Revisiting the Backbone Trail

May 16, 2015


Please note:  I’m having a problem with my interface between Flickr and WordPress.  The photos are appearing with the improper dimension.  To see them in the original format, please click on the photo and you will be magically transported to Flickr.

I first hiked the length of the Backbone Trail as part of a NPS-sponsored event in 2006 and 2007.  We hiked a section of the Trail each month, starting in October and ending in June.  I tried to find as many geocaches as I could each month, but when hiking with a non-geocaching group, it’s often difficult to stop for a search.  I had to walk by too many caches.


When Spinal Tap was published, I pretty much had to hike most of the trail again to either pick up the caches that I had walked by or to pick up the caches that were newer than my last time along that part of the trail.  I completed Spinal Tap on March 12, 2009 with 95 finds.  I was the 10th person to finish the challenge.


Soon afterward, the Backbone Trail became saturated with caches–one every tenth of a mile along the parts of the Trail that allows geocaches.  [No caches are permitted on National Park Service control land.]  There are now 256 active caches required to complete the Spinal Tap.

I’ve been back on the trail several more times–first, because I enjoy the trail, and second, to continue to pick up BBT caches that I don’t have.

With the 13 BBT finds today, I now have found 242 caches along the Trail–219 of which are still active caches.


I started my hike today at the western end of the Backbone Trail at the Ray Miller Trailhead.  My plan was to hike up the Ray Miller Trail, along the Outlook Trail, down into Sycamore Canyon on the Wood Canyon Vista Trail, then back up Hell Hill, into La Jolla Valley, and then back to the trailhead through La Jolla Canyon.  When I arrived at the parking lot, I noticed a trail closure sign for La Jolla Canyon.  I think it was actually good luck for me.  I changed my plans and decided not to climb back out of Sycamore Canyon, but just do some caching there and then get a ride back to my truck.  Considering how my feet and legs felt after the hike, I was happy that I only did Plan B.


The last time that I hiked this area was in April 2013, a couple of weeks before the Springs Fire.  The fire, and the subsequent mud flows, rather changed the look of the hills.  Add in the drought conditions and the area has really taken a beating.  I was surprised with the number of wildflower blooms today.  The Wood Canyon trail was particularly colorful.


I was happy to be able to log  Thanks paleolith and Don_J, now a special cache since the untimely passing of our friend Don on May 8th.  I enjoyed my time on the trail with Don.  He will be missed by many in the Geocaching community.


Although I was hiking alone today, I was far from being alone.  I visited with a couple groups of hiking going up the Ray Miller Trail.  They were curious about why I would stop and walk in circles while looking at the ground.  I think I may have made a couple of geocaching converts.  There were also a lot (read this way too many) mountain bikers.  While hiking down Wood Canyon Vista Trail, I felt like I was walking through the Tour de France.  While most of the mountain bikers were polite, far too many left their manners at home–or perhaps they never developed a sense of trail etiquette.  I was almost run off the trail a few times.


I only DNFed on BBT cache–Go hang a Salami I’m a Lasagna hog -aBBTpalindrome–but also DNFed too many caches in Sycamore Canyon.  Quite a few of those DNFs were poison oak-related.  I just am not interested in grabbing a smiley face if there is a chance of getting a bad rash.  Check out some of the color variations of poison oak along the trail in the photos near the end of this post.


One find that I thought was interesting was Toe Stubber View, located in Sycamore Canyon along the Two Foxes Trail.  The caches is a metal tin about 10 inches tall.  It was blackened and rusted.  Once I opened it, I realized why.  It was a survivor of the Springs Fire.  The contents were either charred or melted.  The only thing in good shape was the log in a zip bag.  TOHiker was the first finder post-fire and had put in a new log.  That was on 06/28/2013.  OLdweeb was the next finder–on 04/13/2014.  Then I found it today.  For an area that us so busy, this cache certainly isn’t getting much traffic.


I hope you enjoy the photos of the wildflowers.  I’ll try to identify them and post the names later.





I had a visit by the flock of black-hooded parakeets that tells me Hello each time I visit Sycamore Canyon.  This one was kind enough to pose for a photo.



Here are a couple of poison oak photos.  I should have also photographed the straight up green version of my nemesis.  Some of leaves appeared almost black.  Black, purple, red, pink, orange, yellow, green, or just the bare canes–just looking at it makes me itch.  I’ve had way too many run ins with this colorful shrub.

150516 Mugu

It was a nice day for a long hike. I enjoyed all of it until the last couple of miles.  By then, I was tired and ready to call it a day.  I put in 12.4 miles and found 15 geocaches.  And, hopefully, the poison oak didn’t find me.


April 11, 2015

Panorama3 My wife and I spent last weekend in Yosemite.  It was a great trip.  While it wasn’t a geocaching trip, I did pick up a few geocaches inside the Park.  Since it’s National Park property, there aren’t any regular caches–I did get an Earthcache, a Virtual, and an Unknown.

DSC_9774Yosemite is a special place. I hope you enjoy the photos.









Back on the Trail

March 14, 2015


About 13 months ago, I was hiking in the Tri Peaks area with EcuaDeb.  I was trying to complete both the  Santa Monica Mtns History Adventure and The SuMMit Challenge on the same day.  I jokingly told Debbie that as soon as I completed both of this great challenge caches I could quit geocaching.  Unfortunately, that is about what happened.  Since that day in February 2014, I have only had 106 finds.  It wasn’t that I no longer was interested.  The low stats were a result of long hours at a new job and needing to take care of things around the house.  When I would plan for a hike, the elements conspired against me with rain, wind, or heat.

This morning, everything worked out.  Even though the forecast was for HOT, the day was quite pleasant.  It was a great day for a geohike.


The plan for the day was to take a short loop hike in the Chumash Trail area of Simi Valley.  Instead of starting at the Chumash Trailhead, I began at the end of Evening Sky Drive.  From there, it was a short walk to the first cache–Juliette’s Cache 2.  After logging it, it was up the Chumash Trail to find Under a Rock.


For Under a Rock, you climb up the Chumash Trail, only to go down a steep hill for the find.  That’s what geocaching often is–go up, so you can going back down.

The recent rains woke up the wildflowers and greened up the grasses.  Unfortunately, I don’t think it is going to last too much longer.  The grasses are going to seed and starting to dry up already.


After finding Under a Rock and hiking back up to the Chumash Trail, the cutoff for the rest of the caches wasn’t too far away.  Geocaching Independence Day was the next cache.  It celebrates Daylight Saving Time’s gift of an extra hour of light in the afternoon.  I’ve enjoyed caching in the afternoon after work, so I’ve always appreciated DST.

Geocaching Independence Day and the next several caches are on a semi-cross country trek.  This was the first time I’ve followed this “trail.”  I was pleasantly surprised to find some real trailwork along the way.  Someone worked to put in several switchbacks.


Lock It UpDo You Have A Hangup?Do You Have A Hangup?, and Spiders, Flies, & Other Icky Things–all Granpa7 caches–were the remaining caches for the day.  I think Granpa7 likes peanut butter.


The bloom of the day was bush sunflowers.  They seems to be everywhere.  I saw some nice blooms of lupine as I was heading up Chumash, but they were all in the shade.  I figured that I’d photograph them when they were posing in the sunlight.  But once into the light, the lupine were gone.


If you plan on doing this loop, I recommend that you do it in the direction that I did.  Start on the Chumash Trail and do the loop counter clockwise.  That way, the steepest parts of the trail are downhill.


This loop was 2.15 miles and took me about 2 hours.  If you are interested in doing it, do it soon before the foxtails dry out.  Once that happens, you will spend more time cleaning the stickers from your shoes and socks that you will hiking.

Hiking Hondo

June 14, 2014

P1020078 After not finding a single geocache in May, and really needing to get out on the trail, I posted a note on the SFV Geocachers Facebook page looking for a hike on Saturday, June 14th.  I got one response, James, aka gerfmeister, wanted to hike the Hondo Canyon to Trippet Ranch segment of the Backbone Trail in his quest to complete the Spinal Tap Challenge.  While I only needed a few caches on this trail, it’s one of my favorite sections of the BBT, I needed a hike, and James needed some BBT caching, so it was a deal. We met up on the road outside of Trippet Ranch for the car bridge.  James’ dad, Chris, joined us and we drove to the trailhead near the intersection of Stunt Road and Saddle Peak Road.  As we drove up the hill, we broke out of marine layer and into the sun.  As we started down the trail, I thought that we had the shade of the canyon when we didn’t need it and wouldn’t have any shade at the end of the hike when the marine layer would have burned off and we could use the shade.  Oh well, that’s how it usually goes.

P1020079California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum)

I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a few wildflower blooms this late in the year.  We didn’t have much rain this winter, and the rain that we did get was late.  I suppose that might be a reason for the late bloom. P1020081 Hondo Canyon is a steep-walled canyon that runs mostly east and west.  Because of that, the south side of the canyon is very shady and cooler than many of the other Santa Monica canyons.  We saw lots of ferns, but the predominant plant was my old friend poison oak. P1020082

Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum)

Poison oak is everywhere in Hondo Canyon.  We got to see its full color spectrum–from bright green, to red, to purple, to almost black.


 Indian Pink (Silene laciniata)

It wasn’t all poison oak.  We did get to see some nice wildflowers, too.  I don’t remember ever seeing Indian Pink.

P1020085A typical Hondo Canyon field of poison oak.

This was my fourth trip through Hondo Canyon.  The first time was in 2007 when I was hiking the Backbone Trail for the first time.  Once Spinal Tap was published, I had to go back and pick up the caches that I either missed the first time or the caches that had been placed since 2007.  Once I finished the Challenge, I came back again for some of the newer caches.  And, today, I had 6 BBT caches to find. James needed them all.  He hiked out in front and would stop when we got to a cache.  He would find it or we would look together.  If I could remember where I had found it, I’d give him some help.  Chris was also helpful in spotting some of the harder hides. I wasn’t paying much attention to when the next cache was coming up because James was so focused on it.  When we got to Mossy Rocks, I realized that we had walked right by Foo in the Rain, so we turned around and went back up the hill.  When we arrived at the GZ, I spotted the cache, took a step towards it, and the ground disappeared from under my boot.  Down I went–luckily only about 3 or 4 feet and only getting a minor scratch on my leg.

P1020086Chris in the foreground and James up in front

We had a great time going down the canyon.  We met lots of hikers–almost all women–hiking the uphill direction.  Hondo was a popular destination today. After finding Powder Horn Ranch, James and Chris when looking for Paleolith’s Farewell Cache, while I continued on to Hip Eponymous Foo.  They DFNed Paleolith’s Farewell Cache–too much poison oak–while I took a break in the shade.   P1020088

 Golden Yarrow (Eriophyllum confertiflorum)

The Backbone Trail crosses Old Topanga, then goes up and over a ridge before dropping down to Topanga Blvd.  Once you cross Topanga, it’s up the hill toward Trippet Ranch.  Of the entire hike, Dead Horse Trail is my least favorite part.  There are lots of “stairs” built with railroad ties–not my favorite way to hike.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m getting tired at the end of the trail, or if the trail just isn’t as nice as Hondo Canyon, but it’s just something that you have to do to get back to the cars. P1020089 I am probably being too harsh with my assessment of Dead Horse.  As you can see from the photo above, it does have some nice views.

P1020091Chaparral Yucca   (Yucca whipplei)

I had a great hike today.  I made a couple of new friends–James and Chris were good hiking companions–and hopefully avoided the poison oak. 140614 hondo The hike was 7.2 miles and took 6 hours 20 minutes.  We were hiking for 2 hours 40 minutes–the non-walking time was spent looking for our little treasures in the bushes.

Rocky Peak and Hummingbird Trail

April 26, 2014


After spending a lot of time on Santa Monica Mountain trails chasing down caches for The SuMMit Challenge and the Santa Monica Mountains History Adventure, I haven’t been on the trail for more than 2 months. The reason wasn’t lack of interest; it was lack of time. My long period of unemployment came to an end on March 3rd and I’ve been trekking to work instead of trekking in the hills.


I finally was able to break the no-hiking streak today with a great hike to the top of Rocky Peak. Mike (lightningstar) and Cheri offered to keep me out of trouble. The 3 of us drove to the parking area off the Rocky Peak/118 bridge and up we went. The day couldn’t have been better for the hike. Cool, clear skies, with nice white clouds and not too much of a breeze made for great hiking conditions. Both Mike and I needed several caches along the road toward Rocky Peak. We found them all, and then it was up to the top of the peak. We did stop at Rocky Peak , a cache that I found on my first day of geocaching on May 5, 2001, to check on its health. Unfortunately, the recent DNF logs had merit—the cache is missing. I hate to see old caches get archived. I hope the owner replaces it. I’ve contacted him and volunteered to replace it, if needed.


I haven’t been to the summit of Rocky Peak since September 2002 when I found the Virtual cache Vertigo Peak. The new cache, Rocky Peak, is a Traditional cache, located only a few feet from the Virtual. When I look at the map, the Smiley Found icon for Vertigo Peak is on top of the yet-to-be-found icon for Rocky Peak. Because of that, I wasn’t aware of the cache to be found for a while.



I don’t mind hiking alone, but I don’t like boulder hopping without a friend nearby. That’s one reason why it was good to have Mike and Cheri along. We negotiated the trail through the rocks to the top of the peak and were rewarded with the best view that I’ve seen in quite a while. And unlike GoinHikin’s Rock & Roll Hoochie Koo that required 4 trips up the hill for me to find (actually Mike found it with some difficulty, even “knowing” where to look). Rocky Peak was in hand fairly quickly. We descended on a rather steep trail on the south side of the mountain and headed south on the road to the Hummingbird Trail junction. We made a few more finds on the way down the hill, and then it was through the drainage tunnel under the 118 and back to Mike and Cheri’s house.


It was one of those hikes that you don’t want to end. The weather was perfect, the hills and wildflowers were beautiful, and the time with friends was well spent. Total mileage was about 7 miles, with 8 caches found and no DNFs. A good day of caching!

Here are some of the blooms that we saw.  Enjoy.  And Happy Caching!







Tri-Peaks and the Completion of Two Very Nice Challenges

February 22, 2014


I’ve been working on two very nice challenge caches, both focused on caching in the Santa Monica Mountains.  The Santa Monica Mtns History Adventure requires finding all the active caches that were placed in the Santa Monica Mountains during the first 3 years of geocaching, that is before May 3, 2003.  There is also an “all but two” provision.  Currently, there are 64 required caches, plus the final.  That means to qualify, you need to find 63 caches.   The SuMMit Challenge requires finding a cache within .2 miles of 24 named peaks in the Santa Monica Mountains.  I love hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains, so going for these challenges was a natural.

When I learned of The Santa Monica Mtns History Adventure, I had exactly half of the required caches.  I wanted to work on the challenge, but didn’t make it a priority.  When The SuMMit Challenge was published, I had all but 8 of the summits.  Several of the 8 summits that I needed coincided with caches that I needed for the Santa Monica Mtns History Adventure.  I decided to work on both of the challenges together, with the goal of finishing as soon a possible.

Today’s hike would complete both challenges.  I needed one cache on TriPeaks to complete The SuMMit Challenge and I needed Diamond in the Rough Returns and Palos Verdes to Santa Barbara View to complete the Santa Monica Mtns History Adventure.  Well, almost.  I also needed Sherwood Forest………….at night! and tried to get it last night, but it just didn’t work out.  I did, however, pick up Sherwood Forest………….at night!, with EcuaDeb’s help, on the way home from our TriPeaks hike today.


Debbie Checking Out the Ridge and Balanced Rock

This morning, EcuaDeb, OLdweeb, sissopolis, and I met at the Sandstone Peak parking lot and headed UP the trail to the Mishe Mokwa Trail junction.  The plan was to do hike a counter-clockwise route.  It was the first time any of us had geocached on the Mishe Mokwa Trail.  Ken thinks he may have hiked it in the pre-geocaching days, perhaps 20 years ago.  It’s a great trail, with fantastic views.


P1020022Debbie and Craig at Balanced Rock

To get to Diamond in the Rough Returns, you need to leave the trail and take a route that is better suited for a mountain goat than for a geocacher.  Ken, applying the wisdom of someone who knew what was ahead, stayed behind while Debbie, Christine, and I made our way up the iffy trail to Balanced Rock.  We usually chose the right way to go.  Christine stayed at the bottom of the final pitch and Debbie and I continued on to the Rock.  After a few photos and enjoying the view, we headed back to the main trail.



We continued up the Mishe Mokwa Trail until we reached the cut off for TriPeaks.  After a few minutes of climbing up the trail, Ken and Christine decided that today wasn’t the day for TriPeaks.  Christine was still coming off of a terrible cold and the exertion just wasn’t helping her lungs at all.  Debbie and I wished them well, then headed up the trail.  Or perhaps “trail.”  Tri-Peaks is a pile of Swiss cheese rocks.  Finding the way through the jumble was a bit tricky, but the photos posted by I assume Faveral, the original cache owner, helped us find our way.


P1020038Trying to Figure Out the Path to Palos Verdes to Santa Barbara View


After working our way around and through the rocks, we aimed for SOUTH APPROACH TO TRI-PEAKS, a fairly well melted cache from the Springs Fire in May.  Then it was on to Palos Verdes to Santa Barbara View.  When we arrived at the top, there was a solitary hiker enjoying the peace of the summit.  He came up from the north.  I don’t think he was too happy to share the summit with us and soon left.  Other hikers arrived shortly after we did.  Palos Verdes to Santa Barbara View is a decon container.  Perhaps I should say that it is 2 decon containers.  When I found the cache, we noticed that the last logs were done in 2010.  We signed in, but the fact that the log was missing names we knew had found the cache really bothered Debbie.  She checked in an adjacent bush and found Decon #2, complete with Ken’s wooden nickel.

P1020041fefe158 and His Dad, John

We also found a couple of geocachers–9 yr-old fefe158 and his dad, John.  I always enjoy meeting fellow geocachers on the trail.

P1020042Looking Back the Way We Came

After a quick lunch, it was time to head down the hill.  Debbie needed Buddah’s Belly? for the SMMHA and we figured why not go for it since we were so close.  So off we went.  And so did my energy.  I did OK on the level or downhill, but even just a slight grade uphill just slowed me down, often to a stop.  For some reason, I was just out of gas.  But, slowly–very slowly, we made our way back to the parking area.  Total distance was somewhere between 9.7 and 10 miles.  Debbie’s going with 10 and I’m happy to agree.  Total elevation gain:  2611 feet.  Time:  7 hours 20 minutes.

TriPeaks 140222

To finish the day, we drove to Thousand Oaks and Debbie helped me locate Sherwood Forest………….at night!, which finished off my required caches for the Santa Monica Mtns History Adventure.

It was a great day of hiking, even with the problem of the “dry gas tank.”  I appreciate the efforts of paleolith and fastflyer for setting up these great challenges.  I enjoyed finding the “oldies” and remembering how geocaching was done when I started.  I enjoyed the challenge of summiting places that I probably never would have visited without The SuMMit Challenge.  These challenge caches are geocaching at its best.

Malibu Creek State Park

February 13, 2014


I enjoyed a hike today in Malibu Creek State Park.  This was my first time hiking in the main part of the park.  I came here for 2 caches for the Santa Monica Mtns History AdventureLife is Paramount in Malibu Creek and MASH Cache.  I’m glad that those caches brought me here.  It’s a very nice area.


I parked on Mulholland Highway, just west of Las Virgenes Road, at the Grasslands Trailhead.  Free Parking beats the $12 to park inside the state park any day.  It only took about 15 minutes to get from the truck to the Life is Paramount in Malibu Creek cache.  It’s a good climb up the hill, but the views are nice.

P1010999After finding the cache, I descended the hill and started walking up the road toward the MASH Cache.  There are several nice caches along the way, including 2 consecutive Earthcaches.  While it was sunny, the morning hadn’t yet heated up and the walk was pleasant.  The road is mainly level, with only one pitch of uphill.  The entire walk was enjoyable.



After crossing a bridge, the path turns from road to trail.  The trail follows the creek bed.  Not too much farther, the area widens out, you can see a MASH ambulance, and realize that you have arrived at the MASH site.  Just around the corner from the ambulance is the film location for the TV show.  There are several interpretive signs describing what happened and where.  The MASH Cache is easily located.  I thought the ammo box blended in quite with the MASH memorabilia.

P1020003A View from the MASH Filming Location


After leaving the MASH site, I hiked up Lost Cabin Trail for a couple of caches.  The rock above is near Judy’s Cabin This Way, the second of the two caches that I found along this trail.  As an added bonus, there is cell phone coverage here and I was able to send an “I”m OK” text home.  There are other caches along this trail, but they will have to wait for a return visit.


One of the highlights of this hike was the Forest Trail.  Forest Trail runs on the south side Century Lake.  The entire trail is in the shade and often in the shade of sequoia trees.  How in the world did they get here?  I was under the impression that I could make a loop by following the Forest Trail to the dam, then cross back over to the road on the north side of the lake.  No so.  Forest Trail is a dead-end at the dam.  I wasn’t a problem, however, because the trail is so nice.

mash 140213Trail profile and track

The entire hike took about 4 hours.  I covered about 7.5 miles and found 14 geocaches.  A very nice day of hiking.


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