Hines Peak, Topatopa Bluff, Chief Peak
19 September 2001
By: Karen Isaacson Leverich
Having read a little bit about the Nordhoff Ridge Road on the USFS Web site, I wasn't entirely sure what I'd let myself in for. Sure, I've used the Jeep in 4WD, but almost always on roads where I could at least imagine driving an ordinary 2WD vehicle with high clearance. But on Nordhoff Ridge, 4WD is allegedly required, so the road should oughta be horrible, right?
Nah... my imaginary 2WD vehicle would have coped OK, as did the three SUVs (mine, Carleton's, Mars') that carried our motley group of hikers (Pat Arredondo, Winnette Butler, Dave Jensen, Sheldon Slack, Sandy Sperling) in to tackle Hines, Topatopa, and Chief. There'd been another schedule hike here only two weeks before (we'd even waved at them from Thorn Point, on the next ridge north), but hopefully that group had been kind and not worn out the mountains, leaving a few peaks for our group to bag.
These peaks were once upon a time almost drive ups, but roads on ridges have an unfortunate tendency (darn that gravity stuff anyhow!) to partially slide down slopes, making them safer to transit on foot. Rather than repairing the road after one such slide, the Forest Service simply installed a gate. Well, we're hikers, where's the problem? Park those cars, don those boots, hit the road!
Our itinerary differed slightly from that of the the earlier group -- rather than ascending the ridge to Topatopa, we hiked out the road past the fork (someone had clearly indicated HINES and TOPATOPA with arrows in the road surface, and it was still super legible). The knife edge approach to Hines looked spooky, but proved easy to negotiate. Once on the summit, we had fun reading the register, which went back for decades. Carleton showed us the page where he'd signed when he'd visited this peak for the very first time -- 25 April 1975, the day Carleton became the 33rd person to finish the HPS list. He must have liked it, he completed the list nine more times after that, and is working on his 11th list finish "as we speak"...
Renegotiating the knife edge, we found some pleasant shade and had a leisurely lunch before retracing our way to the junction and taking the Topatopa branch. This, too, was mainly a road walk, though we did detour through the brush once or twice. (Which bump is the summit? Let's try this one. No, that one. No...) After a brief stop on the summit, we headed down the ridge to the cars.
Thence back several miles to Chief, which from a distance is an interesting rocky pyramid. The hike itself is short, with a modest amount of scrambling. Once at the top, it was a brief puzzle to locate the register -- turns out it's tucked away below and behind the summit.
Mars had spent some time cleaning up the brush along the trail, so of course on the way out we got lured off the trail he'd trimmed onto an older, brushier, track. Carleton and Sheldon persevered with that route, the rest of us wimped out, climbed back the the ridge, and followed after Mars.
A pleasant but uneventful hike. No one reached 100. No one saw a condor. We all caravaned back to Rose Valley, where we startled the campers there by unlocking the locked gate. After explaining that magic to the curious (just phone Ojai and arrange for a permit), the group headed for home in multiple directions. A pleasant change for me -- less than an hour and a half home, and not a single mile of that on the freeway. Let's have more hikes in my neck of the woods, OK? Is anyone listening? Hello???
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