Wednesday, December 29, 2010

12-27-2010 Tar Creek

Bear Heaven and Topatopa Peak

When it rains like it has been for the past few weeks, I really get an itching to get outside, and put some miles under my feet. The creeks are flowing again, snow caps the peaks of some of our taller mountains, and waterfalls are restored to their rightful glory. I love Tar Creek right after a rain. The canyon thunders with the sound of raging, muddy water. In the spring when the water calms down you can hop scotch along the rocks, and try to keep your socks dry. However, when the creek is rocking like it was this day, creek crossings take a more serious tone. If you slip and get caught in the hydraulics you are going to be in a world of hurt. Tar Creek is renowned for its huge purple sandstone boulders. The nice thing about sandstone is it doesn't get too slippery when wet. So jumping on to wet sandstone is not nearly as dangerous as the slick granite you'll encounter further north.

The hike to the cascades was easy enough. I think we only crossed the creek twice. The overhang waterfall was flowing with decent force.

We had to take the sorta sketchy side route on the river-right side due to the high water. There's a bit of exposure, and some careful foot placement is needed, but it wasn't too bad.

It looks like I'm fucking this rock.

After a little down-climbing, and crawling we made it to the 70ft (68ft) falls. Someone had left some black webbing tied to a boulder above the falls. I had to leap across the creek to cut and remove it. Here's a video of Frank pushing some logs over the falls.

Carefully we made our way down to the final section. The big falls were going off magnificently. The waterfall coming off of Bear Heaven was flowing. It only flows after it rains, but that is the tallest waterfall in the Ventura Los Padres that I know of.

Bear Heaven Falls

Just as I expected, there was some webbing threaded into the bolts at the big falls. I cut it out. I'll say it again, webbing and rope can kill condors. Please, if you're going to rappel Tar Creek, remove your webbing when you're done. Both rappels have walk arounds that someone in your party can use to bring the webbing down.

The Condors Perch

Then we took some pictures, and ate lunch. The water temperature was 47F. We didn't see any condors. I think this was our fifth trip down Tar Creek this year, and I haven't seen a condor once. In 2009 I saw condors every time we went down there. Sometimes we would see five at a time. I wonder what happened? I've seen them over the Stone Corral the two times we went by this year.

The hike back up was uneventful. It was little muddy, but not bad at all. We bumped into Jack from Jack Elliott's Santa Barbara Adventure on the way up the hill. Maybe he'll have a post about Tar Creek soon too. And that was it. Another trip to Tar Creek in the books. I'm sure there will be many more trips just like this one.


  1. It looks like you're fucking that rock or trying out for the sequel to the movie "127 Hours." Boulder porn. haha. I was in a position similar to that the other day down there and couldn't help but think of that movie. And hope the chockstone didn't shift!

  2. Looks like a great trip, EP. We took the old road route down a few weeks ago, and (not rubbing it in) spotted two condors there at the last cascade. Very cool. I put up a short run-down over at

    Happy New Year!


  3. Years ago I knew the old road down to the Sespe that crosses Tar Creek as the Green Cabins road. I have an old map fragment that annotates it this way. In 1987 the Forest Service sent a letter proposing the use of this route as an "official" means of access to the Lower Sespe. I still have the letter. It appears nothing ever came of it. Anyway, great trip report.

  4. That old road has since deteriorated into a mildly overgrown trail. The Green Cabins site has been reclaimed by the chaparral. If I remember correctly I think the old road gets discussed in The Sespe Wild by Bradley Monsma. Thanks for checking out the blog, and commenting.

  5. Thanks for the trip description. If you are curious, I got a nice picture of that darn Bear Heaven temporary falls a few months ago.

    Based on some triangulation, the thing is over 200 feet tall. I am not sure how waterfalls are measured, but it has got to be a local record.

  6. Thanks for the link. That waterfall is fascinating. Maybe you already know, but the picture on the Ojai S&R page of the helicopter in front of a huge waterfall is this same waterfall during the 2005 storms. I agree that the Bear Heaven falls are probably the tallest falls "visible" in the Ventura Los Padres. I think it's definitely taller then Rose Valley Falls. There are two seasonal falls along the Sespe west of Pigeon Flat that I think might be taller. However like Bear Heaven they only flow after it rains, and due to there remote location I don't think anyone other then the S&R helicopter guys get to see them.

  7. No I did not know this. I'll check into it.

    I was trying to get a hold of the local helicopter tour group to find out if they could get me up to that falls after a good rain.

    My only thought was that the condor issue might prevent them. If so, I am completely behind that.

    I'd still like to see that puppy from a few hundred feet.