Hike: Sisar Canyon to Topatopa Bluff
Posted to E. Walker to Facebook
[notes in square brackets by msittig@gmail.com]

At the request of Richard Laubly, I am posting this description of the hike from the Sisar Canyon trail head to the Topatopa Bluff, a route with which I have somewhat more than 40 years familiarity. I last hiked it in 2012.

For this hike description I am using the naming convention Topatopa (one word) Bluff (singular) adopted from the latest Tom Harrison Sespe Wilderness and Area map and Craig R. Carey's Hiking and Backpacking Santa Barbara and Ventura. That is not to say the common usage Topa Topa Bluffs is incorrect; both are, in fact, fine. I have no emotional or intellectual investment in the topic beyond the fact that I am an admirer of the work done by Harrison and Carey (which is, I suppose, a bit of an emotional investment, in a non-judgmental sense).

First things first: this is a long hike with considerable elevation gain. My GPS measurements from the last time I hiked the route put the distance one way as 7.7 miles and the elevation gain from my start point to the terminus at the bench on the Topatopa Bluff at 4800'. The route is an up and back in the truest sense: all uphill to the turn around point then a long descent in reverse. Be sure to bring ample water; trekking poles, especially for the long downhill, are also not a bad idea.

The trail head is reached by taking Highway 150 from Ojai over the Dennison Grade, then traveling a few flat miles to the left (north) turn onto Sisar Road at Summit (the site of the famous Summit restaurant). After about 0.5 miles on Sisar road, bear right onto the dirt Forest Service road. A short distance along the dirt road are some water tanks with space for parking appropriate for low clearance vehicles. [Immediately after the water tanks there is a fork; keep right.] With a high clearance vehicle it should be possible to drive a bit farther to the Forest Service gate, where there is ample parking [but not risking my Audi SUV on this road, there are big rocks and ruts].

Pass through the gate (1800' elevation) and shortly cross Sisar Creek, which normally does not present a notable challenge [no water in mid-October '15]. After another mile of moderate uphill walking, cross the creek again [still water in Oct '15] and just beyond pass a junction to the right with the road to private inholding Howell Place. Proceed uphill to the left through a hairpin turn in the road and continue uphill to a second hairpin turn at a Forest Service gate, just over 3 miles from the start; this is the junction with the Red Reef trail, marked ["Trail", not with the name, but it's an actual trail and no longer a road] to the right (3280' elevation). Follow the Red Reef trail north for about 1.5 miles to White Ledge camp (3880' elevation). White Ledge is heavily shaded by large Bay [and large oak] trees and there is a generally reliable spring which feeds water into Sisar Creek [didn't find the spring after a cursory search but Sisar creek is right there], but I have no recent water reports. Please note that there is another White Ledge camp in the San Rafael Wilderness of the Southern Los Padres, so it is important to disambiguate trail reports between the two identically named camps. [This White Ledge camp has one firepit with a grill, and a shovel and pick were left there (for putting fires out?). This is where Killeen and I stopped in Oct '15; we started from the parking lot at 9am, arrived at White Ledge about 11:20am. Three teenage guys reported leaving the parking lot at at 10pm and arriving at Topa Topa bluffs at 4:30am(!).]

From White Ledge camp, continue relatively steeply along the Red Reef trail north just less than 2 miles to the junction with the Nordhoff Ridge fire road (5230' elevation). Bear right (east) at the large metal trail sign at the junction and continue a short distance uphill to Elder camp (5260' elevation), a turnout in the road to the left (north facing) with a table, fire pit, no water source and an expansive view through manzanita of Lion Canyon.

On the opposite side of the road from Elder Camp, taking off to the south is the trail onto the Topatopa Bluff. The sign (which has recently, I am told, suffered bear damage) marks this as the Last Chance Trail (Last Chance Camp is an old trail camp high above Santa Paula Canyon below Hines Peak). This is also know as the Don Borad route, named in honor of the late Don Borad, a very active volunteer from Santa Paula, who led the construction of this trail after the Day Fire in 2006. This route did not exist in the 1980s when I frequently passed this way, although it does have historical signficance that I will omit to achieve some degree of brevity. I was contacted by Don Borad's son who asked about obtaining a print of the panorama from the Topatopa Bluff that ends this post, which I was honored to provide.

Follow the Don Borad route uphill, steeply at times, about a mile south to southeast to its high point on the Topatopa Bluff (6370' elevation), marked by a stone bench that houses a trail register. The views in every direction here are spectacular assuming a marine layer does not impede visibility (Hines Peak, Nordhoff Ridge, the Pacific Ocean, etc.). Spend some time at the bench (it is frequently very windy up here) then return the way you came, perhaps leveraging trekking poles to mitigate the downhill pounding of the knees, ankles, feet and other body parts.