Posted by: Michael D. Austin | January 5, 2012

High Above Coast and Valleys

In the distance: Palos Verdes Peninsula left. Catalina Island center.

Someone I’ve yet to meet, but about whom I’ve grown fond, just punctuated their latest missive to me with, “P.S. Holy f*** 4 weeks until we (text removed ;) – I’m scared!” I truly understand that feeling. They teach, as have I. Here’s what I’d reply to them from my own experience, in appreciation and camaraderie:

Lately I’ve been compelled to drive to the tallest nearby mountains on the coast. There’s lots of fairly quiet, open space at the boundary of the two counties I straddle. Some huge, astronomically expensive homes with spectacular views, which I find *very* inspirational. I’ve driven into the sun and air several times in the past few days.

There’s one little road I’ve just found, Cotharin, which meanders across the ridge and valley of one mountain. When I discovered its name derives from old Greek, meaning, “lover of horses,” I wanted even more to explore its length. Moonroof open and windows down in a Prius, I crawled it slowly like a rancher. If you enlarge the map for this Panoramio photo by clicking this link, you can see the road’s location. On my descent an equestrian and I passed and waved at each other. Before I found the summit and took any photos, I drove as far as I could in my Prius.

The photo of Palos Verdes and Catalina, above, was taken at the spot shown below in the road photo. However, it wasn’t a simple matter to get up the side of Clarks Peak (1,965′) and back. The stretch of Cotharin Road I traversed is mostly dirt and quite one-lane. The Prius handles O.K. for a street car. At one point in the ascent I had to drive up onto the outside, dirt shoulder to let a Jeep pass. I tilted the Prius about 15 degrees to do it. Its 6″ wide tires remind me of the skinny fronts on drag cars, and even at a svelte 3,300 lbs. weight with its driver, its tires made furrows in the soft shoulder. Compared to my old, roadrace-prepped Ford Mustang Cobra with 11″ wide tires, the Prius feels much less sure-footed.

The 125′ length of tarmac you see in the photo is past Cotharin’s summit. It’s a small, apparently un-named offshoot of Cotharin after its road sign says quite clearly, “End.” At my furthest point that day, I stopped at the downhill slope shown below; I was quite afraid I’d never be able to turn around. Barely one lane it is. A full-sized luxury Hummer’s wheels would ride on the dirt shoulders. You can also see that the road ahead is blind and looks like it drops into air.  If I were an owner there, I’d want these features, too. Less visitors ;) If a first-time driver wants to ensure a place to turn around, you have to get out, walk and reconnoiter. So I did.

But first – with a steep mountainside next to me of averaging 50 degrees slope – I had to back up for 75 feet to reach a place where I could safely turn around. Yup, it was scary. Yet, to my friend, I’d say it won’t be nearly as scary the second time I go there.

Road's end.


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