Thru-Hiking The Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail (BBT)

March 4th to 8th, 2020
Santa Monica Mountains Backbone Trail
73 miles, 11,600' gain
[Pics] [Caltopo]

The Santa Monica Backbone Trail (aka the BBT) is a long distance trail running the length of the Santa Monica Mountains. It has been around in various forms since the 80s but it first hit my awareness in 2016 when I saw a press release announcing that it was now complete. I promptly got excited, looked into it, and was discouraged by the warning that it was a long trail that wasn't intended to be thru hiked because of the lack of backcountry campsites. The recommendation of doing it as a series of dayhikes just didn't have the same appeal considering the drive to get there but they did mention plans to add campsites in the future. So I filed it away in my list of things to do someday.

Fast forward to spring of 2020. I've been trying to get ready for an attempt of the Pacific Crest Trail and looking for PCT-like hikes where I could get some distance in. That caused me to take a more serious look at the BBT and start asking questions of friends in the area.

The backcountry campsites still don't exist and fire damage over the last few years has made the developed off trail camping options even worse with the closure of Circle X Ranch. However after my experiences on the Desert Trail and Hot Spring Trail sections I was ready to be a bit more flexible.

I ended up doing the trail east to west over 5 days and I had a spectacular time. I've done my best to compile everything I used, saw, or looked at and hopefully this can help spur interest and the further development of the trail so that more people get to experience this remarkable trip.

Section Hiking The Hot Spring Trail: Santa Barbara To Ojai

February 5th to 9th, 2020
The Hot Springs Trail National Scenic Trail Proposal
Santa Barbara to Ojai
5 days, 57 miles, 10,300' gain
[Pics] [CalTopo]

After my last big excursion Section Hiking The Desert Trail: Mexican Border to Borrego Springs I was eager to get out again on my next PCT 2020 prep hike.

I'd already looked at and discarded the California Coastal Trail for not really being a trail down here in Southern California and the big trek through urban Mecca had me a bit less excited for the next Desert Trail Section. Fortunately I had another prospect and turned my eyes to the Hot Springs Trail National Scenic Trail Proposal.

Paddling Black Canyon & Visiting Arizona, Boy Scout, Gold Strike, and Sauna Hot Springs

January 19th to 21st, 2020
[Pics] [Caltopo] [Map]

An overnight paddle trip within driving distance of LA / Orange County with access to multiple hot springs? Sounds awesome doesn't it?

Black Canyon is an area just south of Hoover Dam that is known for the hot springs that flow out of the various side canyons.

It's the northern part of a 30 mile designated National Water Trail stretching from Hoover Dam (mile 64) to Eldorado Canyon (mile 39).

Paddling up river from Willow Beach to the hot springs has been a trip I've been wanting to do for years. There's been at least three times I was all set to go only to have to cancel the trip at the last minute due to weather extremes or other issues.

With big changes on the horizon that may limit our access to our kayaks Jen and I decided we really wanted to make doing this trip a priority. And when weekend plans cancelled in mid January we jumped at the chance and headed off for two nights and three days paddling up from Willow Beach.

Section Hiking The Desert Trail: Mexican Border to Borrego Springs

January 12th to 16th, 2020
Desert Trail Section Hike
Bucktrack's Desert Trail Info
Dirtmonger's Desert Trail Info
[Pics] [CalTopo] [Map]

I've been back from Thailand for a little over a week with only a brief three day excursion to backpack Santa Cruz Island with Jen and I'm having a bit of a hard time adjusting to being back. I've been eyeing contract work options but at least so far the options I've found haven't worked with the timing of the next big outdoor event: attempting the Pacific Crest Trail starting on May 5th!

So, priorities being what they are I started to look around for ways to use the time to better prepare for the PCT since I'd spent the last few months diving instead of hiking. I wanted to get out and backpack, it needed to be fairly local, and I didn't want to repeat any of the sections I'd be hiking on the PCT come May.

That led me first to the California Coastal Trail which I put aside due to the fact the southern section is basically just walking down the streets around San Diego and anyone who had thru hiked it ended up having to stealth camp in urban areas. Not ideal for a guy that dresses in neon green.

I also came across a proposal for something called the Hot Springs Trail but I wasn't able to find any sort of a map online and I didn't feel like laying out $50 for another print guidebook that would end up rotting away in my closet.

Then I came across the Desert Trail. A proposal by Russell Pengelly back in the 60s for a desert route stretching from Mexico to Canada that seems to have largely fallen into obscurity these days particularly in the California section. There are two solid sources for information Buck and Dirtmonger who have both hiked the entire trail. Outside of that information is sparse.

The blue line shows the Pacific Crest Trail while the red is the Desert Trail. (To see the entire Desert Trail route from Mexico to Canada see Dirtmongers page here.) So it was in range, went through areas where I'd done peaks but hadn't done any sort of distance backpacking, and the weather was almost ideal. So I had a plan!

A Return To Cold Water Diving At Crescent Bay

January 8th, 2020

I think I've been starting to go into diving withdrawals.

I spent November and December diving my butt off in warm clear water while working on the SDI Divemaster certification. And then once Christmas hit it was a hard stop as I flew back to the states to visit my family. I did get in a quick freshwater drift dive in San Marcos (the best drift dive in Texas!) but come on!

So once I was back from Santa Cruz I pinged Jack seeing if he was up for another two tank morning dive like we'd been doing before I left. He grumbled that he hadn't had to set an alarm since I'd left town and then cheerfully agreed to meet me at Crescent Wednesday morning.

And so just like that we were back!

Backpacking Santa Cruz Island: Prisoners Harbor to Scorpion Harbor

January 3rd to 5th, 2020
El Montanon Peak (1,808')
High Mount Benchmark (1,581')
Day 1: 3.2 miles, 1,250' (+4.3 miles, 750' oops)
Day 2: 11.5 miles, 2,200'
Day 3: 0 miles, 0'
[Pics] [CalTopo] [Map]

After two months spent out in Thailand diving my butt off I'd spent a week in Texas visiting family and now I was back in Southern California.

While plans have changed a bit from the initial plans Jen and I have been working under the assumption I would spend the next few months doing contract work until we start the Pacific Crest Trail. Initially I was going to be available for work on the 1st of January

We'd been eyeing backpacking across Santa Cruz Island ever since we did the Trans-Catalina Trail in 2018 but the timing and weather hadn't ever been right. And then it turned out they were closing the main anchorage Scorpion Harbor in late 2019 due to the construction of a new pier.

But they reopened the harbor for a brief period and we managed to snag campsites right before it closed again on January 5th.

Diving the San Marcos River and Comal River in Texas

December 26th, 2019
San Marcos River Dive Site
Comal River New Braunfels Dive Site
[Pics] [Map]

After about two glorious months spent out in Thailand doing my SDI Divemaster certification I flew back stateside on Christmas Eve and then out to Texas to spend a few days with family.

Having been diving constantly over the course of two months I was having a bit of trouble adjusting to life on the land. So of course when the topic of what we were going to do while in Texas came up my first suggestion was of course to dive!

I read at article a while back about someone diving in all 50 states which sounded like a fun goal to have. So far I've done California, Florida, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah and this was an opportunity to add Texas to the list.

We had originally looked at diving oil rigs down in the Gulf and that's still something I'd really like to do however the $250 a person cost had us balking a bit considering recent employment related developments.

So instead we decided to see what sort of diving we could do in the general vicinity of Fredericksburg where we were staying with my grandparents which is how we ended up doing two rather shallow freshwater drift dives in San Marcos.

I recruited my parents and uncle for a ride and to act as the every important shore photographers and early on the 26th of December we were off!

Living the Life of a Divemaster Trainee in Khao Lak Thailand: Looking Back & Lessons Learned

After an eventful two months I've wrapped up my time in Thailand and I'm headed back to the United States with a brand spanking new SDI Divemaster certification. So what went right? What went wrong? And what would I do different if I had it to do all over again?

Diving Richelieu Rock Khao Lak Thailand

December 19th, 2019
Richelieu Rock

During my two month stint in Khao Lak Thailand working on my divemaster certification I was mostly diving in the Similan Islands and Koh Bon. Having access to a number of local dive professionals during downtime on the boat I of course asked around as to what other dives I absolutely had to do before leaving and the answer was always Richelieu Rock.

So as my DMT was winding down I came back from the boat and asked the shop to arrange a day trip out to see it for myself. And bloody hell if it didn't live up to everything people said!

Living the Life of a Divemaster Trainee in Khao Lak Thailand: Working The Similan Islands & Koh Bon Via Liveaboard

November-December 2019

So far I've written about life when I'm around the dive shop and a trip out to a local wreck but what about the main thing that attracted me to doing my divemaster internship out here?

The Similan Islands are located off the western coast of Thailand and have a reputation for being some of the best diving around. Looking online you see pictures of crystal clear blue water and people diving in almost nothing thanks to the warm water.

(Actually about 90% of these seem to have been taken at Richelieu Rock to the north but I'll cove that another day...)