The first time I soloed a long trail, it almost broke me. Being naked and shivering inside my sleeping bag with nothing to shield me except a tiny backpacker’s tent quickly twisted my thoughts into a thousand worst case scenarios, my mother’s voice echoing loudly about hypothermia, snakes, and career-minded decision making. It was 42 degrees outside, and I could hear the percussion of rain lapping against my tent as I trembled in my down sack. Below my precarious perch on Saddle Peak’s mud-covered switchbacks, the constant whoosh of traffic pulled at me like a trail of breadcrumbs. Civilization was just a mile away, if only I would give up.
A manual in 7 easy steps
In one of my grandest schemes to date, I decided to push several self-limits at once and hike the entirety of Malibu’s recently completed Backbone Trail System in only 3 days. For those of you who aren’t LA local, that’s 70 miles of peaks and valleys, traversing along the Santa Monica Mountains, just spitting distance from Los Angeles! It promised to be relatively waterless, 40 degrees at night, difficult to navigate, and illegal to camp on (technically). Oh, and the gods decided to grace me with a massive rainstorm in the middle of day two that left me sliding down the side of a mountain in the pitched black, hiking through multi-million dollar Malibu estates, and finally befriending a valet at a 4 star restaurant who let me charge my phone and call a ride home. Even with a TON of planning and back ups in case of things going wrong, the trek decided to take a left turn in a hilarious assortment of unexpected ways, leaving me to bail on night two and return to complete the last 24 miles of trail the following weekend. So, I felt it only fitting to write a how-to manual in reverse for what not to do on The Backbone Trail!