Cliffs (a long stretch of sheer vertical sandstone rock faces) against the green side of Boney Mountain, and Balanced Rock, a huge house-sized boulder precariously balancing atop a smaller boulder.  We passed by the spur trail leading up to Sandstone Peak and continued hiking near Tri-Peaks, the tops of which were covered in fog.  We then began our long descent into Big Sycamore Canyon along the Chamberlain Trail which was bordered by beautiful bright green grasses, blooming ceanothus trees, moss-and-lichen-covered boulders, and scattered wildflowers.  After a while we were treated to awe-inspiring views of Big Sycamore Canyon and beyond as well as Serrano Valley.  We stopped briefly at Chamberlain Rock (named for Henry Chamberlain, a beloved local who died in 1945).  Continuing our descent we were greeted by a variety of blooming wildflowers.  At the junction of the Chamberlain Trail and the Old Boney Trail we took a lunch/rest break.  We then followed the Old Boney Trail as it descended to the main fire road in the bottom of Big Sycamore Canyon.  Along the way there was an amazing number of shooting stars.  As we walked the four miles through the canyon to the campground we observed a variety of wildflowers and tall bright green grasses and encountered several easy water crossings.  We reached our shuttle vehicles having completed a gorgeous 12.6-mile hike with 1,400’ of elevation gain and over 3,000’ of elevation loss.

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January 28th – Backbone Trail Part 1: Ray Miller Trailhead to the Big Sycamore Canyon Trailhead Shuttle

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The nearly 70-mile-long Backbone Trail (BBT) winds through the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) from the mouth of La Jolla Canyon in Point Mugu State Park to Will Rogers State Historic Park (SHP) in Pacific Palisades.  On its way it crosses three major canyons – Big Sycamore Canyon, Malibu Canyon, and Topanga Canyon.

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It travels along ridgelines that offer spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, the Channel Islands, unique rock formations, deep canyons, and, given a normal rainfall, a dazzling array of wildflowers in season.  It passes through grasslands, valleys, and oak woodlands and crosses seasonal streams.  NOTE: This is the first of eight (8) trip reports that will be filed as we make our way from the west end of the BBT to its east end over the next two-and-a-half months.

On a clear winter morning with a pleasant temperature (but with a “wind advisory”), 18 hikers carpooled to the Big Sycamore Canyon Campground (where we dropped off four shuttle vehicles) and then over to the nearby Ray Miller trailhead in La Jolla Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, ready to embark on the first of eight Saturday day-hikes which will cover the entire SMMNRA Backbone Trail.  As the Ray Miller trail climbed via gentle switchbacks up to the Overlook Fire Road, it afforded views of several of the Channel Islands and provided some shelter from the strong winds we encountered (which also provided unusually clear views of the area).  As we neared the Overlook Fire Road we were “attacked” by gale-force winds but we persevered.  The mountainside was pleasantly green and a few wildflowers were blooming.  The BBT then followed the fire road to the Wood Canyon Vista Trail (also part of the BBT).  Along the way the hikers were treated to lushly green panoramic views of La Jolla Valley to the west and Boney Mountain, Serrano Valley, and Big Sycamore Canyon to the east.  The trail then descended into Big Sycamore Canyon, passing a small number blooming flowers and blossoming bushes, until we reached the dirt road in the bottom of the canyon as the wind abated.  We took a lunch/rest break at the junction, taking advantage of the availability of drinking water (from a faucet), a picnic table with benches, and a good vantage point from which to watch several bicycle riders go by on their way up and down the canyon.  As we resumed our hike and headed downstream (we actually had to wade across running water twice) toward our shuttle vehicles, we were serenaded by beautiful bright green South American birds in the bare sycamore trees (the birds are not native to the area, but were released or escaped into the wild some years ago).  We eventually arrived at our shuttle vehicles, completing a 9.8-mile one-way hike with 1,100’ of elevation gain, looking forward to hiking the second section of the BBT next week.

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January 14th – Cheeseboro Canyon – Cheeseboro Ridge Loop

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19 hikers (+ one dog) carpooled to the Cheeseboro Canyon trailhead in the Simi Hills on a cool clear winter morning with a forecast of strong winds [fortunately, as is frequently the case with weather forecasting, we only encountered light breezes].  Since our hike was following several days of intermittent rain we anticipated beautiful mountainsides and we weren’t disappointed! 

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We spotted a lone coyote ambling across a grassy open area as we headed north on the Cheeseboro Canyon trail toward Shepherd’s Flat. It was obvious that it had rained as we skirted lots of mud puddles, but we had no trouble avoiding all but a little of the actual mud.  After about three miles of nearly level hiking we reached Sulphur Springs but we could not discern any stench of Sulphur.  From there the trail rose steadily, but with little incline, to Shepherd’s Flat.  So far the scenery had been quite pretty and the day was very pleasant.  After a short break we headed east on the Sheep Corral Trail to its junction with the Cheeseboro Ridge Trail (an Edison Road) which we followed south as it climbed several hundred feet to a nice viewpoint at which we enjoyed a spectacular view of the canyons and mountains to our east/northeast, including snow-covered peaks in the San Gabriel Mountains and the nearby bright green mountainsides.  Continuing on along the ridge trail the beautiful surroundings persisted.  Eventually we followed a connector trail back down into Cheeseboro Canyon and returned to our vehicles completing a 9.8-mile hike with 1,300’ of elevation gain/loss.

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