There is private mountain, a volcanic pyramid with no trail to its summit, locked behind a gate, guarded by an army, with dramatic 360 degree views of the Pacific Ocean and Los Angeles Basin from its summit. Yes, Los Angeles, California.
Leaving PCH for the mouth of Malibu Canyon, one enters a different world. Less than a mile from the oceanfront campus of Pepperdine University, one is surrounded by steep canyon walls of red cliff bands and lush chaparral, a stark contrast from outside the canyon. Winding through the dizzying canyon rife with rock fall and scenic drop offs it is difficult to not be drawn to the monument which guards Malibu Creek State Park, Brent’s Mountain. The peak rises from the canyon in steep flawless angles of ridge line and rocky face, hulked upon the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Brent’s Mountain lies on protected land owned by the Salvation Army where they run a massive Christian camp for underprivileged youth and requires being buzzed in through their gate to enter. This may come across as a hindrance but the camp is always staffed and this threshold only adds to the scarcity of hikers on this hidden hill.
Once in, drive to the front office where you’ll sign a waiver and the staff member will provide you with a radio. The lady working on the Saturday morning I went even gave me a ride on the golf cart up to the start of the climb.
The majority of the mountain is trailless, involving route finding and class 3 scrambling but the hike begins with a logical path through a wooded section, climbing steeply toward the exposed rock. Within ten minutes you’ll reach the most fun section of the climb, a long class 3 scramble of low angle cliff that will make you feel like a rock climber without the risk of tumbling with a slip. Because this route is so infrequently traveled, the sandstone is quite brittle and most moves will require a light tread to test the continuity of the hold.
Once through the sandstone scramble, the route wanders away from the ridge across the face through a jungle of Manzanita coastal sage scrub, wiry oaks, miner’s lettuce and purple wildflowers. The lush maze forces you to crawl like a GI through barbed wire. Onto the summit ridge there is another fun section of class 3 and spray painted arrows help you avoid the steep impasses that flank the logical route up.
Toward the top, there is a lower summit, impressively conical. Atop the point is a fifteen foot cross placed here by the Christian campers. The original cross was “vandalized” and replaced not too long ago and the metal cross is bolted into the ground. I find the cross obnoxious, marring the beautiful mountain form but having signed my name to a waiver forty minutes prior I wasn’t going to do anything about it. From here it’s as twenty yard scramble to the top, one of the most pointed summits I’ve stood on. There is a geocache at the top with mostly garbage. There was even a beer bottle with a baby raddle snake shriveled inside. The real goods were in the air, huge views across Malibu to Catalina and deep out to sea, unobstructed for 360 degrees all to yourself. The route down retraces the way up with frequent backwards down climbing and butt shuffling to meander down the steepest sections safely.
Brent’s Mountain has so much going for it. It’s mere form from afar is striking, the climb is fast, challenging and entertaining and it can quite literally be your private mountain. Just minutes away, the Santa Monica Mountains are inundated with hikers on far less interesting trails. Give the Salvation Army a call and enjoy one of the finest hikes in Los Angeles.