Start: Circle X Ranch
End: Sycamore Canyon Campground
Approximate Distance: 15.3 miles
Approximate Ascent: 1,050 feet
Approximate Time: 6 hours and 15 minutes
I woke up on Day 4 to a soaking wet tent from the rain the night before. I packed it up as neatly as I could in the pre-dawn twilight. As with Day 3, my campsite was actually several miles off the Backbone Trail, so after eating some food and water, I had to retrace my steps back to the trail. I started Section 13 in the clouds, climbing up Sandstone Peak, which is the highest mountain in the Santa Monica range. It was so cloudy that my portable solar panel was having a hard time charging my phone and GPS – so I tried to preserve power as much as I could. I was the only person on the trail as I left Circle X Ranch and entered the Boney Mountain wilderness. After about an hour, I started zig zagging back down off the mountains. The sun was starting to peak through the clouds, which mottled the green hillsides with a patchwork of sunshine and shade. During this portion I was able to go very fast because the ground was soft and even, and it was cool and damp from the rain the night before.
Finally I made it down off the mountain to a valley. I began to see signs of the wildfire that came through the area in 2013. Many of the trees were dead and scarred black. However, the recent record-breaking rains had clearly helped the area’s recovery. Beautiful grasses were growing tall – at times almost even obscuring the path. As I came into Danielson Ranch the trail crossed over a creek. It was clear that the creek had overrun its banks at some point in the last couple of months – there was debris everywhere and the path had been partially washed away. I followed way markers until I reached the Danielson Ranch Campground and picked up the Big Sycamore Canyon Trail. I started seeing more and more mountain bikers – so I knew I was near the end of the trail. I wasn’t going too fast because I was tired and had blisters on my feet, but I was very happy by this point because I knew I only had a few more miles to go until I finished the whole trail. The sun came out and the hillsides all around me were covered with beautiful wild flowers. I even saw a few chartreuse parrots flying among the massive sycamore trees! As I walked a few miles further, I started to feel a fresh ocean breeze rushing past me… and all of a sudden it hit me that I had done it. I had walked the entire length of the Backbone Trail by myself. I had traveled close to 80 miles over the course of 4 days. I felt the tension lifting from my shoulders and immediately felt more relaxed. I got to the end of the trail and called Eric to come pick me up. He arrived within forty minutes with my favorite sandwich, salad, and juice. A very welcome change from Clif Bars and beef jerky! My feet were pretty raw for a couple of days, and my back and knees were a little sore from carrying the pack. Within a week, however, I felt like I was close to being recovered.
Hiking the trail had been an amazing experience. I pushed my boundaries and saw beautiful parts of the Santa Monica mountains that few people ever get to see. I felt a great sense of accomplishment. Many people have been amazed that I did the hike all by myself. However, this was something I had a dream about doing – even if it meant going it alone. My main takeaway was that it is possible to accomplish big things with preparation, training, patience, and commitment.