The long hot trail
I was fortunate enough to have traveled to LA this past weekend with my wife, for her sister’s wedding. We were together fortunate because her sister and husband (congrats to the happy couple) planned an excellent weekend of fun, food and merriment, including time for each visitor to see and enjoy LA in their own way. Naturally, Mrs W & I decided to find a place to hike. Turning to my original inspiration to start this blog in the first place, I looked to the ModernHIker for advice. After reviewing his site, and consulting the great SoCal Google map he keeps, we decided to try to Solstice Canyon. Alas, last year’s fires have the park closed, so after contacting MH directly, he suggested we try to hike to Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains. He also noted that not only was this one his favorite hikes, it was ‘the one’ that convinced him how true hiking was to his heart.
We drove up PCH for not quite an hour (all driving distances in LA are determined by time, not mileage) and turned off on Yerba Buena Rd for one of the most winding roads I’ve ever been on. Mrs W was not amused, but after about six miles we found the trail head and parking on the left. As we got out, we saw a Sierra Club group getting ready to hike, and took off ahead of them along the trail (really nice dogs with them). The trail leaves the parking lot and starts a gentle climb right away…while the climb itself wasn’t tough, we quickly knew the conditions would be new to us. And, true to form, I was puffing and panting on this stretch as I warmed up to the day ahead.
It was 930AM, and already starting to get hot. And every step kicked up dry desert dust…ah yes, this would be a good one. The trail continues for about a half mile, and then splits – the western side heads straight to Sandstone Peak, but the eastern side travels around a long loop before joining the Backbone Trail and the Peak. We went east…and were greeted with views like we’ve never seen. Very shortly after the split we came across a pillar of sandstone…according to the GPS waypoints from ModernHiker, this spot was labeled “Climbing”, so we scrambled up the loose rock as far as we dared and got a great overview to the south of the terrain. The deep canyons appeared to fall away into nothing, with scrub brush everywhere. In the distance, isolated ‘clumps’ of sandstone dotted the landscape, jutting up and over and about, and taking your breath away. This is clearly not anything like our Adirondack hikes –
As we continued the trail further east, it connected with the Mishe Mokwa trail, which runs along the western ridge of a larger canyon – across the gap were the stunning Echo Cliffs, and the unlikely (but correctly named) Balance Rock. We noticed a few climbers on Echo Cliffs, on the shady walls, of course, because by then it was really getting warm. At this point I was hoping we had brought enough water – five liters between us – but wasn’t sure.
We then found a beautiful oasis along the trail at Split Rock – again, aptly named for the large house size boulder split in two. After dipping our bandanas in the only water along the trail, and the obligatory photos inside the split, the Sierra Club group caught up to us. The leader announced a twenty minute break because “there is no shade from here out” – we took our leave and left the cool spot as they broke out their lunches.
She was nearly right – there were a few shady spots after Split Rock, but only if you hide behind the scrubs by kneeling down. It was hot – not that I trust it, but the thermometer on my pack read 95 (the news that evening confirmed 102 in the canyons). The trail looped around the north, and at the apex was a side trail to the TriPeaks, a collection of sandstone rocks to be climbed. Worried about water, and hotter than I’d prefer to be, we skipped this out and back, and continued to the junction with the Backbone Trail. From here, the trail gently climbed to the base of Sandstone Peak, which required a bit of a loose rock scramble to reach the summit. Initially confused by the Mt Allen plaque on the top, I remembered the dual name, signed the log, and sat back to enjoy the views. Wow! We could see the Pacific. We could see mountains to the east, and the south. We could see Santa Monica Bay. And, if you’re bold and lean over the rocks on top, you can see straight down (according to the GPS, about 900 feet straight down!) We hung out to catch our breath (it had been taken away by both the heat, and the views) and rummaged through our packs for lunch. Normally I carry a lot of food (eh, Rickie?) but most of my trail snacks had been noshed on over the weekend already (dang kids!). Not to worry – an emergency foil-pack of tuna, and some chips, and we were dining four star! Mrs W finished her second liter here, as I still had enough in my pack to get us back…as we packed up and scrambled down I realized that the Sierra Club group had not yet caught up, despite our break…
As the scramble rejoined the trail, it was a winding 1.2 miles back to the parking lot…I realized it would be all downhill, as we had about 1200′ to lose before returning to our starting point. As we wound around the trail, sweating our tails off, we took in our last views of the ocean, and across the canyon to Skull Rock…who names these things? They were a master of the obvious, for sure! No mixed up Anglicizations of Iroquois names as found in the Adirondacks — if a rock is teetering precipitously, call it Balance Rock. Works for me.
As we reached the car, I pulled the 3 liter hydration bladder from the pack, which had about a half liter left. We quickly finished that as we drove back down the winding road, noting the drop in temperature with every turn. As we drove back to hotel, we saw a sign showing the temp to be 69F, after being in nearly 100F just a short while ago – the windows were open, we were hot and sweaty, the ocean was in view…what could be better? Thanks ModernHiker for the recommendation…this was truly a beautiful hike and a great way to see what SoCal has to offer besides miserable traffic.
Total length – 6.11 miles
Time – 3 hours, 25 minutes
Elevation Gain – 1775 feet
I will have more pictures to post when I return and develop them – in the meantime, here is a Google Earth overlay of the track.