Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen Hike 1: Malibu Creek - Backbone Trail "Walkabout"

In my never-ending quest to provide you, dear reader, with all the information you need to succeed, I hereby provide these hike "spotlights" on certain Mt Whitney Dirty Dozen hikes that you, dear reader, ask about repeatedly.

A lot of folks write or ask me at clinics about Hike #1.  They can't find the trailhead or it's hard to follow the trail itself.  The guidebooks are a little vague on the particulars as well so my wife Robin (our photographer du jour unless otherwise credited) and I headed out to document the hike's beginning.  Or the end, if you decide to do it counter-clockwise.

I'm a rebel...

 Personally, I like to hike this loop clockwise.  The trail climbs more precipitously but I'd rather go up more steeply than down.  Hiking counter-clockwise means more total miles climbing but at an easier grade.  I just like the way it plays out better clockwise.  Plus, you're not staring into the sun while traveling on top of the ridge
(Natalie Moore photo)
However, it is easier to start counter-clockwise by parking in the main lot and following the "Backcountry Trails" signs.  After those, follow the signs for the old M*A*S*H TV show set (now somewhat restored).  A guidebook can take you the rest of the way. Towards the end, consult the pics below and follow the directions backwards.

If you want to do it my way, follow along as Robin and I get you started on a grand day out in the beautifully sublime Santa Monica Mountains.  You'll be gawking at the most expensive real estate in the world as well.

(Natalie Moore photo)
The main entrance to Malibu Creek State Park lies just south of the Las Virgenes Road - Mulholland Highway intersection.

First obstacle to negotiate is the entrance kiosk where your wallet will be lightened to the tune of 12 bucks for parking.  Try convincing the ranger you're a senior for a one-dollar discount.  Using words like "World-Wide Web," "MySpace," or "Flip-Phone" will probably work.

UTM 11 S 0342041 E  3774630 N  WGS 84
 You can choose to park in the main lot and hike this road  to the trailhead or stay in the car for a short minute and park next to it.  The hike ends at the main parking area so take your pick.  If going counter-clockwise, follow this crosswalk, then the signs indicating the trail.
UTM 11 S 0341605 E  3774169 N  WGS 84
  Driving or walking, do not miss this right turn.  Follow the sign toward the group camping area.
UTM 11 S 0341694 E   3773959 N  WGS 84
Follow the now-dirt road to this parking lot.  Park here or cross the lot to the far (northeast) corner to the gap in the railing.  That's the trailhead.
UTM 11 S 0341901 E  3773766 N  WGS 84

Close-up of the trailhead.  Don't know if the spigot in the center works.  Bring plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat on this one.  This hike will burn you even on a cloudy day.
UTM 11 S 0341932 E  3773760 N  WGS 84

You are now on the Tapia Spur Trail in the oak-and-grass country covering large areas of CA.

First glimpse of Camp Gonzales, a juvenile detention center.

Closer in, one can make out the walls, fences, and razor wire.

Welcome to the Backbone Trail.

The trail forks past the detention center after some descent.  The left fork is prettier, the right fork more direct.

Left-forkers will find this footbridge.  Turn right on the road after the bridge.

The trails converge at the gated entrance to Tapia Park.  Skip the road and pass between the two yellow posts to walk the trail paralleling the road.
UTM 11 S 0342162 E  3772866 N  WGS 84

A good time to work on our poison oak identification.  Robin's photo shows three manifestations of the same plant.  It's active no matter what color or how glossy.  Leaflets three, let it be.

Leave the trail and regain the now-dirt road for an area I call the Tunnel of Trees.  Oak trees inhabit the left side of the road, sycamores on the right (creek) side

Upon reaching this gate, do not follow the paved road.  Stay to the right instead.

Look for a small picnic grove next to the paved road and a small parking area.  These two picnic tables are the only ones of their type in this small grove.  Pass to the left of the two tables and follow the trail to Las Virgenes Road.  Or, for a more scenic route, pass to the right of the two tables and follow the trail to a tee intersection.  Turn left and head towards the auto bridge.  Pass under the bridge and follow the trail until it reaches Piuma Road.

If you went left, cross this intersection and cross the bridge behind the guardrail on the left-hand side.  Right-goers come into the picture from the left side of the parking lot pictured, having already crossed under the bridge.  Avoid crossing the bridge in the right-hand lane.  There is no protection from cars going 50-60 miles per hour.

Re-cross the road again (end up on the right side) to enter this parking lot not too far from the other side of the bridge.  The next trail section starts in the middle of the lot.

Just outside the photo on the right side is a sign that reads "Trail" with an arrow pointing directly at the Port-A-John.  I assure you nothing good can come from following that arrow.

Instead, walk about 100 feet past the Port-A-John, then by a closed, mouldering "permanent" restroom and find this sign. Enjoy the next 1,600 vertical feet on your way to the Mesa peak Motorway. 
UTM 11 S 0342758 E  3772357 N  WGS 84
A good guidebook will get you around from here to the trail's end at UTM 0341643 E 3774178 N where a soda machine sits for your drinking pleasure.  You still have to drive home so don't get nuts drinking Cactus Cooler.

Now for all you conformists......

If you're traveling counter-clockwise around the loop, the Piuma road intersection looks like this.  You can cross the street here and head into Tapia Park but where's the fun in that?  Instead, turn right on Piuma road and look for the trail past the end of the parking lot.  Follow the trail under the bridge, then take take the right fork when the trail diverges.  The road less traveled.

Go through the yellow gate to the Tunnel of Trees, then look for the trail on the right just before the road you're following turns back into pavement.  Go through the aforementioned yellow posts, then look across the road to find this sign.  Follow the arrow, go past the detention center and follow the above directions backwards.  Easy, right?

I love this 14.5-mile jaunt.  My wife Robin loves it.  My stepdaughter Natalie did it four times in one month alternating directions around the loop.  Completing this hike in six hours or less (including lunch and breaks) means your basic conditioning is good enough to get serious about Mt Whitney after completing the hiking and running programs I've outlined in many previous posts.  If you struggle to complete this hike in the allotted time, consider taking a year to condition yourself to ensure a successful Whitney climb. Believe me, it will still be there when you're really ready.

(Natalie Moore photo)

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