Homer's Travels: Hiking Ventura County #51: Topa Topa Ridge

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Hiking Ventura County #51: Topa Topa Ridge

Well, I did it. I completed the series of hikes that I've been working on since February 2007. Thursday I did my most difficult hike: I hiked up to Topa Topa Ridge. Topa Topa Ridge is a very recognizable landmark in this area. The ridge has distinctive multi-colored strata. Topa Topa often turns pink from the light of the setting sun, a phenomena refered to as the 'Pink Moment' in Ojai. In the winter there is often snow on Topa Topa which enhances it's beauty. It has been a goal of mine to climb it. On Thursday I reached my goal.

I got up really early (4:15 AM) and left at 4:45 AM. This got me at the trailhead at 5:30 AM. I'd picked this time because there should have been enough light to see the trail. I hadn't taken the low clouds into account and it was darker than I expected. Fortunately, by the time I gathered my gear together, my eyes had adjusted and I could see everything clear enough so I headed out.

The first part of this hike follows Sisar Canyon road. The road follows a creek for awhile, crossing it twice before switchbacking up the ridge. The road is lined by thick forest and there was a lot of water flowing in the creek. It was early enough that I hoped to see some animals like coyotes or deer but I didn't see anything larger than a snake. Didn't even hear a howl. Bummer.

At one point along the road I stopped and rested. I looked to my right and saw a hollow tree and thought that would be a good place for a geocache. I walked over, looked in, and found "TroopSisar". This is the second time I've done this - weird.

About a half hour after I started, the sun rose just to the right of the ridge. It was awesome.

The road climbs until, at the 3 mile point, I reached a gate. From here I split from the road and follow marked trail, 21W08. The trail is more to my liking: A narrow trail lined with trees and wildflowers. The trail climbs steadily until you reach White Ledge Campground about one mile from the junction. The sign at the junction says a half mile but it's wrong.

At the campground I crossed the creek one more time before the trail really started climbing in earnest. Up it climbs. Up. Up. Up some more. The trail switchbacks up the ridge. The higher I climbed, the shorter the trees. The tall trees become short shrubs and small manzanita trees. I like manzanitas but they are so short that shade is non-existent.

At 5.8 miles I reached Nordhoff Ridge road. I've been on this road three times before - once on the way to Chief Peak and twice to Nordhoff Peak. From here I turned right. Just around the corner is a picnic table and a fire pit which is a good place to rest as the next part of the hike climbs over 1,000 feet in just over a half mile.

There are two ways form here to get to the top. The first is a short, fast, and grueling elevator. The other is a longer, slower, and leisurely walk. My plan was to go up the hard way and come down the leisurely way.

There is a trail marker pointing the way up the hard way so it's easy to find. The trail immediately becomes steep. As it goes up the switchbacks become shorter and steeper. Then, to make the slog more enjoyable, the biting flies started swarming. I was probably spending more time swatting at buzzing things than I was walking. I sat on a rock to rest and couldn't because of all the bugs biting and buzzing around my head. Then I had an idea. I dug through my fanny pack and pulled out the mesh drawstring bag that I used to carry trash. I took off my hat, put the bag over my head, and put my hat back on. I'm sure I looked pretty special. Before you ask, here is a picture - The topa topa bandit. It might have looked stupid but it kept the bugs out of my ears, nostrils, and mouth.

I finally made it to the top. By the time I got there any clouds that were there earlier had burned off. The view went on for miles. I could see all the way to Ojai, Lake Casitas, and Piedras Blancas. The Oxnard plain and the Channel Islands were lost in the haze. I decided to look for the cache that was hidden on the peak. After 15 minutes of no luck, I removed all my gear and sat on the rock couch/bench that other hikers had built. The bench was pretty comfortable. I sat with my hiking directions and geocaching descriptions lopped over one leg while I ate my lunch. All of a sudden I hear a rushing and the two large clumps of bushes behind me started rustling and out of the bushes came a dust devil. I closed my eyes because of the dust and I heard a flapping. I opened my eyes and saw my hiking/geocaching descriptions flapping around some twenty feet in the air. I sat there watching them twirling around and around and realized they weren't coming back. I took this picture when they were about a hundred feet away and some 1,000 feet off the ground. *sigh* It was kinda funny. *Heh*

I picked up the orange rinds that had blown all over the place and I finished my lunch. I laid down on the bench to rest in the sun. The warm sun and the breeze kept some of the bugs at bay. It was very pleasant. I decided to look for the cache again. It turned out that "Vinny's Topa Topa Cache" was literally under the rock my head was resting on when I was laying down. On the top I saw my first fossil out in the wild and a stone cross someone had built.

I called home on the cell phone and left a message letting the Wife know that I'd made it. I grabbed my gear and started off in the direction I thought the longer but easier descent was. Along the way I saw the damage from the Day Fire. It was nice to see the green at the bases of all the burned out trees. Unfortunately my choice of direction was wrong. After walking a bit I realized that was walking in the totally opposite direction that I wanted. I'd been following trail markers but the markers simply said "Trail" and had an arrow. They didn't say which trail I was on. I turned around and headed back up to the top of Topa Topa and looked around. I saw where I should have gone but decided that I would just go down the way I'd come up.

The way down was really tough on the ol' knees. It didn't help that the trail was covered in loose rock resulting in me doing the splits at least once - Ouch x 10!

I got back down to the road and made my way back to trail 21W08. Over the next 5.8 miles I picked up eight more geocaches. One of those was a First-To-Find called "Left Up in the Woods to Die" hidden in the White Ledge Campground.

The last mile and a half was cache-less and I really pushed myself to get back to the car. There was a cache at the trailhead but I didn't have any luck finding it. I stopped my search when some hikers showed up.

The hike was 15.3 miles (That's 0.06 longer than my last personal best - I know you like this precision, MoH) and there was 4,581 feet of vertical. A personal best for both length and vertical. I was on the trail for 11.5 hours. I'm really glad I got there early so I had the time I needed to find the caches and enjoy the hike. Unfortunately I was so tired on the way down that I forgot to stop and take a good picture of Topa Topa Ridge lit by the sun. Other pictures can be found here.

I'm finishing this post on Saturday and my legs, especially my calves, are still yelling. It'll probably take me a few days to totally recover. It was well worth it. I really enjoyed pushing myself and I am proud to say that I have not reached my limits yet. I am now more confident that I will be able to do the Pilgrimage of Saint James in 2010. The hardest day of the pilgrimage is the first day when you cross the Pyrenees. That crossing is roughly equivalent to the Topa Topa Hike. I now know that I can do it.


  1. You're awesome, honey!

  2. You know us too well. Anyone meeting you on the trail would have been frightened of that get up. ;)

  3. Congratulations! *sigh* Shame I couldn't join you for this one. Although, with that bug get-up, I probably would have pretended I didn't know you to any hikers we passed. ;)

  4. JaG: I knew the bag over the head would get you excited ;-) Fortunately there wasn't anyone else on the trail.

    GH: Thanks! I didn't meet anyone on this hike. Not sure how I would have reacted. Fortunately I only needed it for 30 - 40 minutes before it got to hot and windy for the bugs.