Chad Bruce's Report
Backbone Trail (BBT) Unsupported from West to East, 68 Miles, 14,000' of Vertical Gain
Water Sources: Public faucets at Danielson Ranch, Piuma Canyon Trailhead and Trippet Ranch
My buddy Christopher Ferrier and I had the goal of setting the Unsupported FKT which had yet to be established. Unsupported means that we have to carry everything that we need for the entire run and we can only get water from natural resources that are along the route. We carried 5000+ calories, up to 5 liters of water so the weight that we carried was mostly between 10-15lbs. We also ran this route from West to East, something that neither of us had done before .
Miles 1-8: Ray Miller Trailhead to Danielson Ranch
We started our run at 6:34pm on Friday night, 2/19/2021 at the Ray Miller trailhead at Point Mugu State Park. Chris set the pace in the early miles, hiking the ups with purpose and running the flats/downs at a very easy pace. We both had run this trail a few times and wanted to avoid starting too fast, we felt that this would help us have a stronger back half. The early miles went as planned.
We saw our first critter as we approached our first water source at Danielson Ranch. It was a little baby fox or coyote, a cute little fella but it was so young that we couldn't tell exactly what it was. It was in a bush and looked like a little scared puppy...
It was very chilly in the lower valley, probably in the mid-low 40's but we knew that we'd warm up on the next climb. We arrived at mile 8, Danielson Ranch feeling great and topped off all of our bottles using the public faucet to get ready for the next segment.
Miles 8-43: Danielson Ranch to Piuma Valley Trailhead
This 35 mile segment was our longest without a water source. My pack had a 2L bladder with two 20 ounce bottles and I was carrying two 20 ounce handhelds, 150 ounces total. My 2L bladder was filled with FLUID Nutrition Fresh Citrus Electrolyte mix and the other bottles were filled with water.
This is where we began the longest climb of our run up to Sandstone Peak, it's approximately 6 miles from Danielson Ranch and it's also the highest point on the BBT. We climbed at a steady pace without using too much energy and were able to enjoy the night views of Oxnard and Thousand Oaks as the trail wound its way up to the top.
We arrived at Mishe Mokwa Trailhead around mile 16.5 and began a very nice downhill section that allowed us to make up some time on. We ran down at an easy running pace, once again preserving our energy as we had a very long way to go.
This is where we began to see many sets of eyes looking at us. First it was a few birds and smaller critters like kangaroo rats on the trail. Then a few Owls flew out of trees very near us... One dropped out of a tree and flew by us within 5' or so and that spooked the both of us, beautiful to see at night but they're so quiet...
There was a short climb following the next road crossing and it was around midnight. I remember Chris seeing some eyes just above us, we both grabbed a rock, continued on up the hill at a very cautious pace and never saw what was looking at us.
A few miles later we were climbing up a fire road and saw some eyes off to our right.. As we got closer we saw that it was a bobcat, it was checking us out while up on the ledge of the hill as we hiked by.
Within a mile of that we were still climbing up the same fire road and we saw another set of eyes up on the hill to our left... As we approached it we saw a full size mountain lion looking at us, it was amazing! It was facing us and we could see it from the lower front legs up to its head, thankfully it was 25' or so above us. I didn't feel threatened by it but we did grab a couple of rocks and continued to keep an eye on that hill as we wound our way to the top. Thankfully we were towards the top and were able to start running away from it shortly after we saw it. It was very quiet out so it was a great feeling to not hear it tracking us... It was so awesome to see the Santa Monica Mountains coming back to life after the fires destroyed much of it a few years ago.
We passed through the Encinal Trailhead and worked our way towards Malibu Creek State Park. It was close to 4am and I was buzzing from some caffeinated gels and chews that I was eating. The toughest part of the overnight runs is between 2am-6am. I'm a little hyperactive so I don't consume much caffeine during the week. I don't drink coffee and I lay off of any caffeine at least 7 days before a run like this. Caffeine really gets me amped up so I don't really get too flat overnight. Chris used No Doz caffeine pills and brought some coffee that he drank around 5am.
We reached the top of Malibu Creek State Park just after 5am and saw a beautiful sunrise as we began to descend down to the Piuma Valley Trailhead, our 2nd water stop. We reached the trailhead and filled up our water from the faucet that's at the public restroom. We were 43 miles into our run and could care less where the water came from. Thankfully it tasted fine and we were ready to take on the next segment as the sun rose on a beautiful Saturday morning.
Miles 43-56: Piuma Valley Trailhead to Trippet Ranch
We left Piuma loaded up full of fluids once again and it was cold down in the valley, it felt like it was in the 30's to me and we had 2-3 miles of climbing around in the lower valley before we started the long climb up to Stunt Road.
I've run this section a few times going from East to West but had never gone in this direction. It seems like a fairly short 7 mile section going the other way because it's mostly downhill but it's a very unrelenting climb going from West to East. Especially because we started it with 43 tough miles already on our legs....
A few miles before we had talked about the need to push to the finish to get our run completed in under 20 hours, but now we were faced with this tough climb... This is where we got to work and it was a beautiful thing, I just prayed for strength for both of us and we started to motor up this climb. We were clicking off super solid miles until we got to the top at Stunt Road, it was such a blessing!
I asked Chris how he was doing and I could tell that we were both ready to run the descent from Stunt down to the Topanga Canyon area. It was in this section that we crossed paths with Shelby Farrell who was going after the unsupported FKT as well, more about her later :).
The BBT trail through the Topanga Canyon area is very difficult to follow. Chris and I ran this route with some friends late last year and took a wrong turn and got off trail. Thanks to Chris for doing some recon here on a day off, we nailed it this time and set out to our last water spot, Trippet Ranch.
Miles 56-68: Trippet Ranch to Will Rogers State Park
We arrived at Trippet Ranch and the wind was blowing very hard, the faucet was on an exposed hill so we had a hard time filling our bottles. It was funny, we ended up blocking the wind and putting three bottles in a row so water would go in the other two bottles when the wind gusted...
The sun was shining on this beautiful SoCal day but the wind kept it cool. This helped us to keep pushing while getting calories in without any issue, something that's been tough for me on hot days in the past. We climbed up out of the Trippet Ranch area and reached the fireroad on top, I thought most of the climbing was done but boy was I wrong! The fire road up there seemed so steep and it was... Up and down we went until we got to the single track that led us down to Will Rogers State Park, our finish.
We really enjoyed the last few miles, the afternoon sun was beaming off of the Pacific Ocean and the views on the way down were unreal. We had a great run, enjoyed most every mile and The Partners were finally finishing a run feeling good and running it into the finish. What a blessing!
Our finish time was 19:43, establishing the Unsupported FKT on the Backbone Trail, mission accomplished! The funny thing is that our FKT would only last for a few hours as Shelby Farrell smashed our time later that evening with a finish time of 15:17 (running it East to West). Funny how nobody established the time before, and us three went after it within 24 hours of each other, icing on the cake!
Our friend Anna Lee was very generous to pick us up at Will Rogers State Park (our finish) to drive us to the Ray Miller Trailhead (our start), which is located right off of the Pacific Coast Highway at Point Mugu State Park in Malibu, CA. Thank you Anna!
Gear and Food Notes:
- Shoes: Altra Olympus 4.0 with Altra Gaiters
- Socks & Leg Sleeves: XOSKIN QRT Crew Toe Socks and XOSKIN 6.0 Compression Leg Sleeves
- Shorts: rabbit 5" FKT
- Shirt: rabbit EZ tee
- Jacket: rabbit Elements
- Gloves: rabbit
- Hat: Altra Trucker
- Pack: UltrAspire Zygos 4.0
- Waist Belt: UltrAspire 2.0
- Waist Light: UltrAspire 800 Ultra
- Headlight: Fenix LED 900 lumens
- Spring Energy Gels
- HoneyStinger Waffles (Protein Mixed Berry & Gluten Free Cinnamon)
- HoneyStinger Protein Bar
- Electrolyte Mix: FLUID Nutrition Fresh Citrus
Christopher Ferrier's Report
Ray Miller to Will Rogers. Chad Bruce and I carried all our calories and gear from the start. We filled our waters at public taps along the trail (me at Danielson, Malibu Creek, Topanga, Trippet, Musch). We did the trail without pacers or cheering supporters on trail (Anna, who shuttled us to the trailhead, honked her car horn as she drove out of Ray Miller, which we heard from up on the trail). We did all our own photography between trailheads. We witnessed Shelby Farrell on her way up to Stunt doing her FKT project in the opposite direction. We observed and did not touch a white bucket cache near Mishe Mokwa, which we confirmed belonged to Richie Duchon. We also observed and did not touch gallon water jug caches of unknown provenance at Encinal Rd and 1 or 2 other places in the 35 mile stretch between Danielson and Malibu Creek.
We encountered Jose Montellano and Cindy Gonzalez, athletes we mutually follow on STRAVA, but had never met in person prior, traveling the opposite direction between Trippet and Topanga. We exchanged brief pleasantries on trail, acknowledging we knew who each other were. The nice thing is that we ran into Jose and Cindy again as we walked to our car after we finished. They were driving to retrieve their other car and stopped to chat with us. There was mutual admiration all around. We may even now have a future adventure(s?) planned with Cindy and Jose! So cool! Except that Chad and I stood there talking so long that our joints and muscles stiffened, making the rest of our walk to our car a tremendous sufferfest. 🤣
We have reason to believe (Anna told us, Gladiadora 🐢 on Strava) that Mauricio Puerto may have completed the BBT unsupported on his Feb 18th 7th completion (on Strava). Perhaps even before. I got the impression listening to Luis Escobar and Jeffrey Stern on Road Dog Podcast that Mauricio might be of the vintage that doesn’t need validation from the internet to know what he did. But since we know about it, we mention it here, and welcome Mauricio or anyone who came before to claim first dibs.
Conditions were cool and clear: 40’s in the canyon bottoms at night, 60’s and windy on the mountain tops at day. We had just under half a moon. We saw in our headlamps Coyote, Poorwill, Kangaroo Rat, Owl, Bobcat, and Mountain Lion. The trail was in fantastic shape! Wildfires in recent years, and the obvious evidence of trail work gave the trail an openness and cleanliness previously unknown to me. We saw 2 trail crews working during our project! Thanks volunteers!
I don’t know how heavy my pack was at the start. I didn’t weigh it. If I had to guess, I’d say 10lbs-ish as I carried only 2L of water off the start. My pack was heaviest after I filled up at Danielson Ranch. I carried 5L of water from Danielson to make it the 35 miles to the public tap at Malibu Creek - say 17lbs-ish. Water is 2.2 lb/L (5x Is 11 lb) I’m ballparking my 6,300 cal of food at 3 lb. I had batteries for my lamps and phone, and other minor sundries.
All in all we had a great personally meaningful experience doing this project.