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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Hiking to Sandstone Peak- Santa Monica, California

If you have been following this blog for a little while, you probably know I am not much of a city person.  The crowds, the traffic, the prices, the garbage, the crime... I could go on and on. You may be thinking "didn't you live in a city Katie,  downtown in fact? " Yes, I lived in a city downtown for two years but Salt Lake City is such an easy city compared to some of our country's big cities like New York and Los Angeles.  With that being said, I still like to visit and can definitely appreciate a city for a day or two.  I love the various food and sheer amount of things to do, aspects you can find in just about any city.  

When I had the chance to visit Los Angeles, I jumped at the opportunity for these reasons.  The first thing a few people said to me was "you don't seem like an LA kind of gal".  Yes, yes they were all right.  I was excited to see the city but let's be honest, within five minutes I was researching the best hikes and outdoor activities in the area.  I was staying in Santa Monica just outside of LA and within minutes, had found some great hikes and activities in the area. 

Yuerba Buena Road (to the trailhead) below 

Put me somewhere and I will always find Katie Wanders activities.   In this search, I came across a bunch of day hikes, the closest National Park (Joshua Tree), and something called the Malibu Wine Safari.  Yes, this is a real thing where you can drink wine in a vineyard while also on a "jeep safari", stopping to feed retired Hollywood animals like giraffes and zebras- it is a little pricey and because KC and James had already been and we had a lot planned this went on the list for another trip.   Hiking was the priority on Friday and because I am a planner I plugged in the most interesting sounding hikes into a map to see where they were and to plan out the lucky trail.  It came down to Sandstone Peak, the highest peak in the Santa Monica mountains.  While still 34 miles and an hour drive, it was one of the closer options and allowed us the chance to drive through Malibu.  This hike would allow us to stand at the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains while gaining some elevation, a good workout, and see what Southern California is all about. 

Backbone Trail near the summit 

Sandstone Trail 

Leaving Santa Monica, we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, past the wide beaches, the Pacific teeming with surfers waiting for waves, past the seafood shacks, the Malibu Pier, and other very California attractions.  Eventually, we took a turn inland and I was amazed at how fast the scenery had changed.  No longer was it a wide highway lined with campers and surfers, but rugged peaks and twisted turning roads climbing fast.  After a hairy drive around some of the tightest hairpin turns (without guard rails), we finally arranged at the trailhead with some gorgeous views all around us.  We went from ocean to mountainous desert in the matter of 6 miles.  Okay California, let's see what this hike is all about. 

Mountains of Santa Monica 

Sandstone Peak, the end destination of our hike, sits atop Boney Ridge.  The name is deceiving as Sandstone Peak is actually volcanic rock sitting at 3,111' above sea level, making it the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains.  You can hike out to the summit and back for a quick 3-mile hike, or extend the hike into a 6-7 mile loop.   We decided to extend the hike into a loop, parking at the Sandstone Trailhead, up the Sandstone Peak Trail to the summit.  If you are going to turn this hike into a loop on the Mishe Mokwa and Backbone Trail, then most people advise you do the loop in a counterclockwise loop, adding more mileage to reach the summit, making the 1,656' elevation gain much more gradual.  If you go counterclockwise, you will reach the summit in about 4.5 miles instead of 2 miles (the clockwise loop).  We weren't paying attention and did the loop in a clockwise fashion, climbing the elevation in a shorter timeframe and reaching the peak within the first hour of the hike.  While the climb up was steep in sections, we enjoyed our quick ascent to the summit and low and slow descent around the loop back to the trailhead. 

Water and picture break on our way to the summit 

If you want to reach the peak first and slowly loop around, head clockwise.  If you want to spread out the elevation, reaching the peak at the end of the hike but making the ascent easier, hike this loop counterclockwise (the direction we saw everyone going).  But for storytelling purposes, we are going to hike it the harder way, clockwise. 

Parking area at the trail head

Signage at the trailhead.  Sandstone Peak Trail to the summit 

Trail Stats
Distance:  7 miles loop
Elevation (gained):  1,656'
Elevation (at summit): 3,111' 
Time:  3 hours 
Trailhead:  Sandstone Trailhead- dirt parking lot with one bathroom
Trail: LOOP HIKE- Sandstone Peak Trail to the Backbone Trail to Mishe Mokwa Trail
Dogs:  Yes- on leash
Directions:  From Santa Monica, take the Pacific Coast Highway north for about 29 miles and take a right onto Yerba Buena Road. Continue east for 6.4 miles and a dirt parking area will be on the left side of the road, just after a sharp bend. If the trailhead is full, there is an overflow lot 0.6 miles to the east of the main lot with a connection to the Backbone Trail.

Views along the hike

From the trailhead, we headed north on the Sandstone Peak Trail to Sandstone Peak.  The trail climbed quickly but was doable with a few breaks to catch our breath and enjoy the view.  The trail was exposed and hotter than we expected as the weather at the apartment was cool and overcast (thank goodness KC brought sunscreen).  After reaching the summit, we enjoyed an ice cold beer, courtesy of James who lugged four beers in a soft cooler WITH an icepack in his backpack) up the mountain.  The day was overcast and the views aren't as clear as we hoped,  but we still enjoyed gorgeous 360 views of the Santa Monica Mountains.  I will say, the summit was buggier than we expected  so after our beverages, we continued west on the trail, past Inspiration Point to the Backbone Trail that then headed north on Boney Mountain.  

Last turn before the summit

View from the summit (cloudy day)

Standing at the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains 

View from the summit (cloudy day)

We then headed east on the Mishe Mokwa Trail where the landscape soon changed to grassy green and cool by Split Rock.  At Split Rock, there is a confusing intersection where one trail continues straight and the other (which looks smaller) crosses a streambed.  Follow the smaller trail to the left across the stream bed.  About 1 minute into our hike past Split Rock, Thatcher stops the group to report a snake sighting.  Thinking he is being a baby about a snake on the trail, I march to the front to see a big old RATTLESNAKE rattling at me and refusing to move off the middle of the trail.   We quickly turned around and went back to Split Rock to regroup and form a plan.  This snake was not budging at the moment and provoking it further was not the smartest decision (this is definitely promulgating a rattlesnake safety post).  We decided to sit down, have a snack, and give the snake a few minutes to make his way off the trail.  Or, option B, wait for another hiker to come along and move the snake off the trail.  Thankfully after we finished out granola bars, a pair of hikers came through and reported that the snake had indeed moved off the trail.  

Views along the trail 

Trail by Spilt Rock (aka snake alley)

We finished the hike with our eyes peeled for any other rattlers on the trail.  Eventually, we reached the trailhead where we hopped in the car dreaming of California Tacos and showers. If you are in LA and want to get away for a gorgeous hike in the mountains of Santa Monica, this is for you.  Elevation, highest point, insane views all around, and a relatively easy hike to navigate.  Beware, it is a ways outside of Santa Monica and as we learned, rattlesnakes can be found along the trail.  What would a Katie Wanders weekend be without a great hike and a little bit of suspense thrown in the middle?   Stay tuned for more Katie Wanderings around Southern California. 

Summit Beers

Happy Hiking,

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