Traversing Boney Ridge & Exporing Staircase Beach – Malibu 15 February 2014
Saturday 15 February 2014 – Solo hike traversing Boney Ridge covering 10 miles in 3.5 hours from 6:30-10:00am, starting at the 2,030′ Sandstone Peak Trailhead in the Circle X Ranch area of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and ascending to the 3,111’ summit of Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the range, a gain of 1,081’ in 1.5 miles, then onwards along the Backbone Trail past the Tri-Peaks junction of Boney Mountain and 1.5 miles down the steeply descending Chamberlain Trail into Point Mugu State Park to about 2,000’ elevation, then back via the winding Mishe Mokwa Trail to the Mishe Mokwa Trailhead, plus about a mile of hiking back along Yerba Buena road. The morning started at 3:48am when I leapt out of bed in Laguna Woods and made a swift departure from Mom’s home in Laguna Woods by 4:00am. The 405 freeway from Orange County to the west side of Los Angeles was so devoid of traffic that I doubt there were more a half dozen cars per mile, so I wasn’t troubled by any of the congestion and eye-sores that burden this route, and I escaped through the McClure Tunnel at the terminus of I-10 onto a Pacific Coast Highway equally tranquil with frequent views of the full moon casting long reflections over the peaceful sea.
Pausing to view the source of a bright light offshore at Latigo Road, there was sailboat anchored in close, its mast-light bobbing merrily in the gentle heave. Stopping at Ventura County Line Beach to use the outhouse, another car drove up and disgorged four Japanese fishermen of various ages, all equipped with backpacks and poles, fully prepared for any contingency. Turning up Yerba Buena Road, I wound 6.5 miles past Cotharin Road and Circle X Ranch to the Sandstone Peak Trailhead just as the moon set behind the western ridges and the sun broke to the east with a magnificent display of fire.
Above the Haze
Before I relate the rest of the story, here are the rest of my favorite impressionistic illustrations.
Dawn’s Glow on Boney Peak
There be Condors out there
Alone and at peace, I started jogging up the trailhead when another vehicle arrived, but that driver departed after using the facilities. A broad and rutty trail wound up and around the backside of the ridge, ascending towards to the summit, with frequent vistas of the peaks of Catalina, San Clemente, Santa Barbara and San Nicolas islands piercing the shroud of cloud that blanketed the ocean to the south, and similar vistas of smog shrouded inland valleys to the north and east. What amazing vistas from this stunning ridge of balanced rocks and pinnacles with significant prominence!
Circle X Ranch Map of Boney Ridge
Exchange & Boney Peaks
Islands in the Sky
Distant Channel Islands rising out of fog (clockwise): Santa Catalina, San Clemente, Santa Barbara, San Nicolas
The morning was so quickly warm that I doffed my long shirt and T to cool off from the exertion, and started in early munching on sweet Thai tamarind fruit. With the sun at my back, my frequent solitary morning companion cast a long shadow ahead of me, urging me to press on into shade as I rounded the backside of the ridge.
Preceded by my shadow’s long searching gaze
Any shadows that troubled me dispersed with my mine as I left the trail just below Sandstone Peak and scrambled to the top to sign into the register housed in a drawer in the monument dubbed Mt. Allen, the peak’s alter ego in memory of a beloved scout leader, W. Herbert Allen. It had only taken 50 minutes to cover 1.5 miles and 1,081’ gain to reach the peak, and I was a little cold with a mountain top breeze blowing upon mild perspiration.
Sandstone Peak (Mt. Allen) Monument & Register
Most of the journal entries in the register were trite, but I wish I had not only photographed my own reflections but also one that was poetic with deep introspection from a kindred spirit. The accompanying photo not only confesses how poor my handwriting can be, but evidences that I was cold and anxious to get moving again.
2/15/14 Gorgeous crimson dawn after full moon gleam on pacific waters soothes my searching soul whose long past anguish finds contentment and repose after 800 miles of wheeling to top a peak I dreamed of 45 years ago as a wakening scout. The channel island panorama beckons me back to the sea but I relish this moment anchored windy against the sky.
Sandstone Peak 7:30am
Ed Motola, 60
Salt Lake City, Utah
A denizen of long ago Santa Monica
Views from the top of Sandstone Peak
Gazing to the west, many bald mountain tops perforated the sandstone block with vertical prominence. Not far across the channel, Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands loomed large and inviting, the yellow bluffs and curve of the shoreline clearly visible. Barely visible, the communications array atop Mugu Peak gleamed white 2,000’ below. I could see other hikers or trail runners starting to arrive at the trailhead way down below me, so I took off jogging in search of solitude along the ridge and back down to the Backbone Trail, diverted by each side track that led to some vista point or steep descent down a crack in the sandstone massif. After another 1.5 miles of passing Inspiration Point and paralleling the Water Tanks cutoff, I could see the Chamberlain Trail heading west across a ravine towards Point Mugu State Park, and desiring to see down into Serrano, Sycamore, and La Jolla valleys, I re-donned my shirts to protect me from the thick stands of Chaparral that I bushwhacked through, thus bypassing the junction of the Backbone and Mishe Mokwa trails, and soon came across the western terminus of the Tri-Peaks Boney Mountain trail in a very picturesque vale that wound between 3,010’ Boney Mountain and Boney Ridge comprised of 2,950’ Exchange Peak, 2,825’ Boney Peak, and 3,111’ Sandstone Peak.
Views of the top
Chamberlain Trail to Point Mugu State Park
The Chamberlain Trail quickly descended quickly through a tunnel of dense Ceanothus with occasional groves of the tallest smooth red-barked Manzanita and peeling red-barked Chamise I have ever seen, over 8’ tall, and obscuring the view of the colorful red and orange cliffs comprising the western flank of Boney Mountain. Gazing over the burnt out valleys down below, victims of an all-consuming wildfire of 2012, the massif of West Anacapa and eastern Santa Cruz islands loomed much larger across the channel than any of the other Channel Islands, rising in a westerly course as an extension of this Santa Monica range, separated by a submarine canyon and deep channel.
Losing a lot of elevation, I decided that I would see less vista if I proceeded in that direction, so I turned around and started back, regaining 1,000’ of lost elevation. Approaching the west Tri-Peaks trail junction, I had just come off another vista point lateral that looked down upon Circle X Ranch when I heard the first of a group of trail-runners, which spurred me into action to start back in earnest. For the next 1.5 hours, I jogged and walked the lower parallel Mishe Mokwa trail which follows a ravine below the crest through a shady hillside, across the cool riparian woodland at Split Rock, then up and down through the alternating slopes of side canyons as it steadily ascends back up the slope of Boney Ridge. Multiple day-hikers and rock climbers were now on the trail, and I could see some of them starting up the Echo Cliff escarpment below Balanced Rock.
I had hoped that I would see some wildlife while hiking solo in the early morning, but other than a variety of birds, there was nothing more dramatic than small blue-bellied lizards. Jogging and walking brought me to within a ¼ mile of the Mishe Mokwa trailhead, over 1 mile east of my origin, but instead of taking the trail up and over the ridge back to the Sandstone Peak trailhead, I decided to go the distance and see this other trailhead. It turned out that over a dozen cars were now parked at each trailhead. At last downing 8 ounces of water, I walked along the recently tarred road for a mile before I hitched a ride from some English-accented men with a friendly German Shepherd who dominated the back seat for the last ½ mile.
Pausing only to graze on chips and coconut water, I immediately started back to the coast. On the way down, I took Cotharin Road to Pacific View and down Deer Creek road to the coast through the complete desolation of the burn where nothing much has recovered yet. Along the Pacific View neighborhood of scattered homes, large signs denouncing tigers were frequent. I found a link in the internet discussing a dispute over plans by Wild Ones, LLC to house between two to five Bengal Tigers in their open space, to be used by the film industry. The dispute is still ongoing with articles published during the past week.
Reaching the highway, I cruised along slowly searching for new place to explore underwater. Although the best kelp is right at the mouth of Deer Creek, I was hoping to explore the rocky shoreline and choose a little beach just up the way where a stairway descended. Two other snorkelers were just exiting and various anglers were surf fishing. It took me while to rest and get ready, but I didn’t realize how much the hike had tired me until I got offshore and found that I just didn’t have my normal excess of energy to dive. I mostly hung out at the surface where limited visibility didn’t make for a great adventure. Other than beautiful anemones which would be exposed at low tides, and some large deceased sand crabs rolling around on the sandy bottom just beyond the mild surf, there wasn’t much to see in the gloom. I didn’t see a single fish, not even a surf perch. But the water was calm, and the ocean refreshing. If it hadn’t been that my legs and feet threatened to cramp several times, I might have persisted, but avoiding the pain and risk of leg cramps seemed the better part of valor, so I focused on getting back to shore only 30 minutes after entering the water and going no further than 100 yards up-shore.
Staircase Beach, Malibu
From there, I decided to look for a new beach, and discovered new accesses at Staircase State Beach at 14000 PCH along the Los Angeles-Ventura county line where new parking lots and trails led down to picturesque beach between the apartments north of County Line beach and the few homes that dot the bluffs on this stretch north of Leo Carrillo State Beach. Wrapped in a damp towel in a windy on-shore breeze, I hiked around both points to view a wedding in process which culminated in the couple mounting a white stallion and parading before their well-wishers, her wedding train streaming over the flanks of their ride. I also observed what appeared to be the same pair of snorkelers with giant fins that I had encountered earlier at Deer Creek, repeatedly diving down into the kelp bed 200 yards offshore. Longing to go back into the water, but knowing that I needed to reserve some energy for the long drive home, I took satisfaction in jogging along the sand and taking pictures.