Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Los Padres NF. Hwy 33

Los Padres National Forest encompasses nearly two million acres in the beautiful coastal mountains of central California. The forest stretches across almost 220 miles from the Big Sur Coast in Monterey County to the western edge of Los Angeles County.
The forest along designated scenic byway hwy 33 borders four wilderness areas: Matilija, Dick Smith, Sespe (includes condor sanctuary) and Chumash. This is a mountainous area, Santa Ynez and San Gabriel ranges. Just think lots and lots of peaks. Awesome sandstone formations, craggly peaks, canyons on end. This is also the location of the enormous Day and Scott fires last year, and the majority of the land south and east of hwy 33 are closed at this time. The camps and access roads are open, but the interior southeast trails are shut. Still more miles of trails available then I would ever get to. I had considered a backpack trip into the hotsprings canyon, but the area is shut. This is the location where a 210 degree spring spills into Sespe creek. Set in a canyon, You hike out along the creek away from the spring, until the water temp suits your fancy, and set up camp and enjoy. Sounded like a neat experience (maybe next time through). Not too much of the burn area is visible, at least from the locations I have visited.

Wednesday was still unsettled weather, and the rains (and snow) certainly created less than desirable conditions in some areas of the forest. I made my way to the town of Ojai (O-Hi), visited the FS center, provisoned, and did a little sightseeing. Ojai is a gateway to the forest, some vinyards and resorts, and has a ecclectic feel to it. Neat little place :). I visited a unique used book store, Bart's Books to look for a hiking guide. They have converted a residense into a bookstoore, including the yard and the exterior of the property fence. Bookcases in evry nook and cranny. The book areas in the yard have corragated roofs thrown up over them and the counter is set in the yard. The books set outside the fence are sold 24/7 under the "honor system". There is a slot in the gate, and a sign asking to drop the correct amount through it after hours. They even saved and converted the workshop. Reminds me of Reilly Brothers in Fort Myers, or Baltaeff (?) salvage in Santa Rosa. Definitely fitting for this town :).
I took a drive out to Lake Casitas, even considered amping there, until I was told I'd have to pay extra for the kayak, even if I was not using it, and I'd have to pay for a site, sight unseen, unless I paid the dayuse. Too durn straightlaced in their ways for me... I made my way up to Matilija reservoir, and out the road to the trailhead. I did very little hiking here as it was growing late in the day and I had to cross through a ranch on foot to access the main trailheads. This area is however just adjacent to the area that Caliente hotsprings are, and it would be interesting to get into the canyons and mountains I saw while there. The properties on this road have character and I loved the estate sign for one "Mugwumps Rockpile" : 0. Made it up wheelers gorge, but the camp was $20 w/o drinkable water, and just vault... Come on guys! I ended up back towards Ojai for the night.
On Thursday, I geocached my way back up 33 to Wheelers gorge, hiking the nature trail and wandering the campgrounds. The only occupants were derelict looking longtimers. Nice spot though, right along the cascading creek. OH! Just west of the wheeler is the neatest little slot canyon and set of road tunnels I have come across. The canyon goes very narrow, barely supporting the road, and a one and a half S curve, requiring two tunnels to get through it. All in less than a half mile. Hard to get any decent pics w/o any pullouts and various semis sharing the road. I went into the forest at Rose Valley and spent the next four nights and days here.
A half mile out from Rose vlly camp is a set of falls that step up a 300' wall. Not much water in them, and you cannot see above, nor scale up above the forst step. Still, they end into a pool at the head of a forested canyon. The water seeps through moss growth on the rock face and has a similiar appearance of Nojoqui falls, with mineral deposits. I biked rose valley road a few miles, taking in the terrain and scouting trailheads. A helicopter flew up into the canyon that the falls sit in, an I suspect they were on a training mission. They hovered way too close to the cliffs, lowering and raising the cable, moving in and out, for a good fifteen minutes. The sound of the blade chop echoing out from the canyon was immense! I took a look at the lakes, which could easily be called ponds. They are stocked spring and summer and I thought their might be leftovers in there, but the water was too silted to continue fishing it.
Camp is at 3300', and it did get cold here. 19 degrees and a very heavy frost cover. Temps did not get above freezing until 10 am. I moved further into the forest, explored a couple of trails, then to Lion Canyon camp. I met a hiker who said "the falls" were really going! What falls? Nothing in my guides on them. He gave me loose directions and I set out. Very nice hike hrough a canyon and out. Fresh cub tracks on trail were the first signs I saw that the bears were not in hibernation. Got to "twin forks? and used the hikers info to select a fork, but of course, wrong trail. I ended at a camp set against a rise out of a canyon. The trail petered out at the upward end of the creek, and the only way forward would require gnarly boulder scaling up and out. Nah. Back to the fork, and up another trail for a ways. This may be the right trail, but after 3 already and not a good idea to keep pressing on. So, back to camp. A friday night, and only one other site occupied. Some teens having a bonfire and pow wow. I don't think they believed it would get so cold overnight either, and a carload left in the miccle of the night, with the remaining group breaking camp just after sunrise. brrrrrrrrr.
I hiked out Piedra Blanca trail to the PB formation, which is sandstone sculptured rock jutting out of the landscape for a mile in length and 1/4 mile in width. Just awesome shapes and sizes and I spent a couple of hours exploring them before venturing out the trail another couple of miles. Even though most of the trails follow creeks, there are very few, if any, paths to the water. The growth is thick underbrush of the type that bushwacking leaves you scarred and with twisted ankles. That is too bad, because there are some beautiful stretches if cascading water over assorted boulders and rocks. Little glimpes and the audio is all you get. Spent some time chit chatting with a work detail and ranger and other hikers. The ranger indicated the downed trail marker at twin forks was actually down by a bear and not by yahoo vandals :). She did not offer too much additional info on how to get to the the falls, just that they did exist. You have to know that I could not possibly leave this area w/o discovering those falls, right?
When I arrived back at camp, another site was occupied by a couple of guys tent camping. Last night, I could not even get the teenagers to acknowledge my greetings to them. When I greeted these guys, it was instant conversation...

As much as I enjoy the discovery of new places and the adventures I am undertaking, I think that the new friendships along the way ranks right there with them. I have met so many great people out here, it is very enriching. Travis and Mike definitely fit into this category. both from LA county, and out here to get away from the superbowl hype. Great guys, and when someone invites me to their campfire, I see it as a real extension of friendship. We spent the evening BS'ing about it all, eating from scratch s'mores and natural cookies. Mike works at whole foods, so he had the perks of the job along with him. Lots of great stories and insights, around the campfire. Mike has a GPS'r, so I filled them in on details of geocaching. I passed along a travel bug I had picked up, "Mickey Mouse Racer", which is racing TinkerBelle to Disneyland. Mike wanted to get into the game, and moving the TB along was going to be his entrance to it. Poor Tinkerbelle is in Maryland!
In the morning, hikes were discussed,and Travis had a detailed trail map that did a good job of indicating the falls trail. It was decided we would hike out there together. Travis took the lead, and he indicated he is a slow hiker. Boy, when I say that I hike "like a little ole lady", He affirmed that for sure :'). They were courteous and took some breaks along trail to let the "old guy" rest a bit ;), and we did one of these breaks at twin forks. Good thing too. While there, we heard approaching "YeeHaw"s and sure enough, four horses and two dogs came out the trail (if you will call it that) that we were heading towards. The trail is nothing much more then a spillway more than creekbed at times, with heavilty canopied, low hanging willow and other scrub. A few fallen trees and debris piles, and I was sure feeling sorry for those poor horses. After a half mile, we were in more open terrain and came into east fork camp. A primitive group fire ring and encircling bench had been erected, and another camp was set cross trail from here. We all commented on what a great weekend getaway this spot for make for a good sized group. Perhaps they will utilize it for such this summer. The falls were still a bit upstream and set in a bend of the canyon. There was little view w/o leaving the trail and climbing the boulders that scattered the creek and created the falls and cascades. I was not going to be denied at this point, so I set out to do so. Boy, do I EVER miss my Lowas :(. It took ten minutes of catious climbing to finally get full vista of the falls. Worth every ounce of energy it took too. I suspect that the canyon held many more falls if you could scale up and around the bend. Possibly, the west fork took you to those sets, but the hiker from the other day said he had encountered too much poison oak on that trail and had turned back.
Anyways, a great hike on a great trail with great company. Can't ask much more than that :). I have yet not mentioned the overall hike, and since I did this trail twice, seems appropiate to do so.
The trail leads out of Middle Lion Canyon camp, out an dup through the canyon. Here, the canyon is narrow and the creek supports a healthy forest, so the trail is canopied and lush for the first quarter mile. It ascends up above the creek as the canyon widens, and begins to offer some nice views of the boulder strewn creek below, the rock bare cliff of the opposite canyon wall and views northeast of the Piedra Blanca. The terrain becomes more arid, and yucca, and a yet unidentified plant populate the hillside. The soil is dry and loose, and I saw evidence of a rock slide that occured in between our hike out and back, with rock freshly covering a yucca plant at the edge of the trail. After 3/4 or a mile, the trail descends into the lush flood plain of the creek. Willows become inpenetrable here, and the trail takes up on a dry creekbed. Over the next mile or so trail shares the flood plain and the canyon wall, which has opened up and flattened out, and after some more willows and creekbeds, it enters into twin forks, at 2 1/2 miles. A very diverse and scenic hike, and one I would gladly do again :). The more that I think about the two forks to the falls, the more I suspect a much more spectacular falls to the west. From twin forks, the two camp trails arc around a mesa that crops up to the south. At east fork, the mesa reaches 150' in height, but just south are the higher ridges and mountains. I suspect that the headwaters of the creek are in the higher reaches, and they spill down into the canyon that seperates them from the mesa. I suppose there could be 100' plus waterfalls just awaiting some foolhardy soul that would challenge the terrain or poison oak... Hmmm, could be me on a later hike :').
After a late afternoon return to camp, I bid farewell to Travis and Mike, and spent the remaining daylight sorting the van and preparing wood for a fire. Thanks to Mike and Travis for passing on their leftover wood. Nice, huge slabs of some type of hardwood, made for a warm and long campfire tonight. Thanks guys, and it was surely a great time, hanging out with you. Let's stay in touch, and may our paths cross again. The temperatures really moderated tonight, with the lows only getting to 35 overnight. I have failed to mention how the weather has been. AWESOME! Shorts and a tee days, with temps up to the high 70's or so. Loving that.
On Monday, i decided I should take a break from the 6 to 7 miles of hiking I have been doing, especially the boulder scaling from yesterday. I broke camp to make my way north and east to the Lockwood area of the forest. Not yet out of Rosewood, I saw that nagging geocache appear on the gps's. "Treasure of the Sespe". I was exploring all of the sideroads on my way out, and the one I was on at the moment had me pointing right towards the cache. I reached a gate on the road within 1.1 miles of the cache. Decided if nothing else, the road down towards Piedra Blanca would make for a nice scenic and easy hike. The cache description used a trailhead from hwy 33, and described it as gnarly at times, and 3 miles or more each way. 3/4 of a mile down the road, I was still .4 mile away from the cache and at the residence on the road. There was a worker on the property, and he described a trail that would lead me down to creekside, and might allow me access to the ridge the seemed to be on. I made it to Piedra Blanca creek, which was a really nice spot, and determined the general vista location of the cache. It would require scaling the ridge across the creek for a half mile and a few hundred feet in elevation. Not finding a good crossing, and unable to make out any trail that might lead up, I scrapped this idea. It had all the makings of an allday adventure cache, and I was trying to avoid one of those today. I can always do the hwy 33 hike another time.
The change of terrain as I headed northeast on 33 was really nice. Sandstone mixed with craggly ridges and peaks. Pine Mountin road was closed, so I crossed over the summit at 5100' and had my first look into the eastern range and the "badlands" beyond. Cool! I called Andrew with birthday wishes, since this was the first phone service I had since leaving Ojai, and then descended to Lockwood road and out to reyes creek camp and the trailhead into Piedra Blanca. This will do, but not for today. I had heard a restaurant commercial on the radio, and it set off a yearning for a nice hot full course meal (that someone else cooked!). I saw that I-5 was just over 30 miles south, so I pointed that way, made my way through Frazier Park (hey, I wonder if...) and out to 5.


F:.V:. said...

Thanks for the kind words Hank. My cousin Mike and I had a great time too. I look forward to making another trip soon, unfortunately Mike is busy with his wife moving, so I'll to draft one of my friends or perhaps my brother. In any case, I see your In San Diego now, that's great.

Be well and take is easy. Later Mate.


Anonymous said...

What a delight to see your pictures. I didn't read it all but scanned through. Ever thought of checking out Yellowstone & the Tetons? That is where I hail from & it is beautiful. Good for you, to enjoy life while you are young enough to enjoy it. I'm a Grandma enjoying my little ones. Plan to visit your site again to keep track of your travels. Fran V.