Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sandstone Peak 4-bagger

Hiked: 3/22/2013
Distance: 8 miles round trip on trail and cross country
Summit Elevation: 3111' (Sandstone Peak), 2825' (Boney Peak), 2800' (Inspiration Point), 2950' (Exchange Peak - attempt), 3000' (Tri Peaks)
Prominence: 2201' (Sandstone Peak), Others < 500'
Elevation Gain: 1927' (combined)
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.54
Round trip time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free
Difficulty: Moderate

Sandstone Peak is the highest point in the Santa Monica Mountains, and the highest of a cluster of nearby peaks on the Sierra Club lower peaks list. It is a popular destination because of its close proximity to LA, ocean views, and boulders and cliffs that attract rock climbers. Following in the footsteps of Bob Burd and others, Noel and I planned to hit all of the "Sandstone Seven" peaks, only six of which are officially recognized by the Sierra Club. However, things don't always go according to plan and we only bagged four.

For directions to the trail, a map and complete information is available at the National Park Service site. The convenience for LA residents is an inconvenience for a south OC hiker like me. Google maps predicted a full two hour drive to get to the Sandstone Peak trailhead on Yerba Buena Road. It took 2 hours to get there and a miserable 2.5 hours to get back due to traffic and accidents. Ouch.

Sandstone Peak is the first peak you reach along the Backbone Trail, requiring a quick thousand foot gain and short rock scramble. It has a first class register cubby built into the rock. It was quite windy on top, and on all of the peaks. The views were very nice in all directions with the ocean on one side and the sprawling valley on the other.

Boney Peak is reached from a use trail on the left and requires a full class 3 scramble up 15' or 20' to get on the summit block. There were multiple climbing anchors on it, but plenty of handholds meant no ropes were needed.

Inspiration Point was an easy walk up to the Boy Scout memorial at the top. The views from each peak pretty much matched those of Sandstone Peak.

Sandstone Peak trailhead

View toward Pacific Ocean from Sandstone Peak summit

Looking down from Boney Peak summit

Memorial plaque at Inspiration Point

Exchange Peak is where things starting going wrong. We followed the use trail past the water towers but were unable to locate a trail to approach the large summit formation. Instead of attacking it head on, we searched for an approach from the tamer looking West side. That led to us to attempt following a faint animal trail into the thick chaparral and brush. After getting most of the way up the West side, our gambit failed in a stand of poison oak. On our return we think we spotted an approach that was more direct but didn't have the heart for it with other peaks on the target list. [See this hike for my revenge on Exchange Peak]

Tri peaks got us back in the win column, following the marked but unmaintained trail. It has a giant summit block with a USGS marker at the base. I was content to hang out at the base while Noel made a partial ascent for a better view.

The last two peaks, Poptop and Big Dome did not show up on my GPS topo map, and did not stand out among the half dozen peaklets surrounding Tri Peaks. So we abandoned the last two and cut a cross country path over to the Mishe Mokwa trail to complete the back side of the loop. This took us past Split Rock and gave us a great view of Balanced Rock. I think the failure at Exchange Peak and not being able to find the last two peaks was due to lack of research. I should have spent some time looking at satellite images and other reports. The lesson was learned.

Approaching Exchange Peak

The quest for Exchange Peak ended in the middle of thick brush and poison oak

Boy Scouts benchmark placed on Tri-Peaks

Noel resting part way up the Tri-Peaks summit block

Balanced Rock

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