02 August 2013

Boney Mountain

Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa, Santa Monica Mountains NRA

Boney Mountain State Wilderness, Point Mugu SP

Locate the trail head.

The predicted temperatures inland range right up to 100°F, but on the coast there are still areas expecting a nice 70°F. Being somewhat suspicious of the predictions, I pack enough water for hiking in over 80°F temperatures and decided to climb Boney Mountain from the Thousand Oaks side. The area has been recently burned and the weatherman isn't predicting for the mountain top, so I wasn't going to take any chances with the precious liquid. Normally, a recent burn would put an area off limits, but the relevant agencies have decided that all may continue to use the land as long as they stay on established trails and keep to the hours of sunrise to sunset. There is danger from fire smoldering inside trees, but this can be carefully checked for along the trails and there are a few reasons to invite the public back onto the land.

bushes reduced to burned sticks
Setting off from the main entrance area of Rancho Sierra Vista/Satwiwa for Boney Mountain quickly finds a burned hillside, but also plenty that is not burned.

The day is very hazy, especially toward the ocean. The air is still, but the scent of ash is prevalent, and no wonder with so much sitting a few feet away. Rounding a small hill, the mountain looms above. Past some trees, and it looms more clearly over a vast, dry grassland and a distant hill. The vegetation on the hill shows a stark line between black and green running near its ridge line, but the mountain looks green through the grey from this side.

Boney Mountain behind the local scenery
A bit grey, but still green instead of black, Boney Mountain looms up above.

top of Sycamore Canyon
Looking back over the grassland, the main path is a paved road into Sycamore Canyon that extends all the way to the sea. It does eventually turn to dirt on the way.

large, charred sugar bush with new stuff sprouting from below
A once large sugar bush starting the long process of growing to mature size again.

Paths cross here and there, not always clearly marked but the correct route isn't hard to find. I climb a fire road toward the edge of a canyon, then drop into it following the signs for a waterfall and a monument. The canyon was scorched from the top to the bottom. Clumps of vegetation remain at the very bottom, but they don't look very healthy.

a few rock steps along a dirt path in the bottom of the burned canyon
A bit of trail that should be hidden by trees in the bottom of the canyon is clearly visible now.

The road travels down to the bottom of the canyon where it meets the trail, then makes a long crossing and starts to climb up the other side. Looking down at just the right moment shows there is a little water down there as there is a pool of surface water tucked in by a big rock. The road turns up the canyon side the other way, but I continue past a burned sign post to follow a spur up a tributary to a waterfall expecting nothing but rock. A few pools and a trickle of water greet me as I spook a Cooper's Hawk having a drink. The little hawk glares at me from a high branch while I poke around the rocks that present excellent scrambling opportunities.

mostly a dry bit of eroded rocks, but with a trickle of water toward the bottom and some pools
The top of the waterfall may be dry, but somewhere it find some water and the last stones have a trickle flowing over them.

Turning back and starting the climb up the side of the canyon, I notice that the live oaks are singed at the bottom, but the leaves at the top are dead and brown without showing any burning. To the east, I can see a hillside that is a patchwork of burned and unburned areas where the edges show brown as well, but a few feet from the edge becomes green. Some old pipe comes down along one section of the road and stays with it as it wraps around the canyon wall and into the same tributary with the small waterfall and out of the burn area. The road continues to climb past a junction, but I take the spur that has been allowed to become overgrown leaving only a narrow trail which travels to a standing chimney and monument.

Boney Mountain coming back into view and the burn area stopping
Crossing into unburned chaparral under Boney Mountain.

foundation and chimney remains of an old cabin
The remains of the cabin of the donor of the land are a few steps, a broken floor, and a chimney. The monument is just down the hill and explains that this cabin belonged to the man who donated the land.

The old road continues past the cabin ruins although by the time it gets to the cabin, the only indication it was a road is the double dotted line on a map. As the trail climbs the hills, it becomes an outstanding example of bad trail building. Traveling perpendicularly to the contours, it clearly becomes a torrent when there is rain and there are canyons four feet deep in some sections. Of course, it does mean that the views open up quickly.

burned hills around Hidden Valley
The burned hills around Hidden Valley and a little bit of that excellent example of bad trail building.

Boney Mountain and the western ridge
A look out over the western ridge with Boney Mountain on the far left.

Coming to what looks like a junction, I turn left to follow the ridge a short way to the peak. The views to the southeast are suddenly quite familiar as I pick out the two water tanks just off the Backbone Trail near where it passes Sandstone Peak. I realize the peak with a nearby, much lower flagged peak I'd seen a while ago really was the tallest peak in the local mountains and didn't just look a bit like it. I follow the ridge past a couple bumps of rock before deciding to climb one that isn't very hard and have a look around. It is the tallest of these peaks, so well chosen.

looking down Mishe Mokwa and Chamberlain Trails
Looking down over the Mishe Mokwa and Backbone Trails, part of the loop to Sandstone Peak.

a distant peak
Sandstone Peak rising in the distance.

ridge the way I came
The rather lower knobs of rock I hiked past.

two more peaks in the area make the Tri-peaks area
Looking southwest, there should be some ocean, but there's just a couple of taller peaks.

the far mountains rise out of the murk
They've been hidden by the murk all day, but with the last of the climb, there are suddenly mountains distant to the north.

Noting a couple higher looking peaks somewhat southward and a trail between here and there, as well as a hiker who had passed me on the way up coming back from them, I decide to keep on going. As best as I can tell from the contourless map of Circle X Ranch, the peak I left is the northernmost of Tri Peaks and the two I saw from it are the other two that make it "tri" and are both about 100 feet taller. I follow the trail down with a little difficulty as there are a lot of trails to choose from and they often suddenly get tight among some bushes. I follow it up easily as I enter into more burn area. The trail hangs to the east and travels around the edge of a clump of boulders. A few trails start up into them and I eventually duck under a low bridge of rock to follow one. An even lower bridge is off to my right and I resist the urge to duck under it to. Instead, I climb past a number of small trees, noticing the smell of bay from time to time, and eventually pop out the other side after a few twists where I find a burned geocache along more well used path.

a very holed sandstone beside a singed tree
The rocks here are full of holes.

rocks leaning together to make low headroom
A hole into the jumble of rocks that is this second peak. This one is popular for the "caves" the rocks form.

I follow the path back around the edge of the jumble of rocks, looking in at one spot. Coming around to a spot I recognize, the temptation to duck under the lower bridge of rock grabs hold again and I go for it. A campfire ring and another geocache are in the open chamber. There is a bit of string in the geocache for those who might want to explore the caves. I choose to ignore that I have a lamp and instead wander along some very narrow and tilted passages, past a lost hat weighed down with rocks, and up to closer to the top than I thought I could get just looking at the rocks jutting up vertically.

narrow and tall slot in the rocks
A narrow slot between the rocks that requires a bit of leaning to get through.

the tops of some of those rocks
The top of this peak has, itself, three peaks.

Climbing down by yet another route, at least after passing the hat again, I find some longer and brighter string for exploring caves but manage to still leave it alone. I climb down some entirely too steep for comfort rocks, but manage not to even scrape a bit of skin on the way down. The numerous massive footholds help. Following my route back down to the junction I had noted, I follow it only to find this is the route of the people who don't know how to get to the peak. It starts flat, then climbs steeply, then flat again, then steeply with the rock to one side and is much less comfortable as it climbs than the wide highway along the rocks of the other trail. I then pick a trail on the far side of my first peak and start down it. This is uncomfortable at first as it goes through a spot burn because the burned branches seem to extend across the route. It feels like it must be new trail, until it plunges into knee high unburned chaparral that shows a much older route.

looking out from the ridge to a misty Sycamore Canyon
Looking out from the ridge, Sycamore Canyon is still full of thick air.

At first, it is gentle, but it quickly gets steeper. It doesn't seem too steep and there are frequent spurs to the edge of the ridge that drops steeply to the south. There are moments of losing it slightly as people go down the steep rock instead of an available walking route. I cross over a few old paint arrows, and then come to a down climb with no other options and have to wonder if I may have been negligent in not checking if this route is official. It isn't, but Point Mugu SP doesn't seem to supply a map to anything but a campground to make that clear. After a couple more climbs and ignoring what looks like really good tread but has no foot prints while the rest of the trail has plenty, I find myself going steeply down a trench of loose dirt with rock on one side and poison oak on the other. Hearing voices below, I look for a place to let people pass. It takes a few more yards, but I find one as three boys come up making pretty good time for the 45° angle of this route and the poison oak encouraging careful hand placement.

a bit of trail through knee high chaparral
A section of the upper trail, well established and not yet all that steep.

Getting to the bottom of the chute, there is another bit of refreshing flat before some further, but shorter, scrambles. I must have been too discouraging in talking to them about the route they had left, which was still about a mile but would get much less steep for much of it and then allow returning by the quicker trail, because they came down a few minutes after me. A few spots are difficult for finding routes with keeping to the ridge usually the right choice, but sometimes not. I managed to choose wrong on just about everything near the bottom. I spot a cut with apparent trail along it below and decide to go for it with a lot of other footprints, but eventually they vanish before reaching the cut and then so does the bit of trail I have been following. The better choice was, of course, to stick to the ridge and take either the obvious bit of trail or the fuel cut left from fighting the fire. I swim back up through the saved chaparral to the top of the ridge again, then a few steps across the cut to get to the trail. Now I've got plenty of scratches and even managed a few slices with flaps of skin hanging off on one hand. From here, it is an easy stroll down past a benchmark to the unmarked junction with Old Boney Trail.

well holed rocks along the ridge line
Some of the rocks along the ridge line.

On the fire road trail, I turn left to see new things, but manage to become worried one of the cuts I keep seeing is actually the trail I want to take down but not signed. It is a ridiculous worry, but not finding the right trail will lead to many miles of extra hiking and getting back to a car locked into the lot. I end up letting this worry get to me and turn around to meet my route earlier, but also skip any hiking on pavement except to cross it. I get back with time to spare. Happily, the bathroom is still open so I can wash off my arms, which are covered in so much soot and dirt that I can't yet see the scratches, and find out that my face matches.

road cut apparently unused as trail
An old road cut that has been abandoned and reveled by the fire.

Looking over the newest useful USGS topo available for the area, a 1950 photorevised in 1967, the cut I saw from the ridge is an old road that used to go up from the cabin to Old Boney Trail near the ridge line. The cut I spotted on the other side joins with Fossil Trail as it reaches Sycamore Canyon.

©2013 Valerie Norton
Posted 5 August 2013


Scott Turner said...

So glad to see that everything higher up survived the fire. Boney has always been the best place to hike in the Santa Monicas, and I'm glad it's not a smoldering ruin. Thanks for the write-up.

Valerie Norton said...

Yep, besides some spots and the southwest side. Of course fire is part of the natural cycle and there may be some amazing displays of wildflowers coming to the canyon once the rains start. I'm still partial to the Sandstone Peak side for hiking, but I didn't see it at its best. I do want to see that waterfall in flow and I can find a few other reasons to revisit the area.