Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hike 2012.035 -- Cistern Trail, Lookout Trail, Crags Road, and Cage Creek Trails Loop to MASH site

Hiked Saturday, June 16. Extremely detailed distance and altitude information is available here. The route I followed is described here.

The trail head is on the south side of Mullholland Highway, 1.8 miles west of Las Virgines Road. Mulholland is roughly 3 miles south of U.S. 101 (the Ventura Freeway). The Las Virgines exit is 14.5 miles west of the San Diego Freeway (I-405).

Once you turn on to Mulholland Highway, note your odometer reading. There is no obvious signpost at the Cistern trail head. There's only shoulder parking (on the south side of the road), and there may or may not be any cars there. Also, if there are cars following you, making a U-turn here (right after a right curve) is not a good idea. Pull over and let them pass you before you get here, or be ready to pass the trailhead and turn around further on down the road.

Several of the blogs I read regularly have visited this area recently, and got me to thinking about a return visit. I probably wouldn't have come back here, except 1) I already had to come out to Van Nuys for some work-related stuff, and 2) My wife mentioned the hike, and I was under the impression she might like to walk out to the M*A*S*H location, again.

Our previous visit to the M*A*S*H location was, it is hard to believe, nearly two years ago. Then, we took the Grasslands Trail south to Crags Road, then headed west to the M*A*S*H location. (On a bit of a digression, it's funny, but I religiously typed the location as "M*A*S*H" rather than MASH in my original post, which meant when I searched my own blog for "MASH" yesterday, my own write-up was actually on the second page of my own blog's search results. Funny. I'll have to add the alternate spelling somewhere in my post tags, I guess).

Although the ending 1.1 miles are identical either way, these two routes provide very different experiences. The Grasslands Trail appears to be much more popular, and provides plenty of, well, rolling hills of grasslands and impressive live oaks rising above those hills.

By contrast, the Cistern Trail has more of a coastal scrub feel to it. The ground cover is largely sage rather than grass. The higher perspective also makes those crags to the south look a lot more rugged and impressive. On the other hand, because of the starting point, there's a comparatively substantial, ~400 feet of gross altitude change in getting from Mulholland Highway to Crags Road Trail.

The Cistern trail begins with a short but somewhat steep climb up a hill, behind a wooden powerline poll. Once at the top, there's a concrete foundation and a burst of matilija poppies.

You then head south, along the ridge, with plenty of nice views of those crags in front of you. After just 1/4 mile, you hit the Lookout Trail. I turned left here, because it seemed more direct. After just 1/2 mile of switchbacks, I was at Crags Road. The sign there told me it was .7 miles back up to Mulholland Highway. Along the way, I enjoyed several clear views of little Century Lake, tucked beneath those peaks. Three days after this hike, I eventually did visit the lake, but, on this hike, I simply headed west on Crags Road.

Crags Road is wide and, if it were open, would be passable by two-wheel drive passenger vehicles, at least until the bridge over Malibu Creek. From your junction with the Lookout Trail, you'll pass another unsigned trail, also coming in from your right as you head east. That's Cage Creek trail. I didn't know that at the time I passed it, but I ended up returning that way, then checking a map when I got home.

When you finally cross Malibu Creek, the road becomes a trail. Plenty of oaks and walnut here, so there's lots of shade. That's welcome because, despite the "Malibu" in the name, this park gets very warm in the summer.

In total, it's supposed to be 1.1 miles along Crags Road to get to the M*A*S*H set. The first thing you see is a painted army ambulance, which wasn't there two years ago.

Beyond that are the rusted, burned frames of a jeep and another army ambulance. A tool shed to the right contains some interpretive information about the set. Signs are also scattered around, and a replica of the directional signpost from the middle of the 4077 provides no aid to navigation, unless you're seeking memories.

There are also a number of picnic benches to eat your lunch here, though they afford no shade.

A short trail to the rise to the south of the camp is where the helicopter pad used to be. It's smaller than you would expect.

Climb up a bit higher (or stand on a chair or something) and look to the east. The mountains before you were the ones the helicopters came zipping in front of in the opening credits to the tv series. The vegetation has grown somewhat in the past 30 years or so, however, so the view is less expansive than it used to be. But compare the shot I took with a screen grab of a YouTube clip from the tv series.

After I had my fill of MASH memories, I headed on back. As noted above, I took the trail just before the Lookout Trail. It had a crossed out picture of a bike there, indicating no bikes. It was a narrow trail, but it seemed like it would give me more shade on the way up. And, especially during the early part, it did. It made its way up a narrow canyon (no creek on this day), with plenty of large trees to give me shade.

I paused at a flower bush to try to get a picture of a butterfly. While doing that, a hummingbird visited a plant not too far away. My shutter speed was way to slow to "freeze" the hummingbird. Instead, the wings are an invisible blur, so it looks like the hummingbird is just a wingless body, suspended in space.

A bit higher, Cage Creek trail intersected with the Lookout trail. It went both left and right here, but I knew right was the way home. More interesting flowers here, including what looked like a fuzzy lupine.

Eventually, I was back at the junction with Cistern trail, which I headed on up and returned to my car.

A short, 3.6 miles roundtrip. 400 feet of altitude loss and gain. Nice views of Malibu Creek.

This hike, though shorter by about 3/4 of a mile roundtrip versus hiking to the MASH site from inside the park, is more strenuous because of the climb. But if you can handle the climb, it's quick, and it's free. By contrast, it's $12 to park inside Malibu Creek State Park.

On the other hand, if you join the California State Parks Foundation as with an introductory membership, for $25 you get 7 day passes to state parks (two visits to Malibu Creek State Park would just about pay for itself) and a one-year subscription to Sunset magazine. (edit--as of 2014, they only give four day passes to state parks for basic membership).

I've joined them a couple of times, but this might have been the first year I've actually used any of the day passes. I've used two already. One for Malibu Creek (which I came back to on Tuesday), and one for Chino Hills (which I visited on Monday).

Incidentally, today (Wednesday), I hiked Cahuenga Peak in Griffith Park. I'm trying to get as much hiking in now as possible, since when I start my part-time job (on top of my current full-time job), I won't be having nearly as much time for hiking.


  1. Cool place to hike. I've heard about it a lot.

  2. Lots of options, too, but I can't stress enough that this place can get hot. Definitely bring the water and a hat.