The brush fires whipped up by the Santa Ana winds in mid-October were visible all the way across the valley here in the foothills of the Santa Monicas. One night my daughter and I drove north across the Valley to get a closer look at the spreading conflagration — the Porter Ranch fire had replicated as the Sesnon fire — which outlined the black ridges in orange light.
Today, as I hiked the Chumash Trail up the flank of Rocky Peak in that range, I saw a bit of what those orange flames left behind. Everywhere blackened shrubs made the hillside look like ink drawings. All of the trail markers were burnt to charcoal, some so badly the carved letters were no longer readable. If it hadn’t been for the profusion of new growth fostered by the recent weeks of rain I would have been looking for the fissure in which to toss the One Ring of Power.
It’s a neat trail, the Chumash is. The proud ancient people would be proud it bears their proud name proudly. It took me up 1,100 feet over 2.5 miles for a total altitude of over 2,400 feet above the wetsuited surfboarders and it left me a staggering cripple as I crawled back into my car at trail’s end after almost three hours of cultivating some textbook blisters.
Why did I do this to myself? “Because it’s giggly fun!” as Sir Edmund Hillary (often misquoted) once said in regards to some other peak. But mostly because the last few days of cold weather had capped the mountains with snow. In my little Midwest heart I yearned to make a snow ball.
The Susanas (north of the Valley) weren’t so dramatically snow-capped as the much grander Gabriels (north and east of the Valley). In fact, the mantle of white on the sun-facing slopes, though glittering in the morning, had melted away by the time I had hoisted myself up above the snow-line. Ah, but in the cold, shadowed north faces, enough snow remained for me to fulfill my cherished dream with some left over.