Pt. Mugu Loop: Ray Miller Trail, Overlook Fire Road Trail, Wood Canyon Vista Trail, Sycamore Canyon Trail, Backbone Trail, Serrano Valley Trail, Serrano Canyon Trail, Sycamore Canyon Trail, PCH.
Distance: 14.5 Miles
Elevation Gain: +2,800/-2,800
Critters Spotted: A flock of wild parrots
Sometimes the best plan you can have is to toss the plan out the window and wing it. Every step you take is a spontaneous choice, and you will live (and sweat your ass off) by the consequences of those choices. That’s not to say that planning for the future isn’t important, but in some cases, throwing it to the breeze like dandelion seeds is the only way to truly be present for what you are experiencing.
Case in point was what ultimately became a rather ambitious loop hike through Pt. Mugu State Park. Pt. Mugu is one of the three big state parks in the Santa Monica Mountain range, and it is by far my favorite. It preserves and protects broad, grassy valleys, deep sycamore-studded canyons, far-ranging ocean views, and includes the Boney Mountain Wilderness, which contains the highest point in the Santa Monica range (Sandstone Peak at 3,111′). It is not highly visited, Sycamore Canyon excepted, and it is possible to find yourself in places so remote that no evidence of mankind is within earshot or eyesight. I don’t visit it enough since it’s a little difficult to get to the ocean entrances, but it definitely contains the best of what the Santa Monicas have to offer.
When I awoke this morning, the plan was to hike Malibu Canyon State Park from end to end while tossing in Bulldog Rd. for good measure. As I got in the car, I waffled on that, thinking that maybe I might like to try Sycamore Canyon, to and from the waterfall (which will happen soon enough). However, my car somehow found itself park at the La Jolla Canyon trailhead, and before I knew it, I was chugging 1,200 feet up the Ray Miller Trail. From that point on, I had no idea where I was headed, and I made my decisions based on what felt right in that moment. It’s not always the prudent way to go, but had I not winged this hike, I might have done a 7-mile loop I’ve done too many times, leaving me unsatisfied and less conditioned for the Mt. Wilson hike on Tuesday.
I tried to make it to the top of Ray Miller in time to catch the sunrise. However, my decision to grab a cup of coffee left me fifteen minutes behind schedule – I waver on whether this was worth it. It was nice to see some progress in my condition: the year prior, this trail left me fairly winded by the time I reached the top. This time, I was breathing steadily, but I was far from winded. I had climbed 1,200 feet without stopping or without even coming close to losing my breath. Small victory, maybe, but every little advance helps.
At the top of Ray Miller, I was treated to a sublime view of the sun’s first rays hitting the flank of Boney Mountain. Serrano Valley lay silent and dark at Boney’s feet, while Sycamore Canyon lay quietly in the shadows. The Santa Anas were picking up, and I was both grateful for the clarity and wary of how many times I’d have to hold my hat to my head. I had only visited Serrano Valley once before, when it was dry, and I was constantly worried about rattlesnakes. From this vantage point, however, it looked inviting. The only trouble is that a trip to Serrano Valley would add another six miles onto what was already looking to be a seven mile loop. I put the decision on hold.
I followed the Overlook Fire Road Trail as it wended over the ridge that separates La Jolla Valley from Sycamore Canyon. Both the valley and the canyon preserve small patches of what the Conejo Valley, and much of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties must have looked like at one time. La Jolla (along with Serrano Valley to the east) is a rolling grass valley crisscrossed by creeks and their attending riparian woodland. It is a far, green valley, and in the summer, one can walk through a forest of cattails (check for tics). Sycamore Canyon is a wide savannah sitting at the bottom of a canyon carved by an intermittent stream. Towering old sycamores line the wide, flat fire road, which mountain bikers use heavily (and not always politely). It is a shame that there are so few or these landscapes remaining, but we are fortunate that Pt. Mugu protects what is left.
I took the Wood Canyon Vista trail (part of the larger Backbone Trail network) on a whim, and found myself rapidly descending into Sycamore Canyon through an elfin forest of flowering California lilac,scrub oak, sage, and a plethora of other plants I may or may not one day memorize. Upon reaching the canyon floor, I made another spontaneous decision that I was going to make it to Serrano Valley, regardless of the toll (gots to pay the toll!) it would take on my legs.
A mile up Sycamore Canyon, and I began the brutal, but short, ascent up the flank of Boney Mountain. I turned right toward Serrano Valley, but had I taken the branch to the left, I would have found myself on the Chamberlain Trail headed toward Sandstone Peak (another day – that trail is 20 miles roundtrip). Some panting and sweating later, I mounted the ridge and enjoyed the panoramic, windswept view of Serrano Canyon. Serrano Canyon is smaller than its cousin, La Jolla Valley, but it is more impressive in most regards, largely due to Boney Mountain’s looming presence. The valley rolls gently across a few square miles, and I walked through a sea of green grass until I came to the drop-off into Serrano Canyon, which led me through a riparian forest back toward the last mile-long stretch of Sycamore Canyon.
While walking toward the ocean on this last stretch, a flock of screeching feral parrots burst forth from a grove of sycamores and filled the air with their shrill, cacophonous din. This flock of parrots, along with another flock that sometimes hangs out in Malibu Creek State Park, are descended from several escaped parrot flocks, one of which was featured in the movie The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. They have naturalized themselves to their new home, and it is always fun to see them, even if they’re probably a something of pest species.
Finally, I made it to the beach, and, without much of a pause, I walked the last 1.5 miles along PCH. I knew this was the price I would pay for going through Sycamore Canyon and Serrano Valley, and ending a hike on asphalt is never a pleasant experience. However, it’s a small price to pay for the quintessential hiking experience. There was no right or wrong way to do today, and any judgment placed on good or bad was rendered moot by spontaneity. I chose based on what my whims suggested, and I experienced one of the best local hikes I have ever had.
And by the way: don’t try to eat wild prickly pears. It’s probably not worth the trouble when you’re still picking very small cactus spines out of your fingers an hour later.
Total Miles in 2012: 34.6