My friend Jeff and I took Maude for her first hike the other day, and it wore her out. It wore Jeff and me out, too! It was the most challenging hike I’ve done, and to a very memorable destination: We hiked to an old Nazi compound, right here in Los Angeles!
Jeff and I have been talking for months about hiking to Murphy Ranch, in Rustic Canyon, above the Pacific Palisades. Murphy Ranch is where, in the ’30s, a couple of Nazi sympathizers built a compound, possibly under the influence of a man they called “Herr Schmidt,” who they believed had supernatural powers. The compound was designed to be a self-sufficient farm, complete with a small power plant, giant tanks to hold water and fuel, and, by the early ’40s, over 50 people working the land, preparing it as a US base of operations for Hitler and the Third Reich, should they ever need it. There were grand plans to build a 4-story mansion on the property, too, but that never came to be. Read more about all of this here.
The ranch was eventually abandoned and the property turned over to the city, which incorporated it into the adjacent Topanga State Park. Some buildings still remain, and while they’re dilapidated and covered in graffiti, they still make for a good hiking destination.
Getting to Murphy Ranch doesn’t have to be hard. There are a few trails you can take that lead there, but after researching it, Jeff and I decided on the hardest route: a 6.5 mile loop that started and stopped at Will Rogers State Historic Park. Both of us love hiking, and figured we might as well make the trip worth it!
The first mile or so was on a trail that followed a creek. We didn’t know, going in, that was trail obviously wasn’t maintained. It disappeared and reappeared again and again, and we crossed back and forth across the creek a couple dozen times. Maude loved it, and plowed through the water. It was pretty shallow, but a couple times it reached her belly.
At one crossing, I took a big leap over the water, and then Maude followed my lead and tried a big leap of her own. She didn’t make it, but that she copied me made me really happy!
We followed the creek upstream until we hit an old dam, with a man-made waterfall. It’s there, behind me and Jeff:
From there, we had no idea where to go. The only thing that resembled a trail went straight up a steep embankment to the side, so we took it. This is where the hike became very challenging. It was steep and sandy, and hard to get your feet planted. Every step resulted in sand, pebbles, and rocks cascading down. I slid backwards (not far) a few times. There were tree roots and branches to grab onto, but many weren’t sturdy and provided no assistance whatsoever.
There were a few lengthy stretches where the only way to navigate it was on all fours, and it was slow going. After the first of these stretches, Maude had enough, and refused to budge. She became dead weight, and I had to carry her, setting her down every few feet so I could reposition myself and gain more leverage.
Jeff carried her some of the way, too, and together, we got all of us to the top, where we found a glorious paved fire road that was quite the sight for sore eyes. Thanks to Jeff’s Garmin, we learned it took us 25 minutes to cover about 500 feet of distance, and during that 500 feet, we gained over 300 feet of elevation. We scrambled up the equivalent of a 30-story building!
We followed the fire road towards the ranch, and stumbled across a concrete stairway that headed back down towards the creek. I had read while researching that there were some stairs, but I was not expecting so many. We started down them, and they kept going and going. It’s the longest public stairway I’ve been to. Here’s only a teeny-tiny portion of it:
Jeff counted 511 steps when we climbed back up. 511! And only a few landings!
We went a little further down the fire road, and started back down towards the creek. The stairs were part of the Murphy Ranch compound, and we knew the rest was nearby, but not exactly sure where. We ended up stumbling upon the centerpiece of the ruins: the barn. I’ve never seen so much graffiti!
I wanted to text these pictures to my parents and say, “I bought a new house… it’s a real fixer-upper!” – but I forgot.
Parts of the structure had caved in, and there were holes in the ceilings and roof. Bees were building a hive in one of the walls.
It was all fenced off, too, and surrounded by barbed wire – but as you can see, we found a way in.
After checking it out we continued on our way, up Backbone Trail. We had been hiking for three hours by this point, and were only halfway done. The rest of the hike was relatively easy – no more bushwhacking through overgrown or non-existent trails, no creeks to cross, no scrambling up dangerous hillsides. But Backbone Trail got its name because it followed the ridge along the top of a mountain, so we did have to hike up another 800 feet or so of elevation gain.
The views along the top were gorgeous, even though it wasn’t the clearest day. I loved seeing the stairs we climbed earlier cutting a straight line through the brush on the next ridge:
(They’re on the left, and, by the way, the white complex in the distance is the Getty Center.)
There’s also a cool bridge that provided a photo op:
The ocean is in the distance, but smog is obscuring it.
The last mile was mostly downhill, and Maude was pooped. We paused a couple times, and Maude would lay down in the shade within seconds. On the very final descent, with my car now visible in the distance, Maude tapped out again, plopping down on the trail and refusing to budge. We were 2oo yards from being done, and it took a lot of coaxing to get her up and moving again.
I don’t blame her, either! We were all exhausted. When we got to the car, Maude plopped down in the shadows. I’ve never seen a dog drink while lying down before.
I’m proud of Maude. She was a trooper. Being a city dog that spent years of her life in rescue kennels, this is quite possibly the most exercise she’s ever gotten, and she did great. Keep it up, Maude!
Jeff sent me all the data from the hike, and it’s impressive. My hike was only 6.5 miles, because Jeff parked further away than I did, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
That 3:23 was only “active” time, so it doesn’t include the very slow rock climb, the break that we took at the Nazi barn, or a few other breaks. We were away from the car for five hours. And what a fun five hours it was!
Keep it up, David!