It’s a scalding Wednesday afternoon, just shy of rush hour. I’m driving deep into the northwest corner of the San Fernando Valley with Tori Radaich, my guide for the day — a self-described “slow but enthusiastic hiker.” The air conditioning is blasting. We’re both sweating. Soon we’ll be tromping in the Santa Susana Mountains on — did I mention? — a scalding afternoon.
Tori is a big fan of Devil Canyon (not to be confused with Devils Canyon in the Angeles National Forest or the one in the San Bernardino National Forest), a covert slot of sandstone just above the 118 Freeway and the terminus of Topanga Canyon Boulevard. Not surprisingly, she’s never set foot in Devil Canyon in the infernal heat of a San Fernando Valley summer. Neither, I’m thinking, has anyone else.
“I was there in the spring after the rains,” says the Hollywood-based ex-advertising salesperson, who grew up in the Valley but only recently discovered Chatsworth’s backdoor hiking possibilities. “The succulents were blooming. I could not believe how many frogs there were.”
We pull up to the Devil Canyon “trailhead,” a frogless hill sandwiched between a freeway exit, some cookie-cutter housing and a public hearing notice about building more condos. We trudge up this desiccated hill, past an empty box of Band-Aids, an overturned car circa “Starsky & Hutch,” a pair of red underpants and a rusted signpost — perhaps for Devil Canyon — with no sign on it.
“It gets better,” Tori huffs.
And it does. Plunging north into the shaded narrows of this nearly anonymous canyon proves to be an inviting shock to the urban-locked system — about as far from the Ronald Reagan Freeway as it gets. Soon enough the Chatsworth sun is behind us, tamed by a relatively cool and still riparian-ish crevice full of oaks, willows, sycamores and lanky eucalyptus trees. Streamlets of water wind around a suddenly lush, viny trail that forecasts many frogs at some later date.
A snake without a rattle crosses our path. So does a shy, pinkish spider the size of my big toe. So does a suspiciously odd, bare-chested guy in breeches and suspenders who, it turns out, is as scared of us as we are of him. Otherwise, of course, we don’t see a soul in Devil Canyon.
The main character is the rock formations — curvaceous walls of sandstone eroded by 80 million years of wind and prehistoric sea. They turn up unexpectedly around corners in all shapes and heights, spared from the 80 years of graffiti you might find a few miles down the road at Stony Point.
But wait — is that white paint up there? No, it’s just guano from a Miata-sized bird’s nest that Tori happens to notice because we’re going slowly. And enthusiastically.
About 2 1/4 miles in, a closed pipe-gate marks the “end” of Devil Canyon. Scale it and you can carry on about as far as you want in this hidden green fissure. We don’t make it too far, but I hope to finish the job on a hot day next summer.
The ParticularsWhere: Devil Canyon in the Santa Susana Mountains above Chatsworth.
What: Moderate out-and-back hike is about 4.6 miles round trip with a mild 500-foot elevation gain/loss.
How: Take the 118 Freeway to the Topanga Canyon Boulevard exit and go north to where it ends. Turn left onto Poema Place. Park on the street and walk up the hill.
Do you have a favorite hike close to home that you’d like to share? Name the time and place and we’ll tag along. E-mail takeme@ latimes.com.