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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