A tough, off-trail adventure in the Santa Monica Mountains.
I’ve been wanting to do this hike for a while now. Back on hike #27, I spotted from a distance what looked like a cave deep up a small canyon. Ever since then, I’d been thinking about returning for an off-trail expedition to check it out. On a cloudy day in August, a friend and I headed down the Grotto Trail in search of adventure.
We first went down to the Grotto itself since Becquie had not been there before. For a Sunday afternoon, I was surprised that we had the small underground pool to ourselves. In fact, we only saw three other hikers that day. We spent an half hour or so down at the Grotto before heading up the trail to start our off-trail journey. I figured the best way up the canyon was to follow the stream bed, now dry here in the late summer.
Going off trail wasn’t easy. The thick vegetation has claimed this area their own and protect it fiercely. Branches seemed to grab at our clothes and skin. Becquie wore shorts, which made the journey even more difficult, but I knew that if any of my friends could handle a tough off-trail hike, Becquie. (We met on Hike #21, my hardest hike to-date.). We detoured around patches of poison oak, parted waist-high bear grass, and tested the stability of the river rocks in the dry stream. With such lush vegetation, we were surprised to find signs of human occupancy. It seems that not too long ago, humans tried to tame this small canyon (labeled as Berger Canyon on my topo map) and create a camping area. In the 1950′s, this land was owned and managed by the Boy Scouts in an area called Circle X Ranch. It covered over 1,720 acres of land which included Sandstone Peak, Boney Ridge, and this area, known by the Scouts as Happy Hollow. In its heyday, Happy Hollow Boy Scout Camp could accommodate over 100 Scouts. Although Circle X Ranch still exists and is run by the National Park Service, Happy Hollow has long since been abandoned. On our tromp through the thick bush, we would find signs of the camp: picnic benches, a rusted machete blade, an old road to nowhere, the bridge connecting it to civilization long ago burned down and washed out. In the battle between Man and Nature, Nature has won back Happy Hollow. Humans were not welcome here anymore.
We figured this out soon enough and called the quest off. Maybe on another day I would make it all the way up Berger Canyon and see if there’s a cave. But that wouldn’t be today.
What I learned on the hike:
- We spotted a lot of cool nature on this trek: scorpions, tarantulas, lizards, and a large rattle snake!
- I found fresh mountain lion prints and coyote scat in the canyon. Although I’d love to see one of these timid animals on a hike, I’d prefer to see them when I’m not cornering them up a narrow box canyon. Besides, the cave I saw could be one of their homes, for all I know.
- Localhikes – The Grotto Trail
- Hiking the Grotto Trail | Modern Hiker
- Map and Site Information: Circle X Ranch
- Date of hike: August 23rd, 2009
- Location: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, California
- Duration: 3 hours, 38 minutes
- Length: 3.4 miles
- Average speed: 1.8 mph
- Vertical up: 917 feet
- Altitude Down: 978 feet
This map was made with the data my GPS captured on the hike.
For a more detailed trip report map, check this out.