06 March 2016

Sandstone Peak to Big Sycamore Canyon

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

Point Mugu State Park




There was an offer out to join a group doing a shuttle hike up and over Sandstone Peak and out the bottom of Big Sycamore Canyon. Do I really want to face the maximum downhill that the Santa Monica Mountains are capable of throwing at me, going from the highest point in the range to nearly sea level? Well, they are not all that high and there is nearly 15 miles to lose all that elevation in, so I grabbed my poles to help take on some of the impact and joined up.

Sandstone Peak Trailhead
Making a start on the Sandstone Peak Trail. The Backbone and Mishe Mokwa Trails can be combined for a nice loop.

The trail shows signs of erosion from the rains and is set with sandbags to form water bars. Today is a single day window between brief storms. The last one brought over an inch last night, but there is little mud on the trail. It is generally a little rocky and well drained. The mountains come quickly into view as we make the brief and only real climb of the day.

slightly cloudy peaks
Clouds make minor threats to the view from the top as we approach.

Yerba Buena
Yerba Buena Road winds its way below showing none of the treacherous rock fall that presented itself as frequent obstacles on the way up.


tiny vision of waves
Briefly, I can see all the way to the waves crashing upon the shore.

The rain over the last few months and especially after the last week has awakened the green in these mountains. The official start of spring is still a little way off, but the flowers are ready to start now. There are only a few so far, but some of them are feeling showy already.

Westlake Village
One of the lakes near Westlake Village.

no climbers today
Balancing Rock and Echo Cliffs are more associated with the other side of the loop, but can be spied from high enough up. We can hear the creek flowing below.

prickly phlox
Some prickly phlox still holds a few raindrops.

A sign indicates the trail does a U-turn, but we opt for the stairs off to the side instead. The brush is narrow in a few places as we climb the last few feet to the top of Sandstone Peak. Someone started to carve more steps in the rocks, but got tired of this after a few. From there, trails lead all over and we must simply choose what footing looks best as we work to the high point and the memorial.

on top of Sandstone Peak
Those last few steps up to the top of Sandstone Peak looking along our next path.

the other peaks
The nearby peaks from Sandstone Peak. The more distant (and higher) ranges are hiding in cloud.

Careful steps get us down again and heading on into the flats. Well, there is a relatively flat area with many small peaks. Each one has character and interest and probably even a common name. There seems to be a difference of opinion as to which one, exactly, is Old Boney. Probably it is all of it and the rest are just details on top.

stones with eyes
Sometimes it seems like the stone hills are watching us.

more peaks
Tripeaks on the left has a number of caves below its split peak. The far peak is one that sometimes is marked as Boney or simply Tripeaks east.

We stop by Inspiration Point and check out a second memorial before moving on. A little further, Scott spots the monument left by a surveyor. It is a quarter section corner marked T1N at the top and T1S at the bottom. We are on the San Bernardino Peak baseline. Further down, there is the creek we heard earlier. The nearby peaks seem to be weeping water to fill it. It quickly shrinks as we continue slightly higher again.

creek flowing well
Plenty of water in the creek today.

California peony bud
The California peonies are coming up and a few already have buds forming.

weeping hillsides
The hillsides are weeping with water as they drain toward the creek below. The little tributaries, like the one here, are numerous today too.

Somewhere, there is a subtle top and we start to drop. We dive into canyons of brush and the drop gets steeper. Soon, we are shedding elevation quickly with glimpses out of the brush to the wide valley below turned grey with the thin clouds. To the south is another of the Boney Mountain options, but we see very little of it.

hidden rocks
A glimpse of rocks to the north through the brush.

canyons of brush
Hard to get lost along the canyons of brush.

two mushrooms
Mushrooms are also emerging with the rains.

quite a lot of Point Mugu State Park
Looking out over the northern part of Point Mugu State Park and the Thousand Oaks area and the Oxnard plain.

We finally fully break out of the brush and into the vast view off the edge of Old Boney. On down the hill is a cracked rock distinctly adorned with a plaque. This is the last memorial along our route, or at least the last one we visit. Not too far past this is the fire line of the 2013 burn. It is a lot less grey now.

Point Mugu State Park
Henry Chamberlain memorial along the trail named for him. The aging burn of Point Mugu State Park is greening up behind it.

chared sticks and a green valley
The burn up close and far away. Green sprouts below the charred chaparral where tiny yellow poppies, the hardiest of them all, and bind weed bloom.

cliffs of Old Boney
Old Boney shows some cliffs with a shock of red.

shooting star
Shooting stars waiting to be pollinated.

Finally, the downhill begins to lessen. We come to a junction and happily someone knows the direction for the Backbone Trail, because that detail is not signed. The downhill still has not stopped as we climb into another creek. This one is not flowing and just has a few muddy pools to show a storm has passed. The sycamores along it are showing a lot of regrowth from the roots or new leaves up high or even both. It is nice to see how many of them survived. The downhilll lessens more as we pass another junction and then come into Danielson Camp.

burn area
Following the trail down into the burn area.

mud puddle with cactus and pipes
One of a few mud puddles, but this one is adorned with cactus and old pipes for the ranch house.

tables at Danielson Camp
Tables and more at the camp next to the old ranch house.

Boney Mountain
Boney Mountain is quite forbidding from way down here.

The old ranch house is just past the camp and part of the buildings used by the park service. There is piped water for all to use along with the various other facilities. We turn down Big Sycamore Canyon. We have lost just about all the elevation we can, so the going is nearly flat now. The greatest slope is the dip to cross the creek on the many crossings. The creek does not seem to be flowing, but most of the crossings have water today. Junctions are frequent and it seems like there are trails to get to everything once in this huge valley. One of them is the continuation of the Backbone Trail, but that part will wait for another time. There are a few more drinking fountains and even another toilet along the side. Traveling outside the wilderness in the state park is luxury.

Big Sycmore Canyon Road
Down the road is the skelatal remains of another ranch building.

sycamore by the creek
A big sycamore in Big Sycamore Canyon.

more road
Onward down the canyon.

We have spent too much time lollygagging and it is dark by the time we finish. One is particularly tired and the campground and then the car is a relief to see at the end. For me, careful downward travel and the poles seem to have kept the impact of downhill travel down to a minimum. It is possible to do.




©2016 Valerie Norton
Posted 11 Mar 2016

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