Friday, September 24, 2010

Hike 88: Sandstone Peak

Hiked Thursday, September 23. This was another hike mentioned on a past episode of Motion, the outdoor activity show that airs on KABC 7.2 at 7pm M-S (opposite Jeopardy!). (Here's a link to the episode that included the Sandstone Peak hike, as well as a hike to the Hollywood sign and the M*A*S*H hike, which I have also done and blogged about).

Unfortunately for me, it's WAY west of where I live. It took about 90 minutes driving there and about two hours to get back (catching rush hour traffic). Also, the last bit there is slow and winding. I felt a little nauseated by the time the car stopped.

Following directions I found elsewhere on the Internet, I took the 101 Freeway west, exited at Westlake Blvd (CA-23) and headed south. After about a mile and a half, the typical wide, suburban boulevard turns into a narrow two-lane road. At one bend, I took a wrong turn and inadvertently left Westlake. The "Not a Through Street" sign quickly tipped me off, and I got back on Westlake. After about three miles of climbing and weaving, Westlake merges into Mullholland Highway, westbound. But it's still a narrow and winding road there.

Just under two miles later, Mullholland makes a sharp right (it's signed); the "straight" direction is Decker Canyon Road. Less than 1/2 mile later, Little Sycamore Canyon Road will be on your right. You continue on yet another narrow, winding road. After about 2 1/2 miles, Little Sycamore Canyon Road turns into Yerba Buena Road. It's still narrow and winding.

Somewhere along the way, when the pavement turns lousy, you know you have crossed back over into Ventura County. The mileage markers on the side of the road will now say "VC" at the top, with a number that gets smaller as you proceed. Not long after you pass "VC 8.0," you'll see a very obvious trailhead on the right. There's a large parking area across the highway (on your left). Park there.

On the left where you just parked, there'll be a trailhead sign indicating the Backbone Trail, which continues 4.2 miles (8.4 miles RT) to the east. On the right (north) side of the road, there's another sign, indicating that this is also the Backbone Trail, and that the Mishe Mokwa and Sandstone Peak Trailheads are just a few tenths of a mile ahead. There should also be a small metal box at this trailhead, with (hopefully) a bunch of small maps folded inside.

If the box is empty, then you're out of luck, unless you already printed out a copy of the brochure at this conveniently-provided link. Other Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area brochures are available here.

If you just want to bag Sandstone Peak, the direct trail from trailhead is given as three miles. But this is a long way to have driven for a three mile hike, so I decided to do the Mishe Mokway Trail-Backbone trail loop to Sandstone Peak. The brochure gives a 6 mile roundtrip distance for the Mishe Mokwa to Sandstone Peak hike. Signs on the trail say it's a 1 mile roundtrip detour if you also add Tripeaks (which I did).

Going the long way, after an initially steep climb, the trail is relatively flat as it heads parallel above a drainage. Looking to southeast, there's a pretty nice view of the Santa Monica Mountains.

After about 1.5 miles, you'll see Balanced Rock to your right, across the drainage. The rocks here look old and worn.

Not long after Balanced Rock, I came across a huge Rattlesnake, sunning itself on a rock, while also keeping itself partially hidden in the grass. I took a few pictures of it before the snake realized I was there. When it did, it shook its rattle vigorously. Even after I left, I could hear the rattling when I was well over 60 yards away.

The trail then crosses a small seep (I'm sure the water flows deeper in the winter and spring). After crossing, I saw a picnic table and what was obviously "Split Rock" (a rock that was, yes, split in several points). The first sign at the start of this trail told me Split Rock was 1.7 miles from the start, so I knew I was nearly 1/3 done with my hike.

Right after Split Rock, I noticed a tremendous number of lady bugs in the brown grass and dirt along the trail. Not sure what that was about.

The trail then heads up yet another drainage. It also begins to dry out some more. I suspect that as you climb, you rise above the normal marine layer (there was no marine layer on this day, so I'm just speculating). My impression of drying out was confirmed, however, when I saw a mazanita bush to my right. Hadn't seen any other mazanitas until this part of the trail.

When it leveled off, I was amused by the sight of a couple of cottonwoods (or possibly aspen), growing far away from where they should be growing.

Upon seeing a sign for Tripeaks, and having a recollection of reading about this detour on Modern Hiker dot com, I took the detour.

It was getting pretty hot, and parts of the climb were steep. But since you're at low altitude and it wasn't THAT hot, I pushed on.

The last bit of the trail is pretty undefined, but you just keep heading up.

The view at the top was worth it. Most of the view is towards the west and northwest (That's the shot at the top of this post). I could hear the rumble of what sounded like a military jet, flying out of Point Magu NAS. I could also see some expansive agricultural lands, probably where some of my summer strawberries grew up. :D Several Channel Islands were further off in the distance.

Made my way back to the Backbone Trail and continued my loop. I ignored the road that led to a couple of water tanks and continued on to Inspiration Point. There's a small monument there to a deceased Boy Scout. On top of the monument is a small "pointer," with various locations marked. I looked along the mark for Mount Baldy, but, if it was visible, it was definitely not distinct.

The marker also pointed out a Mt. Allen, to the north. Not indicated was a Sandstone Peak, which seemed kind of weird, until I later determined that Mt. Allen was what Sandstone Peak used to be called.

Continued on to Sandstone Peak. The last bit there is also pretty steep. There are several "use trails" that provide alternative routes up, but I took the signed, official way up. Views from here were panoramic, as you're on top of the tallest point in the Santa Monica Mountains.

I finished the last of my Gatorade up here. I didn't realize it was "the last," until I looked for the other bottle that I was sure I stuck in my backpack that morning. Fortunately, it wasn't that hot (low 80s) and I was only about a mile and a half from my car.

The last bit of trail runs parallel, but above and to the west, of the Mishe Mokwa Trail that the day's adventure began on. While walking the short connector segment between the Sandstone Peak Trail and Mishe Mokwa Trail, I passed two young men, heading the other way. They were the first two people I saw on the trail all day. I also saw two other young men coming off the trail back in the parking lot, when I started my hike. Also, on the register on Sandstone Peak, I saw one other name for the day. All in all, that's not a lot of foot traffic for a well-known trail in southern California. But, after all, it is a heck of drive for us living on the Eastside, and it was a weekday.


  1. No picture of Skull Rock :)

    I'm replying to your comment from my post:

    As this trail is quite far from your houese, it's relatively close to mine. We are in different areas yet we cover much of the same ground. One of these days, we'll prolly run into each other on the trail. Heck, better you than that snake!

  2. That's 'cause I visited this other Skull Rock, in Topanga State Park. It looked more skull-like to me!

    I was surprised to discover I had done the Sandstone Peak hike so long ago. Sure doesn't seem like it!