Homer's Travels: Route 66 & California - Topa Topa Ridge

Monday, January 09, 2012

Route 66 & California - Topa Topa Ridge

On our second day in Oxnard-Ventura area I did a hike.  When I was planning this trip I'd narrowed my hiking choices down to two: Potrero John or Topa Topa Ridge.  Potrero John is a relatively flat five miler while Topa Topa is a 15+ miles with 5,000 foot of elevation.  I figured I would decide after talking to GeekHiker.

As I discovered, and mentioned in my last Route 66 & California post, GeekHiker was not available so the choice of hikes was up to me.  I ended up choosing Topa Topa.

Now let's look at the rational for doing this hike, the hardest one day hike I'd ever done.  I'd just finished walking 510+ miles on the Camino.  I'd crossed the freakin' Pyrenees mountains with a pack on my back.  The Topa Topa hike wasn't very much different from the first day on the Camino.  On top of that, I'd already done this hike and I didn't remember it being too hard, - difficult yes, too hard no.  I felt like a superman, baby!  Bring it!  Heck, I figured it would be so easy I could do Potrero John the next day.  Yeah ... right.

Flowers on the way up Topa Topa Ridge.
So I drove up to the trailhead.  There are a couple parking spots one at the trailhead itself and another about a half mile down the dirt road.  The last time I was there they had just done maintenance on the road and you could take a regular car to the trailhead.  Apparently they haven't maintained it since I left California because there were ruts in the road big enough to swallow up the Honda Civic I was driving.  I ended up parking in the parking area about a half  mile from the actual trailhead.  PFFT!  a half mile is nothing.

I didn't have a pack.  I had a camelback full of water and a few snack bars in my pant's pockets.  I was back in my pilgrim garb (The first time in boots, long pants, and hat since I returned from Spain).  I had my hiking pole.  I confidently started up the trail.

The trail up to Topa Topa ridge.
It was mid-July and usually it can get quite hot but the weather this day was overcast and in the 70s.  The last time I did this hike it had also been cloudy and I wasn't able to get a clear picture of Topa Topa ridge.  Apparently Topa Topa is shy and she kept herself hidden from me once again.

I felt pretty good until I didn't, which is usually the case.  After the White Ledge Campground, following the arrow (white ... not yellow) the trails turns steep and the energy just drained out of me.  Several times as I plodded up that hill I asked myself "what was I thinking?"  My walking speed declined steadily.  I berated myself all the way up to the top to Nordhoff Ridge road.  I almost turned around twice.

I knew there was a picnic table just up the road and I figured I could rest there.  I turned a corner and there were a couple trucks and several people camping by the picnic table.  The table was full of stuff and I decided that I would just keep going.  One of the guys said hi and asked if I was okay.  I said yeah.  He said "You don't look it."  I should have taken that as a hint and quit there but I didn't.  I'd just walked across northern Spain Damn it!!

The sign says it all.
I reached the trail that took you to the top of Topa Topa ridge aptly named Last Chance trail.  At this point the trail really turns up and becomes a bit treacherous.  I stopped a lot on the way up this trail and when I finally reached the top I collapsed on a stone bench at the top.

I set the timer on my watch for thirty minutes and decided not to move until it went off.  I was wiped.  Totally wiped.  This was so much harder than the last time I did it.  It was harder than any day in Spain.  I guess sitting in the car for the last two weeks had erased any benefit I'd gained in Spain.  I was completely spent.  I had nothin'.

My alarm went off and I figured if I didn't get going I would never make it.  I took in the views - the ridge was above the clouds and the views were quire lovely - and headed back down the way I came. (I found a geocache on the way down ... the second one found without using my GPS on this trip - "Middle Switchback")

The view from Topa Topa Ridge.
Usually I find that going down is easier than going up.  At least it feels like it take less energy.  It is also hard on the knees.  By the time I made it down my legs and knees had taken some major punishment.  Even my walking stick hadn't helped much.  I cursed myself for not listening to my inner voice when I wanted to turn around.

The last mile or two ... or three or four ...  I was staggering.  I probably looked like an extra on the Walking Dead.  I was cursing myself all along the way down.  It didn't help that I'd run out of water three miles from the car.  This superman had met his kryptonite.  This hike was very humbling.  At the hotel I had the first ibuprofen since I'd returned from Spain.  Actually it might have been the only Ibuprofen I've had since I returned from Spain.  I also had three blisters on my feet, which were the least of my problems.

For the next five or six days my right knee hurt like heck.  I've learned since then, talking with my physical therapist, that the pain I felt was joint pain possibly caused by damage to the cartilage and/or meniscus.  My twisted pelvis, aggravated back injury, and my over-pronation probably conspired together to put extra stress on the right knee.  As of the writing of this post I still have issues with my right knee.  I've been wearing a sleeve on the knee when I walk which seems to help.

Oh ... and I didn't do Potrero John the next day.  Couldn't have done it if I wanted to.  Could hardly walk.

These pictures and more have been added to my 2008-2011 Topa Topa Ridge Hike Google Photos album.

Total Distance: 15.82 Miles (25.46 km)
Total Time: 8 Hours 31 Minutes
Total Elevation Up: 5,105 ft (1,556.00 m)
Total Elevation Down: 5,108 ft (1,556.92 m)

[Click on map for a larger version]
Note:  In the map, the bottom two plots show the elevation in red and the speed in the blue.  Each spike down is a rest stop.  That's why it took over eight hours to complete this hike.


  1. Ahh Bruce, Ah am sittin hear weepin with laughter. Not at you...with you. This was me on a my first hilly bike ride after I got back and was still horribly aenemic! The only bike ride I have ever ever bagged. Hell I even accepted a ride from a stranger to get back to my car! You know, that thing ya mutha said never ever to do!! I did it and will bless that man forever!! Nice to know I wasn't the only one to arrive home, and bonk!

  2. Wow! Love it. And the picture with the red flowers along the path... reminds me of the poppies along the Camino. Well, just about everything reminds me of the Camino but still...


  3. Only one thing comes to mind: Take it a little easier would you? Unless you really want to seriously damage your legs or knees.

    And don't forget that superman can actually fly. Something you are (yet) incapable of.

  4. KSam: Glad to hear I made you laugh. Also glad I'm not alone in my bonkitude.

    GV: Thanks. I hear ya! Me too.

    Gany: Fly ?!? Why didn't I think of that? I could have flown to the top! Lol!

  5. Thse are beautiful pictures! Oh I hope you had plenty of rest and recovery time after this difficult hike!

    1. Thanks! I did. I'm still recovering six months later but I'm getting better.