December 14, 2018

Trekking Through the Santa Monica Mountains

 

If you love walking in the Santa Monica Mountains and want to have a unique, cost-effective, weeklong adventure right here in our own backyard that is a National Recreation Area, the Backbone Trail Trek 2011 is taking reservations for the May event.

PHOTOS BY BRIAN GRAVELLE

Trekking Through the Santa Monica Mountains

The Backbone Trail Trek 2010 began at Thornhill Broome Beach Campground, Point Mugu State Park. The group rendezvoused for an evening meal, an overview of the week ahead, and orientation for the newbies. We pitched our tents in the sand and slept within feet of the Pacific Ocean – a profound and powerful beginning to an amazing week.

Excitement and trepidation might best describe the feelings I experienced after reading about a weeklong 67-mile hike through the Santa Monica Mountains. Reviewing the daily itinerary brought on a few self doubts of being able to complete the trek, a journey that would go from the shores of the Pacific Ocean at Point Mugu State Park to the trail's eastern terminus and a farewell lunch under the eucalyptus trees at Will Rogers State Park seven days later.

The 10-miles-per-day hike, with an average elevation gain of 1,500 feet per day, would be a challenge. Weekday morning walks around the Skyline-loop and occasional weekend hikes to the upper bench of Red Rock Canyon left me in reasonably good shape to walk the trails. My real concern was tent camping each night in one of several state park campgrounds along the way.

Do what now? Even though I haven’t camped in more than twenty years, I well recall the level of comfort one can expect from a night on a Therm-a-rest mattress pad. (These days, I sleep on a five-inch memory foam mattress on top of a pillowtop spring mattress.) Sleep on the ground? Could I really do this thing? For seven nights?

In the end, excitement won out over the trepidation as my husband, John, and I signed up to participate, along with 18 other hikers, in the May, 2010 Backbone Trail Trek (BTT) organized by the Santa Monica Mountains Trail council (SMMTC).

Trekking Through the Santa Monica Mountains

Hikers trek toward Boney Mountain (in background) during the first full day of hiking. The day’s effort covered 8.1 miles and a 1,330-foot climb. The group slept that night in the shadows of Boney Mountain and awoke ready to face the largest daily elevation gain of the week —climbing to 3,111 feet to reach Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The SMMTC organization is dedicated to the establishment and maintenance of the public trail system throughout the Santa Monica Mountains that creates this unique opportunity for those who love to walk in these hills. Staffed by six full-time volunteers who conducted the hike and several additional part-time volunteers who prepared evening meals and drove vans, the SMMTC trek operates like a well-oiled machine. Camp wrangler, Mel Savage, drove the support van — a vehicle that carries all of our camping gear and the camp’s mobile kitchen — and remained at camp during the day to attend to the group’s comfort and safety. This also enabled those who didn’t want to participate on any particular day, an opportunity to rest at camp and rejoin the group on the following day’s hike.

Much of the Backbone Trail follows on or near the mountain ridges, but some segments drop into tree-shaded valleys and open chaparral. Like the National Recreation Area itself, the trail progresses across a patchwork of public lands including state parks, national parkland and other land holdings. It has been constructed by volunteers, the California Conservation Corps. and professional staff from various parkland agencies. Parts of the trail were animal paths that became trails; other stretches were fire roads. New sections have been constructed to modern trail standards.

The Trek

Each evening, trekkers gathered around the camp kitchen for hors d’oeuvres and favorite drinks to discuss the day’s sights and adventures. Monday was the largest daily elevation gain of the week, when we ascended 3,111 feet to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. By Wednesday, May 5, we accomplished one of the longer hikes of the week and were rewarded in camp with a magnificent “Cinco de Mayo” Mexican dinner.

One of the highlights of the trek occurred on Thursday evening at Malibu Creek State Park, when BBQ master Frank Padilla brought his mobile smoker to camp and prepared a wonderful meal of smoked tri-tip. Master Falconist, Cynthia Maxwell, joined the campfire circle that evening and brought a juvenile hawk, to partake in the evening’s dinner ritual — the latter feasted on fresh, dead mice while the campers enjoyed the BBQ.

Trekking Through the Santa Monica Mountains

Each afternoon, trekkers gathered around the camp kitchen for hors d’oeuvres and favorite drinks while discussing the day’s sights and adventures. Each evening a different camp cook would provide the evening meal for the group. Our last overnight at Musch Camp in Topanga, Ruth Gerson, President SMMTC Board of Directors (standing, center left), awarded hikers with certificates and trail patches recognizing their 67-mile accomplishment.

Friday evening at Musch Camp in Topanga, hikers were awarded with certificates and trail patches recognizing their 67-mile accomplishment. The trek concluded on Saturday, May 8 as the somewhat tired but proud hikers marched into Will Rogers State Historic Park.

As a result of the 2010 spring rain pattern, we were treated to an abundance of wildflowers; hiker-leader Dave Edwards counted a total of 142 blooming species during the week. Several hundred geo-caches were found by a number of enthusiasts on the trek. There was always plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, as the trek accommodated both fast hikers and those who walk at a more leisurely pace. With scheduled breaks along the way, the hikes lasted several hours but never felt like a forced march. The weather during the week was near perfect with cool hiking days and balmy evenings.

After five days of hiking through mostly uninhabited canyons and glens, we reached Sadddle Peak and began our descent into Topanga’s Hondo Canyon. I experienced a profound sense of having arrived home as we began to recognize some of the houses in our tiny hamlet.

Trekking Through the Santa Monica Mountains

After five days of hiking through mostly uninhabited canyons and glens we reached Saddle Peak and began our descent into Topanga’s Hondo Canyon. A profound sense of having arrived home set in as we began to see some of the houses in our tiny hamlet. I had never thought of Topanga as a “tiny hamlet” before. This trek through the Santa Monica Mountains NRA gave me a new appreciation of how unique our piece of paradise truly is. Pictured are hikers Shari Shepard and Susan Signaigo.

I had never thought of Topanga as a “tiny hamlet” before. This trek through the Santa Monica Mountains NRA gave me a new appreciation of how unique our piece of paradise truly is.

BBT 2011 Registration

Persons interested in a guided hike of the entire 67-mile Backbone Trail across the Santa Monica Mountains should register during February and March for the Ninth Annual Backbone Trek that begins on May 7, 2011. Participation is limited to the first 25 sign-ups.

The seven-day hike with all meals provided and camping gear transported by volunteers, offers a wilderness experience near the metropolis of Los Angeles. Hikers will assemble at the western end of the trail just off Pacific Coast Highway in Ventura County and hike about 10 miles daily until arriving on May 14 at Will Rogers State Historic Park just off Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades.

Trekking Through the Santa Monica Mountains

What began as a group of strangers, by week’s end 20 hiking enthusiasts and SMMTC staff had bonded, establishing relationships that will last well beyond the 67-miles of a unique shared adventure through the Santa Monica Mountains. Pictured (l-r) seated: Susan Signaigo, Loretta Moser, Shari Shepard, Barb Thomas, Cathryn Taggert, Carol Gravelle. Middle row (l-r): Aurelio Albaisa, Diana Savage (SMMTC on-site coordinator and hike sweep), Mary Andrusky, Burt Elliott (SMMTC van driver and hike leader/sweep), Lynn Lively, Mary T. Sipple, Carlyn Taggart, Brett Borach, Peter Ireland. Back row (l-r) Dave Edwards (SMMTC hike leader), Richard Armerding, Brian Gravelle, Alan Sutterfield, Lee Thompson.

The SMMTC has organized Backbone Trek 2011 to provide an opportunity to enjoy the entire Backbone Trail as it travels the ridges and valleys. The guides are experienced volunteers with a passion for trails, mountains and vistas. As interpreters, they can answer most questions on flora, fauna, geology and history of the region. Hikers can expect to see colorful wildflowers, interesting geologic formations and breathtaking views.

A support team transports camping equipment and provides meals each morning and evening. Hikers are expected to complete the allotted miles each day that average elevation gains and losses of 1,500 feet. Hikers also carry light daypacks with water, lunch and other incidentals. A $350 fee covers meals, campgrounds, equipment transportation and insurance.

For more information on the Backbone Trek 2011, go to smmtc.org/bbtrek or contact event coordinator, Jerry Mitcham, at backbonetrek2011@roadrunner.com, or (818) 406-1269.