Friday, September 16, 2016

Star Benchmark

Hiked: 9/16/2016
Distance: 9.3 miles round trip on dirt road and cross country
Summit Elevation: 1942'
Elevation Gain: 1900'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.52
Round trip time: 4 hours 40 minutes
Recommended water: 64 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Black Star Canyon Road
Difficulty: Moderate

On two different hikes up Black Star Canyon Road, I noticed the switchbacks of an abandoned road or trail on the east wall of Black Star Canyon. It was not shown on any map, but looked like it might lead up to the ridge and allow access to a benchmark at 1942'. Roads leading to 1942' from the other side were gated, signed, and surrounded by electrified barbed wire. The satellite view left parts of the canyon wall in darkness so I decided to explore the trail to see if there was a way through. If I got to the ridge, I also wanted to scout the firebreak leading the other way to see if it could be used for a future hike to peak 2829. The round trip to Star benchmark alone is about 7.6 miles.

Noel met me at the Black Star trailhead and we headed up the road. When we descended into Black Star Canyon itself, the trail we wanted to explore was almost directly across the canyon, above a 10' dirt embankment. We scrambled up and began following a use trail that had clearly seen some human traffic. The first two switchbacks take you near a cliff face with light bushwhacking. The next section led to a complete wash out with thicker vegetation. We found our way through, then entered the satellite black out zone. I had drawn my own GPS track on a map and brought it with me, guessing where to go from here. The track had us continuing downhill toward a road cut across the next gully, but we saw what looked like the continuation of our road and another switchback above us. We talked it over and decided to stick to the devil we knew. The bushwhacking was moderate in this section and we had to negotiate another complete washout at the next turn. The vague trail along the road here could have been animal or human. The overgrown road made a final turn and took us up to the ridge.

Descending into the canyon

Noel climbing up the embankment

The first cliff

Looking back into Black Star Canyon

Crossing the first wash out


Approach to Star Benchmark, high point before the giant cross

The ridge was more than a wide firebreak, it was a driveable road. We headed toward the giant cross and found the USGS Star benchmark on the high point just before. The views were great from here, and although there was no register, two small cairns framed the benchmark. Other hikers had been here. As we walked over to investigate the giant cross, we noticed there were other large crosses set up at various points around the summit. There were also some on a road leading up. There were scriptures stapled to some of the crosses. The giant cross was about 40' tall, constructed of what looked like railroad ties. A dedication plaque was at the foot of it that read "The Cross, dedicated to Gary Taylor, 1946-1999". It was covered in bird shit. The rocky bluff along Baker Canyon to the south was cool looking. The benchmark is inside the national forest boundary, but it might be part of an in-holding. I'm still not sure if this place is on public or private land, but based on the lack of signs, would guess public.

On the way back, we continued past the descent point to see what condition the firebreak was in going the other way. Noel stopped at the first bump and headed home while I continued to explore the ridge. I reminded him to watch out for snakes, a helpful hint he could have done without. Beyond the first bump, heading NE, the brush started intruding. Light at first, then moderate until I stopped on a high point around 2300'. I took a couple of photos of the ridge and peak 2829. I knew the firebreak continued at least to the next bump, but I didn't see anything encouraging past that. It looks nasty from both directions, but the Hidden Ranch route might be better. I had done enough scouting, turned around and cleaned up two mylar balloons on the way out.

Star Benchmark, placed 1928

One of many small crosses, the latin translates to "Jesus Christ King of the Jews",
the second line is Greek (same meaning), and the bottom I would guess is Hebrew

The giant cross

Cool cliffs in Baker Canyon

The lizard king, he can do anything

Dry looking Irvine Lake

Peak 2829 from my turnaround point

Thursday, September 8, 2016


Hiked: 9/8/2016
Distance: 2.2 miles round trip on use trail
Summit Elevation: 2036'
Prominence: 1066'
Elevation Gain: 1213'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 0.97
Round trip time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Recommended water: 32 oz.
Parking/Fees: Free on Kanan Road
Difficulty: Easy (scrambling required)

Caution: There are parts of this hike that require using your hands for balance and scrambling over rocks and loose dirt. Not family friendly.

I had a long drive home from Gaviota Peak, so I found this small bonus hike that could also break up my drive. It is in Agoura Hills just south of Ventura, only a mile or so from highway 101. The profile of this small peak is supposed to resemble a lady's face, ergo Ladyface, but unlike Indianhead, I had a hard time seeing it. It also sports more than 1000' of prominence. There is a well traveled use trail starting from Kanan Road. A dirt strip turn out on the right side of the road at the trailhead accommodates 5-6 cars. There was only one other vehicle parked there so I had no issue. At the beginning, it looks like there are two big bumps with the summit being the second bump, but that was misleading. I passed the first bump and got a good look at the second. The direct route had about 25' of legit class 3, an unexpected and pleasant surprise. There was a bypass trail to the left, but it looked more sketchy than going up the good volcanic rock. At the top of the second bump, it became clear that it was a false summit.

Ladyface from the road, do you see a face?

Starting out, false summits ahead

Nearing the second bump


Looking back at the first bump

The third bump, had it been the summit, could have been another nice section of class 3. However, as I got near, I saw the use trail leading around it to the slightly higher true summit further along the ridge. The true summit required no climbing. I continued over it a short distance to make sure it was the top and to look around for any markers. I didn't find any and I didn't find a register. I suspect this fun, short, ridge scramble is very popular in the area. I returned to the summit to relax and enjoy the scenery a few minutes before starting back. The views were nice, though my photos were a little polluted from the bright light. This hike was fun and salvaged an otherwise lackluster day.

Third bump was another false summit

True summit

A cut pole marker and an empty hole on the summit

Continuation of the ridge, nothing higher

Looking east at Agoura Hills and the 101

Looking west

The summit is only 2036' not 2101', GPS error

Gaviota Peak

Hiked: 9/8/2016
Distance: 6.2 miles round trip on trail
Summit Elevation: 2458'
Elevation Gain: 2200'
Elevation Gain (in Empire State Buildings): 1.76
Round trip time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Recommended water: 32 oz.
Parking/Fees: $2 State Park Fee
Difficulty: Moderate

Gaviota Peak is #69 on the Lower Peaks list. The trail starts in Gaviota State Park just off Highway 101, about 33 miles north of Santa Barbara, but the peak itself resides in Los Padres National Forest. There is a self-registration fee for parking. I filled the little packet with my $2 day hike fee, then started off before the park officially opened at 7 AM. I was the only car in the lot when I got there and the only car in the lot when I got back.

There are two trails to the summit. The main trail is wide and more direct, while the Trespass Trail is supposed to have better views. I knew when I drove up that the low cloud cover was going to kill the views so I took the main trail. There were large oaks and sycamores in the first mile. It was an easy trip up to the saddle below Gaviota where I took a right turn onto a single track for the last bit. Along the way, there were a few use trails branching off in different directions. Some of them were minor shortcuts I took on the way back. There were no real obstacles or challenges and the clouds took away the views, so the hike was kind of blah. The elevation profile is nearly a perfect inverted V. Bob Burd's description of the large metal register holder as a trash bin was accurate. I signed the book on the top of the pile and put it back to get lost with the others. The upside to the clouds was that it stayed cool all the way and I only needed half the water I brought. If I'm back in the area with good weather and some time to kill, I might have to try this one again.


Trail cutting up to the saddle, Gaviota in the clouds somewhere right of the saddle

Cloud covered summit approach

Metal register bin on the summit

Half filled bin

Reference mark, could not find the benchmark

Some of the clouds starting to clear on the way down

Other trip reports:
Gaviota Peak (Bob Burd's California Travels)