Category Archives: Hiking

Rocky Peak Adventure

Just outside of Nome.What you see here is the photo I took at the summit of Rocky Peak. At 2,750 feet, this rugged promontory, well-deserving its petrological title, is the third highest point in the Santa Susana Mountains which form part of the northern boundary of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley.

If you want to enjoy the same vistas I gazed out upon from this lofty aerie — once, by the way, part of the vast real estate holdings of entertainer Bob Hope — your desire can easily be satisfied. All you need is a stout trek pole, sturdy boots, a boonie cap with a chin strap, three water bottles, two chicken sandwiches, a backpack full of Cuties™ mandarin oranges, an iPod loaded with I, Sniper, a Bob Lee Swagger novel by Stephen Hunter, a smartphone equipped with GPS, a camera for bringing back the proof of having reached the summit and the iron determination to plod wearily up thousands of feet of not-too-step yet all-too-steep much-fissured fire road.

My little guidebook calls the Rocky Peak Road an easy hike. So it is. Easy to take exit 32 off the Ronald Reagan Freeway. Easy to park in the turnout located to the south on Santa Ana Pass Road. Easy to cross north on the bridge over the Freeway to reach the trailhead.

After that less easy: an hour and half of glute-stressing climbing, followed — after a chicken sandwich break en plein air during which you can admire the view of the Pacific far to the west — by a wobbly-legged descent of similar duration. But not too demanding, even considering the cold, unceasing, buffeting wind way up top which may possibly slap you so silly that you, too, forget to snap the evidentiary photo celebrating your conquest.

Half-way twixt summit and trailhead — at the juncture of the Rocky Peak Road and the Hummybird Trail — a thoughtful park ranger has installed a restful bench.


Because It’s Stairs

In the Los Angeles Basin, a mainly pancakish bit of geography, there’s a gathering of big anomalous lumps known as the Baldwin Hills. Lots of oil pumps bob like drinking birds all over the 511 ft high protuberances. Fewer than in the past, though. As the oil companies move off to richer reservoirs, the land is being reclaimed by California State Parks. The northernmost prominence has been conveniently decked out with a viewing platform and Visitor Center.

This is where the footpath begins off Jefferson St.Today we set out to conquer that peak and view things from that viewing platform. Conquerors before us had provided a nice winding footpath all the way to the summit, and also a steep set of Tolkienesque stone steps climbing straight up from Jefferson Street to the snazzy Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook at the top.

Each step could have use its own set of stairs to mount it.We hauled ourselves up the uneven steps with greater determination than ease.

Well, in truth, the younger NiceWork pranced skyward like a mountain goat while the older NiceWork gasped for ever-thinning oxygen and wondered with each pop of the knee whether it wasn’t the sound of the fatal aneurysm.

There were lots of snails in the brush on either side of the staircase.Undaunted by either the number of stairs or the size of some of them, we rose and rose in hard-won increments high above Los Angeles.

The shades of night were falling fast, / As through an Alpine village passed / A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice, / A banner with the strange device, / Excelsior!We climbed with a half a dozen pauses to draw in prodigious lungfuls of the brisk and cool Pacific breezes. Our ascent was rewarded with wonderful views of Marina Del Rey and Santa Monica buried under the marine layer to the west, and the Hollywood Hills carousing far to the north, and the downtown L.A. bundle of skyscrapers off to the northeast, but we can’t share any of it with you because the shutter on the NiceWork camera jammed for all the summit shots.

Rested and jubilant, we hopped back down from stair to stair like Jiminy Cricket, and we solemnly vowed to return one day when we could jog blithely to the top like the many athletes who passed us on the way up and on the way down even after they had stopped at the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook to do, so help me, pushups.

"Beware the pine-tree's withered branch! / Beware the awful avalanche!" / This was the peasant's last Good-night, / A voice replied, far up the height, / Excelsior!

Turtle Quest

High above the San Fernando and Simi Valleys, but not all that high, the jumble of sandstone boulders known as the Simi Hills sits quietly, thinking its long dull geological thoughts. Adventurers desiring to share those thoughts may do so easily by hiking a loop upon its crown known to the Chumash as the Sage Ranch Trail. We pilgrims two made that journey yesterday and now returned, we here spread before you the photographs taken amid the aromatic chapperal, circling hawks and largely decorative clouds.

The prime object of our exploration was a fabled rock formation known to the Chumash as Turtle Rock because of its uncanny resemblance to a rock. We did not gain that object. Great winds blew us back in a maelstrom of dust, frustrating our attempt to “capture the Turtle.” The elusive tortoise escaped our probing lens. Other fabled rock formations were less fortunate. See:

This is the fabled and elusive natural formation known to the Chumash as “Dinosaur Rock.” Legend has it the rock comes alive once every seventeen years and spits a single pebble. The direction of the pebble’s flight, its color and shape, and various other qualities and conditions prevailing at the time of Dinosaur Rock’s brief awakening, are said to accurately predict the weather over the next seventeen years. At the time of our obsevation Dinosaur Rock spit no pebble and so we remain “agnostic” regarding the truth of the legend.The eyes are roughly the size of a small human head.Without leaving the main trail, travellers may look in awe upon the chunk of stone known to the Chumash as “Owl Rock” though, of course, the Chumash used their own word for it: Eulengebirgsklumpen. The legends associated with this natural wonder are suspiciously similar to those associated with Dinosaur Rock — coming alive, spitting pebbles and so on — leading ethnologists to wonder — and not for the first time — whether the Chumash were “pulling their legs.”

Before howling winds drove us back to the parking lot (parking fee: $5), we trembled before the Rock Giant. This wonder — we hesitate to call it a “natural” wonder — is but the top, the head, of a Rock Giant buried in the Simi Hills long ago by a great Shaman — or so the Chumash say with perfectly straight faces. The unwary traveller must be kept at a distance from the murmuring creature by a barbed wire fence lest he succumb to the sweet entreaties of the Rock Giant to “come closer… closer…” and be ground to powder between stone jaws.

How to Get There.

Go to the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles. Are you there? Okay. There’s a north-south street running along the west side of the Valley called “Valley Circle Drive.” From the 101, take Valley Circle north. From the 118 take it south. Either way you go, when you get to Cardinal Wolsey Street — there’s a big sign for Boeing and Rocketdyne (they used to test rockets here) — turn and climb the steep twisty road for about 2.4 miles all the way to the top. There you will see a parking area and a sign letting you know you’ve arrived at the Sage Ranch Trail. A scary single-lane paved road with a sharp drop-off into a ravine at the bottom of which lie dozens of smoldering SUVs carries you another half-mile to an upper parking area with a picnic table (if you do hunger) and a port-o-poddy (if you do not).

Squidward Rock

Go back! Go back!It took some hunting, some back-and-forthing in the car, to find this entrance — over-bowered and recessed — but we did at last. Beyond that bloodied iron door lies a trailhead of the Temescal Ridge Trail. The simpler way to access that trail is from Temescal Gateway Park down on Sunset Boulevard, but arcane signs had lured us here. And so we strapped on our backpacks, wrapped trek pole straps around our wrists and set forth.

The forbidding door creaked ominously on its hinges as we pulled it open. Beyond stretched a narrow path dedicted to the memory of Philip Leacock. He was a film director from England where he had achieved some critical acclaim with movies like The Spanish Gardener (1956). He gave up all that when he got a taste of California. He settled in the Palisades (where this trailhead is found) and spent the rest of his career directing TV shows like Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and Dynasty. Spent some time hiking, too, I guess, since this really nice half-mile trail is named in his honor.Leacock also directed episodes of "Gunsmoke" and "Bonanza."

Honor him we did, and gladly, as we climbed, making merry melody upon his sunny trail — a very nice trail rapidly whisking us above the ritzy manses of Pacific Palisades Highlands for half a mile before glomming onto the Temescal Canyon Ridge trail. Not at all spooky as the eerie trailhead gate had seemed to portend. We paused for breath at the junction.

That is when we felt the FEAR.

A FEAR emanating from the north. A FEAR growing with every step as we wound along the rising ridge. What chthonic evil radiated this pulsing dread?

The answer appeared after a mile or so of climbing:

Skull rock on the left. Inflatable pool horse rock to the right.

The rock in our road is none other than infamous SKULL ROCK. Did we dare pass Skull Rock — glaring at us from its empty sockets, if it’s possible to glare from empty sockets — and Skull Rock’s equally menacing companion, Weird-shaped Rock? We certainly did dare. We had the key.

Spongebob trumps the Wyrd any day.

We re-named it.

Inspired by the Philip Leacock leg of our journey, we invoked the beneficent power of television and dubbed the threatening boulder “Squidward Rock.” A glittering of fairy-dust, the tiny chiming of celestial bells, a harp arpeggio and the evil dispersed. We strolled blithely on our way, whistling.


I thought Ganesh was Babar at first, then I noticed he had an axe.

One night I dreamed I was walking along a beach with the entire Hindu Pantheon. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed thousands of pairs of footprints in the sand.

Sometimes there were 330,000 sets of footprints, other times there were 329,999 sets.

This really got my goat, because, you see, whenever I was having a rough patch in my life there were only 329,999 sets of footprints and when things were running smoothly, all 330,000 were there. Someone was ditching me!

So I halted the entire procession of the Hindu pantheon and hollered, “Okay, so which one of you suddenly got real busy elsewhere whenever my life went south?”

All the Hindu deities sort of looked at each other and some of them muttered, “Did you bring this guy? Who is he?”

Finally Lakshmi laughed and smacked her forehead (four times) and said, “Oh! I remember now! You’re the guy who kept falling down, so we had to strap you to the back of Ganesh.”

I thought about this a minute, then I said, “All right. Okay. Sorry to have lost my cool like that. But shouldn’t there have been 330,001 sets of footprints during the fat times?”

Ganesh replied, “Well, you know, I ride on a mouse.”

Somehow that didn’t track. I opened my mouth to object, but then I woke up. I went to the kitchen and had a bowl of Frosted Flakes.

Devil’s Spahn

Just west of Spahn Ranch site, south of Santa Susana Pass Road.

I became intrigued by that nasty old icon of the sixties (Manson, I mean) and picked up a copy of Helter Skelter, the trend-setting true crime book by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry.

Still in the midst of the reading experience, I won’t go on about it here. I only bring it up because when I studied the maps in the hair-raising book I was amazed to realize I more or less know where all these sites of long-ago murder and nuttiness are. In fact, when I parked by the trailhead of the Rocky Peak Trail I had been only a stone’s throw from the location of the infamous Spahn Ranch were Mr. Manson and his “Family” tripped, immersed themselves in the Beatles’ “White Album” and laid their goofy plans for igniting the race war Mr. Manson eagerly expected.

Today after marching up and down Rocky Peak Trail, we headed east on the Santa Susana Pass Road and stopped just short of Topanga Canyon Road to take the picture you see above: As lovely and peaceful a spot as you could imagine. Whatever satanic evil that goofus Manson dreamt he embodied in ’69 has washed away over the ensuing forty years.

John Muir, that loveable old preservationist, hiked up and down the mountains and valleys of California — maybe these very hills, for all I know — all the while preaching about the spiritual and uplifting value of Nature. That the awesome beauty of this particular spot seems never to have penetrated the rancid hearts of Manson and his hippie pack argues against Mr. Muir’s charming 19th century belief in the healing power of Nature. On the other hand, his Outdoorsy Romanticism does seem vindicated by the way forty years of Nature’s changing seasons, cleansing rains and fresh growth have purified the place of Manson’s cornball diabolism.

Hypaethral Hike

No, I didn't alter the contrast in P-shop, this is how it looked.

Yeah, I know Milton McCauley, Master Hiker of the Monicas, said that “every day was a good day for hiking, no matter what kind of weather,” but I’ll bet he owned a poncho.

Me, I don’t. Nor a rain hat. Nor a water-repellant jacket. No laughing at the elements for me.

I had hoped to bring you a report on the Rocky Peak Trail up into the cloud-hidden heights of the Santa Susana Mountains — so well described by Casey Shreiner on his Modern Hiker weblog — but the angry Sky Gods drove me back. The very clouds that hid the heights soaked me to the skin before I’d gone half a mile. But even that half mile was enough to see such beauties as glisten in the fog-blurred photo above; and enough to make me swear unto the Sky Gods and Mountain Gods, “I’ll be back.”

During my return to home base — where I sit now typing and shivering with what I hope is a passing chill — I stopped to pick up rain wear at a sporting goods store which I will not name because it was so ratty I feared the Plague. They had some nice small arms which I considered for those weekends I go drug-running, but what they offered for foul-weather was more suitable to sitting in a duck blind than blithe excelsioring up a slope. I passed.

Next I stopped at the Westfield Promenade, a classy Valley mall at which I never shop, having no use for Talbots et. al., but which I like to visit because of its hypaethral central dome:

Yep, that's a hypaethral dome, all right.

I like this hypaethral dome in part because it is as close as I’m likely to get to the famous hypaethral dome of the Pantheon in Rome, one of the great architectural hypaethral splendors of the ancient world. Also because I am proud to know a classy word like “hypaethral” but never ever get the chance to use it. Hypaethral ceilings, whether domed or undomed, never seem to come up in conversation. Or in writing, for that matter. This may well be this is my final opportunity to use the word hypaethral.

Hypaethral. Hypaethral. Hypaethral.

Anyhow, there’s a Chick’s Sporting Goods in that mall — my second reason for the mall visit — but they’re more geared to surfing and skiing than to trailblazing, and so I left empty-handed, pausing on my way out to observe the fickleness of the Sky Gods through hypaethral dome.