Sunday, November 25, 2012


I'd done the Mishe Mokwa Trail in the Santa Monica Mountains close to 20 years ago. It was so long ago I don't remember much about it or whether or not I did the whole 6 mile loop. But I decided on a repeat trip and I did plan on doing the 6 miles.

The trailhead is about 9 miles or so up Yerba Buena Road off PCH. The turnoff is just past Neptune's Net, a popular stop for motorcyclists doing the coast route and the surfers who use County Line Beach across the highway.

I got an early start and was on the trail by 8:45 am. It was a bit chilly and slight breeze was blowing up the canyon from the ocean, so I was glad I'd decided to wear long pants. I had a topo map and a generally idea of what lay ahead (or so I thought) and was pumped for a day of adventure.

A sample of what lay ahead

The trail starts along Carlisle Canyon, with views towards the ocean on one side, and towards Thousand Oaks on the other side.

The blue Pacific.

Towards Thousand Oaks.

About a half mile in I realized how remote the surroundings where, how alone I was, and how there might be mountain lions anywhere in that area. I started to walk with my radar at full, and yet, when I stopped to tie my boot lace a little further along the trail, a hiker came up behind and startled the bejeezus out of me. He wasn't sneaking up; he was walking very quietly, by himself. So much for radar.

Another view across the canyon

I liked the way the light hit these rocks

A view down Carlisle Canyon

First glimpse of the Echo Cliffs with Balance Rock above

I finally reached the part of the canyon where the Echo Cliffs and Balance Rock lay. A group of rock climbers had passed me and they now took a steep side trail down into the canyon to spend the day climbing the sheer sandstone cliffs far below. 

Beautiful sandstone cliffs

Rock climbers do pitches up these cracks

The view down Carlisle Canyon from the crest of the trail
Same place, different angle
Balance Rock

Zoom view of Balance Rock

The trail become quite steep and narrow along here, and when it crested and turned sharply northwest, it became sheer rock and totally exposed, with a several hundred foot drop off to the dry creekbed below. I shot a quick video to show a friend the terrain.

I continued on, stopping once to watch a Bewick's Wren that flew down right in front of me, pecked at the trail dirt a few times, then fly back into the scrub. Another 20 minutes and I arrived at Split Rock.

Here I found one picnic table and a giant rock that was split into three sections, one large enough to walk completely through. It didn't take much imagination to think that Native Americans used the site for some ceremonial purpose. The area was home to a few different tribes, primarily the Chumash.

Split Rock

At Split Rock I made a cup of coffee using my new Snow Peak LiteMax backpacking stove. At 1.9 oz. it's easy enough to carry along on a day hike, along with a Snow Peak titanium 700 mug and a small canister of fuel to boil some water. After coffee and a snack. I headed out again.

The trail started to climb out of the canyon bottom in what was to be a mostly uphill rest of the afternoon; for the next 2 1/2 hours, it was one hill after another. Thankfully the views in any direction during my frequent stops to catch my breath were stunning and made the ascents well worth the effort.

The first section of steep trail after Split Rock

Amazing rock formations everywhere

A wonderland of rock

My camera batteries died at Split Rock and I resorted to using my phone camera the rest of the day, but it seemed to do a fair job. The strange color cast in the photo below was because I forgot to switch from florescent to daylight mode, which I remembered to correct afterwards.

I finally reached the ocean side of the trail again. The breeze had really picked up and I was glad to have my windbreaker on over my fleece jacket.

The Pacific Ocean again, this time from the Back Bone Trail

About 45 minutes later, and many hills, I finally reached the base of Sandstone Peak. I was getting pretty pooped and still had more than a mile to get back to the truck. My legs were tired and I decided to save myself for the trek out rather than climb up to the peak, which was quite steep and involves some scrambling over rocks.

View to the north, with the Camarillo Plain in the distance

The rest of the way was mostly downhill--a steep 45-degree angle down a rough, uneven, rock-strewn trail that was a real knee and thigh buster. The last hour and a half of this hike left me convinced I would never do this trail again. Beautiful as it was, the trail is in really crappy shape fully three-quarters of the way. Though nothing worthwhile ever comes easily, this place is best left to those whose legs are more fit (and younger) than mine.

I got back to the truck at 2:30 pm, tired, hungry and supremely satisfied that I completed this hike. I covered 6 miles and three trails: the entire Mishe Mokwa, a portion of the Back Bone Trail, and the entire Sandstone Peak Trail. Enough for this adventurer!

Friday, October 26, 2012


“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” said Alice.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t care much where…” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.” said the Cat.

“…so long as I get SOMEWHERE!” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “If you only walk long enough.”

                                 --Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


Sunday, October 14, 2012


I went on the mother of all hikes yesterday with my new friend Alan and his nephew Robert. Alan had been in this area about a month ago for the first time, and wanted to find some big pools for fishing that he'd from the trail above.

To get to the trailhead, it's about a 2-3 mile drive on a rough dirt road, but my 4x4 Blazer and all-terrain tires were up to the challenge. 

In this view from the trail above you can see the parking area, with the dirt road in trailing off in the back ground.

We got our packs on, strung up our fly rods, and followed Alan down into the creekbed. Once down there, it was all walking on rock and navigating up and over steep areas of boulders. Not easy under the best circumstances, we had to constantly be on the lookout for rattlesnakes (but we saw none--only a shed skin).

The way become challenging, and Alan wasn't finding the deep pools he'd seen on his previous trip. So we continued upstream, following the dry fork of the creek drainage. Many times we had to climb up and over areas of piled boulders and downed trees. The fact that we could not find a way back to the trail only added to the sense of adventure. I was never worried; only a bit anxious that we might have to backtrack and go all the way back over that round terrain again.

Alan and Robert left me here while they scouted a brushy, choked side channel to see if there was a way through. While waiting, the sense of being alone was really neat. At first you are a little nervous, especially when you know there are large predators in this area (bear and mountain lion). Then a feeling of peace comes over you and you start noticing little things like the breeze tickling the leaves above you, and their fluttery whisper in reply to the breeze; the soft whoosh of the creek in the distance; the sound of a Canyon Wren calling; the clatter of small rocks falling from the hillside. You smell the scent of leaves and drying sand, and the hint of water not far away.

There were a great number of large trees rent apart and twisted by some force, possibly wind, possibly a large debris flood. When I went down to that sand bar below I found a lot of large footprints--not human, but BEAR!

Looking up from a rest spot to the mountains above; there was a large avalanche chute down the canyon visible between the trees.

The trees had not yet taken on their fall cloaks; everything was still pretty green.

We finally hooked up with the stream; the large boulders and deadfall once again tired to block our path, but we continued upstream.

Alan and Robert trying to figure out where the trail was. Little did we know it was far above us, all but invisible from this angle and location. Later, when we viewed this very area from the trail I was amazed  at how far down we were!

After 2 1/2 hours we ran into a hunter (yes, it's hunting season in the local mountains) and he showed us where the trail was. After another steep climb up a short hill on loose gravel we were back on the trail again. We followed it another quarter mile upstream and finally reached Stonehouse Campground.

Stonehouse was a lovely area, with the creek running through it, providing plenty of ice cold water to filter and drink. We cooked our lunches there on our backpacking stoves (I tried out my new Snow Peak LiteMax Titanium stove--1.9 oz.). I had a Mountain House Chili Mac with Beef, but only ate a little more than half. I was trying to stay hydrated and was drinking a LOT of water and was just too full to eat much. That a a couple small crackers is all I ate during the whole hike. With teh leftover boiled water I made a cup of G7 3-in-1 coffee.

Alan took two good trout from this pool, and on that half-submerged log I watched a Dipper bobbing up and down, occasionally drinking form the pool. Dippers catch a lot of their food by submerging themselves underwater.

Alan tying one on--a fly that is!

A little waterfall among the deadfall.

After lunch we followed the trail upstream and found ourselves climbing over boulders and trees yet again. But we found a beautiful area loaded with deep pools below small waterfalls and cascades. I didn't catch a thing (only a few tugs), but Alan and Robert both caught and released several trout. The fish were all wild rainbows, as no stocking is done way back there. The fish averaged between 10" -- 12", which is a good size for native fish.

 Alan trying to figure out how to retrieve the fly the tree just grabbed.

This photo doesn't do this magnificent Western Red Cedar justice; it was an amazing specimen.

I just could not get enough views of this lovely creek. 

Looking up towards the surrounding mountains from the creek bank.

The view after we lost the trail hiking out. More bouldering!

At about 2 pm we decided it was time to hike out, so we headed back downstream, following what little of the trail we could. It soon petered out. We forgot to re-cross the creek at our lunch spot to pick up the main trail and ended up doing more bouldering. We finally found the spot where we'd picked up the trail the first time (!) and were on our way.

It was a steep walk up out of that canyon. Once we hit the crest, it was all downhill. And a steep hill at that. My knees and quads took a pounding, but held out until we got back to the trailhead. Another 3 miles four-wheeling down the dirt road and we were back and where Alan left his car (it's a low-slung import). We said our good-byes, vowing to go back soon and do an over-night at Stonehouse.

The view down-canyon from the trail. San Bernardino Mountains off in the distance (middle of photo).

It was a truly wonderful and fun adventure. I really felt great the whole day. After having lost almost 10 pounds in the past month and getting a lot of conditioning walking every day, it really made the difference. My knees were flexible and my legs held up all day. Not bad for an 'old fart!'

Monday, August 13, 2012


There's something magical about this area; Mt. Pinos itself is sacred to the Chumash Tribe and considered the center of their universe. I believe all forests are sacred, and as such, are imbued with special meaning and beauty that begs our worship.

I returned to Pinos two weeks after the summit trip to try some other trails with a friend of mine and we found some really wonderful areas of forest to explore. The trails are ones used for cross country skiing in winter.

The forest is mixed conifer of huge, ancient Jeffrey Pine, Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir. The meadow margins were filled with tall lupine in bloom.

The forest is thick here and it is wise not to get off trail; it would be very easy to get disoriented.

One poor tree had been thoroughly blasted by lightning. In fact, we saw evidence that many trees had been struck by lighting. Fortunately the rain associated with most thunderstorms produce enough rain to keep fires from spreading.

We had been watching a storm building and started hearing thunder rumbling. We watched the sky and noticed it was getting blacker and the clouds were moving swiftly in our direction. So we quickened our pace so as not to become like the tree above!

When we got near the trailhead, we noticed with relief that the storm was passing us by. The sky looked wicked though!

The odd buckling and undulations of the cloud are the underside of cumulonimbus clouds, associated with thunderstorms. It is an eerie effect!

A great hike, with just enough danger element to make it exciting--but not too dangerous!