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BACK TO THE BACKBONE; THERE'S NO WAITING FOR DIVERSE 6-3/4-MILE TREK.

Byline: Brett Pauly Daily News Staff Writer

Backcountry paths in the Sierra Nevada remain choked with snowpack.

Bridges are out along popular treks across the state, and tumultuous runoff from El Nino's relentless winter has created dangerous fords across waters that are normally subdued by this time of year.

Setting up a destination hike in 1998 is difficult.

You can spend more time planning - and waiting - or you can get back to the Backbone.

I recently revisited my favorite regional hiking area and found a 6-3/4-mile section from Corral Canyon Road to Kanan-Dume Road that eased the frustration of having to delay some High Sierra backpacking plans until late summer.

The relatively flat hike (400 of the 500 feet in elevation loss come in the final mile) is a study in extreme geography - from open, arid chaparral that screams for sunscreen to shady, fern-lined canyons with year-round water.

Starting from the west edge of the dirt parking lot at the top of Corral Canyon Road (elevation: 2,025 feet), the Backbone Trail, or BBT, drops past an old power line service road (1,900 feet) six-tenths of a mile in on its descent to Upper Solstice Canyon.

(Be careful not to mistakenly tread the steep fire road leaving the Corral Canyon Road staging area, as I did, or you'll wind up headed along Castro Motorway toward 2,824-foot Castro Peak instead. However, this option does shave about a half-mile off the total hiking distance. Take Newton Motorway to return to the Backbone Trail, which promptly was dubbed the Bonehead Trail when my error was realized.)

In his book ``Hiking Trails of the Santa Monica Mountains,'' Canoga Park mountain man Milt McAuley notes that a 20-foot waterfall can be spotted after heavy rains upstream from a creek that the BBT crosses shortly after passing the service road.

The track continues downstream to a watery junction (1,750 feet) with what at this point is Solstice Creek. Turn right and it's uphill from here, passing through coastal live oaks along Solstice Creek and, in two-thirds of a mile, according to McAuley's jottings, to a series of switchbacks at the west end of the wide basin.

Sierra Club trail-crew leader Ron Webster of Culver City finds a unique quality to the Upper Solstice.

``It's different in that it has a usually permanent-running creek. Then you are down in a riparian forest, primarily oak and some sycamore - big trees,'' said Webster, who designed and directed the building of much of the BBT described herein. ``You don't often have that in the rest of the mountains.''

The canyon is exited at Newton Motorway (2,275 feet) upon reaching the 2.8-mile mark.

The sun will beat on your neck as the trail moves along in a westerly direction for another mile until reaching a cool canyon covered by a canopy of oak, lined with ferns and aerated by the southern headwater of Newton Creek (1,925 feet). Soak in the dampness; the smell of such moisture is a rare pleasure in the vast desert that is Southern California.

Nearby, other oaks grow on precipitous hillsides. ``It reminds me of Asian paintings,'' Webster said.

More brushy cover awaits as the course climbs about a half-mile past thickets of mustard to Latigo Canyon Road (2,025 feet), 4.2 miles from the trip's start. Here hikers catch northwesterly views of Boney Mountain and 3,111-foot Sandstone Peak - the zenith of the Santa Monica Mountains.

The longest and most diverse section - slightly more than 2-1/2 miles to Kanan-Dume Road - lies ahead.

Lazy zigzags lead hikers downhill beyond tall grass and brush to a low point and then up toward a ridge, where a stellar vantage affords panoramas of the Pacific Ocean and the hills and dales that bow to its shoreline.

``You can pop up on that ridge and see these very beautiful views down Ramirez Canyon,'' Webster said.

En route, massive fields of black sage anchor the landscape; the trail contours along the ridge's northern exposure, which is largely shaded and at points covered with another layering of ferns.

Oak trees and Indian paint brush dot the ridgetop (maps indicate a benchmark of 1,919 feet).

After a generous respite, hoof downhill past a paved road and try if you can to ignore the din of traffic that motors underfoot through a tunnel on Kanan-Dume Road.

After crossing the roadway via the perch over its tunnel, turn right down the rutted path to the paved Backbone Trailhead parking lot (1,525 feet) to end your adventure.

IF YOU'RE GOING

Designed as a shuttle trip requiring two vehicles, the 6-3/4-mile Backbone Trail trek from Corral Canyon Road to Kanan-Dume Road is described here from east to west.

Drive both vehicles north on Ventura Freeway (101), exit at Kanan Road in Agoura Hills and turn left. Follow Kanan up past two tunnels and Mulholland Highway to the third tunnel - which is actually marked Tunnel 1 since it's the first tunnel north of Pacific Coast Highway, where the counting begins. Park one car in the paved Backbone Trailhead lot situated in front and to the right of the tunnel.

Cram all gear (and hikers) into vehicle No. 2, continue south on what is at this point Kanan-Dume Road and turn left onto Pacific Coast Highway (1). Turn left again at Corral Canyon Road and motor to its terminus. Park in the dusty trailhead lot. A sign will point out the Backbone Trail; follow the path west.

This course is found on the Point Dume 7.5-minute series topographic map and Tom Harrison Cartography's ``Trail Map of the Santa Monica Mountains Central.''

Allow four hours to complete hike.

Dogs are permitted on the trail; camping and motor vehicles are not. (A temporary sign at the Kanan-Dume Road trailhead states that due to hazardous conditions the path is closed to equestrians and bicyclists.)

--- Brett Pauly

CAPTION(S):

Photo, Map, Box

PHOTO (Color) East of Latigo Canyon Road, a Backbone Trail trekker passes through a fern-lined canyon and the southern headwater of Newton Creek.

Brett Pauly/Daily News

MAP: BACKBONE TRAIL

Dionisio Munoz/Daily News

BOX: IF YOU`RE GOING (see text)
COPYRIGHT 1998 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 11, 1998
Words:1032
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