Malibu Creek

October 21-22, 2006

October 21

At some point during the summer, perhaps around the time I camped in Yosemite with friends and enjoyed that so much, I decided it was time for a family camping trip.  I'd camped exactly once before with Kyoko many years ago in Foothills Park, Palo Alto, a park with the distinction that only Palo Alto residents (and their guests) are allowed in.  I forget just when that was, but probably not too long afterwards we had Kyle (in fact Kyoko might have been pregnant then), and it seemed Kyle was finally ready to go camping and enjoy it.  I set up our two-person tent in the living room and Kyle enjoyed playing in that and started looking forward to camping himself.  We went to REI and picked up a sleeping bag for him.  At first I thought of getting a children's bag, and then realized there was no point to that at all.  Since I already had 15 and 30 degree Marmut down bags I bought a 20 degree synthetic bag for him for variety (a red Sierra Designs Wild Bill bag).  I already had two Thermarest inflatable pads, and decided to let Kyoko use the full-length one and Kyle the 3/4 length lightweight backpackers pad.  I bought a Ridgerest closed-cell foam pad for myself to use which I figured would be useful for later trips to the mountains where I wouldn't want to worry about an inflatable pad leaking.  I found it fine to sleep on--not quite as comfortable as the inflatable pads but not bad at all, and I prefer harder "beds" in general.  We already had the other basic camp equipment, so just bought some fuel and a couple freeze-dried meals.

I looked at some camping books and on the web, and decided Malibu Creek State Park was the best bet for a first family camping trip.  It was expensive ($25 plus $7.50 if you reserve either online or via phone) but seemed to have good facilities and I figured it would be good to have as much luxury as possible on our first family trip.  Also it was close by (only a half hour by car) and I knew the scenery was beautiful.  I had been to Malibu Creek once before, hiking there by myself over two years ago, July 28, 2004.  Since it was such an easy hike I didn't include it in my list of hike trip reports, but I did mention it in email (sent July 31) to my friend Mike Vermeulen:

Wednesday was my hike, and I wanted to do something nearby and easy, so I picked a nice 14 mile loop in Malibu Creek State Park (only a 30 minute drive from home). I was looking at some old photos of yours on the web the other day, and happened to see you've been there as well with your parents! So perhaps you remember what it's like. The Santa Monica Mountains may be small, but they more than make up for it with steepness and drama--absolutely stunning scenery, and the hike followed a ridge overlooking several canyons so I got a lot of variety. The chief problem, which I was worried aobut before going, is that there are too many trails in places and it's easy to get off track. This was especially true at the start, where I was trying to get from where I parked my car to essentially the Malibu Creek State Park entrance. I should have just gone on the road, as the trails were a complete mess. I found some signs at one point that said backbone trail, but this part seemed to have not been maintained in ages as it was completely overgrown. Then it deadended into the creek itself. You could wade across (I was surprised to see so much water as it hasn't rained in recent memory), but I chose to go over a bit, hop across some rocks, and then bushwhack back to the trail. I didn't suspect so much adventure on this hike, which was supposed to be mainly on wide fire roads with gentle slopes. Eventually I did make it to them, and went past the MASH site that you guys saw and then around the big loop. A great hike. I think it took about 5.5 hours but at least an hour of that was spent trying to figure out which way to go at places. I found my compass and GPS both helpful on the hike.

Another advantage was that there is rock climbing not far from the campground.  I hadn't noticed it when I hiked there before (indeed I didn't go down the side trail to the Rock Pool that also goes to the climbing area) but I learned later there are several climbing areas including the "Planet of the Apes Wall".  The climbs seemed too hard for Kyle (and probably me as well) but I figured we could take a look, and perhaps find some scrambling nearby this time.

The original plan was to go October 1-2 (Sunday night), since Monday was a holiday (Yom Kippur!) for Kyle's kindergarten, and although UCLA isn't off that day my one class didn't start until 3pm so we could get back in plenty of time.  This would have been a nice quiet time to go but unfortunately after months of no rain there was forecast to be rain that very night!  It's a good thing I didn't make reservations.  Also Kyle was a little sick.  It ended up not raining much (maybe 0.1 inch) but still I wanted the first camping trip to be as perfect as possible.

The next couple weekends were no good as I was going to see Wagner's Ring the next weekend and the weekend after that was a birthday/bowling party thrown by one of Kyle's friends.  So the 21st-22nd was the next possibility, and I really wanted to do the trip before daylight saving time ended so we'd have an extra hour of daylight at night when we needed it.  Fortunately the weather that weekend was forecast to be perfect, and even better the Santa Ana winds were blowing so it was nice and warm.  I made reservations this time online to be sure we had a spot.

Although checkin time was 2pm we left a little late since I was watching the football game between my school (UCLA) and my father's school (Notre Dame).  Finally around 2:30 I decided it was time to go since UCLA was still leading but it looked likely Notre Dame would come back and win (and indeed this happened, as I found out just now as I'm writing this).  At first it looked like the trip would be a disaster, as Kyoko complained of feeling ill and she and Kyle slept in the back seat while I drove to the park.  However once we got there they both woke up and felt better.

We arrived around 3:15 or so and got what seemed to be one of the poorer campsites--no shade and right next to some dumpsters (which were fortunately downwind from us, so we didn't smell anything).  It was also near the toilets, which was convenient but also a little annoying at night because the light from the toilets, on all night, was quite bright.  It was hot, so I figured it was better to take a hike now and set up our tent when we got back.  I was also hoping we could stop by the visitor center, which closed at 4pm.  The hike (which was probably about 2 miles total) was very nice, but we took our time and didn't reach the visitor center until 4:15 and it was of course closed.  We then took the side trail to the Rock Pool.  I wasn't sure where the climbing areas were or if there was anything we could scramble on, but after a while we came upon some very nice rock and Kyle immediately wanted to climb up.  We didn't take any pictures this time since we didn't realize we were going to be climbing, but there are some pictures below taken the next day.  Kyle and I climbed up one way to an intermediate flat point while Kyoko found an easier route.  At this point we found a terrific wall with all sorts of holes and other holds that looked like it could certainly be climbed third class, although as it went up pretty high (perhaps 50 feet or more) it was probably too dangerous to do without rope.  At the base were two holes big enough to be small caves, and Kyle enjoyed crawling into them.

We then started up a gully to the right of the rock formation, and soon Kyle decided he wanted to climb straight up the rock.  It was less steep here with some intermediate ledges, and looked like it might just be safe enough to climb (I was wearing my hiking shoes and my backpack; Kyle just had his normal tennis shoes).  However I was more worried about getting down--I could certainly downclimb this, but I didn't think Kyle could do it.  I could stay below him and help him--it seemed the hand and footholds were good enough that I could hold on with one hand and help him down, but it was still worrisome.  My hope was that we could find an easier way down.  It looked from the way the terrain was going that you'd be able to go right at the summit and have a much easier downclimb back to the gully, but I wasn't sure.  I didn't want to dampen his enthusiasm and say we couldn't do it, but I also knew I'd never forgive myself if we got into a jam and he was injured or worse.

Still I decided to let him climb, and carefully keep track of things to make sure we could downclimb if necessary.  Having Kyoko on the ground really helped--she went up the gully as we were climbing to find an easier descent route.  Things went okay with Kyle until we reached a point at which the route to the left looked easier but was straight up so that any fall would be very long.  We could traverse right to less steep terrain but there weren't any good handholds.  Kyle really wanted to go left but I wouldn't let him, and he started getting scared.  Looking down, downclimbing at this point did not look like a good option and I knew if we went up and couldn't find an easier route down that we could be in trouble.  But up seemed the best option, so I got him to go right and we made it to the easier terrain and scrambled to the top.  Meanwhile Kyoko found the gully went almost to the top and we'd have an easy downclimb to get to her, so we were okay.  It was time to celebrate!  Kyle had done some third-class scrambling earlier in the summer to get to the top of Sandstone Peak, the highest point in this same mountain range, but this was far longer and more difficult.  I was really impressed at his determination and strong desire to climb.  Hopefully this is just the beginning of us climbing a lot together.

I had my camera with me so I took a picture of the beautiful view from the summit.

And going down a little I took a picture of Kyle on the summit, although you can hardly tell it was an impressive climb from this picture.

We saw plenty of bolts for toprope anchors on top, all being used at the time, so it was clear people were climbing on the other side of the rock.  And after we went down and to the other side we saw what turned out to be the Planet of the Apes wall (again see the picture below).  So we had scrambled up the back of it!

It was getting late so we didn't go to the end of the trail, deciding to save that for the next morning.  We headed back and now the sun was behind the mountains and we could set up camp in the shade.  Unlike other sites our site didn't have much flat ground--the only good place to setup the tent seemed to be right next to the picnic table, and even then there turned out to be a slight slant to the side when we slept.  Almost everyone else seemed to be using a rainfly on their tents which I thought was strange due to the mild weather and lack of threat of rain.  However we did find quite a bit of condensation on our tent the next morning, some of which dripped on us.  Still it wasn't bad so I'm glad we didn't use the fly.  Here were are with the tent set up and ready to make dinner.

And here we are making dinner.  I left food and drinks up to Kyoko, and was surprised that she brought almost nothing.  She didn't think we'd be able to park right next to our campsite (apparently we had to hike in a bit to our site at Foothills Park, which I'd forgotten about) and so wanted to bring very little to carry.  But that meant we had far too little food.  We just had our two freeze-dried meals plus a big cup of instant ramen, a small package of animal crackers, and a few small packages of juice.  We ate the beef stroganoff (along with the ramen) for dinner and the chicken ala king for breakfast (both were very good), and that wasn't nearly enough.  Kyoko, initially unenthusiastic about camping, started to get enthusiastic and think about when we'd go again.  She said she'd bring much better and more food next time.  We still have a while to go to learn how to be luxury campers.

The campground was mostly families and some boy scout troops, but there was one group of young stupid adults who arrived late, blasted music as they set up their huge group tent, and then continued with the music for what I feared would be all night although thankfully they stopped around 8pm.  They then blasted the music the next morning as they broke camp and left leaving a lot of trash behind.  Aside from them the experience was really nice.

I go to sleep early in general and especially early when camping, but Kyoko and Kyle, despite being tired earlier, were not at all sleepy when it got dark.  Kyoko and I read books while Kyle played his Nintendo DS in the tent.  We all just barely fit into the 2 person tent, although Kyle's sleeping pad had to cover both mine and Kyoko's on its sides.  Despite the bright bathroom light and our proximity to LA the mountains blocked enough that we were able to see quite a few stars--the first time Kyle has ever seen a significant number of stars I think.  I went to sleep sometime after the music stopped at 8pm, but Kyoko and Kyle apparently stayed up until 11pm or so.  Kyle probably slept the best of any of us.  We had already trained him to sleep under any conditions--on any surface (he once slept on the bathroom floor), in any amount of light, and with any amount of noise.  He must like harder surfaces because he somehow slid to the back of the tent off his pad and spent the night curled up at our feet sleeping right on the ground!  I used to sleep very poorly outside my bed at home but for some reason now sleep fine in tents.  Kyoko slept pretty well also, althought at first she was hot in her 15 degree bag but by the morning said she was very cold!  I was in the 30 degree bag and found it on the warm side all night.

October 22

I woke up around 4:30am and just lie in bed (perhaps sleeping a bit more) waiting for the other two to wake up, which happened around 8:15am when the sun got above the mountains and started shining on our tent.  It was still cool by then but would quickly heat up and become very hot by late morning.  We ate our breakfast and packed up our stuff, leaving our car parked there as we headed back to the visitor center and Rock Pool at around 9:30.

On the way we took some more pictures in the better light of the morning.  Here is Malibu Creek which we walked along, with the Goat Buttes in the background.  Kyoko said these looked like mountains in China.  Having just looked at some pictures of mountains in China I'd agree.  The site where MASH was filmed (which we didn't hike to this trip) is on the other side of these mountains, so the idea was that it was supposed to look like Korea!

Here's a picture I think taken from the bridge near the visitor center.  I'd thought it opened at 10am but it actually doesn't open until noon, so we never got to go inside.

Instead we returned to the path to the Rock Pool, and here's about the place we started climbing the day before, and where we again climbed this day.  Here Kyle is trying to figure out which way he wants to go.

And here we are heading up his route of choice.

Here Kyle and I have made it to the higher flat area and are scouting out routes to the summit.

Another picture taken from further back.

This time we ended up taking the gully up higher, and then climbing an easier route to the top which involved going under some low branches at the end.  Much safer than last time, and I certainly wanted to be safe.  Here's a picture of us on top.  Our route this day was further right and out of the picture, but our route the previous day can be seen somewhat.  The bottom of it is covered by the tree, but the top part (just above the tree, with the broken ledges) can be seen.  You can also clearly see the two caves at the base.

Here is the steep face of the Planet of the Apes Wall on the other side.  We were standing near the right high point.  The leftmost climb here (where the people are) is apparently the easiest and is 5.9.  We saw someone on the route just to the right of it, which was probably 5.10 or higher.  It looked pretty easy until the top when the big holes run out.  Indeed the guy couldn't do it above the easy party, and someone we saw on the 5.9 as we were going back also couldn't do the harder moves on the top there.

This time we made it all the way to the Rock Pool.  We actually didn't follow the trail but rather a dry streambed and so rock-hopped along that which Kyle loved.  He climbed up some boulders as well, including one which had a shallow hole on the top filled with water, which he dubbed the "Fake Rock Pool".  Here are Kyle and me atop a boulder near the real Rock Pool.

At the Rock Pool there was a group of teenagers climbing some boulder in the water and then jumping in (most of them were too scared to jump, though).  Kyle and I scambled around various rocks nearby, and at one point Kyle wanted to keep climbing up and up a gully that led who knows where.  This was all 2nd and 3rd class but it was clear there was going to be no easier way down so after a while I told him we had to stop and downclimb.  He had trouble downlimbing of course but still made it fine.  By then we were running late and needed to get back to our car since we were supposed to check out by noon.  We got to the car by about 12:10 and had a quick drive home.

In summary a wonderful camping trip, even better than I imagined it would be, with the rock climbing an unexpected wonderful surprise.  We'll certainly return, and also try camping at other places in the near future.  One nice thing about LA is that the weather is mild year-round so we should be able to camp throughout the winter as long as it doesn't rain too much.