Santa Monica Mountains – How do I love you? Let me count the ways. This is less of a trip report than a love letter!
After going through a divorce in my mid 40s, I joined the singles group at my church, in Torrance, CA. They were into all kinds of outdoor activities and I started going with them. Many of those activities were in the Santa Monica Mountains.
I learned to mountain bike in Sullivan Canyon. This was one of my first activities there, and became one of my favorite ones. My first ride was up the fire road (Farmer’s Ridge?) to the old Nike Station, then across the ridge and ride down Sullivan Canyon. It was a favorite weekend activity with the group for years. Sullivan was always changing due to the spring rains. We also rode up it, and down the ridge for a change, or both up and down the canyon. The Whoop de Doos were another fun ride, on a ridge to the northeast of Sullivan, as well as Sullivan ridge, above Rustic Canyon and the Backbone Trail.
Somewhere along the line, somebody told me you could do it at night with lights – a whole new world opened up! My friend Milana and I did weekly Monday night rides for years. I could out climb her, but couldn’t keep her in sight on the way down. My longest ride there was from Redondo Beach to Sunset Blvd., to Will Rogers State Park, up the Backbone Trail, down Sullivan and then returning the same way. It was a solo ride, I started in the afternoon and I got home after 1:00 am. My worst scare was another solo ride up Sullivan Canyon, when I decided to explore a small side trail. I had new clipless pedals and wasn’t used to them. Crossing a small ditch, I couldn’t get one foot free and fell into the ditch and fractured a kidney. Another trip to the emergency room and a day in ICU, followed by 30 days of bed rest.
The Santa Monicas were a favorite hiking place as well. I started out hiking the same trails we mountain biked, then hiked every trial I could find. Rustic Canyon was a favorite, as well as the Backbone Trail from Will Rogers State Park. The old Nazi site in Rustic Canyon was always fun, especially the 500 steps going back up to the road. All the trails around Topanga State Park and up to Point Mugu, including Sandstone Peak, the highest point in the Santa Monicas, at a towering 3,111 feet. I started night hiking there with the Twilight Hikers, and then spent countless nights out there alone, exploring all the trails I knew, this time at night, usually without a light. The glow from the city lights was usually enough to see by. For years I led night hikes for our church group, for SCARABS, an adventure racing club, and for about a year, monthly full moon hikes for a friend who worked at Backpacker Magazine. Later I spent more time hiking in the San Gabriel Mountains, but never will forget the Santa Monicas.
When some friends said they were going rock climbing, I asked if I could go with them. We went to Stoney Point and I fell in love with Rock Climbing. It was the only thing that kept us from mountain biking every Saturday. The Pot Holes were one of my favorites, including the crack there. My greatest victory was when I was able to climb the A-Frame, my first 5.9 climb. The Jesus Wall and many others I can’t remember now, but all great memories. We also climbed some at Point Mugu and then a few trips to Big Bear, Castle Rock, I think it was. One of the greatest things about climbing in the Santa Monicas was doing it with my son, Luke. He was only about 14 at the time, but was a good climber and the group trusted him to belay, which really made me feel good.
I hadn’t run since I was in track in high school, but Kathy, one of my friends, was into running. We ran a lot in Topanga State Park, and I did my first trail 10K there, The Tough Topanga 10K, with Milana and others. The SCARAB group was doing night runs to the Nike site, and beyond, from Mulholland Drive, and I ran with them some. From this start, came weekly runs on the Woodchip Path in the South Bay, and I ran in a number of 10Ks and even did a half marathon. This last spring, I was the trail sweep for a friend who put on a 50K run on the Backbone Trail.
Our singles group went on some camping trips at Leo Carrillo State Park, which led to backpacking in the Grand Canyon and then hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Many of our training hikes for the local L.A. peaks, as well as Whitney, and the Grand Canyon were in Rustic Canyon.
So many people living in the Los Angeles area complain about the hectic life in the Big City, the crowds, crime and traffic. Well the traffic caused problems getting there, but I could be in the Santa Monica Mountains in a hour or less most of the time, and coming home late at night only took about 30 minutes. It is a whole different world, just minutes off the 405 freeway, waiting to give relief to all who are looking for it.
I love you, Santa Monica Mountains!