Day 9: Backbone Trail and the Santa Monica Mountains NRA

Road Miles: 0

Total: 496.5

Trail Miles: 5

Total: 65.2

Sites: Backbone Trail, Santa Monica Mountains NRA

Locals: RaggedyCrow

So, how does one possibly thank someone who will drop everything and drive 3+ hours to pick up an abandoned hiker from a dirt lot across the street from a prison camp in the middle of nowhere? Well, if you know that person is getting ready to attempt his first long trail, and you’ve seen his monster of a pack, you send his ass out on a wee day hike to see how it goes.

We had van-camped at the Encinal trailhead and had no pressing need to get anywhere, so I asked RaggedyCrow if he wanted to hike the 5 miles between there and the next trailhead at Kanan Dune. I would drive to Kanan, about 7 minutes away by road, and walk back toward him with his phone, which was dead and so needed a little time on the charger. He looked a little nervous, but gamely agreed. With some effort, he shouldered his pack and headed across the street to pick up the trail. About five minutes later, he was back.

“What happened?”

“I don’t think that trail is the Backbone.”

I pulled up the trail map on my phone, which wasn’t very helpful for lack of great detail, then pulled up Google Maps which more or less has the entire trail tracked out. Sure enough, it looked like the trail actually picked back up at the far eastern edge of the lot, and not directly across from where it enters into it from the north. It’s signed at the eastern edge, but the sign isn’t visible from the main wide area of the lot.

Back on track, he crossed the road onto the signed trail, and quickly disappeared into a canyon. I drove over to the trailhead at Kanan Dune, and immediately understood why my now-vanished support had wanted to camp there: because of the presence of a pit toilet. This trailhead is definitely much more developed than the one at Encinal: it’s paved, has trash cans, and includes interpretive signs about the trail and the Santa Monica Mountains.

With only my Astronaut Thru Pack and a liter of water to carry, and having tanked up on water to remedy the previous day’s bout with dehydration, I fairly skipped down the trail in the cool of the morning. This section also has substantially more cover, shade, and on-trail water than the latter part of the previous day’s hike. I got to Zuma Ridge around 45 minutes later to find RaggedyCrow meandering about. I gave him his phone, and we started back to Kanan Dune.

We stopped to laze around the pretty creek in Newton Canyon before the final climb back up to the parking lot. We ate snacks, chatted up passing hikers, and he got to try out his Sawyer Squeeze for the first time then enjoy the simple pleasure of drinking cold fresh water on-trail, as opposed to the usual ambient temperature (read: lukewarm to hot) water we usually get. Refreshed, we continued back to the van.

“Hey! You only have to do what you just did three more times to get in a 20!”

“Ungh,” he groaned.

All in all, it was a delightful walk. Great practice for RaggedyCrow, and a nice palate-cleanser for me to get in a few pleasant final miles on the Backbone after the stress, anguish, and negativity of the previous day.

I look forward to getting back some day to do the whole trail; it truly is a gem, and a marvel that this wild space exists within reach of so many millions of people.