Sunday at noon Victor caught me online and we headed to Shamshiri for lunch. I had the lamb and while it tasted good, it was … “chewy.” Nothing like the super soft lamb I’ve always had at the Westwood Shamshiri. Shamshiri always stuffs you (with rice, mostly) to the point of pain. Today this would come in handy.
Victor had to do some homework, so I decided to go to Stoney Point by myself as it was such a nice day out. At Devonshire though I decided to make a left turn. Every time I’m up near stoney point I see the mountains to the left with rocks going all the way up and think “god, I want to climb to the top of that.” I think I’ve even mentioned that to some of you reading this when we’ve been in the car together in the area.
Well, today I decided to see if I could go up there. I parked at Chatsworth Park North. There was some kind of garden show (supposedly Huell Howser was inside) going on sponsored by the Chatsworth Historical Society. It was $4 and the median age of attendees was about 66, so I decided to skip it and head north into the actual park.
The first thing I noticed was that there were plenty of trails, but there were really no people. Eventually I’d see a horse rider or some teenagers here and there, but compared to all the other parks in Los Angeles this one was deserted. The horse trials would be perfect for mountain biking. I wasn’t concerned with biking though, I wanted to climb to the top.
To get to the top one has to climb over two ridges (or one, the second ridge is pretty much the top I guess). It wouldn’t be easy. I had to keep moving south along the base of the ridge. I did this for what must have been about half a mile before I finally found a non impossible (dangerous rock climbing) way up. Even though I had to go through a ton of brush (apparently nobody goes up that far, all the dirt trails stop way below that point) and dead tree branches I knew this was safer than actually trying to climb alone. At one point I thought I’d spotted a place I could “easily” climb up by myself:
This spot was higher up than it looks. The scene was cool though, there was a little sand pit at the base of this part and then immediately after that (behind me when I took the picture) was a large tree growing out of huge boulders that had fallen as water had (apparently in the past) flowed down the cliff. This was shortly before 4pm, so I took a breather at the sand pit and plucked all the little burs, thistles, etc. out of my socks and legs.
When I began to climb I realized that the way up was more treacherous than I initially surveyed. Although it looked very possible to climb it without injury based on what I know about climbing/bouldering…. I decided that I’d play it safe since I was by myself and climb back down (after I was about 12 feet up on my way) and try to go further south. As I started around the base I ran into my first snake:
I kept going and going and going, circling along the base of the first ridge. There were a billion spots that would have been spectacularly fun to climb IF I had safety equipment. Eventually I broke through the weeds and brush and climbed up and up and up (which was still dangerous as the rocks seem to have a lot of sandstone) and made it to the top of the first ridge. On top of that ridge is an electric tower (tower 417 actually):
I sat there for a while and then headed off to the ridge at the very top, one of the highest summits on any of the surrounding mountains. I decided that would be my goal, I’d get there and then call it a day.
Here is a photo from tower 417 showing the rock I was sitting on when I took the photo above:
My phone died soon after. After reaching the tower I found several dirt trails that led up to the next summit. Well, almost to the next summit. As I was climbing my way to the top I realized I was going to have to do another twenty feat of hard climbing to reach the absolute top. The rocks were all sandstone and literally giving out under my feet in a lot of spots so I decided to stop where I was. I sat there and leaned back for about fifteen minutes, just taking in the whole scene. I could see the entire valley, all the way from the 118 in the north to the Warner Center in the south and then forward (east) out until… well… the smog made everything gray somewhere around where the 405 must have been.
I looked at my watch when I was ready to leave; it was 5:15. I figured that I’d find a trail to get down pretty easily and be back at my car by 5:45 (I was wondering when the gate to the Garden Festival parking was going to close). I headed down the ridge, but everywhere I went I came upon cliffs that were shear vertical drops. I had to actually keep climbing up. I had to remind myself a few times that I’d be okay if I kept walking. I started moving faster and covering very dangerous terrain. Often I was running along cliff edges about ten feet from the edge through heavy brush and trees. Many times I could not even see my feet and more than once I ran into patches where the weeds were over my head. At least five times I turned around and headed up…and up… and up…
I really wasn’t getting anywhere. I had been trying to reach a small dirt trail that I could see way over south of where I was. I couldn’t see where it ended up though – but I assumed “oh, it’ll start after the next ridge.” Every ridge crest only brought a new vertical cliff face though and I had to go backwards. Eventually I gave up on the trail and headed over the summit to find the access roads I’d seen (further west) when I’d been at the top before. I saw houses off to the north when I was at tower 417, so I knew there had to be some roads somewhere.
I found blacktop eventually. I started walking …. After walking for a little while I found a gate, indicating that this wasn’t public access. I found a bunch of abandoned cars from the 80s. It was getting creepy. I kept walking and the blacktop turned into dirt again. Eventually I saw another blacktop road that went up the hill to what looked like a house. I thought “great, I’ll call someone at that house.” I started up the road and noticed “Private property, no trespassing, property of Rocketdyne.” The road was at a very steep grade and I was getting exhausted. At one point I looked at my watch and saw that it was about 6:30. I started to feak out a little bit. I kept pushing myself. I got to the top and found the strangest scene since going to creepy backwoods places in Ohio. What I found were several abandoned cars full of stuff. There was a giant oil or water storage drum. I scanned the drum for an emergency phone. There wasn’t one. Next I was going to check out this house that I thought I saw. It was… something… not quite a house, but not quite a shed. It looked like a home-made oversize storage shed, but it had a little entrance patio and real house doors. I knocked but nobody was there. The whole place looked like it had been home for someone who was suddenly and semi-permanently homeless, but had abandoned their home a while ago. There was a ton of weird stuff laying around on the ground like old power tools, lamps, shovels, tubs, nuts, bolts, etc. In retrospect I was probably lucky that this guy wasn’t around. I would probably be dead after the crazy guy on the mountain stabbed me with an old power drill. … none of his cars were operational (the hoods were open with engine parts strewn about) and I highly doubt he would have had a phone in the “house.”
In the map below you can see the drum (click on “satellite” view). Point B is the oil drum thing and point A is where I parked my car. (You may have to just click on “view larger map” if the map keeps refusing to embed itself)
View Larger Map
I looked over the side of the hill (the oil drum was at the crest of another part of the mountain) and saw that the houses I saw earlier were to my left. I went down the hill and followed more access roads. I decided to go east back towards the towers. I knew there was a chance I might just end up stuck at the towers again, but I also knew that behind the ridge was basically nothing for a long time, and spending the night back there was worse by spending it by the homeless guy’s oil drum was better if it came to that. I picked correctly though and to my delight I came out onto Mesa Drive.
I stopped at the first house where I saw activity and knocked on the door. A frightened woman came to the door and I asked if I could use the phone. She seemed perplexed and angry at my request (maybe she didn’t speak english very well), but after explaining it twice a man from somewhere behind her shouted “A lot of people get lost in that park!” in a pissed off tone. The woman relented and handed me a phone. I then realized that the only numbers I could remember in the whole world were my parents, my office and my own number. I didn’t want to call my parents and freak them out at what would have been 10pm their time. So, I called the office and hoped that Victor was still there. He wasn’t of course. The woman could tell I was leaving a message. She said “just wait here, five minutes, okay?” She closed the door and I waited. And waited. And waited. After ten minutes I gave up and started walking down Mesa. About a quarter mile down the road I came to another grouping of houses. There was a teenage boy walking around. I talked to him and he said he didn’t have a phone and nobody was home. He advised me to go back down a trail he and his friends use to go to Chatsworth Park. I decided that would be a bad idea. Instead I walked to the first house on the right. Before I even got to the already open door a woman and a giant poodle appeared and said hello.
She was very friendly and invited me inside, asking me about what had happened to me and offered me a bottle of water. She explained that she’d just moved here from India and didn’t know the area very well, but she’d gladly drive me back to my car. I couldn’t believe my luck, I was safe, and this woman was volunteering to drive me back down. She told me I was actually in Ventura County, later as we were on the freeway coming back to Chatsworth I noticed a “now entering Los Angeles County” sign. I had actually hiked out of LA…
On the ride down to Chatsworth she began explaining to me why she’d come back to America after being in India for 25 years. I couldn’t really understand it, but apparently she works for a Christian motivational something or other. She invited me to some sort of “prayer education” meeting. When we got back to the parking lot at Chatsworth Park I told her to wait for me to get my wallet so I could give her some money for her trouble and she refused. Instead she wrote down her name, phone number and website. After further research I found more info about her here. My car was the only one left and the Garden people had already closed and locked the gate. The parking lot had no fence though, and so I only had to drive over the birm to get out.
I was glad to be alive. There were a few points in the ordeal when I knew that if I was a weaker person I would have just given up on that mountain and been cougar food. It also was very fortuitous that Victor and I had gorged ourselves on Persian food. I used every last calorie in that mountain of rice running up the hill, jumping on rocks and breaking dead trees. All the trees were dead and covered in ash from the fire a year before.
It wasn’t until I got home that I looked at myself and realized how scraped up I’d gotten. In addition to the scrapes my body and clothes were covered in smears of black from smashing through all the dead burnt trees.
Here is one section of one leg:
I’d worn my thin OSU workout shorts and shirt, and some tiny socks, so large swaths of my skin was exposed. I didn’t realize how many little cuts (and some big ones) I’d gotten everywhere. I guess I must have been pumping a lot of adrenaline to not feel any of that. The only thing I felt the whole time were the annoying burs that kept getting caught in my shoes.
Don’t try this at home kids.
A few key mistakes:
At every other park in LA – when you climb to the top, you always find an easier trail back down – because you were never the first one to the top. In this wilderness I was wrong about that. I think I actually trespassed onto private land.
Make sure your cell phone is fully charged.
Remember, it is harder going down than up…
I DID however let two people know where I was before my phone went dead, and always kept my wits about me.