Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Suffer Machine, Topatopa Bluff, Ojai


*** Author's Note: 4/16/2012. Howdy. It's been a few years since I wrote this post and it's always been one of my most visited entries. I still love this hike and, even though I often link it with other near-by peaks, I still consider the Sisar to Topa hike the original "Suffer Machine". It's still long, steep, and salty. So, please understand that my perspective may have matured, but the bitch didn't get any easier! It is always going to be one of the best walks in our Southern Los Padres.

Crouching above the upper Ojai Valley is a massive escarpment of rock called Topa Topa Peak, or depending on who you talk to, Topa Topa Bluff. This mountain has loomed in the background for much of my life, from my childhood in Santa Paula to the present day. The peak is unmistakable, with red and brown bands of sedimentary sandstone crossing it's face, and enormous bluffs rising vertically from it's steep foothills. Views of the peak are common in the west Ventura county and it is easily seen from the Ventura Harbor and much of Oxnard. The peak recieves annual snowfall due to an elevation of 5,800 ft, which is pretty tall for our coastal mountains, the highest peaks being Hines, Alamo, and Pinos. Unlike those others, Topa Topa can be day-hiked, though it is more a test of will than it is fun.

To day-hike Topa Topa requires a degree of masochism. I call that trail The Suffer Machine. The name is derived from all the elements that combine to make the day agonizing. The trail runs 17.5 miles round trip, and it is almost entirely exposed to direct sun. The trail is mostly uninteresting, and it is unholy steep. Every step on the way up is elevation gain, and it just never ends. In fact, the angle of climb gets steeper the closer you get to the summit. To put it plainly, it sucks.

Why go, you might ask. Two reasons: one, it's a great way to test my overall fitness; two, the view from the top is outstanding. My best time truck>summit>truck stood, until today at 6 hours and 17 minutes with a half hour lunch on the summit,. Today I did it in 06:08 with the same 0.5 hour break on the summit.


The trail starts at the top of Sisar Rd. off the 150 in Ojai. The lower portion of the trail is fire road and sees frequent foot, cycle, and equestrian traffic. The fire road crosses Cesar Creek twice as it climbs out of the valley, and continues steeply upward onto the side of a seemingly endless ridge. As the fire road hangs an abrupt left, continue straight onto a much more pleasant single-track trail that winds its way up to White Ledge Camp and from there steeply up until the main ridge, which becomes fire road again, is gained. The single track trail is known as the Red Reef Trail. Before long the trail leaves the fire road for the last time and starts a seriously steep summit climb. It is the kind of summit trail that takes everything you have left and then, without ceremony, you find yourself on the summit. Nearly dead.


The summit is really nice. There is a kind of bench made from slabs of native sandstone and the summit register is somewhere under the bench. I've signed that thing 9 times now (as of 04/2012: I lost count after about the 30th time), and thumbing through it, I noticed that I've been up there about three times a year since 2003. Today was probably the 15th time I've been to the summit.


An additional note regarding today"s bluebird weather. Usually I would expect to see Ana Capa, Santa Cruz, and San Miguel islands. Today was clear enough to also see San Clemente, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, and Catalina islands. A fantastic weather day.

The descent isn't neccessarily nice. For those of us that have a bad knee it can be just as irritating as going up, and the constant miles of downhill groundpounding put the hurt on your feet. I just got home from another round with The Suffer Machine and I ache. I'll probably be living in the jacuzzi, munching Vitamin A (Advil) for the next few days. Now that I've talked it all up, give Topa Topa a go and tell me if I'm wrong.

13 comments:

  1. Wow, that is a great time. It would probably take me twice or more that time. That peak is on the list and perhaps I'll go for it this year before the weather gets hot.

    6 hours? Dude you are a hiking god!

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  2. Hey I've been thinking of climbing that. I go to school right below it and I think of it every swim team practice. Haha how do I get to the trailhead?

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  3. Hey I've been thinking of climbing that. I go to school right below it and I think of it every swim team practice. Haha how do I get to the trailhead?

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  4. It was great to see you on the trail Sat. thanks for letting us know when we were on the right track. It didn't kill us but we didn't get out till 7:30pm. we did have our headlamps and were back on the fire road just when the sun set. This was a proving run for Mt whitney this summer, when permit willing, we plan to backpack whitney with a few day sumit. Thanks for the informative Blog.
    Cheryl

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  5. Thanks for the informative blog Dave! Cheryl and I had copies in our packs on Saturday when we met you on the trail. Everything she says in her comment, ditto for me!

    Keep up the great blogging... you're an inspiration to us mere mortals!

    Lenore

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  7. Are you taking the (21W08) trail that goes up to Nordhoff ridge rd (4N15)? Is there poison oak in that section? I have done a lot of hiking in socal and try to stay away from oak as much as possible. I was on the trail this last weekend and stayed on the fire road all the way. I saw a sign that said, "Last chance trail," but kept going thinking I would see something about the peak. I never did! I went past the fire road ending and went up a short trail that said, "Last chance trail." Since my odometer said 13m and change, I decided to leave the peak to another day. I parked at the general store on the 150, so it ended up being a 26m mile day... So, yes, I was popping the vitamin A.
    Thanks, Charles

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  8. I want to give this hike a try in October. I notice on Google maps that Sisar Canyon road ends at a "Y" where it intersects Nordhoff Ridge Road. I see what appears to be a trail heading NNE right from that Y... is that the trail you took?

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  9. Here's directions from the TH at Sisar Rd: walk up the fire road and eventually a USFS gate will appear. Shortly after that gate the road will hang a sharp left and continue up. Instead of staying with the road, walk straight from the gate and pick up the single-track trail. This is a nice stretch and eventually you run into White Ledge camp, which boasts a year-round spring. Continue up and left past the stream and the single-track climbs a steep stretch which terminates on Nordoff Ridge Rd, from there go right, towards Topa Topa Bluffs. You will soon pass a picnic bench on the left, continue on the road for a ways. After a brief but steep climb the road will pass by an obvious trail on the right. This junction is clearly marked and has a sign reading "Red Reef Trail". Take this route to the summit.

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  10. don't recall if I've read your blog before but...I grew up hiking the trails around Ojai with my scout troop. I don't think we missed any of them. at one time I lived in Sisar Canyon, at Boyd Dron's place which a bunch of us hippies had leased while he was in Europe. I climbed Topa Topa the hard way...straight up a firebreak above Boyd's land and then straight up the face. I went back 3 years ago and hiked Sisar Road to the overlook, dragged my bare feet in the creek, discovered the poison oak actually blossoms and ran into Boyd and his wife. reading your blog makes me very home sick as I now live in Michigan. thanks for posting. I'll be back. charles dietzel first2tenor at comcast.net

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  11. Reading about this hike is a step to memory line, for me. My wife and I hiked it long time ago, shortly after she finished her chemotherapy. I thought it would help her healing. We made it, and a moment after finding the place to rest, she immediately fell into deep sleep. Woke up an hour later. It was great hike indeed, and helpful perhaps, because over twenty years later she is still OK. God was with us for sure.

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  12. Sir, your comment made me smile. I'm happy she's still with you. -DS

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  13. I have read this blog a few times over about 2 years and still have not done this hike. I think I need to just do it and stop thinking about it. Thanks for the blog.

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