Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Hike 2012.045 -- Canyon and Ridge Loop, and Skull Rock, Temescal Gateway Park and Topanga State Park

Hiked Saturday, July 13. I actually took two discrete hikes on Saturday, so I get to run my hike count up to 46 for the year.

Temescal Gateway Park is managed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. It's located at the top of Temescal Canyon Drive, just north of Sunset Blvd. This means, in theory, at least, it's a bus-accessible hike. MTA's routes #2 and 302 run down Sunset, though 302 would be a limited stop route, and I don't know how close to Temescal Canyon that one stops. But if it were not too far, you could get from the corner of Sunset and Beverly to Sunset and Temescal Canyon in 35 minutes, or from Sunset and Fairfax to Sunset and Temescal Canyon in about 50 minutes during the day. Figure in connection times, however, and getting here from anywhere other than Sunset Blvd becomes a 60-120 minute endurance contest.

By private car, if coming from the west part of town you might take the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) west to Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1), then head "north" (actually, almost due west, but technically northbound on PCH), to Temescal Canyon Road, where you would make a right (heading mostly north). After about a mile mile and a half, Temescal Canyon Road will cross Sunset. That means you're in the park. You should then drive on up 'til you reach an "iron ranger," where you pull out one of their envelopes, stick $7 inside, tear off the flap and put that on your windshield, and stick the envelope in the iron ranger.

If coming from the San Fernando Valley, Warner Center, or points north, you may choose to take the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) to Topanga Canyon Blvd, take that over the the hill (about 12.5 miles), to the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1). Turn left at the light and continue "south" about three miles, to Temescal Canyon Drive. Turn left there and continue straight into Temescal Gateway Park.

There are a couple of "retreat" meeting/event areas, as well as apparent-residences in this park, in addition to a small store that sells cold drinks and snacks. Parking for park visitors is limited to the area south of the store, although the pavement continues some distance beyond. There are a number of picnic benches and drinking fountains, as well as flush toilets adjacent to the store.

Across the road from the store and toilets is a kiosk. On the kiosk there MAY be simple maps, photocopied on 8 1/2 by 11 paper. There are no topo lines and not a complete set of mileage distances between points, but, at least for the Rivas Canyon connector trail, provides enough altitude benchmarks to let you know what kind of altitude gain you'll be facing.

When you're ready to start your hike, head north from the end of the park visitor lot. After about fifty yards, the road splits (it's actually a loop). If you're heading towards either Temescal Canyon or Temescal Ridge (Viewpoint) trails, bear left at the split.

Almost immedi-ately after starting on this road, you may notice an unsigned trail heading up, to your left. Ideally, you'd take that trail, which almost immediately splits again, with the Ridge trail taking a slightly steeper track from there than the Canyon trail.

If you were to continue on the paved road, instead, you'd eventually walk pass a number of structures and manicured lawns before eventually heading into the wilder area. This alternate route would eventually merge with the official Temescal Canyon Trail, perhaps 1/4 mile from the start.

Map- and trail sign distances say it's 1.4 miles along the Canyon Trail to the Ridge Trail junction, and it's 1.5 miles from the Ridge Trail trailhead to Skull Rock. That would make a total roundtrip distance of 4.4 miles.

The sign at the formal trailhead says it's 1.0 miles to Temescal Waterfall, and 1.4 miles to Temescal Ridge Trail.

If coming from the Canyon trail, there's a wooden bridge at the creek crossing, just after you'd see the falls. That's just helpful to know if the waterfall is mostly dry, as it is apt to be in mid-July of a very dry year. You'll at least know that you've arrived at the waterfall. ;D

After the waterfall, the trail bears to the left and climbs out of the canyon, meeting the Ridge Trail after 4/10ths of a mile of switchbacks. The view up and down Temescal Canyon improves as you climb.

When you reach the junction, if you did want to head back to the parking lot, you'd have to make a very sharp left turn. Apparently, this is not obvious, since I ran into a quartet of young women who were nearly at Skull Rock before running into me and learning that they were heading the wrong way.

As for me, I studied my map at the junction and knew I wanted to add some mileage, so I headed to Skull Rock on purpose.

As the name implies, much of this trail (both north and south of the junction) is on the ridge. That means a better breeze here than down in the canyon.

I walked past the skull an approached it from the north. In retrospect, it would probably be just about as easy to approach it from the south.

At the skull, there are clear views in all directions. There are also lots of homes within the view shed. This is not the most isolated part of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Up close, the skull is scalloped, with several caves and holes to look into.

The most skull-like appearance is from right in front of it, from the south. There's a small protrusion that looks a little like a hooked nose. That's it, at the top of this post.

On the return, I made excellent time. Also, because of the breeze and because there was actually more vegetation providing bits of cover on the way back than I expected, it was much cooler than I expected. If you're hiking on a day without an on-shore breeze, of course, it would feel warmer.

Before I began the final descent towards the parking lot, there was a bit of a clearing where many people chose to rest, or await their trailing hiking companions. A single swallowtail butterfly glided and fluttered around, and I took many pictures of the insect each time it landed.

Then it was down a rather steep incline (not dangerously steep, mind you--just steep enough that I was happy to be heading down it rather than up.

Got back to the parking area, sat down at the shaded bench near the snack shop, and ate the breakfast sandwich I had bought that morning. Actually, I only bought the sandwich because I forgot my California State Parks Foundation pass, and knew I would have to park in the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy area, instead. For that, I would need exact change for the "iron ranger." So I took some money out of an ATM, then broke one of the twenties on my sandwich. It was soggy by now, but definitely still a tastier lunch than the Powerbar or Cliff bar I would otherwise be eating.

After eating and drinking my fill, I washed up and got ready for my second hike of the day, which would be to Will Rogers State Historic Park and back. That'll be my next post, I think.

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